Conservatism in Hungary, by András Lánczi.

In understanding the case for conservatism in post-communist Hungary, an important thing to keep in mind is that political philosophy as such has never existed in Hungary. This is partly because of the rejection of philosophy as being alien to the “Hungarian spirit” and partly because of totalitarian ideology, especially under communism. Thus, there has been no conservatism as a philosophically-underpinned intellectual trend until the first half of the 19th century. Even then, it only appeared as a marginal political movement that started with a short lived and partly English-oriented Conservative Party (1846), which was renewed in 1875 with the support of a moderate press. It is telling that only one author is worth mentioning by name, János Asbóth. He was a writer and essayist who contrasted his ideas principally against contemporaneous liberalism.

Regarding Hungary’s status within the Habsburg Empire and dominant German economic, political, and intellectual influence, it was nineteenth century liberalism that held sway over Hungarian intellectual life until World War I. Since Hungary’s primary concern was her limited sovereignty, renewed attempts have been made to liberate Hungary from under alien influence. Conservatism, however, was associated with the maintenance first of the Habsburg rule and then Hungarian cultural superiority over neighboring nations. The latter was tied to Hungarian traditionalism, backed by a strong public spirit.

Alas, it was no wonder that after WWI—when a humiliated country regained its independence—the new political discourse wanted to regain national identity mainly by voicing Hungary’s long history in Europe and her Christian origins. The most promising young philosopher, Aurél Kolnai, who later became an eminent political philosopher abroad, left Hungary in 1920, as did Károly Mannheim (Karl Mannheim) and Mihály Polányi (Michael Polanyi). All three thinkers left Hungary in the politically hectic period of 1919-1920 because they refused both the short lived communist takeover in 1919, but also the unfolding right-wing regime afterwards.

The communists, after taking over in 1948, managed to indoctrinate people against the previous regime by calling it fascist, antisocial, nationalist, and clerical. The word “conservative” simply disappeared from the vocabulary of public discourse. The concept reemerged in the late 1980s, just before the demise of communism in a most ironic way. Hardliner communists were called conservatives compared to “reform communists”. Thus the former understanding of the words “conservative” and “conservatism” could not be used in the early 1990s. Moreover, because of the negative connotation of the concept, no political party or movement dared to use it as a symbol of its political doctrine. This all changed, however, after 2002 when post-communists together with their liberal political partners returned to power again.

Conservatism as a philosophy in today’s Hungary can only appear on the periphery of the intellectual forums; it has never been able to enter any curriculum or into a more significant intellectual arena. Conservative political though appears scattered mainly in the departments of political science and various social sciences, as well as newly established think tanks, periodicals, and in more and more blogs. As a result, “conservatism” has developed a variety of non-philosophical representations in Hungarian public life which range from pure traditionalism to sheer right wing radicalism. These are political movements or simply journalists with moderately intellectual backgrounds.

Another phenomenon of Hungarian conservatism as a philosophy is that it is often subservient to Christian theology. Again following the German pattern, Christian Democracy has become the mainstream bearer of conservative ideas in public discourse; thus, the Jewish element is more often than not excluded from among the traditions of European conservative ideas. So conservatism as a set of ideas and political movement is cut off from its philosophical roots: it is either based on Christian theology or on an instinctive or casual worldview which lacks any coherence. No wonder post-communists have managed not only to survive but also to take the lead in intellectual debates. This is in large part also owing to their commitment to philosophical argumentation.

It is also important to understand that even though conservatism “seeks to maintain and enrich societies characterized by respect for inherited institutions, beliefs and practices” (Bruce Frohnen, et al., American Conservatism), in a post-communist society we have institutions, beliefs, and practices that were inherited from communism. Since the values of conservatism were not present to begin with, conservatism is hard to explain to the people, in the classical sense.

This leads us to the issue of religion in a post-communist state. Religion suffered an almost fatal blow under communism. Poland is said to be an exception, but all the other post-communist countries came face to face with the devastating ideological rule of communists. This includes Hungary. Partly because churches were corrupted by the pervasive communist rule, conservatism that places great emphasis on religion or even the common good pleasing to God is doomed for the moment. Latent nihilism is the most suitable term I can apply for the present intellectual state of the Hungarian people.

(To read the second part of this article, click here.)

—András Lánczi is Director of the Institute of Political Science and Philosophy at the Corvinus University of Budapest. He has authored numerous books on political philosophy and is the Hungarian editor of the Encyclopedia of Political ThoughtEncyclopedia of Political Science, and The New Handbook of Political Science. He has also translated several books into Hungarian, including Leo Strauss’s Natural Right and History and Persecution and the Art of Writing.   

*A version of this article appeared in The European Conservative (March 2009), published by the Centre for European Renewal in The Netherlands.

Eliot Through His Letters, by Martin Lockerd.

