I’m tired of the Viktor Orban “mixed race” discourse, because I think I’ve said about all I can usefully say. Nevertheless, my old friend Damon Linker calls me out for having defended Orban, and because he makes his criticism in good faith, I feel obliged to respond.
As you know if you’ve been reading this blog in the past few days, the Hungarian PM got himself into a world of trouble by making a couple of remarks in his remarkable hour-long speech in Transylvania last week (transcript here). According to the official transcript, here are his controversial statements:
The second challenge is migration, which you could call population replacement or inundation. There is an outstanding 1973 book on this issue which was written in French, and recently published in Hungary. It is called “The Camp of the Saints” [Le Camp des Saints], and I recommend it to anyone who wants to understand the spiritual developments underlying the West’s inability to defend itself. Migration has split Europe in two – or I could say that it has split the West in two. One half is a world where European and non-European peoples live together. These countries are no longer nations: they are nothing more than a conglomeration of peoples. I could also say that it is no longer the Western world, but the post-Western world. And around 2050, the laws of mathematics will lead to the final demographic shift: cities in this part of the continent – or that part – will see the proportion of residents of non-European origin rising to over 50 per cent of the total. And here we are in Central Europe – in the other half of Europe, or of the West. If it were not somewhat confusing, I could say that the West – let’s say the West in its spiritual sense – has moved to Central Europe: the West is here, and what is left over there is merely the post-West. A battle is in progress between the two halves of Europe. We made an offer to the post-Westerners which was based on tolerance or leaving one another in peace, allowing each to decide for themselves whom they want to live alongside; but they reject this and are continuing to fight against Central Europe, with the goal of making us like them. I shall leave to one side the moral commentary they attach to this – after all, this is such a lovely morning. There is now less talk about migration, but, believe me, nothing has changed: Brussels, reinforced with Soros-affiliated troops, simply wants to force migrants on us. They have also taken us to court over the Hungarian border defence system, and they have delivered a verdict against us. For a number of reasons not much can be said about this now, but we have been pronounced guilty. If it were not for the Ukrainian refugee crisis they would have started to enforce this judgment on us, and how that situation plays out will be accompanied by a great deal of suspense. But now war has broken out and we are receiving arrivals from Ukraine, and so this issue has been put aside – they have not taken it off the agenda, but just put it to one side. It is important that we understand them. It is important that we understand that these good people over there in the West, in the post-West, cannot bear to wake up every morning and find that their days – and indeed their whole lives – are poisoned by the thought that all is lost. So we do not want to confront them with this day and night. All we ask is that they do not try to impose on us a fate which we do not see as simply a fate for a nation, but as its nemesis. This is all we ask, and no more.
In such a multi-ethnic context, there is an ideological feint here that is worth talking about and focusing on. The internationalist left employs a feint, an ideological ruse: the claim – their claim – that Europe by its very nature is populated by peoples of mixed race. This is a historical and semantic sleight of hand, because it conflates two different things. There is a world in which European peoples are mixed together with those arriving from outside Europe. Now that is a mixed-race world. And there is our world, where people from within Europe mix with one another, move around, work, and relocate. So, for example, in the Carpathian Basin we are not mixed-race: we are simply a mixture of peoples living in our own European homeland. And, given a favourable alignment of stars and a following wind, these peoples merge together in a kind of Hungaro-Pannonian sauce, creating their own new European culture. This is why we have always fought: we are willing to mix with one another, but we do not want to become peoples of mixed-race. This is why we fought at Nándorfehérvár/Belgrade, this is why we stopped the Turks at Vienna, and – if I am not mistaken – this is why, in still older times – the French stopped the Arabs at Poitiers. Today the situation is that Islamic civilisation, which is constantly moving towards Europe, has realised – precisely because of the traditions of Belgrade/Nándorfehérvár – that the route through Hungary is an unsuitable one along which to send its people up into Europe. This is why Poitiers has been replayed; now the incursion’s origins are not in the East, but in the South, from where they are occupying and flooding the West. This might not yet be a very important task for us, but it will be for our children, who will need to defend themselves not only from the South, but also from the West. The time will come when we have to somehow accept Christians coming to us from there and integrate them into our lives. This has happened before; and those whom we do not want to let in will have to be stopped at our western borders – Schengen or no Schengen. But this is not the task of the moment, and not a task for our lifetime. Our task is solely to prepare our children to be able to do this. As [House Speaker] László Kövér has said in an interview, we must make sure that good times do not create weak men, and that those weak men do not bring hard times upon our people.
I included that longer context so you could understand more what Orban said, beyond the shallow reporting in the West, which has it that Orban said he didn’t want Hungary to be a “mixed race” society. As Americans, we read that through our own historical experience, which makes it sound like he is saying that he doesn’t want (for example) black people marrying white people. That is clearly racist, and contemptible. But as I have tried to point out, he is using the term “mixed race” in a particular way: to describe non-European Muslims relocating to Europe. Orban places the great migration of Muslims to Europe in the current time to historical invasions of Europe by Muslim forces. Hungary lived under Muslim occupation for nearly two centuries.
The large numbers of Muslim migrants to Europe poses a serious security challenge for Europeans, as this Israeli brigadier general and others point out. The high Muslim migration into Europe means that by 2050, Muslims will account for between 14 and 20 percent of all Europeans. This will have a massive and irreversible effect on European life. Orban clearly means in his remarks that by saying he doesn’t want a “mixed race” Europe, he doesn’t want Europe to be Islamized. He is not talking about some allegedly pure Hungarian race. He is obviously talking about non-Muslim Europeans living together in a Christian, or Christianized, culture. He is also clearly not talking about Jews. Orban has on many, many occasions talked about Jews as an integral part of European culture, and is a strong supporter of the Jewish community in his own country. Orban’s remarks were about Europe losing its core values, and core spiritual identity, to Islamic migration.
