CPAC Europe Is a Safe Space for Authoritarians — and the Republicans Who Love Them
BUDAPEST, Hungary — European and American conservatives descended on this city Thursday morning to bemoan the supposed ‘suicide’ of Western civilization. The impending cultural death was blamed on a variety of causes, including immigrants who were “replacing” native-born workers; communists and “progressivists” pushing “gender madness”; and liberal democracy, which was creating a new “civic religion” out of the rights of man. Speakers, ranging from the CEO of Parler to the Prime Minister of Hungary, railed against the ‘woke’ media and the “unified troops of the international left” during a series of programming blocs with titles like “Western Civilization Under Attack,” “In God We Trust,” and “The Culture Wars in the Media.” It was the opening day of CPAC Hungary, the first European edition of the American Conservative Union’s flagship confab, and dark clouds were forming over Hungary.
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“James Burnham said that civilization dies only by suicide. I’m afraid that our lack of activity could easily lead to such an end,” cried Vaclav Klaus, the former Czech president. “I’m certainly not the only one here who feels that we have arrived at the turning point. We must actively start defending and promoting the ideas we inherited from our predecessors.”
What were those ideas and how could they be salvaged?
The answers proposed by an international slate of nationalist speakers betrayed a growing affinity between American conservatism and illiberal authoritarians in Europe. Immigration, gender identity, abortion rights, foreign culture, and the media all needed to be heavily controlled by stronghanded politicos in order save the native (white) population, the Church, and ‘Western civilization.’ And if the Americans present had any complaints about what they were hearing, they were keeping those thoughts to themselves.
“Hungary is the laboratory where we have managed to come up with the antidote for progressive dominance,” said right-wing Hungarian Prime Minster Viktor Orban. “The nation comes first: Hungary first, America first.”
According to Mark Krikorian of the American far-right Center for Immigration Studies, the West was suffering from ‘Allophobia,’ which he defined as “aversion to your own country, your own people, own history and culture” and ‘Xenomania,’ described as “an irrational preference for all things foreign, almost sacralizing the Other.” This “loss of civilizational confidence,” he said, “is the real threat to the West, and it is in that context that mass immigration serves as a threat to Western civilization.” Migrants, Krikorian argued, were not truly assimilating nowadays.
“What’s needed for immigration to succeed is what the scholar John Fonte, one of the leading theorists in this field [from the neoconservative Hudson Institute] calls ‘patriotic assimilation,’” Krikorian continued, “where the newcomers, and especially their children, emotionally and psychologically embrace the country and the people they have joined and see the culture and history and heroes as theirs with the blemishes and the glories of it.”
Too many people do not embrace this “Western past,” explained Frank Furedi, of the Hungarian XXI Century Foundation. “What they’re saying is that the past is a clear and present danger – a danger to our lives in the here and now – which is why you have people in the United Statues getting rid of statues.” This was part of a leftwing attempt to control language, Furedi said; an attempt “to control our minds.”
Such needless conspiracism was similarly championed by Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, who won a landslide reelection here in April. On Monday, in a speech inaugurating the new session of the Hungarian parliament, Orban decried “recurring waves of suicidal policy in the Western world.”
“One such suicide attempt that I see is the great European population replacement program, which seeks to replace the missing European Christian children with migrants, with adults arriving from other civilisations,” Orban remarked. “This is also how I see gender madness.”
Orban’s comments bore a striking resemblance to so-called ‘replacement theory’ – the idea that white Europeans and Americans are being strategically displaced from their majority status by immigrants and leftist allies. The ‘great replacement’ has been referenced as explicit motivation in the manifestos of multiple mass shooters across the globe – including the New Zealand mosque attacker, the El Paso Wal-Mart shooter, and, most recently, Buffalo shooting perpetrator. During his keynote speech at CPAC on Thursday morning, Orban looked out at the exclusive crowd of rightwingers gathered before him, in the grand ballroom of the Balna, or Whale conference center — sweeping piece of modernist architecture on the eastern banks of the Danube. Just six weeks earlier, he had been there to celebrate his fourth consecutive electoral victory as the nation’s premier. He returned once more to the well of migrants’ threatening the nation, only this time he made the threat economic rather than racial.
