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There are currently serious debates occurring at the European level about Hungary and the state of Hungarian democracy. Coloring these debates and accusations are the usual economic interests, personal enmities and the like, but what is particularly vivid is the ideological antagonism that animates many critics of Hungary, especially among leftist journalists, academics, and politicians.
One of the main objections of the left inside Hungary and out, is that the new Hungarian Fundamental Law is, in fact, merely a “party-constitution”. They claim that it was drafted and is now being enforced without the consent of opposition parties, civil society, and the electorate itself. They also claim that the new Constitution undermines liberal democracy and leads Hungary back into a dark past, the Middle Ages, or worst. Some have gone so far as to describe Hungary as a retrograde “dictatorship” or “totalitarian” state.
These pundits, of course, do not mention that the former Hungarian Constitution (originally drafted in 1949 and revised significantly from time to time) was not a matter of debate. Its revisions were environed by disinterestedness or, as the current Prime Minister Orbán calls it, a “technocratic aggregation of rules”. But all constitutions worthy of the name are also political documents since they represent the settled will of a people as determined at a particular time. As such, a constitution is naturally a source of everlasting debate about the future of that people. The Constitution of the United States, which is respected as a sacrosanct document by Americans, remains to this day a central issue in political campaign debates and elections. And there are always some political groups who would delight in reforming or fundamentally altering it.
Any sober person realizes that politics is not usually characterized by consent, peace, and harmony. Politics most often involves conflicting views and interests, disharmony, grudging compromise, and sometimes exigency. Governing by total consensus is but an academic fantasy. Disagreement is an inextinguishable part of the human condition. So it is especially in the field of politics, where the stakes are high. Vigorous policy debates and election campaigns have consequences for both the winners and losers. This is, after all, how “discursive democracy” works according to liberal political thought.
For the left, however, discussion and debate are good only if their conclusions are achieved. The same applies for their love of democracy: if the leftist, liberal positions and tenets prevail, democracy is good. If a conservative or right-wing government is elected, then the former procedural safeguards which were held in sanctity by leftists are deemed secondary. When politics fails to implement leftist policies, then it becomes clear that “true” democracy requires unelected technocrats to govern on the basis of their “expertise” and bypass politics. This view has even come to be called “direct democracy”, meaning the so-called civil society actors and technocrats work together in governance, but glibly bypassing parliamentary and legal procedures and not necessarily bothering to win elections.
In contrast to this leftist ideological agenda and the governing styles that suite it best, Hungary’s current government has actually behaved in a very legal way, acting upon its electoral mandate. In fact, Hungary’s new Fundamental Law was accepted with the exact observance of laws and legal prescriptions defined in the former constitution. Nevertheless, the left finds it unacceptable because it runs counter to their progressive ideology—a set of ideas about justice and society that happen to run counter to the majority of traditional Hungarian voters. The new constitution rightly reflects their beliefs: the importance of patriotism, the need for both rights and duties, the country’s Christian heritage, a traditional understanding of marriage (as a union between one man and one woman), and the need to repudiate the legitimacy of Hungary’s past National Socialist and Communist tyrannies.
The left’s antipathy for Hungary’s new constitution and the Hungarian people’s deeply held values make clear that the liberal left’s adherence to “democratic values” is merely tactical and not substantive. To their minds, if a right-wing government has popular support, it is “populism”. If that same government lacks popular support, it is “illegitimate”. The left’s emphasis on rational debate and discursive democracy is but a sham; they do not tolerate disagreement if someone holds views different from theirs.
In reality, leftist liberals do not celebrate diversity, do not value debate, and do not respect constitutional democracy. In these respects, they are merely leftists and not liberals at all, certainly not in the classical Western sense. Hungarians ought to defend the fact that they have the right to fashion their own constitution and that the new constitution reflects the political will of the Hungarian people.
—Gabor Megadja works in the Hungarian Ministry of Public Administration and Justice as an advisor and speechwriter. He holds a degree in Sociology and is currently a PhD candidate in political philosphy.