Polgári Magyarországért Alapítvány
Batthyány Lajos Alapítvány
Friends of Hungary Foundation

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John O’Sullivan

Orbán’s Hungary: Image and Reality – Whose Democracy? Which Liberalism?

"For the moment, however, all attention has been diverted from other questions to the Prime Minister’s recent speech in which he seemingly repudiated liberal democracy and embraced what he called “illiberal democracy” as his favoured political system. Those remarks were interpreted, not unreasonably, as a justification for a more authoritarian form of government. They seemed to confirm the hostile critique of Orbán that is current in the European Left. And they added weight and force to all the other criticisms of him, his government and Hungary. My own feeling when I read the speech was slightly different. I was overcome by a feeling of déjà vu. For I was an advisor to Margaret Thatcher when she made her famous remark – “There is no such thing as society” – to a women’s magazine. I recall thinking that she would never escape from that remark or, rather, from a grotesque misunderstanding of that remark. For that sentence meant the opposite of what it seemingly said when it was wrenched from context. What she was saying was that society was not a “thing” – an abstract independent entity out there – but that it was composed of the ordinary men and women, and their families, and their various associations from churches to tennis clubs. If “society” was to take collective action, therefore, it would have to come ultimately from ordinary people, herself included, who would have to provide resources or themselves and for those less fortunate than themselves. These explanatory thoughts were not the implications of her remark on society. They were said quite clearly in the few sentences that followed it. But they were never quoted."

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