Since the first volume of Eliot’s letters (1898–1922) appeared in 1988, scholars and enthusiasts waited impatiently for the Eliot estate to release a second volume. Though a British edition appeared in 2009, American readers were forced to wait still longer for the U.S. edition, which finally appeared in August of 2011. One benefit of the delayed arrival of the U.S. edition is that the letters themselves have already been reviewed by several prominent publications. Of course, this is a benefit chiefly in so far as it provides the opportunity for a much-needed corrective.

Anthony Julius’s piece for The Telegraph demonstrates the characteristic myopia of the reviews that sprang up in 2009. He finds little to like about the “distasteful” task of reading Eliot’s letters: “They tell us about the author, not about his writing. They are not an aid to understanding, certainly.” Though nearly every major critical work concerning Eliot’s verse makes useful reference to his correspondences, Julius finds them merely tedious. While this puts him in the company of those reviewers who regularly employ adjectives such as “painful” and “boring” when describing the reading process, it does him little credit. What is truly painful is the fact that many reviews of the letters fail to substantially address any but those letters directly quoted in the editors’ preface. The preface does give a well-constructed and succinct overview of the book’s contents, but many early reviewers cling to the overview and neglect the collection itself.

Julius does make one foray outside of the preface in order to bash Eliot as an anti-Semite, but he is so intent on grinding this worn-down axe that he overlooks the moments of true insight that leap up like a trout in the onrushing stream of the poet’s correspondence. The collection is admittedly awash with business mail that can be overwhelming. It is also, however, filled with truly poignant, interesting, and even funny moments that make the letters well worth reading. The exchange between Eliot and the writer/critic John Middleton Murry stands out as the most moving and emotional. Following the lead of the preface, many reviewers call attention to Eliot’s deeply confessional letters to Murry, which are filled with dark lines such as: “I have deliberately killed my senses—I have deliberately died—in order to go on with the outward form of living.” Eliot’s desperation grows as his wife’s mental and physical health languishes and deteriorates, and his fall into depression and despair evokes true pathos with seemingly little hope of catharsis.

Complete article in The University Bookman

Agitadores, by Juan Manuel de Prada.

¿Hay agitadores e instigadores violentos entre los jóvenes que en estos días se congregan ante las sedes del Partido Popular? Seguramente sí, pero no creo que esta labor de agitación e instigación explique lo que está ocurriendo. Escribía Leonardo Castellani que un hombre puede conducir sin dificultad a un caballo hasta la orilla de un río; pero ni cien hombres podrían obligarlo a beber agua, si el caballo no lo desea. Si un «agitador» aprovechase la celebración de un concierto de rock para salir al escenario y exhortar a los asistentes al rezo del rosario, lo más probable sería que fuese expulsado del lugar con cajas destempladas y algún hueso quebrado; y, si por el contrario, los asistentes empezaran a rezar el rosario devotamente, concluiríamos que era esto lo que en el fondo deseaban hacer, aunque sus desnortadas e insatisfechas inquietudes espirituales los hubiesen llevado a un concierto de rock. Un agente catalizador sólo provoca la reacción deseada cuando actúa sobre los elementos que la permiten; de lo contrario, su acción es tan inútil como arar en el mar.

Y esta realidad, tan notoria y gigantesca, es la que a mi juicio se elude cuando se trata de explicar lo ocurrido en estos días, que según me temo sólo es un barrunto o anticipación a pequeña escala de lo que nos espera en los próximos años. ¿Cómo son los jóvenes que han participado en estas algaradas y manifestaciones? Víctimas de una educación que ha dado la espalda a todas las realidades espirituales, han sido formados en la exaltación del propio deseo y —bajo una abundancia creciente de bienes materiales— en los postulados del materialismo, que alcanzan su plasmación política en el llamado Estado de bienestar, que es como se llama finamente al Estados servil que avizoró Belloc; paralelamente, y en un contexto que favorece la desintegración de los lazos familiares, esos jóvenes han sido expuestos a las radiaciones de la propaganda liberal-progresista, que ha moldeado sus conciencias desde la más tierna edad con la retórica de los «derechos» y las «libertades».

Ahora contemplan perplejos cómo toda esa faramalla se derrumba: sus deseos, exaltados por consignas utópicas a la vez párvulas y miserables, se topan con una realidad cetrina; el bienestar que durante un tiempo actuó sobre sus conciencias como una morfina, impidiéndolos cultivar las virtudes que fomentan el bien-ser, se deslíe como un azucarillo en el agua; la munición de «derechos» y «libertades» con que los dotaron, convirtiéndolos en chiquilines emberrinchados, se revela ahora inservible. Y, como ocurre siempre que a la gente se le impide ahondar en las realidades espirituales, el derrumbamiento de esa faramalla los obliga a revolverse contra quienes un día se la vendieron como una mercancía inextinguible. ¿Contra todos? No, no contra todos, o no al menos con la misma intensidad; pues durante el tiempo en que duró el trampantojo, la izquierda se cuidó de imbuirles una mitología o falsa mística que favorecía sus intereses ideológicos, según la cual tales «conquistas» se habrían logrado pese a los intentos de la «derecha opresora» por desbaratarlas o entorpecerlas. Este ha sido —digámoslo así— el líquido amniótico en el que tales jóvenes han sido gestados, la leche nutricia que los ha alimentado durante años o décadas; y, llegada la hora de vomitar toda esa plétora de progresismo enfermo que ha modelado sus conciencias —con el beneplácito, todo hay que decirlo, de una derecha cada vez más pagana y dimisionaria—, dirigen su indignación contra quienes, en su imaginario maniqueo, más fácilmente pueden ser caracterizados como «opresores».