If you don’t think that is not an important issue in Europe, you simply are not paying attention. A lot of European liberal leaders prefer not to pay attention. A few years back, I was in Spain talking to a friend who told me his brother-in-law, a Spanish border guard working with the maritime services on the coast of Andalucia, told him that he (the brother in law) started voting for the anti-migration party Vox. Why? Because he was dealing every single day with the surge of migrants coming into Spain through Africa, and he could see with his own eyes how the politicians in Madrid were instructing the border guards to let them through. The politicians did not care about what happened to their country. They were more interested, in this man’s view, in upholding left-wing pieties than defending the country’s borders.
I think Orban was quite wrong to call “The Camp of the Saints” an “outstanding” book about migration. It is, in face, a hideous book, a racist book. Yet note what Orban said about it: “I recommend it to anyone who wants to understand the spiritual developments underlying the West’s inability to defend itself.” So do I, and so did I back in 2015, when I read the book. I wrote plainly that it is a racist book, and a bad book — but a book with one very important insight — the same one that Orban cites! In my 2015 post “Good Lessons From A Bad Book,” I said:
Accepting Third World migrants as an act of redemption. That is one of the main themes of Jean Raspail’s 1973 novel The Camp of the Saints, which I finished reading this weekend. It was a relief to reach the end of it. There is only one other book I can recall having finished, and having hated, but still being glad I read it, because I learned something from it: Sayyid Qutb’s condensed Islamist manifesto, Milestones.
The Camp of the Saints is a bad book, both aesthetically and morally. I was ambivalent about its moral status in the early parts of the book. I thought Raspail expressed himself more crudely than I would have done, but his cultural diagnosis struck me as having more merit than I anticipated, given the book’s notorious reputation. In the novel, a million-man armada of the wretched of the earth decide to sail to Europe from India, more or less daring the West to stop their migration. Most of the narrative focuses on how France prepares itself for the invasion.
Raspail, a traditionalist Catholic and far-rightist, draws in broad strokes a portrait of a France that has given up. All the country’s institutions and leaders across the board decide that it is the moral duty of all Frenchmen to welcome the armada with open arms. Raspail is at his satirical best mocking the sentimental liberal humanitarianism of the political, media, and clerical classes, all of whom look to the armada as a form of salvation, of redemption for the West’s sins.
You cannot read my post and think that I believe “The Camp Of The Saints” is a good book, or anything other than a racist book. What I found so remarkable and disturbing about the book was that it tells the truth about the spiritual and moral collapse of European elites, who are exhausted and have lost faith in their own civilization, and look to the migrant masses for redemption. As I have written more recently, this is the same basic point that the French novelist Michel Houllebecq makes in his (non-racist) novel Submission, which is not a critique of Islam and Muslims, really, but a diagnosis of the moral collapse of the post-Christian West. The Jewish girlfriend of Houellebecq’s protagonist François leaves with her family for Israel, to get out of Islamifying France; François laments that he does not have an Israel to go to.
Viktor Orban speaks for non-Muslim Europeans who can see their civilization slipping away thanks to mass migration, mostly from the Muslim world, and feel powerless to do anything about it. If you look at his full statement above, he says that by “mixed race,” he means Europeans and non-Europeans migrants. I wish he had not used such loaded language, and wish he had been more precise. but Americans who are imposing our own particular history of race, and the term “mixed race,” onto Orban, who clearly defined what he meant by mixed race, are being dishonest. Similarly, I wish he had not brought up the vile Jean Raspail book, because it is a plainly racist book, and no politician should risk being misunderstood vis-a-vis that novel. Even so, he is correct that in that one narrow sense, Raspail accurately diagnoses the “spiritual elements” behind the West’s “inability to defend itself.”
So, because Viktor Orban expressed himself somewhat crudely, people like my friend Damon are willing to throw out all of his insights, dismissing him as a stone-cold racists. I think that is not only unfair, but morally and geopolitically blind. But let me address what Damon says specifically:
While consistently withholding support from Trump himself, Rod spent the next few years adjusting his political stance to a new political reality. Instead of practicing what he preached and turning inward [re: “The Benedict Option” — RD], he focused more resolutely than ever on outrages committed by the left. Rod became convinced, not only that the Social Justice Warriors were wrong, as I often thought they were as well, but that they were hell bent on building a comprehensive political-legal-cultural-technological system in which they would actively persecute Christians and anyone else who resisted The Official Woke Teaching on Gender and Sexuality.
By the time he published his next book, Live Not by Lies (2020), Rod was describing this left-wing agenda as “soft totalitarianism” and likening the situation of Christians living in the liberal democracies of the West to dissidents struggling to keep their faith alive under the repression of Soviet Communism. (This line of argument tracks closely with the writings of the Polish anti-liberal Ryszard Legutko.)
There is no contradiction between focusing on the outrages of the Left, especially as they became more persecutorial of social and religious conservatives, and advocating for The Benedict Option. Anybody who believes TBO was a call for neo-Amish quietism misread the book. In it, I plainly argue for Christians (and others) to shore up their own identities and practices to allow themselves to be firm in the face of a culture that despises what they believe. As I’ve been telling people for years, we small-o orthodox Christians have to live as the Jews held captive in Babylon did: dwelling between Jeremiah 29 (settling in the foreign land and praying for its peace) and the opening chapters of Daniel, where the three Hebrew youths who served the king nevertheless were so devoted to their Jewish identity that they chose the prospect of death before disavowing their faith. If we Christians are going to do that, we have to be ever more aware of the radical challenges to our beliefs and way of life. We can’t afford to turn away from what’s happening in the world, and to think that if we ignore it and tend our own gardens, we will be left alone. If it disappoints my liberal friends who had hoped that a culture warrior would shut up, well, sorry.
Anyway, more Damon:
So which is it? Is Camp of the Saints a good, even prophetic, book? Or a bad book? Does it accurately expose and diagnose Europe’s spiritual condition and its oblivious vulnerability to external invaders of other races? Or is it a paranoid, racist, xenophobic screed that no responsible public figure should describe as “outstanding” and urge people to read and take seriously, let alone use as an inspiration for formulating public policy?
