The Glamour of True Ideas (interview with Roger Scruton), by Ferenc Hörcher

Mos Maiorum’s Ferenc Hörcher recently interviewed British philosopher Roger Scruton in Bercel, Hungary at the Common Sense Society’s 2012 Summer Leadership Academy. Mr. Scruton shares his thoughts about European intellectual elites, Hungarian national identity and sovereignty, and why young people are still interested in ideas.

Ferenc Hörcher: Professor Scruton, let us first talk about the recent political events in Hungary and Europe. I don’t know how well you are acquainted with the Hungarian situation, but you might have heard the news that an IMF delegation recently came to Hungary to prepare talks about some sort of an agreement and financial support for the Hungarian budget. Do you regard it as a danger for a government’s financial policy and sovereignty to take this sort of help, or can there be situations when it is useful?

Roger Scruton: Well, all help of this kind diminishes sovereignty. Because you become answerable to the international body about the use of your own budget. We have seen proof of this in the case of Greece. Greece has essentially lost economic sovereignty and it will not be able to regain it except if it withdraws from the Eurozone now. In the Hungarian case, too, it is undeniably true that there will be some loss of sovereignty in that the government and future governments will have to comply with the conditions of the loan, which may involve making decisions about taxes and about the disposition of economic growth and so on. This same phenomenon we can confront in our own lives as well: if one accepts a mortgage, a loan from a bank to buy a house, the structure of one’s whole life will be changed. But we accept it because we assume that nevertheless the change is for the better. Let us say the good consequences outweigh the bad.

FH: Will the good outweigh the bad in the Hungarian case?

RS: I think that he Hungarian government hopes for the same positive balance from an agreement with the IMF. Although I have to say I never understood how this institution works, and I don’t think the people who run the IMF understand how it works particularly, because none of them seem to be trained in anything except politics.

FH: What do you think of Mr. Orbán’s international manoeuvring in general? He has many adversaries and opponents in Europe, including in the European Parliament and in the media. Do you not think that to take an independent national stance is too risky in a situation like ours? Or do you agree with those who consider him an example for other countries looking to put their own national interest first?

RS: I would say that Mr. Orbán’s approach to the IMF is probably the right one. Hungary is in a difficult situation economically like all the countries in this region, and it needs short term help in order to achieve long term stability. Here is some short term help offered by the wrong kind of institution. But I think, Mr. Orbán’s approach is, as you say, to put the national interest first, and make sure as far as he can that the terms of the loan are such that the country will be able to pay it back by the time required.

FH: This achievement presupposes a rather delicate, nuanced way of negotiating.

RS: It is hard to know how far this is possible at all! One of the key questions is whether it will end up as a semi-permanent debt or a temporary one. Most people say that permanent debts in the end are in fact gifts, because effectively you are not paying it back. It is simply there in the background of all your dealings, and the person who gave the gift turns out to be the stupid one because he has lost the money. There is plenty of evidence that the IMF will in the long run function in that way. It will just be one way of transferring capital assets from one part of the global economy to another.

FH: Do you think that political prices will have to be paid for that?

RS: I am sure that is true. But that is where you have to be a clever politician to try and get the reward without paying too high a price for it.

FH: Because of Mr. Orbán’s manoeuvering there have been many anti-Hungarian reactions in Europe and elsewhere in the whole Western world. On the other hand, in certain countries, such as in Poland, Orbán is taken for a kind of hero. What sort of positive role might Orbán play in the present situation of the European and global crisis?

RS: I think that is a more interesting political question, really. Because the question about the IMF is not really to do with Mr. Orbán’s politics. There are plenty of countries presently appealing to the IMF and Hungary just happens to be one of them. When it comes to the European Union there are interesting issues which are peculiarly Hungarian. The European Union, as you know, is centred upon the alliance of France and Germany, and in particular on the German need to whitewash its past, to persuade the world that Germany is a civilised nation which has nothing to do with that Nazi episode.

FH: Does it not overplay this role?

RS: It does. Because the German political class is constantly looking for some right wing extremist governments to contrast itself with. And Hungary is a wonderful example, because first of all Germans imposed fascism on Hungary, and forced Hungary in a position which many people today feel ashamed of.

Read the complete article in Paprika Politik

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