REVIEW #4: Radicalism in Hungary of Today

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We often hear menacing prophecies that the 20th century was the “age of extremes”, that there is an ongoing “clash of civilizations”, and that the “end of history” is already upon us. Although these can be easily debunked both empirically and theoretically, it is without question that there are extremes in present day society, which, ironically often repeats and believes the abovementioned false prophecies.

The present day Hungarian radicalism is a topic worth investigating as it is often featured in the media, it frequently enters everyday conversations as well as expert debates. However, we do not even have a clear definition of the word “radicals” as it carries different connotations for different individuals. Most commonly, the word carries negative implications, but it would be a mistake to think that it only denotes unfavorable groups. Radicalism means a large deviance from the average, or – more precisely – from what is commonly accepted. This, however, does not mean that radicalism is always a negative phenomenon. Let us look at the case of Thomas Clarkson for instance, who raised his voice against the slave trade in the 18th century Britain – first as a student during an essay contest. His ideas were extreme and radical at the time, they stood in opposition to the mainstream, generally accepted status quo. Nevertheless, as a result of his efforts slave trade was banned.

Let us then differentiate between harmful radicalism and beneficial radicalism. The former intends to stop or limit progress, the latter aims to speed it up. Harmful radicalism strives to curtail individual liberties, holds a collectivist view, is unwilling to acknowledge any potential differences in culture, views or morals, and attempts to consolidate a static, authoritarian system. Beneficial radicalism, on the other hand, puts emphasis on individual liberties, views freedom and tolerance as progress and advocates a dynamic system that is open to more innovation.

The presented article gives an overview of the Hungarian radical groups, with the focus on the harmful ones or to be more precise: the far-right (applying this term to those which self-identify as such), but also touching upon self-identified far-left groups and liberals as well, who (not being popular) also verge on being perceived as radicals. Finally, it shall also be demonstrated how populist politics leads to radicalization.

Historical Background

After the World War II, the formerly traditionalist Hungary of the Horthy era, where most people supported an authoritarian, collectivist, hierarchized and nationalist system, abruptly turned to socialism, which was deemed a polar opposite to the previous state. In fact, that system was still authoritarian, collectivist and hierarchized (as only in this way could the state enforce its preferred social order) but under a different banner, which people who focused strongly on nationalism – which this new system lacked – utterly disliked. It also brought extensive social changes for although the state was now still centralized, the central power was not in the hands of the previously ruling classes (the aristocracy, the intellectuals, and the educated upper middle class) but in the hands of the so-called proletariat. The notion of the nation state was exchanged for the idea of internationalism (which in practice meant the Soviet sphere of interest, so the puppet states of the Soviet Union), thus the strong nationalist ideas and feelings of the people were suppressed – but of course, they did not cease to exist. People were simply too afraid to express them openly, fearing the dire consequences.

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