God save the Hungarians (II): the errances of “new philosophy” and the demagoguery of “engaged intellectual” Bernard-Henri Lévy
Posted on | January 16, 2012 by J.C. von Krempach, J.D. |
On Wikipedia, Bernard-Henri Lévy is described as “a French public intellectual, philosopher and journalist”. Even more coulourful is the French version of the online encyclopedia, which introduces him as “un écrivain, romancier, philosophe, essayiste, metteur en scène, acteur, cinéaste et éditorialiste … l’une des têtes de file du mouvement des « nouveaux philosophes », constitué de philosophes et intellectuels engagés.” In short, he is a man who has an opinion on all and everything, and whose opinions, for some reason or the other, are considered “relevant” and get published by the mass media.
I never quite understood the reasons for this supposed “relevance”, nor am I sure whether it is not simply the result of a false perception. For example, when BHL (that’s his short name – like DSK for the equally media-savvy Dominique Struss-Kahn) writes that Libya should be bombed, and at the same time indeed the French air force is sent out to bomb Libya, what is cause and what is consequence? Is it that the French president throws bombs on Gaddafi because “public opinion” (incarnated by BHL) tells him to do so, or is BHL adapting his views to what is happening anyway.
As I read in the Huffington Post, the newest target of BHL’s “engaged intellectuality” is Hungary – or rather the Government of that country, led by conservative prime minister Viktor Orban, whom he describes as nothing less than a neo-nazi.
This is a really brilliant piece of irresponsible and gratuitious demagoguery, which – alas – is so typical for a public intellectual whose numerous writing and speaking engagements apparently keep him from … thinking.
I think you should read this piece to understand the level of intellectual degradation that public debate in Europe is currently reaching. The comments in bold are mine.
Could the Fate of Europe, Also, Hinge on Budapest?
by Bernard-Henri Lévy
Among its nations, Europe is banishing Greece for failing — it’s true, big time — to fulfill the rules of good economic and financial governance.
A decade ago, it excommunicated Austria — and with good reason — when its conservative leaders entered into a coalition with Jorg Haider, leader of the extreme right. [In actual fact, the EU soon understood that they had manoeuvred themselves into a dead-end road. The "excommunication", which had neither a legal nor a factual base, was withdrawn, and the Austrian government remained in place until 2006. Not really a success story, was it? BHL's article once more shows that some people don't learn from history... ]
Well, today there exists in the heart of Europe a country whose government gags the media, is dismantling the health and social protection systems, challenges rights once considered acquired, such as that to an abortion, and criminalizes the poor. [BHL throws five grave accusations into one single sentence, and explains or justifies not a single one of them. Nobody is expected to ask questions or express doubts when an accusation comes from such an authoritative thinker as BHL. He's a public intellectual, remember? No need to mention that there have to be cuts in social welfare because Hungary, due to years of ex-communist mismanagement, is on the brink of financial collapse. No, if a conservative government adopts such an austerity program it must be because that government is evil. And then of course there is the abortion issue: a "right once considered acquired". Could somebody please inform BHL that there is no "right to abortion" in the EU, and that countries such as Ireland, Poland, and Malta have much stricter laws? Are those countries all neo-fascist...?]
There is a country that has revived the most obtuse chauvinism, the most worn-out populism [Considering the above, I see worn-out populism and hatred rather in BHL's own utterances. It is worn-out populism to pretend that Hungary needs to make no cuts in public spending when in fact it is on the brink of financial collapse. This kind of demagoguery can only result in inciting public unrest and in making the way to economic recovery more thorny than it already is. And, really, who is turning whom into a scapegoat? Is it not Mr. Lévy who turns Orban into a scapegoat for any and all of Hungary's misfortunes, convenintly forgetting that it was the ex-communists, now in opposition, under whose governance the Hungarian public debt went from $ 66.2 billion in 2006 to $ 212.1 billion in 2009?], and the hatred of Tsiganes [no, if you think that BHL is referring to France, from where his ol' chum Nicolas Sarkozy has had gipsies deported back to Romania, you are obviously wrong. There is no hatred of gypsies in France. France is the grande nation, which alone has the vocation to lecture the rest of the world. Racial hatred exists only elsewhere. This invective is about HUNGARY, in case you didn't notice yet...] and Jews [and where does BHL provide any proof for his charges of anti-semitism?], transforming the latter in an increasingly open manner into scapegoats for any and all misfortune, much as they were in the darkest hours of the history of the continent.
There is a country where, in the name of a principle of belonging one can only describe as ethnic or racial, an electoral regime we once thought dead with Nazism [Was there any "electoral regime" under the Nazis? This is completely new...] grants all “nationals” who are not citizens but scattered throughout the rest of Europe the right to vote. [This is complete bogus. BHL uses double standards. First of all, the right of citizens living abroad to vote in national elections is granted not only in Hungary, but in nearly all EU countries, and it has never been a problem. The real question is: who should have the right to citizenship? But again, Hungary only does what many other countries are doing. BHL himself was not born in France, but has French citizenship. Germany provides ethnic Germans from Romania, Russia, or Kazakhstan an entitlement to automatically obtain German citizenship if they ask for it. Romania offers Romanian passports to all citizens of the Republic of Moldova, given that they are ethnic Romanians. And so on, and so forth. So, maybe BHL could explain why only Hungary is culpable of pursuing a "racist" citizenship policy?]
This country is Hungary.
And this time, Europe remains silent.
Readers of Istvan Bibo’s wonderful The Misery of the Small States of Eastern Europe are quite familiar with this cocktail of national obsession, victimized patriotism, and collective, martyrized suffering that makes the Hungarian nation — like the Polish or the Bulgarian, for that matter — a sort of Christ-Nation, called upon to protect and restore a threatened civilization, like good King Stephen clashing swords with the Ottomans.
