Voluntary Servitude? The Matter of CEU

by David Baer

International criticism of a new Hungarian law targeting the operation of Central European University has been unprecedentedly severe – and that’s saying a lot, given the harsh criticisms Viktor Orbán’s government has received in recent years. The President of Germany has spoken out publicly in defense of CEU, and even President Trump’s State Department issued a critical statement. Meanwhile American news outlets, from the mainstream New York Times and Washington Post, to the conservative leaning American Interest and the leftist Vox, have all covered the story critically.

The severity of the criticism mirrors the brazenness of the law. Although Viktor Orbán has been chipping away at democratic institutions since assuming power in 2010, this newest attack on Hungary’s most prestigious university, a symbol of Hungarian-American friendship, and bastion of high caliber intellectual inquiry, has crossed a line so obvious that even Hungary’s apologists are at a loss for words. If in the past Orbán could work to explain away suspicious legislation, he has been unable to produce even the most superficially plausible explanation for “Lex CEU.” The most frequently offered explanation, namely, that CEU is the instrument of a world-wide liberal conspiracy orchestrated by the rich, evil genius of Jewish descent, George Soros, is too outrageous to dupe even the most gullible foreign observer. North and West of the Danube, Hungary is universally perceived as an autocratic regime. Freedom House now ranks Hungarian democracy below Bulgaria and Romania.

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My Crystal Ball Says These Things Will Happen While Donald Trump is President

by David Baer

History is full of surprises, irony, and unintended consequences – which is one reason those who study history know better than to make predictions. Since, however, I’m not a historian, I’m foolish enough to make a few specific predications about things that will happen during Donald Trump’s first term as President. I’m even foolish enough to put these down on record, so you can call me out and rub it once history proves me wrong. If events prove me right, however, then I’ll clearly deserve to be the next President.

1. The sanctions imposed on Russia because of its invasion of Ukraine will be lifted, raising the possibility of further territorial revisions in Eastern Europe.

2. Putin will test NATO by manufacturing a crisis in one of the Baltic States. Trump will look the other way. His failure to protect a NATO ally will mark the end of NATO as a credible military alliance.

3. Insurmountable contradictions between Trump’s anti-free trade protectionism and Paul Ryan’s free market philosophy, coupled with Trump’s personal dislike of Ryan, will lead to an anti-Ryan insurgency within the House. Ryan will be replaced by a Speaker whose political vision more closely aligns with Trump’s.

4. Due to his utter lack of political experience and erratic temperament, President Trump will be unable to deliver on the promises made to his base. Democrats will make notable gains in the 2018 mid-term elections, which will exacerbate tensions between traditional and Trumpian Republicans. The Republican Party will start to fissure and possibly split.

5. Trump’s presidency will be tarnished by scandals, as more information about his business dealings come to light, and due to his inability to manage the inherent conflict of interest between being President and operating real estate businesses and casinos.

6. Between 2016 and 2020 traditional American debates about the size and role of government will not feature in political discourse. In 2020 Democrats will abandon the political strategy dating back to Bill Clinton of running centrist campaigns. They will nominate a candidate to the left of both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, who will win the Presidency.

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Robert Benne on “Illiberal Democracy”

Robert Benne Source:  https://www.luther.edu/

Robert Benne
Source: https://www.luther.edu/

Robert Benne is Jordan Trexler Professor Emeritus and founding Director of the Center for Religion at Roanoke College, USA.  He has spent his scholarly career studying the relationship between religion and politics and is the author of ten books, including, most recently, Good and Bad Ways to Think about Religion and Politics and Reasonable Ethics: A Christian Approach to Social, Economic, and Political Concerns.  He has spent extensive time in both Germany and Britain and follows European affairs with interest. In light of the heightened attention Hungary has received in the Western media after Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s speech at Băile Tuşnad (Tusnádfürdő), Principium asked Prof. Benne to share with us his impressions of the speech.

Viktor Orbán’s speech at Băile Tuşnad (Tusnádfürdő) has received a lot of attention in the Western media. You’ve read the English translation of the speech available on the Hungarian government webpage. What did you think?

Benne: I can understand some of Mr. Orbán’s grievances:  the danger that nations will lose their independence to a large bureaucratic state, i.e., the EU; the cultural decadence of Western popular culture; powerful foreign forces buffeting a small nation; and domestic political deadlock.  But the solutions Orbán offers are abhorrent because they will lead to authoritarian nationalism.  His list of “models” for Hungary is truly appalling:  Russia, China, and Turkey being the most outlandish.  All three are authoritarian states with few freedoms.  The other two don’t fit:  India is moving toward a more open-market democracy, and Singapore is more like a libertarian city-state that has its own demographic problems.

