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Foundations of the Orbán-style Absolute State

The “great act of creation” is almost done: the foundations of the barracks of a totalitarian nation state à la Orbán have been almost completely laid down. A few odds and ends may still be missing, but very soon all requisite elements of a totalitarian state are piled up. Foreign sponsorship is needed, naturally, as available funds are meager; so the government pays visits to court the richest dictatorships and tyrants of the world. One can only wonder what we can get from China and Saudi Arabia apart from money. Chinese goods have already flooded the Hungarian market, controlled for long by politically and nationally impeccable private security companies, whereas the Saudi oil is little help for the Orbánists in overcoming their troubles. The Hungarian government is in search of special goods, something, without which Eastern states could not be rich and successful: they want to import political goods, as these states would provide funds only in the hope of considerable return. This type of Eastern, political import is not unknown in Hungarian history. Not so long ago we imported from Russia a complete political system, with party, AVH (1), informers and agent provocateurs, and before that we had brought in all sorts of stuff from the Third Reich. This is the national heritage that Fidesz is so keen to cherish. Still, there is one thing in short supply, indispensable for a totalitarian state, available though and widely in use in Saudi Arabia. The whip.

The whip is necessary, although not enough for a “well-operating” totalitarian state. As the dream of the leadership of Fidesz has almost come true, it is time to assess whether or not every important component of a totalitarian state is finally in place. Not for giving us the creeps, but because this how we can defeat totalitarian thinking, do away with a totalitarian state, and prevent its rebirth: we must eliminate its substrata. A totalitarian regime depends on subservience, intimidation, centralization and concentration of resources and the simplification of culture.


Subservience is the key element of any totalitarian regime, therefore anyone aspiring to create such a state does everything to create the attitude in the souls of people and the workings of social systems. Subservience may feed on three sources: the unconditional respect for authority and hierarchy, the fear of violence, and interests.

As a peculiarity of the unconditional respect for authority and hierarchy, the selection process of authorities is transposed beyond human deliberation and decision. Consequently, authority seemingly enjoys the approval of a transcendental power, and is therefore unquestioned. In other words, authority embodies the very power that secured its rank in hierarchy. Unconditional authority is thus the proof and bearer of the perpetuity of hierarchy. Anyone who would voluntarily subject themselves to unquestioned authorities not only accept hierarchy but they have a need for it, as a safety cage of their existence. Voluntary and unconditional subordination is their source of security, they get frightened if anything comes into their minds that they haven’t heard before from someone else, and they take everything with suspicion that they haven’t read or heard before. (Not that they would be eager to identify the sources of their thoughts, rather they refer to them as if they were their original thoughts or ideas. In this fashion they can fully identify with the authority.) For them it is not the lack of moral principles to do whatever their superiors should demand from them, as they abide by one principle only: obedience.

This mentality, subservience, has had its days in Hungary, both in the souls of people and the workings of social systems. What makes a difference is whether it was present latently or openly, whether the systems were designed purposefully in such a way that their senseless hierarchy should get across the message of the effectiveness of subservience. What I mean by this is that obedient people could keep their jobs, and could even get promoted, meaning that their submission was effective. All of the above was latently present in the social systems during the Third Republic (2), and openly during the entire preceding period of the 20th century. Fidesz now attempts to make it again open. From the minute they have re-assumed power, each and every measure of the government has been aimed at the reorganization of the social systems on indisputable hierarchies that are unrelated to the tasks of these systems and are even hinder their performance. Self-centered hierarchy is meant to propagate the omnipotence of power. That is why Fidesz, in most cases, filled senior positions with unsavvy chinovniks. For their purposes, it was a rational decision, as the power of hierarchy can be best evidenced by the rule of the ignorant and dilettante, as their appointment to, and filling of, leading positions depend on the will of their “superiors”. It was rational also due to the fact that their loyalty is more solid, as these people owe their advancement to the leader, rather than to themselves, so they have a vested interest in maintaining the entire system, even though the very system might humiliate them. It is interesting to note that since the formation of the Orbán-government, none of the under-secretaries or ministers has resigned, regardless of how Orbán treated them. It is a typical behavior: the totalitarian state requires and produces total submission of the self, nobody can take his own life in his own hands, they are at the mercy of their lord.

