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Race, Culture, and Western Self-Hatred: the Fake Controversy Over Orbán’s Speech by Rodrigo Ballester

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Race, Culture, and Western Self-Hatred: the Fake Controversy Over Orbán’s Speech

Photo: Prime Minister's Press Office/Vivien Cher Benko

I don’t like the word ‘race,’ and I wish Viktor Orbán had not used it in his otherwise insightful address in Tusványos. 

I have several reasons for disliking the term ‘race,’ some philosophical and some practical. The first is that Claude Levi-Strauss long ago convinced me that the idea of race has virtually no scientific evidence behind it. Ultimately, though, I dislike extensive use of the term ‘race’ because I earnestly believe that Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream of colour-blindness is an ennobling one, and that aiming at it is the best recipe for creating a culture that respects the dignity of every human being. In Haile Selassie’s words (echoed in the lyrics of Bob Marley), the colour of a man’s skin should be of no more significance than the colour of his eyes.

I do, as I indicated, have practical reasons as well as philosophical ones for my dislike of the term ‘race.’ The first is quite simple: using the term, particularly in any kind of public arena, makes one liable to accusations of inhumanity, hatred, fearmongering, and perhaps even Naziism. This has been the case for many years, but it has been exacerbated in recent years by the prominence of a new approach to legal and political theory that takes the economic duality of Marx’s bourgeoisie and proletariat and applies it to racial groups in the West. I speak, of course, of the current lynchpin of identity politics, ‘critical race theory.’ 

While critical race theory was developed as a way of interpreting the continued effects of slavery and Jim Crow on American law, it has ballooned and become the dominant way for Westerners to approach any question having to do with race. In this ballooning, it has become little more than the new name of blunt racism. It has become a cult, a cult that reduces and divides human beings, including children, along skin’s pigmentation. Depending on their ‘race,’ persons are either good or bad, evil or pure, guilty or innocent. As we speak, clerics of woke-ism colonise schools, campuses, enterprises, and screens to divide nations along the arbitrariness of appearance. They plant the seeds of discord by teaching minority children to resent those students who supposedly benefit from structural racism, which in turn makes the white (or ‘white passing’) children either turn to self-hatred or, perhaps more frighteningly, feel justified in hating their minority schoolmates. 

One oddity of this ideology is that, according to their mantras, I am myself simultaneously a ‘white oppressor’ in Europe and a ‘Latinx’ victim of systemic oppression on the other side of the pond, despite the obvious fact that my suntan remains the same. 

I hope that all this has made clear why I have such a strong distaste for the idea of ‘race.’ Additionally, I hope it has done something to explain why I am so tired of constant accusations of racism levied against political conservatives—the controversy over Orbán’s speech being just the most recent example. In addition, it may help you understand why I am so bothered by the hypocrisy displayed by those accusing Orbán of racism and Naziism while celebrating the European Parliament recent resolutions fraught with ‘racialised’ litanies. Please forgive me if I roll my eyes when I hear the diversity pharisees playing the colour-blind champions against their favourite scapegoat because he referred to the same concept they have turned into a lucrative business. And finally, please allow me to be sceptical about their real intentions.

Now, no matter how much I dislike the word ‘race,’ and the associations it has held for over a century, let it be noted that I unequivocally love the words ‘history,’ ‘culture,’ and ‘continuity.’ These are words that, tragically, are now often seen as mere dog-whistles for ‘white supremacy.’ I, however, believe that they need involve no such ugliness. As a Western European, I can only salute the lucidity and courage of a Hungarian politician taking the lead on problems his country does not even face and speaking out loud for millions of citizens in the West who can only think in silence. Orbán has given us a clear message: yes, there is something called European civilisation; yes, its historic and cultural continuity is under threat by (among other things) the social and cultural impact of mass migration from people belonging to civilisations that are respectable but far too different to be simply absorbed; yes, in Progressive darling Emmanuel Macron’s words, those abyssal differences lead to parallel societies in the same territory. In other words, continued mass migration without any attempt at assimilation is the best recipe for social atomisation and cultural suicide. 

This claim has nothing to do with race in itself, but it does have a lot to do with culture (and, sadly, with cancel culture). While Orbán’s outspoken style led him to confuse the two, it is clear to anyone who reads the speech that his message was not a racist one. The same cannot be said of the writings of the clerics of woke-ism, who also confuse race and culture, which allows them to dismiss systematically any debate on migration or civilisational continuity as xenophobic. Let’s be honest, Orbán’s slip of the tongue in a long and varied speech is not some kind of Freudian slip ‘showing his hand.’ If we take the time to look at the speech (and any number of his other speeches and legislative pushes), it becomes clear that this was an infelicitous choice of words and nothing more. It was, however, taken as the perfect pretext to double down the witch hunts that are run on a daily basis with two clear objectives: muzzling the deviant voices and signalling their virtue to obsessively show that they are on the right side of their own story. 

In this suffocating mental atmosphere, pointing at the elephant in the room is per se a sin. Doing so speaking to thousands when you are already the leftist favourite target for every move you make is the golden occasion for a woke auto-da-fé. And, en passant, it is a cynical move not to release the European funds Hungary is entitled to. Yet, in spite of the vociferous anathemas and judgments of intentions two facts remain. First, the continuity of the European civilisation is the existential question of our times, no matter how silenced it is. Second, there is indeed a dire problem of racism in the West: it is called ‘critical race theory’ and its zealots claim to fight ‘systemic racism’ by being systemically racist, calling ‘supremacists’ all those daring to question their dogmas. Especially the one sustaining all their ‘racialised’ nonsense: the narcissist and vicious self-loathing that brings Western Europe on the verge of a cultural hara-kiri.

This is ‘oikophobia,’ in the words of Scruton. And it is precisely what Orbán pointed at in Tusványos, with one wrong word among ten thousand sharp ones.

Rodrigo Ballester, former EU official, is the head of the Centre of European Affairs at the Mathias Corvinus Collegium in Budapest.