What do you think of Prime Minister Orbán’s ideal of an “illiberal democracy”?

Benne: I found it truly worrisome. There is a whiff of fascism in the vision–direct knowledge and mystic representation of the people, strong racial nationalism, xenophobia, an impulse to co-opt and coordinate civil society (Gleichschaltung?), and a rejection of human rights.  Truly an illiberal state.  But like strong-men before him, Orbán underestimates the power and resilience of Western democracies, especially the United States, Germany, and the United Kingdom.  Although 2008 was damaging for democracies, it was not a historical paradigm-shift.  An American President like the current one, who wants to retreat from foreign affairs, will not be in office forever; and Europe, though weakening, is not exactly dead.

But in Băile Tuşnad (Tusnádfürdő) Orbán said he wanted to build a nation on Christian values. Shouldn’t Christians respect him for that?

Benne: One is tempted by his respect for Christianity, but I fear Orbán’s would be a “tamed” Christianity subservient to political power.  Orbán is right that Christianity can provide the wholesome values needed to sustain a good society, but Christians need to be free to speak out and act according to their own vision of the truth.  Religion co-opted by the state soon becomes dishonest, impotent, and, when it abandons its commitment to transcendent truths, even demonic. Co-opted religion quickly becomes compliant or complicit with evil. Co-opted religion isn’t truly free. Orbán should show greater respect for the First Freedom, namely, freedom of religion.

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Illiberal Democracy and the Dignity of the Human Person

by Christianus

Photo by László Beliczay/MTI Source: http://www.kormany.hu/

Photo by László Beliczay/MTI Source: http://www.kormany.hu/

Political crises are nothing new under the sun. They are as old as politics, and when viewed from faith, they represent an occasion not for fear, but to commit ourselves again to the common good and the cause of human dignity. For Christian politicians a “Western crisis” cannot be reason to turn from the West and toward Eastern, non-Christian political arrangements for the solution to political, social, and economic ills. In times of crisis, the Christian politician should look to the teaching of the Church and the wisdom of its tradition to find those moral principles indispensable for a just society. Important among these are respect for human dignity, solidarity with the weak, regard for subsidiarity, and adherence to the rule of law. Since these principles are central to liberal democracies, a plan to replace a liberal democracy with an “illiberal” one cannot be considered a Christian democratic program.

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Good and Bad Ways to Think About Religion and Politics

by Robert Benne

Robert Benne Source: https://www.luther.edu/

Robert Benne
Source: https://www.luther.edu/

Could anyone imagine an American government ordering Martin Luther King, Jr. not to use Christian rhetoric to inspire the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 60s?  Precisely this is what some militant atheists, secularists, and even a few religious leaders would like to happen today.  These folks are what I call “separationists,” those who believe religiously-based moral values ought not have a place in public discourse or policy-making.  While most of them merely disapprove of the interaction of religion and politics, others are so hostile to religion—especially conservative Christianity—that they would formally prohibit it.

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The Idea of a Christian Political Party

by H. David Baer

In an essay written perhaps in the 1960’s, the German Lutheran theologian Helmut Thielicke considers the possibility of a Christian political party. While not ruling the idea completely, he clearly has some reservations. By its nature, a political party must compromise and make strategic decisions that are far removed from Christian teaching.  And many of the things a political party takes a position on have no clear cut Christian answer.

Helmut Thielicke (1908-1986) Forrás: Wikipedia

Helmut Thielicke (1908-1986) Source: Wikipedia

Thielicke concludes that Christian political action should focus on specific issues, issues on which there is a Christian position. One cannot say this or that political party is Christian, but one can say, for example, that this is the Christian position on abortion, euthanasia, marriage, and so on. There may be Christian positions on specific political questions, but a political party with a comprehensive Christian platform is not really possible.

There might, of course, be rare exceptions in especially extreme circumstances.  This was the argument made about Hitler in the German confessing church movement.  Karl Barth made the argument famously, claiming, essentially, that to oppose Hitler was a status confessionis (to use Lutheran terminology).

As far as the political situation in Hungary is concerned, one would be hard pressed to claim things have reached that point. The only political event in Hungary that crossed the line theologically was Prime minister Orbán’s speech about the “bird from Turul,” delivered in the town of Ópusztaszer. If this sort of Hungarian paganism were to become an integral part of Fidesz politics, or the politics of another political party or government in Hungary, then Christians would have a duty to oppose such political paganism.  But the “speech at Ópusztaszer” was one crazy speech, and it would be rash to generalize from it at this point.

David Baer writes more about the Lutheran perspective on politics in the first issue of Principium.

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