In all honestly, I think Rod’s current position is that Raspail’s novel, like Orbán’s Raspail-inspired speech, gets things mostly right. Rod just wishes everyone concerned would use the word “culture” instead of “race” to describe the West’s existential battle against the alien invaders.
It is a bad book that is also prophetic. How much clearer can I be? You don’t have to be a good man to accurately foresee certain events, and to diagnose a sickness within a culture. I agree with Damon that no responsible public figure should cite “The Camp of the Saints,” because its correctness about Europe’s decadence does not redeem tis racism. Raspail’s novel does not “get most things right,” whatever that means, because, in my view, he totally dehumanizes the Third World masses (who are not, as Damon has it, Muslim — at least I don’t think they are). I think it is hard for good and decent people like Damon to see anything truthful about that book, because of its racism. Look, I read the book, and I get it. I forced myself to read the whole thing because I thought it was important to do so. It is a book that makes you feel foul after you’ve finished it. And yet, as you read it, the words and gestures of French ruling class figures in the narrative could be taken from the headlines. I suggest that it could be that decent liberals (and conservatives) are not allowing themselves to see hard truths about mass migration because they are understandably afraid of being racist. We should be afraid of being racist — but not so afraid that we close our eyes to bad things happening.
A small example: this summer in Germany, authorities are closing public swimming pools because of violence from migrant community members. In 2002, when I was in the Netherlands working on a story, authorities had done the same thing because young Muslim men from Morocco were routinely assaulting and taunting Dutch women sunbathing, calling them whores. The authorities in both countries preferred to deny to their own people the right to bathe in public rather than confront with force these hallowed Third World migrants. This is crazy — and this is the kind of spiritual and moral collapse that Raspail diagnosed. You don’t have to accept Raspail’s wicked, repugnant, dehumanizing views of non-European peoples in order to recognize that he got that right. In fact, the failure of good and decent non-racist people to respond effectively to what these migrant troublemakers do only serves to legitimize the racist views of the Raspails among us. If being a Good Person™ requires you to surrender your safety, your liberties, and ultimately your civilization, then being a Good Person™ will appeal to few.
Damon makes this personal plea to me:
I’m a big advocate of admitting mistakes. I’ve made many over the years, and I don’t think there’s anything shameful in making a public break from past positions when it becomes clear the earlier position is untenable. It’s how we learn, making our way through, and trying to make sense of, a confusing world in real time.
Our own moment is unusually bewildering, with intense polarization, dramatically shifting ideological lines, and blurred partisan distinctions. Your own constant engagement with critics on your blog, Rod, shows your good-faith struggle to find your way through the intellectual and moral thickets. That’s one reason I’ve admired your writing for so long, despite the fact that we often find ourselves on opposite sides of political fault lines.
But even in a time of shifting and blurred lines, we need to hold fast to some fixed standards. If a politician delivers a speech in which he combines talk of European collapse with ominous references to the dangers of mixing races and the existential threat posed by Muslim immigration, and then also plugs a book that warns about precisely the same thing in racist terms, he has delivered a flagrantly racist speech.
This isn’t complicated. It’s as clear as day, right there on the surface, and it’s bad.
But it’s also bad that, as you note near the top of your original post on the speech, Orbán is likely to say similar things in his remarks at CPAC less than a week from now, on a stage he will be sharing with Donald Trump, just months before he announces another run for the presidency. You have done a lot to bring American conservatives into alignment with Orbán. He could well say things in Dallas that further embolden racist and xenophobic factions of the American right, bringing their toxic ideas even further into the mainstream.
Is this really what it now means for you to engage in politics as a Christian and a defender of moral truth? I certainly hope not. And if it isn’t, I hope you will soon come to see that you have a unique responsibility to speak out against this darkness—to use your voice to explain why your allies on the right must repudiate the racist and xenophobic anti-liberalism for which Viktor Orbán has now unambiguously made himself a leading spokesman.
Again, Damon is a good man and an old friend, and I appreciate his kind words about me, and the tone in which he writes here. I honestly don’t know what else I can say to clarify my views on this matter. But let me try:
- I believe Viktor Orban was wrong to have praised “The Camp of the Saints,” or to have invoked it at all — even though Orban correctly notes that the book explains the spiritual reasons for why Europe cannot defend itself against migrants who challenge its civilization.
- I believe Viktor Orban spoke carelessly about “race” in his speech, in a way that makes it a lot harder to defend his completely defensible points about religion and culture.
- Racism is evil, straight up. But not everything that secular liberals describe as “racism” actually is racism. I do not believe that it is racist for Europeans (Christians, Jews, and secular people) who want to keep their civilization as it is to want a halt to mass migration, especially from the Muslim world.
- Liberals and others who don’t recognize a fundamental challenge to European values from mass Muslim migration are blind, and ultimately undermine the things they believe in, as well as empowering far-right politicians.
- I disagree that Orban has “delivered a flagrantly racist speech.” Orban spoke for over one hour, about a wide variety of topics. He spoke of migration, religion, and culture, in two paragraphs. I have made it clear the problems I have with the way Orban expressed himself. But I think it makes no sense to characterize Orban’s entire speech as “flagrantly racist,” or to write off his analysis of Europe’s migration crisis because he expresses himself at times in ways some of us find repugnant.
I’m writing this the day after having gone to the Czestochowa shrine in Poland. It is considered by the Poles to be their spiritual heart. What I found extraordinary, as an American and a non-Catholic Christian, is how inextricably tied the Polish sense of itself as a nation — a race, in a certain context — is to its Catholic faith. Being American, I have a reflexively negative view of tying religion to nationalism, but I have to recognize that for most people in the world, it’s not this way. Muslims, for example, regard themselves not only as believers in a religion, but as part of a global religious community that, ideally, is also a political community. It would be absurd for Americans to demand that Muslims who have understood themselves as an ummah from the beginning to change their views to suit American classical liberal views of “church and state”. Yet I also believe it is perfectly legitimate for Americans to expect this of each other, and of migrants to our country, given our own history, our founding principles, and the way most Americans live.