The readers of Danube, Claudio Magris’s masterpiece, know how this business of people outside the walls, this manner of granting Magyars on the outside the same rights as those on the inside, this way of saying, especially, that the very soul of the people and its most sacred truth is there at the border, strikes a resounding chord with a very old story, that of the Transylvanian question which still kindles the Hungarian spirit, as it does the Rumanian. [This is an exercise in name-dropping: we are supposed to learn from it that BHL knows the name of two writers from Central Europe, Bibó and Magris. Has he really read them? I have some doubts. Anyway, he must have confused or forgotten whatever he may have read, for he is mixing up historic facts. King Stephen never clashed swords with the Ottomans. He lived in the tenth century, at a time when the Ottomans hadn't yet been heard of. The surge of the Ottamans started around 1300, and they occupied Hungary following the battle of Mohacs in 1526. Mr. Levy, you don't seem to know what you are writing about: you have no real knowledge of history, you just throw around with names and facts you have picked up somewhere, but which you are not able to put into the right context. Please go and do some reading before you start lecturing the world. ]
And, in a more general sense, beyond the region, anyone who listens carefully cannot fail to hear what lies at the substance of this form of nationalism, in this definition of the Nation as a blessed and glorious entity [...this from a Frenchman! Does BHL realize how absurd he is?], touched to the heart, wounded to the core and hence become a sort of creditor, demanding that the world make up for the outrage. No one can fail to understand that the essence of this concept that turns the national community into a creature of God, a quasi-mystic entity, a being that is whole but separated from itself, one that must urgently find anew its lost purity, is an exacerbated form of an idea that, since the 1930s, has lain at the heart of all forms of fascism. [Aha. So it is the belief in God that is at the origin of all fascism.]
I do not believe it has come to that.
I do not think that this Europe (that, like Kundera, I prefer to call “Central” rather than “Eastern”) has already turned its back on this other vocation, so evident on the Chain Bridge of Budapest, much as it was on the Moldau, in Prague: “We want to return to Europe”.
And the fact is that there remains in Hungary itself an opposition vigorous enough [according to the results of the national elections held in 2010, where Mr. Orban's conservative "Fidesz" Party obtained more than two thirds of the seats in the national assembly, this vigorous opposition consists mainly of (1) the ex-communist "MSzP", which received 19% of the votes, and (2) the neo-fascist "Jobbik" which received 16%. "Jobbik" could with right be described as a neo-fascist movement. Yet they do not belong to the infamous government that BHL so urgently wants to see overturned that he cannot wait until the next election, but to the "vigorous opposition" he wants to support. In other words: according to BHL, left-wing and right-wing totalitarianism would be better than a government that restricts abortion and grants the right to vote to citizens living abroad...] to have organized a great demonstration in support of democracy (as well as, it is understood, the European idea [yesyesyes, thanks to BHL we have an infallible authority on the "European idea": abortion rights cum post-socialism. I wonder what De Gaulle and Adenauer would say to this...]) led by the writer György Konrad and others, just weeks ago. [Oh yes, that's it! If the demonstration is in Hungary, it is "in support of democracy". But what about demonstrations taking place in any other EU country where the government adops austerity measures? What about the riots in London last summer. And what about the young rioters in Paris, whom Mr. Sarkozy, then Minister of the Interior, described as "scum that needs to be washed away with a kärcher" ...?]
But it is undeniable that this tyrannical, anti-European, and fascistic [where tangible facts are scarce, defamatory adjectives are readily at our disposal... but we still don't understand why Mr. Orban is tyrannical, anti-European, and fascistic. Is it because of his commitment to protect the unborn life??] drift gives one pause. And, in these times of economic and financial crisis, in this hour of a moral and identity crisis that has spread throughout the world, in this very special moment when, if we listen to the demagogues, the very idea of Europe should be scrapped, I fear that the alarm applies not only to Hungary, but to the rest of the continent.
One never knows where the worst might come from, right?
In the shadow of history as it plays out, one can never measure the meaning, the echo, the influence of an event at the time it is happening.
In the Internet age, under the new regime where, for better or for worse, “social network” politics reign supreme, in this hour in which everyone communicates with everyone and where a Marine Le Pen can be linked, by a taut thread, to an extremist leader in Thuringia, Flanders, Northern Italy or, thus, to a Viktor Orban, it is not inconceivable that an increasing number of individuals in Europe perceive in this Hungarian laboratory the actualization of their less and less secret plan: undo Europe, get rid of it and, at the same time, get rid of a corset of democratic rules judged, as during the 1930s, unsuitable in times of crisis. [Once again, one would really be grateful if BHL could offer some tangible and verifiable facts. "Fidesz" is part of the European People's Party, which in the European Parliament represents the Christian-Democrat/Conservative mainstream. Does BHL know of any real link between Viktor Orban and the French "Front National? Or between him and "extremists" in Flanders and Thuringia? Or is the maître penseur just being carried away by his fantasy?]
It is for this reason as well that it is imperative to react.
Governments, opposition heads, declared or undeclared candidates for this election or that, European leaders on the right as well as the left, what is going on in Budapest concerns them all. It is for them also, and for their people, that the bell of liberty will toll there, and that is why we expect from them, and quickly, words of strong and unequivocal condemnation.
I am probably doing too much honour to Mr. Lévy to spend my time with commenting his absurd and insignificant op-ed. But nonetheless, given that he receives so much media attention for his “engaged intellectuality”, I think it someone has to put him back into his place…