Why reality itself is every conservative’s best ally

A summary of my remarks delivered to CPAC Hungary on May 19, 2022.


One of the most important elements and tools of establishing a monopoly of opinion is the moral imperialism that we have seen recently from left-liberal ideologists, progressive politicians and representatives of woke culture. The other is fake news itself, or, more specifically, fake narratives.

Let’s start with moral imperialism. It was a term used by Prime Minister Orbán in 2015, at a particular point in the migration crisis when events had been unfolding for weeks at our southern borders and on the migration routes. At the time, German politicians, led by the German press, tried to give us lessons on morality and unleashed the entire Western European press on us like, pardon my French, rabid dogs.

They tried to take a moral high ground from which everything looked different from the way it really was. You would be wrong to think that moral imperialism is a new invention. However, the fact that we were able to call it by its name in 2015 and acted in that spirit helped us to understand how our political opponents were thinking in relation to hard facts. We had already gotten our fair share of their moral imperialism after the second Orbán Government took office in 2010.

Let’s recall the first debates that erupted in the autumn of 2010 and the first half of 2011. Back then, our political opponents’ views on Hungary’s media law were formulated from a position of moral superiority that revolved around the idea that the moment Hungary came under the leadership of a conservative government, freedom of the press was abolished and the rights of free expression and free speech were violated.

Let's remember how our Roma compatriots were used against us from a moral point of view in employment policy, or in the turnaround in law enforcement initiated by the Interior Ministry. Or how the question of the rule of law came up, partly in connection with the constitution, partly in connection with minority rights. And if we go forward in time, we come to 2015, to the migration crisis, which Western European media portrayed then and still portray today as a refugee crisis. Here too, we were given lessons from a moral high ground on how we should have behaved. But the same was true with global warming and the movements associated with it, and then with the coronavirus epidemic as well. And to take just the events of the last year and a half or two years, the same has happened with our child protection law and our stance against LGBTQ propaganda. And in recent months, with the war in Ukraine.

The moral high ground is an inalienable part of the Western European culture that calls itself progressive, liberal and woke. The objectives and issues that are formulated are not there to achieve results and solve them, but to be used as tools against their political opponents — and when another opportunity comes along, they are immediately abandoned.

My favorite example is when I had the opportunity to oversee Roma issues in 2013-2014, and I watched closely how, when the migration crisis came, Roma development policy ceased to be an issue in Brussels overnight. There was an immediate shift, and new goals were quickly set. The use of these instruments is an internal compulsion. It is probably impossible to separate it from the political culture that is attacking us.

How does this relate to fake news? Defining fake news is actually not difficult because if you look at Wikipedia, at various Hungarian or foreign educational and academic content, you will find a relatively simple definition. Fake news means news that lacks any basis in reality, which one can find in the media, either knowingly or by mistake, or by accident. There is, however, one aspect of it that is directly linked to moral imperialism.

And that is fake narratives, or more precisely narratives that mislead and disinform. The two are interdependent.

What has been driving the fake news about Hungary for the last 12 years? While this government, with huge political support and a very clear political agenda, has started to rethink its own institutional system, its constitutional setup, the related administrative and governmental tasks, and the resulting socio-political tasks, these facts are not really of interest to anyone coming from a position of moral superiority. There is already a basic assumption about and interpretation of our actions, a narrative if you will, which is not interested in reality and facts. Instead, it is constantly trying to indoctrinate content and perceptions that portray Hungary and Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in a negative light, using distorted half-truths that are devoid of reality.

Over the past 12 years, this process has intensified. I will illustrate this through two short anecdotes. Both happened in 2017.

The first was an event in London for the October 23 celebrations in 2017, where I had an excellent lunch with Roger Scruton. We spent an hour and a half or two hours talking about, among other things, the future of conservatism, where Roger showed a keen interest in how to internationalize conservatism, how to find common ground upon which conservative political movements and governments can build. One topic discussed was fake news, because this is one of the most important accusations against us conservatives, that we are the main purveyors of fake news and conspiracy theories.

We've learned in the last 12 years that we don't have to deal with all this because our best partner and our best ally is reality itself.

The other such meeting took place in Jerusalem, where I had a longer conversation with Carl Bernstein, one of the living legends of classic American investigative journalism, at the annual meeting of the Jerusalem Press Club. In his own words, he described how the world he comes from has changed and what journalism had become by the turn of the millennium. How the basic standards that determined where and in what direction one could speak have changed. In his view, we are living through a crisis of news production, which leads directly to the distortion of news, as stories are sacrificed first for style and then for ideological purposes, making it impossible for the self-empowered press of the 1970s and 1980s to continue to work as it should.

What tasks does this impose on us? I think that one of the most important things, apart from resisting the various manifestations and aspirations of moral imperialism, as the Hungarian government has done over the last 12 years, is that we must not commit the same mistakes our opponents did. We must not sacrifice content and style for ideology.

Our political opponents are becoming more and more distant from reality, and in today's wartime context, even telling the truth is considered dangerous. This is the greatest danger we face, because for us conservatives, the most important partner and ally is reality itself.

Our social policy, our political groundwork, our policy-making and our policy implementation are all rooted in reality, in the reality we actively observe and its resonance in society. This is the secret of our four election victories. If anyone had any doubts about that, the April elections and our fourth two-thirds victory are proof that the path we have chosen, the insights we have talked about, can serve as a guide for conservatives around the world.