However, there exists another form of the submission of the self. The stronger the hierarchies become under the rule of the dilettante, and the more people tend to believe that it is impossible to oust them, the number of disbelievers grow who, still, want to profit from it. As we have seen with the first set of people, they too have no principles, and are ready to serve anybody, and willing to do whatever it takes to advance their career and to accumulate wealth. In a total state, corruption also tends towards totality, even if political and other corruption does not necessarily become total. Under the typology of the literature, we may call this from as “all-encompassing corruption”. Political corruption generally means the misuse of legislative political power by government officials for private gain. Another form of corruption involves certain activities for political gain, with the participation of politicians, officials and businessmen, in circumvention of the law or morals, whereby the participants may secure privileges for themselves. By now, public entities are filled with such individuals.

Education has an eminent role in the institutionalization of subservience. The measures already taken, and intended to be taken by the government in public education and higher education serves primarily this purpose. Like a butcher, or rather as Jack the Ripper, they cut up the body of education and society, alike. With an enormous momentum, thousands of young people are slit out from secondary education, only to doom them to a difficult fate, unemployment, black labor and odd jobs. It seems that the one-time party of young people has come to hate them immeasurably and robs them from their future (the freedom of education and the freedom of work, and the free choice of employment), depriving them of freely choosing the spaces and opportunities of their social life. Fidesz obviously believes that in this way it can have a tighter grip on them, and can fold them to the churches, although the path has been reversed for decades: churches must reach out to their followers. The hunger of the government is insatiable: they change the inner world of schools in such a fashion as to wipe out independent thinking, the ability to doubt, challenge or contradict and boldly rebel. Nonetheless, learning per se is rebellion, as knowledge enclosed in books becomes sensible only if it can be taken to pieces and then collectively put together in an alternate manner. Different information become sensible if we can relate them to our life. Well, this is exactly what will be lost upon the change of public education. Their plans concerning the change of higher education are similarly stupid and ill-intended.

(flickr/i'm not there)

Intimidation and Threats

Intimidation is the favorite weapon of totalitarian politicians. They always weigh their own strength against the fears of others. This is why they are so eager to ceaselessly assert that they are not afraid of anything and anybody. They believe that he who is real strong is not afraid, but it may well be that such person is simply inane. They believe that if they are feared, their power will be firm and unchallengable, and they also believe that people are administered by fear, i.e., they can be controlled through fear. What they don’t know is that fear is a whipsaw, and can be most dangerous for the person who holds it. A fairly primitive concept of social behavior lies in the backdrop of the policy of intimidation, and is saturated with a deep contempt and disrespect for people. Intimidation, together with obedience, invoke several other circumstances. All of the afore-mentioned, however, applies to free individuals only, and does not apply to those who have become servants. In free individuals, hate and disdain may develop against those who aspire to control them through intimidation, which may annul the purpose of intimidation: namely, that they should voluntarily obey, under the threats. Obedience is but a compulsion, and the subordinate relationship, coveted by Fidesz, will fail to materialize. The second consequence emerges when intimidation becomes systematic and persistent: this is when everyday practices to circumvent and evade the “fearful” power emerge. Such is for instance the network of informal channels through which formal power can be circumvented and gotten around, and such is corruption that may even reverse power relations in specific cases. As a result, systems start to operate in such a manner as if they consisted of dependents only, and as if nobody rebelled against power, at the same time, however, the systems get increasingly less controllable. Totalitarian regimes staying in power for a longer period of time start to rot from within. Under this scenario, two options are available: they either fall, and are replaced by something else, or their center of gravity is shifted to those informal networks that have dissolved them. Something similar must have happened e.g., in Russia.

In the set of beliefs of Orbánism, the (false) causal sequence of vigor-fear-obedience is an unquestioned doctrine. And it will be one of the causes of its undoing. They hastily took over every organization they deemed fit for the exercise of force, including the police and the prosecutor’s office, with the courts next in line. Rapidly, but very clumsily, instead of holding out their hands to them, they laid hands on them. They use the tactics of intimidation vis-à-vis them, believing that they have made it.

They pass legislation to intimidate those living in abject poverty, the unemployed, the employees, business people, basically anybody who is alive and kicking. These acts go against the spirit of the rule of law. The establishment of a totalitarian state in Hungary created a condition in which law has no acts, and the acts are unlawful. A text broken down into paragraphs and adopted by the parliamentary majority may be an act, but unless it serves democratic principles it will be unlawful. The acts of the Orbán-government serve the purpose of creating a totalitarian state, and are therefore unlawful, as were the acts of the former GDR.

