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Conservative Renaissance by Márton Békés

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Essay

Conservative Renaissance

Photo: terrorhaza.hu

[Q]uelle alterazioni sono a salute, che le riducano inverso i principii loro—those changes are beneficial that bring them back to their original principle”—states Machiavelli in his Discourses on the First Ten Books of Titus Livius of 1513 (Book III, chapter 1). 

Indeed, the clarity, hope, and broad perspective of the moment of birth must be re-evoked over and over again so that we find strength and be reborn—by returning to the clear source of our existence. The beginning is nothing but the moment of clarity when the promise of birth is conceived. It is a mystical period of stepping over the threshold of myth, full of the mystery of coming into being. For at the very beginning, everything is given a priori—this is our fate. It is no different in the lives of communities, either; the body politic is born when its sacred and combative founders bring it to life, marking out their dwelling place, giving a name to themselves, and specify, in their own language, the common laws of their life. The moment of the conception of peoples, the founding acts of states, the great deed of formulating laws, and the days of birth of nations are waiting in the womb of time until they are brought to the surface. These are the greatest events in the lives of nations, to be remembered and celebrated year after year. 

The End of Progress

The lives of states and societies is not continuous progress; their story can rather be described as waves of development and decline, but we should not conceptualize this as a linear two-dimensional schedule ruled by destiny, but as a spiral, on which you can ascend towards the sky with sufficient effort—or sink inadvertently. This is especially clear today when the main nodes of the cultural production of our civilization—including academia, the publishing industry, the arts, the media, and show business—are hijacked by forces that have been working, intentionally, on pushing us down as fast and as deep as possible. Like an aircraft after it has stalled, our culture is in free fall, soon to hit the ground—unless we do something about it. 

Our civilization has always had two different answers to its own development. One formulated the program of getting away from our genesis as quickly as possible in the name of Progress. Advocates of this ‘plan’ are satisfied—viewed from a historical perspective—when they have distanced themselves from the moment of birth, or even manage to “make a clean slate of the past,” as proposed by L’Internationale. This progressive project is, naturally, a never-ending one: the results of yesterday’s progress are always bludgeoned by the vanguard of tomorrow’s progress. This is how 20th century feminism, for example, became a reactionary ideology in the eyes of the ‘woke’ movement. The road of progress is lined, densely, with guillotines: those who order beheadings will be beheaded themselves, sooner or later. Danton is followed by Robespierre, and the rest of them, one after the other. 

An imaginary meeting between Robespierre, Danton, and Marat, an illustration for Victor Hugo’s novel Ninety-Three by Alfred Loudet.

The other road belongs to us, conservatives. The conservative camp is quite wide, and more diverse, by far, than the progressive camp. There are traditionalists among us who live Tradition authentically; they are the most fortunate ones, as they are living in the mythical time of the beginning, and their folk songs are still about their own personal lives. There are some who want to defend tradition that has been challenged and respond to the destruction brought by the revolution with a counter-revolution, like the Catholic insurgents in the Vendée or the Spanish Nationalists defending the Alcázar. 

There are also the ones who would like to adjust what they inherited from their predecessors to the new challenges of their time by implementing cautious reforms (“Making carefully considered progress,” as Aurél Dessewffy suggested); they would like to take the wind out of the sails of the revolution by reforming many small details in order to keep the whole intact. Finally, we also have people who are forced to realize that the old world has been lost for good, that there is nothing to stick to anymore, and so only one solution remains for them: to recreate the ancient clarity of the beginnings; they try to “create circumstances that are worth conserving” (Arthur Moeller van den Bruck). And when the cycle of progress is completed, it is time to return to the beginning—to start a conservative revolution. 

We could live in any country and take either road. We could be traditionalists, reform conservatives, counterrevolutionaries, or conservative revolutionaries. All of us hope for a reinforcement of our identity and the rebirth of our culture as a result of returning to the beginnings, to our roots. 

Conservative Revolution

Regardless of the pace of progress in various areas of life, in the blind alley of progress that we experience every day, what our civilization needs the least is a quick patching up. What it needs instead is a profound reform that leads it back to its beginnings. Thus, nothing could be timelier today than another renaissance and a major comeback—a return to our beginnings. 

Interestingly, profound cultural shifts in the history of European culture have always advocated a return to the past. This was proudly declared in their respective names, including the renaissance (rinascimento), that is, rebirth; then the reformation, which propagated a religious rejuvenation through a return to the text of the Bible; but the word revolution (revolutio) was also a reference to the same, borrowing a term from astronomy that was used to describe the rotation of planets around their axes. The explanation for the ‘great again’ movements that have sprung up throughout the West is the same: national conservatives, Christian democrats, sovereigntists, and populists are all seeking ways of making their countries great again. 

António Oliveira de Salazar, the renowned Portuguese statesman, said in one of his speeches that, “There had been many revolutions, but we had not seen a real one up to now,” and Ronald Reagan recalled that the Eighties were “described by many as the era of the Reagan revolution, but I think it was nothing but the rediscovery of our common sense.” In 2010, concerning the election victory of Fidesz–KDNP that ensured two-thirds of the seats in Parliament, Viktor Orbán at the time said the following:

What took place in Hungary now was not only the sixth free election, but a revolution in the polling booths. Hungarians proved that democracy makes sense, because we manage to implement such a profound change within a democratic framework which was managed only by revolutions in the past.  

Since then, the Right has scored three two-thirds triumphs in a row at national elections in Hungary, the latest of which was this spring with a record number of votes. The 3 million votes for the governing parties and the 3.7 million votes for the conservative position in the child protection referendum represent the placing of massive trust in the governing coalition again, and a strong retroactive confirmation of all political, societal, economic, and cultural decisions of the last 12 years. Thereby, a political decision was born, or, rather, reborn, which went back precisely to the beginnings—for the basis of the Hungarian state consists of the nation, the family, and work. Our fundamental law states that “the father is a man, the mother is a woman”: the state in our country is responsible for the nation that established it, and our cultural sovereignty is the highest value we are to defend. 

What is more, this revolution of normalcy has also been performing quite well—Hungary is a work-based and family-friendly country where national integration is the strongest pillar of social cohesion. Hungarians’ propensity to marry is twice as high as the EU average, and the labour market is at a new peak with 4.7 million people in employment. No wonder that our economic growth exceeded 8% in the first quarter.  

Revolution is not alien to us: it all depends on what we use it for. As the Hungarian thinker László Németh put it 80 years ago: “Tradition and revolution are not each other’s enemies, they are rather like the two halves of a pair of scissors.” Since today progressivism is the mainstream, the cultural establishment is monopolized by the Left, and the anti-family approach is globally dominant, being a conservative is currently a rebellious position, and the political revolution is in fact coming from the Right. Forward to the past, then, and let the revolution of values, the rebirth of nations, and the conservative renaissance come!  

Márton Békés is research director at the Terror Háza Muzeum and director of the 21st Century Institute in Budapest. He is also editor of the Hungarian quarterly, Kommentár, a Hungarian.

The text is based on a speech delivered at CPAC Budapest on 20 May 2022. It has been edited for length and clarity, and appears by kind permission.

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