This article has been published online by the Magyar Nemzet on May 3, 2021.
With the invalidation of the old rules, we have entered a new age: the key to Viktor Orbán’s politics is his ability to stay alongside the people, gaining the support of the majority of society through governance based on national affairs – Gábor G. Fodor told Magyar Nemzet. The political philosopher’s newest book was published recently; we discussed political reporting, The Orbán Rule, the secret to a united right, and how to rebel from the government side.
– The title of the book makes it seem like we will know the key to some secret after reading it. It is a little like sitting down to note the recipe of a brand-new dish. What do you think, has the key to Orbán’s politics been found?
– I have to admit, I’m a fan of the old, traditional cuisine so if there is a great recipe that works, I swear by it; instead of a new-wave, fusion letcho, I prefer the way my grandma makes it. Of course, that has its secrets too, just like politics. The curtain is up – some things can be revealed but some things stay hidden. Though people tend to think that ugly things are happening behind the curtain, I don’t picture politics as that negative. For this reason, the book doesn’t come up with a new decipher in the spirit of fusion cuisine, rather, it summarizes the traditional recipe, to the extent that this is possible. There is such a thing as political knowledge and there are those who have it and can exercise it in exceptional ways. The “protagonist” of the book is, in my view, the same as the political generation that he heads. Because we are talking about the responsibilities of a political generation whose mission is to bring the Hungarian cause success – and this work must go on.
– You start the book with a personal touch: due to an interview, you had coffee with the Prime Minister in his kitchen. Did these personal impressions and meetings contribute to a more accurate picture of the Prime Minister and his thought process?
– The most important question is not whether we know something or someone personally or just from afar, but rather how we look at it. Our personal experiences help explain the book of course, but I don’t want to create the illusion of some sort of insider deals. In fact, I offer up my own perspective for readers – which is naturally, refutable and debatable.
– Why was your book published now exactly?
– Ten years have passed, and this is an obvious milestone, but it also seems that Viktor Orbán related literature is experiencing something of a renaissance. Georgi Markov, Bulgarian politician, recently wrote a book about him as well as Thibaud Gibelin, French historian. Why now exactly? Maybe because we live in an exceptional era where political knowledge can be studied. The past three years were marked by three major crises. The economic crisis, the migrant crisis and now the pandemic. The Viktor Orbán government provided a unique answer to this. The Hungarian answer caused quite a commotion in Europe, but then they looked at it in wonder, and now they’ve adopted it. So, there is something to study here – be it the political success or the three-time two-thirds. Renegotiation from a government position is not a simple weapon in the world of competing democracies; if I understand correctly – as opposed to the answers provided by opposition news – they aren’t preparing now either to leave the battlefield with losses, instead, a fourth win.
– If there is any person that we can see in the news on a daily basis (be it in a positive or negative connotation) it’s Viktor Orbán. The Prime Minister often offers a glimpse into his private life through his social media; therefore, the question may emerge, why is another book on this topic needed? What novelty does The Orbán Rule provide?
– I understand your rebuke. Another book about Orbán, why should I read it? Readers need a reason to read. Just that the reasons are not outside the book, but inside. This is why you need a primary drive to “read it”. Granted, the counterargument emerges immediately that “I don’t have to” because it’s a “submissive” book. If Gábor G. Fodor wrote a book about Viktor Orbán, that readership was decided before the book was ever published. I think this is wrong. The Orbán Rule is about understanding – because there is something to understand here – and this understanding isn’t over yet, it’s happening right before our eyes. Maybe we are just at the beginning, maybe at the middle – we don’t know. But I believe that we are nowhere near the end. The way I see it, there is no ambition for the right to withdraw from the battlefield and lay down their arms – they want to continue the work they started. And it it’s true that some things are still ahead of us, then it’s worth studying what happened and why, because that way we might have a sense of the future. Those who deal with the past have a relatively easy job because the past contradicts much less. Here however, the “protagonist” of this book is alive and an active participant of events and is able to say: what you wrote isn’t over yet. So, in this respect this is a daring and critical undertaking.
– You call the last ten years the Orbán-era in your book; how then would you call the first term of the Orbán government and the appearance of Fidesz overall?
