Tucker Carlson is only the latest — and most famous — American conservative to find inspiration in the autocratic government of Hungary under Viktor Orban. The Fox News personality is hosting his show, one of the most popular on cable news, from the capital in Budapest and on Saturday will deliver a speech, advertised as “The World According to Tucker Carlson,” to a conference of far-right activists.
To critics, Orban’s Hungary is corrupt, repressive and authoritarian, a place where democracy is little more than window-dressing and the state exists to plunder the public on behalf of a tiny ruling elite. To Carlson, it’s a model for the United States, a showcase for anti-immigrant policies and reactionary cultural politics.
At this point, students of American political history — and specifically students with a working knowledge of the history of the conservative movement — will recognize something familiar about this story. Here we have prominent conservative writers and intellectuals using their platforms to support or endorse regimes whose politics and policies align with their preoccupations, even as the values of those regimes stand in direct opposition to the ideals of American democracy.
We’ve seen this before. Many times, in fact.
In 1957, William F. Buckley Jr. published a “Letter from Spain” in the pages of his magazine, National Review. An admirer of the Spanish dictator Francisco Franco, Buckley did not hesitate to praise him in the most effusive terms he could muster:
Five years later, in 1962, Buckley traveled to Mozambique — then under Portuguese colonial rule — where he wrote favorably of the status quo and condemned the United Nations for its anti-colonialism.
And in 1963, Buckley had these sympathetic words for the apartheid government in South Africa:
They may be wrong, as we may be: but we should try at least to understand what it is they are trying to do, and deny ourselves that unearned smugness that the bigot shows. I cannot say, “I approve of Apartheid” — its ways are alien to my temperament. But I know now it is a sincere people’s effort to fashion the land of peace they want so badly.
Buckley was not the only writer at National Review to defend and express admiration for Western-aligned autocracies. In 1975, Robert Moss wrote an extended defense of Augusto Pinochet and the military coup in Chile for the magazine called “The Tribulation of Chile.” Moss downplayed the brutality of Pinochet’s newly minted military dictatorship and urged Americans to support his so-called reforms:
It makes sense that as this tendency develops, so too does the yearning for a country that can be hailed as a model and a lodestar — the soaring and gilded counterpoint to our fallen and decadent society.
But that too is projection. And sooner or later, the conservatives who hail Hungary under Orban as an attractive alternative to the United States will see that their vision of that country is as false as their image of this one is.