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Who was the most right-wing man in history?, by Paul Johnson.

The recent death of Michael Wharton, aged 92, raises the interesting question: who was the most right-wing person who ever lived?

Many thought he was. I am not sure he did himself. The last time I saw him, when he was already very old, I asked him how he saw himself and he replied, ‘Moving to the right.’ He said this as if regretting a life of obstinate radicalism, though as the honorary editor-in-chief of the Feudal Times and Reactionary Herald for more than half a century it was always difficult to get to the right of him (I tried) in any issue on the political agenda. On other matters he resembled Gilbert Pinfold (or his creator, Evelyn Waugh) and ‘abhorred … everything that had happened in his lifetime’.

Wharton’s own hero was Colonel Charles de Laet Waldo Sibthorpe (1783–1855), MP for many years for Lincoln, a borough represented previously by his elder brother, father, great-uncle, great-great-uncle, and after his death by his eldest son. He served in the Peninsular war, in the 4th Dragoon Guards, and inherited Canwick Hall and the family estate in Lincolnshire; by his wife, Maria, heiress of Ponsonby Tottenham, he acquired another estate in Ireland. The DNB says, ‘He belonged to the ultra-Tory and ultra-protestant party, and was the embodiment of old-fashioned prejudice.’ He was one of the diehard group of 53 Tories who censured free trade in 1852. His one parliamentary success was to get the proposed grant to Prince Albert reduced by half on the grounds that he promoted ‘foreign influence’, and he opposed the Great Exhibition for the same reasons. Otherwise he sounds pretty tame, though one would like to know what was meant by the statement, ‘His appearance was extraordinary and his dress attracted attention.’

Twentieth-century equivalents of Sibthorpe are increasingly rare. An undergraduate friend of mine who made lists of them used to award the prize to Sir Waldron Smithers, an eccentric traditionalist who sat for seats in Kent from 1924 to his death in 1954. His place was taken by Captain Waterhouse MP, who for some years led a cave of diehards called ‘the Suez Group’. But I heard it said that Waterhouse, though ‘splendid’ on the Middle East, was ‘unreliable’ on some issues, being ‘not sound’ on animal rights. Julian Amery, indeed, told me he was ‘well to the right’ of the captain. But then he himself was ‘unsound’ on capital punishment, since his brother John had been shot in the Tower in 1945. Few people have ever been ‘sound’ across the whole spectrum. Even the Duke of Cambridge was not, by his own admission, a last-ditcher. As he put it, ‘They say I am against reform. I am not against reform. There is a time for everything. And the time for reform is when it can no longer be resisted.’ Ramrod-straight and unflinchingly regimental, did he not harbour a cosy, sentimental streak? He was once heard to observe, ‘fists on his knees’, that ‘family prayers are a damned fine institution, by God!’

There is always a weak spot in every reactionary. C.S. Lewis told me, when ambling through Addison’s Walk at Magdalen, that Joseph de Maistre was the ideal right-winger. He thought the most important official in the state was le bourreau, the executioner, ultimate guarantor of order. There were three divine laws of society: monarchy is a necessity; the monarch must be absolute; his duty is to uphold papal supremacy. De Maistre is the only political philosopher who is consistently shrewd. He coined the axiom, ‘Every country has the government it deserves.’ But Lewis thought de Maistre’s wit was his weakness: ‘A true reactionary has no sense of humour. You must be able to propose the impossible with a straight face.’ Michael Wharton, of course, would not have agreed with that. He took the Chestertonian line that all truth was encoded in a joke, a view shared by Ronald Reagan, the most successful right-winger of modern times, who communicated entirely through one-liners and had over 5,000 of them, by heart, for every conceivable occasion.

Read complete article in Catholic Education Resource Center

Russell Kirk on The Sage as Novelist: Miguel de Unamuno

Half a century has elapsed since the death of Don Miguel de Unamuno and still his works are much read and written about.

Three volumes of his stories and novellas have been reissued recently in English translation–able translation, by the way.

Hundreds of best-selling novelists have risen, and vanished forever from bookshops, during those five decades. Yet Unamuno is everywhere cited and quoted; all of his more important fiction, criticism, and commentary is available in English and other languages; and his fiction’s originality has been admired by successive generations of readers and critics.

Why this enduring power?

Continued (click here)

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