– Viktor Orbán has been in politics for more than thirty years and he had the opportunity to govern before too, but I believe that the rules, norms, right and wrong of the twenty years following the regime change were entirely determined by the left. The left said how and what we should think of politics, ourselves and our place in the world – they didn’t just say it, they prescribed it. The Orbán-led Fidesz government of 2010 put an end to this, and the establishment of a new order began.
– What did this founding work consist of?
– They declared the old rules invalid and made new ones. They founded an entirely new order declaring that the regime change is over, the old rules are done, the Fundamental Law is renewed, we have new norms and new opinions on what is good and bad. This founding was an exceptional political achievement. Not everyone is capable of this, not everyone has the chance to do this, and even if they do have the opportunity, they cannot live with it. Fidesz established a new order along the lines of a majority: they made certain issues national issues that were previously made fun of, ridiculed or were not even spoken of. For example, the situation of the Hungarians outside of our borders in the Carpathian basin, the high cost of utilities, and family politics. Fidesz made these issues national issues based on fundamentals supported by the majority. Fidesz built their politics on these national issues and I believe this is an explanation as to why they could win two-thirds three times in a row.
– Instead of calling the last ten years a change in era, you call it a decision. What is the essential difference between the two concepts and why do you find the latter more fitting?
– “Change” to me is a process that drags on that insinuates a plethora of compromises between old and new. Hence the need for consolidation so that practitioners and beneficiaries of the “former”, that is old, system can stay on the bus. Remember: the “former” always want consolidation. A “decision”, on the other hand, is a revolution itself, a revolution at the polls: we saw, we came, we won and now there will be new rules in this country and we won’t make any deals with the former system. A new world is beginning.
– The book consists of ten major chapters. How did you develop these?
– Writing a book is an intrusion. I intrude the reader with my thoughts. However, writing a book is also telling a story. I tell a story and flesh out the thought process. The idea here is that The Orbán Rule includes not one but at least two books. The book of change: the assertion of how the Orbán team changed the country. And the book of preservation: what were those great values that the Orbán government undertook to preserve and protect in Europe during those turbulent years. And because I share the belief that all politics is about preservation and change, this book also provides an introduction to the world of politics and its study.
– You wrote that the status quo can be a rebellion. What do you mean by this?
– In Europe, in the so-called civilized world, we are losing the self-evident compasses that we have not questioned so far. For instance, that there is woman and man, and only woman and man and that there is some difference between them and we attach some importance to that: women are women and men are men. If it can be said that this is nonsense, this is an arbitrary distinction, and as such can be rewritten, then we’ve lost our compass and are stuck with no sense of direction and chaos. The same thing goes for the nation: if it can be said that this is an outdated construction, we must go beyond it, that homogeneity is bad, then another moral compass is lost, and I don’t even have the words for what would come to replace it. It seems that in the civilized world they want to rationally represent the uncivilized idea that the European man should walk right into this madness. So, as madness begins to reign in Europe, commons sense rebels against it. Orbán and the political generation he marked rebel in this name. And behind the rebellion are the ordinary people who are accustomed to just living their lives according to their logical norms. They vote for Orbán and the like in Europe today.
– At the end of the book is the dictionary of the so-called Orbán era. Has a new political language emerged within the past ten years?
– The dictionary includes some of the most important meanings of the past ten years. I believe that the way we name something, especially in politics, is very significant. In today’s world there is a competition of giving meaning. That’s another Fidesz win – they talk the way people talk. The socialists didn’t talk that way; they believe it’s best to keep politics far from the people and leave it to the experts. Thus, with the help of language, they kept distance from the people – just think of the term “convergence program”. Who would ever say this? Then came the right who spoke like common people about politics, which in and of itself created a commotion among the left. And the right didn’t just speak the people’s language, they brought politics closer to the people. This was the start of the civic movement for example; politics doesn’t need to be locked behind closed doors in the parliament, you can take it to the people so they can talk about it, make it their own and build a connection. The national consultation, often attacked by the left, has a similar role: to bring the questions that politicians work with closer to the people. And there is tremendous energy behind this because what is the Orbán-led Fidesz? Standing by the people, speaking their language, and winning for them.
– Do you think Viktor Orbán would agree with the contents of this book?
– All I can say is, I think he has the right to appeal.