Having said that, and having gone to Czestochowa, I believe it is equally intolerant and absurd to expect Poles to set aside their Catholicism in the way they see themselves as a nation. I was talking to my Polish hostess over breakfast this morning about the connection between the nation and Catholicism, as expressed at Czestochowa. She said that is the place where a king of past centuries declared that the Virgin Mary was the “Queen of Poland” — and that’s how Poles live. She said trying to explain that feeling that Poles have regarding the unity of nation and faith is like trying to explain to a stranger why you love your spouse. I could see her struggling visibly, physically, to come up with the words to explain it to me. The fact that she couldn’t — well, that actually explained it to me.
Europeans aren’t Americans. We Americans have a much easier time assimilating migrants in part because we hold history very loosely, and because we lack these deep traditions and folkways. That is good in some ways, bad in others. I have complained in this space in the past about American cultural hegemony, most recently in terms of what woke capitalism and the US government forces on Central European countries, and other nations around the world. But it’s also true regarding the so-called Third World. There is no clear, faultless formula for how to deal with this, with the clash of values. For example, dealing with the Pashtun tribesmen sexually abusing boys in Afghanistan — I would just as soon our soldiers shoot those SOBs than look at them. But that evil goes deep in their culture. We can’t be cultural relativists, and turn a blind eye to it, it seems to me. But where do we draw the line? Where do we say that this is what those people believe, and we have to accept it even if we don’t like it, and when do we say that this thing might be part of their tradition, but it is evil and we cannot tolerate it? Total tolerance and total intolerance are easy positions to take, but not realistic or just. So how do we do it?
I bring this up in terms of Orban, Muslim migration, and Europe simply to say that what is at stake in Europe, which is rapidly de-Christianizing, regarding the mass migration issue is much greater and in fact different than what’s at stake in the United States. A Poland in which Czestochowa does not speak to and for the nation is not Poland as it has existed for many centuries. As someone who is an outsider (both as an American and as an Orthodox Christian) to what Czestochowa means, I value it, and want it to be there for future generations of Poles. But this understanding does not come naturally to Americans, not because we are bad people, necessarily, but because we come from a country that was created in the modern era, and that values individual liberty over tradition. I think this also makes us hear Orban’s words in a certain way — a way that Europeans don’t necessarily hear it. Besides, it’s not Americans who stand to lose their culture and civilization under the pressure of mass migration from the Islamic world — it’s Europeans. It’s the people who vote for Viktor Orban and other European leaders.
All of this is to say that I appreciate the active concern Viktor Orban shows for the long-term civilizational consequences of mass Islamic migration to Europe, however crudely he sometimes expresses himself, more than I appreciate the active suppression of concern about this issue on the part of the “respectable” ruling class of most European nations. Viktor Orban should be a lot more careful in how he expresses himself on this issue — but he should keep expressing himself. If liberalism requires European nations to sign a suicide pact, then we will live to see far worse men than Viktor Orban take power in Europe before it’s over.
My questions back to my friend Damon:
Do you think that Europeans have a right to be concerned about mass Islamic migration to Europe?
And if so, how should they respond, both in terms of rhetoric and policy to avoid being guilty of racism?
If you believe that there is no morally acceptable response that involves halting mass migration, why should people who want to keep things the way they are not turn to illiberal politicians who promise to defend the nation from mass migration?
One more thing: if a Muslim majority country — Turkey, say — had a leader who was concerned that mass migration of Christians threatened the stable Islamic character of the state, would we be bothered by him saying that? I would not. I would be bothered if he demonized Christians, or punished those already living there. But if he proposed to cut off migration of Christians as a way of preserving the traditional Islamic character of the nation, I would be hard pressed to blame him. Even though I don’t share his religion, I can still empathize with him, including sharing an understanding of how secular liberalism dissolves religion and tradition.
UPDATE: A reader who is ethnically Indian e-mails:
I think you actually understate your position here, and that it could be much stronger. The fact is that anyone who uses “nation” to mean “country” is just misusing the term. It’s not an alternate usage, it’s just a wrong usage. Nation refers to a people, not the land that they live in. It doesn’t always have to be defined in ethnic terms, but it usually is. When a Black Jehovah’s Witness asked me a while back, “what is your nationality”, he wasn’t asking “what does it say on your passport”, he was asking, “what are you”, or less crudely, “where are you from”. I think being Black he had the freedom to come out and say it straightforwardly, just like I would: I suspect a liberal or moderate White American would shy away from asking so explicitly, due to some of the same discomfort surrounding race, nationality and ethnicity that you and JonF evince.
I’ll respond to you, Jon and Damon here, because I think a common theme is that you guys are all trying to downplay the significance of “race” (and by race I mean here, specifically, common ancestry, and common descent, manifested in particular physical phenotypes). JonF comes out and says this the most straightforwardly:
“Orban needs to beware of biologizing the concept of ethnicity. The Hungarian genome has been investigated and it pretty much derives from a mix of peoples of the region. Even the original Magyars appear to have been a “mixed race” people with both Uralic and Turkic antecedents (the language is definitely Uralic, but the culture had strong Turkic elements). Defending a culture– sure. But that shouldn’t veer off into defending a non-existent genetic sub-clade”
First of all, you aren’t actually disagreeing with Orban here: Orban is speaking in racial terms about “Central Europeans”, not Hungarians per se. He’s freely acknowledging that Hungarians are a mix of other Central European peoples, as are you. It’s not so much that he would like to keep Hungarians distinct from other Central Europeans, it’s that he would like to keep Central Europeans distinct from other racial groups, including Middle Easterners, South Asians, Africans etc..