Simplification of culture

The main enemy of a totalitarian state is free thinking. Nobody with the ability of free thinking will become a dependent, a servile. As I see it, skepticism is an innate human quality. In order for it to become a daily routine, it needs to be institutionalized. It is no accident that Fidesz struck down on the freedom of press as one its priorities. Opposition newspapers were not wiped out completely, but were restricted, while their opportunities were also narrowed. The simplification of the press is still work in progress, aiming at the restriction of the dissemination of disagreements, objections, and alternatives, once there will be any. From this aspect it is irrelevant whether the viewers/listeners consume government propaganda or politically neutral broadcasts, what is relevant is that no challenges or doubts shall be shared with them. The objective is the creation of a world of media that is free of any doubts and disputes. Right wing leaders believe in manipulation as well as coercion– they have an equally primitive understanding of thinking and actions. Their successes thus far have confirmed their belief that people have no individual thoughts, and can only recapture what has been planted into their minds. It is interesting to recognize the overlap in their concepts of education, manipulation and coercion, as manipulation is a form of thought coercion, whereas education for them is coercion and manipulation. That this latter functions somewhat differently, and that it is not possible to completely dominate thinking is quite well shown by the fact that Fidesz was unable to hold under their influence extreme right-wing, neo-Nazi groups and that individual voters have turned their backs, en masse, on the manipulators. The attack against the philosophers (3) appeared to be completely senseless, still, if we look at it as part of the simplification of culture project, it gets its meaning. No philosophy is to be tolerated that may come to the conclusion that a totalitarian state is in contrast to humanity. No science is to be tolerated that cannot serve as the proof for a totalitarian state. Count Széchenyi established the Hungarian Academy of Sciences for the advancement of sciences, that, during the reign of Rákosi, was transformed into the institute of obedient sciences. There is a legacy to follow up on. What is considered kitsch in the arts, is schematic in sciences. In the Hungarian chapter of the history of sciences there were, and are, only very few who have been able to break out of the comfy cage of the prevailing patterns. The majority of these scientists ultimately left the country, because they were unable to pursue their scientific work amidst spiritual bareness. There were only a few short moments in the history of Hungarian social sciences when it became apparent how hollow the official science was, and free creation was welcome. Science is always deviant, never simplified. Deviant, experimental, unbelieving and interrogative science is dangerous to a totalitarian state. Not only because they are unable to understand what doubts and questions are for, but also because they want their power to be undoubted.

Art is dangerous too, because it does what sciences do, only in a different manner. The Dörner-like (4) simpletons ridicule their audience, although arts are supposed to show us, mock us, or deny us, in a way that is either unsettling, or funny, thoughtful, sentimental or upsetting. Arts ask: are you sure you want to lead your life this way? Social science and philosophy ask the same question. These questions are threatening to the totalitarian state and its lords. They need kitsch in the arts and sciences alike, i.e., the world of the simpletons is void of any discussion and questions, they long for many simple-minded “scientists”, “artists”, audience and readers.

Monopolization of resources

A totalitarian state needs every resource. This is why they dispossessed the members of private pension funds of their savings, and this is why they plan to scrap early retirement pensions, in a most flagrant manner. First and foremost, this is why they are so eager to nationalize. Available funds in Hungary are very tight. If the state, in symbiotic partnership with a few “capitalists”, can acquire the still exiting and diminishing bits and pieces, then hardly anything will be left for the citizens and the foes of the totalitarian state. Concentration of the resources is done at an amazing pace. At this moment, there is very little one can do to correct the situation, however, it must be clearly stated that the independence of science, the arts, the civil society and, first and foremost, the econony from the state are indispensible for democracy. The undoing of this lash-up totalitarian state will not be possible without the liquidation of the concentration of resources. Similarly, it will not be permissible that these “capitalists” in a symbiotic partnership with the Orbánist regime, characterized by paternalistic capitalism, should hold on to their positions and wealth. Ending the monopolization of the funds, in other words, the implementation of an economic structure standing the test of democracy will not be possible without the elimination of the economic hinterland of the (extreme)right, with significant economic activities in the shadow economy.

(Translated by Judith Vince)

Ferenc Krémer


(1) The secret police of the communist dictatorship in the 1950s.
(2) The Third Republic: from 1989- till present days.
(3) Against Agnes Heller and her fellow philosophers.
(4) István Tarlós, Mayor of Budapest appointed actor György Dörner, affiliated with an anti-Semitic extreme right party together writer István Csurka to head the Új Színház in Budapest.

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