Bringing CPAC to Hungary Betrays the Roots of the Conservative MovementRoundup
tags: conservatism, far right, CPAC, Hungary, authoritarianism, Viktor Orban
Lauren Lassabe is an instructor of higher education at the University of New Orleans. Her forthcoming book, Resistance from the Right: Conservatives and the Campus Wars, will be published by University of North Carolina Press in 2023.
On Thursday, the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) will meet in Hungary to discuss their ongoing “fight for conservatism in America and abroad.” Hungary’s authoritarian prime minister, Viktor Orban, is featured as a keynote speaker.
Apart from his Christian nationalism, antisemitism and homophobia, a major characteristic U.S. conservatives find endearing in Orban is his success in silencing the academic left — something the American right has long wanted to do.
But there’s a great historical irony about conservatives’ embrace of Orban. The Hungarian Revolution — in which academics and students led an anti-communist attempt to gain independence from the Soviet Union — was a catalyst for the rise of the American conservative movement in the 1950s.
Young conservatives in the United States, including Marvin Liebman, William F. Buckley Jr. and others, began their careers organizing in support of the Hungarian revolution. They decried the U.S. government’s failure to do more to support them. Yet today, the American right Buckley and others helped construct is embracing an authoritarian figure who opposes everything those Hungarian revolutionaries and young conservative activists in the United States once espoused.
After World War II, the Hungarian People’s Republic functioned as a Soviet satellite state. Throughout the postwar years, communist police forces purged thousands of Hungarian bourgeoisie, intellectuals, nationalists and other non-communists to ensure the state’s cultural orbit remained in the Stalinist sphere. Academics and political dissidents were regularly exiled to labor camps or killed.
Under a mismanaged puppet regime, Hungarians suffered food shortages, rampant inflation, social unrest and an effective brain drain. After Joseph Stalin’s death in 1953, a small group of university students, professors and other intellectuals incited a rebellion for Hungarian independence.
In October 1956, approximately 20,000 Hungarians mobilized in the capital city of Budapest. Protesters sang their national anthem (banned by the U.S.S.R.) as professors and students demanded free elections, an end to Soviet control of their state and entry into the United Nations. In defiance of Moscow, students toppled Stalinist statues and monuments and replaced them with the Hungarian flag (some cut the hammer and sickle emblem out of the flag first).