I would go further than you and Orban here actually, because I don’t see all Europeans as one racial group. Hungarians are pretty similar to other Central Europeans, for sure, but the peoples at the extremes of Europe- Mediterranean peoples like Greeks and Italians, and Northern European peoples like Finns or Estonians- are nonetheless quite distinct from each other, and their differences are very much not “non existent”. A genetic test can tell you not just whether your ancestors were from Italy or Finland, but what part of FInland they were from. The Sami of Northern Europe and the Sardinians, to take the two “extreme” European populations, have a genetic distance of 7%, which is comparable to the difference between some very closely related species (say, red wolves and coyotes), and about half as big as the European vs. West African difference. I think that those distinctions- both within Europe and outside of it- are interesting, valuable, part of our human heritage and worth preserving. I don’t want to see a world in which Finland’s population looks like a snapshot of Italy or Portugal, any more than I want to see a world where Finland looks like India or Nigeria.
Second of all, in the trivial sense it’s true that every ethno-racial group in the world today, with a few exceptions, came together from the fusion of other groups. That doesn’t mean that the groups as they exist today are any less real or distinct, or that the boundaries of the groups are infinitely malleable, or can be extended to accomodate more groups. The Malagasy of Madagascar arose maybe 2000 years ago with the fusion of East African and Indonesian genetic elements, but after twenty centuries of near-isolation on their island, they’ve developed into a distinct ethno-racial group of their own: they have distinct haplogroups of their own, they recognize themselves as a unified people, they share a common language and physical phenotype, and they’re immediately aware that they are ethnoracially different from other immigrant groups who might live on their island (the Chinese, the Gujaratis, the Comorians). The fact that their ethnoracial identity arose less than 2000 years ago with the fusion of two other groups, doesn’t mean that the envelope of inclusion is infinitely expandable today. Whatever the origin of their group, they’re attached to their group as it stands today, and don’t want to lose their distinct identity. Same goes for Indians (Indians today are mostly a mix of between two to four racial groups that arrived in the subcontinent at different times, but today we’re a distinct and immediately recognizable group of our own, and we see ourselves as racially distinct from Europeans, East and West Africans, Middle Easterners, East Asians and so forth). Every painting is in a sense made up of a set of basic paints and pigments which could be mixed in many different ways to make lots of different pictures, but you wouldn’t see yourself as justified in taking a Vermeer painting and suddenly starting to paint over it, on the grounds that “it’s made up of mixed pigments, we’re just adding some more to the mix”. Vermeer enthusiasts are attached to the painting as it stands now.
I think you (Rod) and JonF are much more comfortable about talking about culture than about ethnicity, and envisioning culture in terms of religion, values, etc.. I think that’s a mistake. Ethnicity can’t be fully biologized- there are many things that can go into ethnic identity that aren’t biological, including, yes, things like religion, and of course language is a big one. Fundamentally, however, you can’t excise biology from the definition, either. Ethnicity is fundamentally a concept of belonging: it’s an answer to the question, “who am I, what group do I belong to, and who are my kindred”. You can answer those questions in ways that don’t have to do with biological ancestry.
Islam and Christianity have both tried- with varying and debatable degrees of success- to undermine the importance of genetic kinship and substitute for it the idea that all Muslims or all Christians are brothers. In the last analysis though, the “fictive kinship” promoted by Christianity and Islam is dependent on the concept of genetic kinship. “Treat all Christians like you would treat your brothers” only makes sense if we have the concept of brotherhood imprinted in our minds, and the reason we care about brotherhood to begin with (and the reason that missionary religions can make use of the powerful analogy to kinship) is precisely because we’re shaped by evolution to care first and foremost about the survival of people who share our genes.
You can define ethnicity in terms of language, or religion, or many other things, but for most people, most of the time, a very big part of the definition is going to come down to bonds of common ancestry and common descent. There’s a reason that genealogy plays such a big role in the Old Testament itself, and there’s a reason that deracinated Americans today, even the ones who dutifully parrot cosmopolitan talking points, are obsessed with finding out “where they’re from” via doing genetic tests, and will immediately respond to finding out they’re 10% Polish by running off and trying to teach themselves basic Polish phrases, learning how to cook bigos, and reading up the Wikipedia page on the Three Partitions. Genetic descent (and the physical phenotypes in which it expresses itself) is not the only answer to “who am I, who are my kindred and with whom do I belong”, but for most people, most of the time, it’s a big part of the answer, and if you try to tear that out of the definition of identity, you are going to lose. To your sorrow. It will just cost western countries several more centuries of bloodshed, tragedy and suffering, and at the end of it all, when places like London and Paris are smoking battlefields, the various ethnic groups will be trudging across the battlefields into separate enclaves once again, to sort themselves out all over again.
I appreciate the comment. Let me underscore again that while I have no idea what Viktor Orban really believes about ethnicity, on the evidence of the words he actually spoke in his speech, he was using race to mean “Europeans of Judeo-Christian origin.”
The reader is certainly correct that I am very uncomfortable talking about race in ethnic terms, mostly because of my Southern heritage — that is, based on what racial thinking and concepts did in my part of the world, to white and black people. I strongly believe that what Martin Luther King taught was a blessing to America, and delivered us from the prison of race-based thinking. The fact that the Left has abandoned that today in favor of emphasizing racial identity is taking us backwards. I do not credit for one second Leftists who will go on and on about the evils of whiteness, and so forth, yet be shocked by anything Viktor Orban or a Central European politician has to say. (Damon Linker, of course, is not one of these leftists.)
UPDATE.2: Comments from readers, via e-mail:
I met with the PM yesterday with a dozen or so other academics. He acknowledged that he used the wrong phrase to describe his point about the mixing of various cultures. My sense is that your defence of him accurately represents his views on the matter.
Central and Eastern European culture is what PM Orban was referring to, in that he believes it is in Hungary’s best interest not to be swamped by hordes of people who will not integrate, or whose integration might take generations. The haters are going to hate no matter what. The people over at the Bulwark are the kinds who live in gated communities and drive Teslas. They don’t have to live with the consequences of their decisions, as pointed out by commentators like Victor David Hanson.
