Viktor Orban’s just won a thumping third election victory in Hungary. This is being derided as simply populism. Populism being just successful democracy but of the kind that the right on and bien pensants don’t approve of. Say that, for example, there shouldn’t be too many foreigners and the voters agree with you then that’s populism. Say that, for example, we should soak the rich and the voters like that then that’s statesmanship winning an election, not populism. Say that, for example, food should be cheap so we’ll set the price of it nice and cheap and the voters like that then that’s not the populism which bankrupts Venezuela but the Bolivarian Revolution.
Populism is, thus, something in the eye of the beholder. Democracy being promising the voters what they think they want, a populist being one who promises what the beholder thinks they shouldn’t want:
The hardline populist prime minister of Hungary celebrated a landslide third consecutive term last night, sounding alarm bells in Brussels.
Preliminary results suggested that Viktor Orban was on course to regain the two-thirds parliamentary “supermajority” he won in 2010 and 2014 after he campaigned against the European Union’s ambition to settle migrants and increase the pace of integration of member states.
He’s promised what the voters appear to want, he’s won an election as a result. But, you see, he’s a populist, because the people shouldn’t want that, should they?
It’s a safe bet that few in Brussels are celebrating Viktor Orbán’s resounding win. Elected for a fourth term, Hungary’s anti-immigrant nationalist leader poses a profound challenge for the European Union.
Since returning as prime minister in 2010, Orbán and his Fidesz party have chipped away at Hungary’s democratic checks and balances, curbed judicial independence and clamped down on the independent media. Hungary’s democratic backsliding has been accompanied by a drumbeat of xenophobic rhetoric, directed against refugees, Brussels and George Soros.
The EU, used to grappling with Brexit, is now confronting a country at the heart of the continent making an exit from the club’s liberal values, but continuing to pick up the cheques.
An interesting commentary upon the European Union itself, don’t you think? The voters should only get what they want if it’s on the approved list, that list not being subject to democratic change at all. We could describe this in one manner, which is that the EU is a protection against the populist ideologues. We could describe it in another, which is that the EU is against democracy upon anything important. My own view is very much closer to that second and the thing is, those who founded it thought so too.