“The nation’s cause is not a question of ideology; not even of tradition,” Orban said. “You have to help and support the Church and support the families because they construct the nation. They make up the nation. This means that you will always have to stand on the side of the workers. This is why we decided to stop migration and to build a wall.”
Matt Schlapp echoed Orban’s remarks, though he tied the replacement of (white) Western populations by migrants to abortion rights in the United States. The chairman of the American Conservative Union — CPAC’s parent organization — Schlapp was a long-time Republican operative who cut his teeth in the early George W. Bush years. Ending abortion, he argued, would “create more people.”
“For people that believe that we need to somehow replace populations or bring in new workers, I think it’s a nice and appropriate first step to enshrine in law the right to life for unborn children,” he said.
When asked by Rolling Stone if this meant he believed this “replacement” was currently happening in America, Schlapp said “we’ve certainly done that in America for a very long period of time.”
“As you know, in many European countries, they’re not there – they’re not replacing themselves in the population. So there’s a decline in the population, which always results in stifling economic growth. This is not a religious idea; just an economic idea. And so, what they often say is, ‘Let’s turn to an immigrant population to kind of feed that economic need,’” he continued. “One of the mars on our history is this idea of turning a blind eye to the millions of children who were not allowed to live and could have lived wonderful, beautiful lives and could have contributed in ways we’ll never really understand. And that to me is what is the most interesting things that the left does not bring up when they talk about the criticism of this theory.”
When another reporter in the scrum asked Schlapp if he believed in replacement theory he said, “I don’t know if I understand what that is,” but cautioned against blaming the Buffalo shooting on this conspiracy. “I think it’s unfair for you to feel like you know why this very troubled young man did what he did.” (The shooter himself was rather explicit about why he did what he did, posting a lengthy pro-great replacement theory manifesto before targeting Black people during a mass shooting that killed 10 people.)
CPAC Hungary was being held in conjunction with the Orban-backed Center for Fundamental Rights, and while it is the first such event in Europe it is far from the ACU’s first venture outside American politics. Previous events include CPAC Australia, CPAC Japan, CPAC South Korea, and Prison CPAC, where American right wingers talked to a captive audience of inmates in South Philadelphia about the merits of conservative values. Later this year, CPAC will head to Brazil in support of Jair Bolsonaro’s reelection bid and to Mexico, where it hopes to breathe life into a new rightwing political party called the Movimiento Viva Mexico. And this is only the beginning – a “CPAC Israel” is coming soon.
The goal is to create an international coalition of rightwingers who can work together to defend a shared idea of “the nation.” This does not mean they share the same political values. The ACU mostly espoused traditional ideas like freedom of the press – something that often runs counter to its international partners. The Orban government, for example, has used its influence to push out nearly all dissident media — excepting a few independent online outlets in the capital. Since 2018, all local outlets in the countryside have been controlled by Orban and his allies in the ruling Fidesz party. A self-proclaimed “illiberal”, Orban has repeatedly justified his attacks on freedom of the press as part of his fight to protect Western civilization – but in truth it has mostly allowed for his authoritarian dddddline to go unquestioned.
“I know the old ethos of the Western democracy that partisan politics and media should be separate from one another. That’s the way it should be,” Orban taught the Americans at CPAC, “But my friends, the Democrats are not playing by these rules. Let us count how many media serve the interests of the Democratic Party. CNN, The New York Times – I could go on, but I would not get to the end by evening.”
In an example of the Orban administration’s opposition to a free press, all American journalists were barred from the conference. Reporters from Vox, Vice, Rolling Stone, and The New Yorker were forcibly removed when they attempted to procure credentials at the media check-in desk. The Associated Press, likewise, simply chose not to send anyone after the Center for Fundamental Rights refused to respond to months of emails. (The Center, like many other young think-tanks in Orban’s Hungary, receives a sizable amount of its funding directly from the government.)
After promising this reporter and others they’d be allowed in, the ACU failed to lift a finger when friends of the Hungarian autocrat barred media from attending. It was an ominous sign of American conservatives siding with illiberal authoritarianism over the founding principles of a democratic society. It’s unlikely to be the last.
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