Another, this from a Jewish reader:
You left out another American use: La Raza, used as a term for Latin Americans. It’s definitely not biologically racial; I imagine most who use it are probably white. (A flag of La Raza I once saw combined Native and Conquistador symbolism, something that would give American lefties a heart attack.)
I recall once before the World Baseball Classic, where players for American teams play for their native countries, one player was in an ad that had him saying, “I’m playing for La Raza.” American conservatives went nuts; liberals didn’t see an issue.
(By the way, Jewish-American players with no ties to Israel can play for Israel. There’s your “Jewish nation.” Don’t tell Kristol.)
During World War II, FDR and Churchill spoke about “survival of our race” and the like all the time. They meant a sort of broad Western free people.
What you wrote about DC reminded me of a line Herman Wouk wrote in his classic book on Jews and Judaism: We no longer live in a ghetto, for which we only be eternally grateful. But we’ve lost some of the sense of community a state of siege brings with it.
A Texan writes:
You’ve spoked at great length about how Orban’s comments don’t denote racist language per se, and for the most part I’d say that while I can’t 100% agree (not being capable of fully grasping the entire situation) I do trust that you have a reason for why you say what you say about the matter. I think it’s an important distinction, this idea of Race Vs. Nation, and that it’s not inherently a bad thing for a culture to want to keep its core values intact and free of too many unwanted influences from outside sources, even in situations where that culture may want to aid other struggling nations/peoples.
You mention some examples from your own home state of Louisiana, but I’d like to go out on a limb and say that my own state, Texas, has probably experienced more of this in recent times than any state in the South. If you follow news from this part of the woods, you know that Texas’ population has been increasing rapidly in the recent past, and a great deal of that influx has been migrants fleeing from liberal parts of California. After spending decades making California the poster-child for left-wing liberal democracy, most of its wealthiest elites, biggest consumer corporations and even a lot of its high-profile individuals have jumped ship to Texas. There’s a massive level of hypocrisy inherent in this shift- these are many of the same individuals who turned California into as unliveable a place as it now is- and who now, with no shame whatsoever, admit that they’ve made the transition to Texas because Texas has looser business laws, a better economy, etc. etc. If you’ve ever wondered why the news media hates Greg Abbott and his politics so much, you won’t wonder any longer when you realize that to the liberal elite, Texas is ripe for conquest to become the next big getaway location for the same kind of people and practices that drove sunny California into the ground.
I for one don’t blame anyone wanting to get out of California. But I admit, I don’t like the picture of Texas becoming the Californian exodus state. The issue is that Californian liberals want what Texas has to offer (good job markets, etc.) but in no way do they want to be mistaken for Texas natives. They still sneer by and large at our Cowboy Culture and overly Republican politics, and even in liberal hotspots like Dallas, there’s not the same homogenous acceptance of the far-left there would be in their home state. The arrogance of the Californian elites is that they think they can change this- that within a few years they can eject Abbott and turn the state blue and it’ll be just like California, but not as much of a mess. They also paint themselves as saviors (as so many woke elites) of Mexican immigrants that they assume all Texans see as undesirable- failing to realize that Mexican/Hispanic (especially Mexican Catholic) portions of the state are an inherent and necessary part of Texas culture, and that most of us (at least, I would like to think) would rather have extra immigrants from Mexico (as long as they were legally admitted) than we would have extra left-wing liberals from California!
But this is the hypocrisy of the ruling American mindset, one that, as I become more aware of it, is kind of insidiously ingrained into our collective consciousness. We assume that, no matter where we go, we will be welcome, and that everywhere we go can shift itself to become a place we want to be. Californians assume that Texas is only too ready to welcome them and that their presence in Texas will be an asset. Texans, on the other hand, can and should look at this huge migration as a threat because the more Californians there are in Texas, the more chance Texas has of becoming, culturally and spiritually, like California. We’re all Americans at the end of the day, and state-to-state migration isn’t as big of an issue as nation-to-nation, but those cultural differences are going to eventually breed conflict, one way or another.
And yet it is part, as I said, of the American consciousness as a whole to willingly ignore those cultural differences, especially when we begin to travel abroad. The Californian who goes to Texas assumes Texas will budge to let them in, but the Texan who travels to, say, France, also assumes France will budge just as easily. This is where Americans, fundamentally, get such a bad rap for being the worst tourists ever- because we can’t conceive that there could be such a thing as a place we aren’t wanted- where our identity and values don’t reign supreme. I have a relative who is dating a man from South Korea, and who plans to eventually go with him back to his home country. I’ve asked her before about how the culture shock will affect her, but her stance is that she loves the culture of South Korea, so it’s not a problem for her to adapt to it. The issue is, that may be true, but there’s still the inherent reality that a Westerner, no matter how much they may love the culture of an Eastern nation, is never going to view life the way an Easterner does. I don’t think it’s wrong to try to assimilate, but I don’t think we can always remove the parts of ourselves and our cultural past that would cause the most friction.
Does that mean no one can ever try to change the cultural that they’re part of? Of course not. But the reality is, it’s both hypocritical and wrong that the elite and powerful (especially the corporations) turned California into a dead-zone and have now turned their sights on a different state for new pickings. The average Californians that are being encouraged to shift states are leaving something of their cultural identity behind and bringing some part of it with them, neither of which would be necessary if those with power and wealth and influence had set their sights on fixing California, instead of draining it dry and leaving it to burn (quite literally). The situation with Muslim immigration in Europe is similar to me- everyone asks, “how can we welcome these refugees?” and not “how can we help these refugees get their homes back?” or at the very least “how can we help the Middle East to stop creating more refugees?”
For yourself Rod, I know you’re planning to take up a long residence in Hungary, so I have to ask the question- do you think the American hypocrisy applies to you? Or rather, do you feel that it’s at all hypocritical to say “we must not question the hesitation of Hungarians to accept foreigners” while you yourself are actively asking them to accept you, a foreigner? I think I can sense that you’d say it isn’t- but let me ask another question- do you feel that, if Hungary decided tomorrow that American citizens weren’t welcome in their culture due to the kinds of unshakeable cultural pasts we bring to their front, you would be able to accept that? Obviously, I know you’re not probably planning to change your nationality to Hungarian anytime soon, but I know you’ve spoken with some Americans who have done that exact thing, so I can’t help but ask the question. I ask doubly because, in this space and others, I’ve observed a lot of Americans saying they’d like to flee the U.S. for better prospects elsewhere in the near future, if things get any worse at home. I can’t help but look at those individuals with mixed sympathies. On the one hand, I know what it’s like to want to get out of dodge. On the other hand, I also have to acknowledge that we can’t keep running away from our problems forever if we want to ever see a future where there’s any place left that IS worth living.
To go back to California- California is dying, and the Californians moving to Texas are hoping it will be better. But what if it isn’t? What if those same corporations and mindsets that ruined California ruin Texas next? Will they go to Florida? To Oklahoma? Across the border to Mexico? From an individual perspective, getting your family out of a bad place seems like the wisest choice. But if everyone does it, you start creating a trail of destruction and flight that becomes never ending. I’m sure this is how Hungarians feel, looking at the rest of Europe, about Muslim immigration. Muslim immigrants are fleeing from horrible places- but if the cultural instability follows them, then the places they go also become hard to live in. And then the Europeans who lived there (especially the wealthier classes) begin to move to other places, and the cycle turns again.
Anyway, I’m getting a bit off track from my point, so I’ll go ahead and end it there. You gave me a lot to think about, and I appreciate your posts as always. Hope you’re doing well.
Good question about Hungary and me. I guess I might have my feelings hurt if Hungary told me I wasn’t welcome as an American, but in no way would I blame them. It’s their country! I don’t have a right to live in it, or to expect them to accept me. If they do — and they have done in my past times living there — I will be grateful for their friendship and hospitality. But I don’t expect Hungary and Hungarians to change themselves to suit me. Earlier this summer, when I was deported by Austrian border police for (accidentally) overstaying my Schengen visa, some commenters were ready to accuse me of hypocrisy, assuming that I would be angry that the Austrians didn’t let me in. In fact, I was angry at myself for not understanding the visa regulations, but not at the Austrians, who have every right to set and enforce their own immigration laws. The fault was my own.
About living in Hungary, I would tell Americans who are eager to live in a more conservative place to think very, very hard before moving to Hungary. I think it’s a great place, but language is a huge issue. In Budapest, many people speak English, but many more do not. If you don’t have a set of Hungarian friends and colleagues who can help you when you need to navigate the very difficult native language, your life will be hard there. I’ve only lived there a few months at a time, and I really enjoyed myself among the Hungarians. But the language presents challenges that are more difficult than the same challenges would be in a country like France, Italy, Spain, or Germany, where the language is easier to learn. The difficulty of mastering Hungarian, and the difficulty of living in Hungary if you don’t know Hungarian (and don’t operate in a professional space where your own language is normal), serve as a natural barrier to migration there.
Two thoughts to add.
First on Putnam:
Putnam’s idea doesn’t rule out “correlation does not equal causation”, and there’s a clear reason to suspect that.
Diversity by definition means that some sort of dislocation happened, people were uprooted from ancestral lands and moved somewhere else. Dislocation puts people in new surroundings where they are more cautious and wary of the unknown, with no common institutions and friendships at first, and the people there more cautious likewise of new faces. Cities by their nature are hubs of dislocation.
Diversity is definitely correlated with dislocation but it’s plain that dislocation is the real matter, there is considerable diversity within skin tone “races” too hence the mass ideological sorting going on, and sticking race labels on it, especially in the US today, hides more than uncovers. And completely misleads the right in particular about what its mission is – to solve and end mass dislocation (and in a way, diversity) with “E Pluribus Unum” – “out of many, one”. A mission that the left, given its hostility to the huge native white working class demographic, whose assent is key, is unfit to handle.
Hungary, of course, is not the US even if some ideas have wider application.
Second on Huntington:
“Inviting political and cultural division into the country” via immigrants? Of course, we have NEVER had political and cultural division among us, right?
On one hand we have his weird disregard of the foundational, deep, cultural divide within the US itself that he just waves away. There’s a reason that in US politics, the North and the South have ALWAYS, over 250 years, been on opposite sides. That’s not cooling down now, if anything it’s heating up, and we read now of “red America” and “blue America” as two fundamentally different countries sharing uncomfortably the same space. The former is loosely conservative, evangelical, tangible, rural, and Southern. The latter is loosely progressive, Puritan-derived, intellectual, urban, and Yankee. “Southern” and “Yankee” are the archetypical factions even if today the maps are strongly tinged by rural/urban (with more cities in the North, too). “English Protestants” that populated America were an extremely heterodox group from opposite sides of Britain with very different experiences from the tumultuous 1600’s that permanently colored their descendant cultures in the US, and have always been at odds.
On the other hand Huntington, the Yankee intellectual, maybe has a point. As someone from a 100% Yankee family, who grew up in the South, and lived for years in Latin America, in my view Latinos are much more like Southerners than like Yankees (they’re even becoming evangelical, too). Huntington’s central argument sounds to me like a Yankee who thinks (recognizes?) that Latinos will actually imperil Yankee political and cultural dominance (and long term efforts to change the South, which they openly view as a third world country – is that “superficial diversity”? – to look like the North). By making certain (in his view) undesirable Southern traits more common.
Latino politics are two things – first, populist, second, nationalist. Sound familiar? Now 6 years after Trump, polls show a dead heat among Latino voting, unthinkable 10 years ago. The left, blowing off Huntington, bet that US southern-heavy populist nationalism would be too racial and hostile to Latinos (and northern, more Catholic, working class whites, too) but it erred by applying European concepts of ethnic nationalism on to ethnically agnostic Anglo and Latin American ones (hence it desperately wants to find some actual KKK type white nationalists somewhere: “look! Euro-style ethnonationalism! Nazis!” to confirm the brutish Southerner stereotype, which the right laughs off as unserious FBI agent costume parties). Racialist righties have tended to get taken out by their own side. Latin assent has really given cover and fuel to the US right’s populist nationalist trend. You get more leaders in that vein now, because while offended upper middle class “English Protestants” are moving away, Latinos among others are moving towards them.
It’s funny how you use Huntington to rationalize Orban when domestically what Huntington warns about actually favors you, if true. Orban types aren’t exactly the politics of Huntington’s tribe of “English Protestants”, after all. Are Canada and Australia on the verge of giving us an Orban?
A Hungarian reader:
I know you are probably sick of this, but I do think that there are a few things that everyone is missing regarding Orban’s infamous „race” comments, that are pretty self-evident for us Hungarians, but maybe not so for other.
1, Translations lie
Yes, „faj” is the same as „race” in English. Or is it? The dictionary meaning, sure, but the connotations, not so much. This word simply does not have the same baggage as in the US or even Western Europe. My father’s generation still uses the word “néger”, which looks and sounds very much like your N-word, but is totally devoid of any racist or White Supremacist meaning. It is maddening for many foreigners, and the younger generation, which as much more contact with US media, now internalized your taboos about this, so we don’t say it. I’m not saying that this is a problem, some words should be taboo, sure. But isn’t it the highest form of hubris to think that your specific, American cultural knot of troubles apply everywhere in the world? Hungary never had colonies, never had slaves, never had a eugenics program. Race is not something we think much about. It is self-evident that Jews, Roma and other ethnic minorities are the same race as us – Hungarians. So when Orban talks about not wanting to be a mixed race, we instinctively understand that he doesn’t mean that we do not want to mix with Jews or Roma, or even Muslims. He simply means that he wants to keep what is distinctly Hungarian about Hungary intact.
2, He is not anti-Muslim
It is a mistake to think that Orban sees Muslims as an inferior people, or as an enemy to be defeated, or that he is anti-Muslim. On the contrary, I think he respects them as a religious man respects other religious people. He never speaks a bad word about Islam, he once said that he considers it “one of the great intellectual and spiritual creations of humankind”. And Hungary, on top of being a mixed culture of Hungarians, Jews, Roma, Germans etc. etc. is already multicultural, if to a much lesser degree than Western Europe. There is a sizable Muslim population in Budapest. There is a mosque. One of the most popular Hungarian athlete is a half-Chinese ice-skater. The Orban message is not xenophobia, not even separatism. The message is: if you want to do something constructive, and you come legally, you are welcome here. Nobody will bother you, you can live your life however you wish. But Hungary will always be a Hungarian country, and you will always have to respect the wishes and the customs of the majority.
3. This is politics
Orban is a master manipulator, and there is a good chance that he did not misspoke at all, that talking about race is very deliberate. He often says things that are considered outrageous by the elites: this is doubly good, first, because when all the usual suspects (the international media, the EU bureaucrats, the good-for-nothing opposition) condemn him, it strengthens his base, and second, because this way, he shows that he simply does not care about good manners and what is acceptable in good society, he is not afraid to speak his mind and tell uncomfortable truths. And that is a breath of fresh air in our age of hypocrisy.
Another Hungarian reader:
I am Hungarian American (born and raised in Budapest and moved 25 years ago). Thanks for your clear and good summary of Viktor’s 2022 Tusvanyos speech (I listen to it every year). We appreciate that you published it and commented on it since there is not much about these speeches in English, other than utterly distorted media.
A few comments. Most misunderstandings regarding Victor’s wording arise from a deeper layer of barriers when we translate from one quite different language to the other. “Kevertfaju” in the context of his speech is indeed not about genetics. “Faj” in Hungarian does not have the made-up baggage that internationally spoken languages currently may have due to the very different cultural trajectory (no slavery, no systemic exploitation of one type of people, no colonies, etc). The closest interpretive translation would be “mixed-culture” or “mixed-religion.” That one worships a totally different deity (yes, even including matter and pleasure/feelings which the post-West now worships). The post-West is not even capable of understanding (what the historic Jewish nation has known too well) that radically different “gods” do not mix because they create radically different cultures, which then create radically different laws and ways of life that are incompatible with each other (see Germany’s colossally failed “multikulti” policies). Since the post-West practically lost its faith and its God, now it believes there is no God at all, so then it really does not matter what you worship or not. It is just a cultural phenomenon that you need to feel better about yourself or express some kind of identity. Like your favorite food. So then, you can’t base your life on such thing, it can’t be that important either. This reasoning is actually logical, just as the idea that cultures and ideas are also equal and equally successful, and so, are interchangeable. Not so, in big ways, as history shows us, if we are still able to see.
For Viktor (and for clear thinkers), cultures are not equally successful, because there are no alternative truths. There is just one Truth by logical deduction and what is based on it will be more successful by necessity (i.e., truth works). We rely on this every day in science when we would not be able to land a module on Mars if there were many alternative truths that drive physics we need. The basic ability of the post-West to use reason and logic is completely gone because it lost its connection with the Source of Reason.
A note on illiberal democracy. This means in Hungarian: a democracy (as political system) that is NOT based on current morally liberal ideology (il-liberal, non-liberal). It means conservative (i.e., Christian) democracy, which is a stark opposite of “liberal democracy” and it has been declared impossible by the liberal-Left because it would severely undermine their entire argument that there is only their kind of democracy (and so if you are a different kind, you are not even democratic). There is nothing to misinterpret here.
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I have more comments I could post, but the formatting has become totally screwed up on this new, improved posting system, and I can’t add anything more. More later, if I get this figured out.