In this lurks a sort of dream combination: ethno-nationalism secured via autocracy.
The interview’s central feature is Carlson gushing over Orban’s virulently anti-immigrant policies and demagoguery. Orban describes these as urgent to defending national identity, defined as his country’s “population” and “culture” and “language” and “tradition” and “land,” a right of defense dictated by “God” and “nature.”
Orban also castigates liberal internationalist Western leaders for wanting to intermingle “Muslim” and “Christian” communities, describing the latter as “original inhabitants.” Orban declares that his country decided “not to take that risk.”
Throughout, Carlson treats this vision of national identity as fundamental to Hungary’s success. He even suggests that in Hungary, people are freer than in the United States.
Here, Carlson says, you’ll be silenced by Silicon Valley or hounded from your job if you dare criticize the “orthodoxy” of liberal internationalism and social liberalism — that is, if you yearn for association with a national identity that is culturally insulated and unsullied by socially liberal threats (like “transgender athletes”) to traditional conservative values.
“Who’s freer?” Carlson asks. “If you’re an American, the answer is painful to admit.”
Yet, as Ishaan Tharoor notes, Carlson often has little to say about the autocratic nature of Orban’s rule. Indeed, in Thursday’s broadcast, he blithely dismisses international observers criticizing it as tools of U.S. and liberal internationalist hegemony.
This tension — declaring America a less free society based on paranoid notions of sinister forces repressing anti-liberal-internationalist yearnings, while embracing the autocratic nature of Orbanism — is central to grasping the Carlsonist right’s true dream future.
Though Carlson won’t say it this way, autocratic rule is preferable to democracy because the former, he imagines, is the only route to the closed, ethno-nationalist, culturally reactionary society he wants for the United States. What Carlson and his ilk cannot accept, and are fighting their rearguard action against, is that open, liberal internationalist societies are and can be legitimately democratic creations.
The future Carlson wants
“If you care about Western civilization and democracy and families,” Carlson declared this week from Hungary, “you should know what is happening here right now.” He decried the “ferocious assault” on these things by globalist leaders, which Orban has heroically rebuffed.
As Jonathan Chait says, what’s striking is Carlson’s assertion that the defense of democracy requires embracing illiberalism and autocracy. This is an open declaration of an actual vision of what American self-rule should look like.
Orban’s slow destruction of democracy has been widely chronicled. See this Zack Beauchamp piece, which details how facially democratic wins have been followed by a slow autocratic capture of institutions:
Today, political scientists see Hungary as a textbook example of something called “competitive authoritarianism”: a kind of autocratic system where elections happen and aren’t formally rigged but are so heavily stacked in the incumbent party’s favor that the people don’t have real agency over who rules them.
Orban openly declares that this illiberal, autocratic turn is not incidental, but essential, to securing the vision of national identity and self-determination he trumpets.
It’s been widely observed that Carlson speaks for a much larger movement on the right that idolizes Hungary to express deep dissatisfaction with immigration, diversification and secularized multiracial democracy at home. Jeet Heer calls this “authoritarian tourism.”
Or as Anne Applebaum puts it, U.S. right-wingers yearning for an Orbanist American future are motivated by dislike of America’s “racial diversity, its modern culture, its free press,” while dreaming of a “white-tribalist alternative.”
The American right’s vision of Hungary and Orban’s own presentation of it have been highly mythologized, as Applebaum shows. But in a way, the reality is unimportant. The aspiration toward that valorized vision of nationality, as well as the open resolution to secure it via illiberal antidemocratic means, is what Carlson admires.
Indeed, for Carlson and friends, what’s truly galling about our open society, receptivity to immigrants and increasing diversity is that it has in large part been secured democratically.
Tucker and the ‘great replacement’
Carlson recently stirred controversy by declaring that Democrats want to “replace” native U.S. citizens with “more obedient voters from the Third World.”
Carlson piously insisted this was race neutral: He merely wants to preserve democracy against “foreigners,” whose presence “dilutes” the voting power of U.S. native citizens by definition. But in saying this, Carlson treated it as given that immigration undermines the integrity of our self rule.
Yet the decision to allow in more immigrants is one that is made democratically, by our legitimately elected representatives. The decision to enlarge the polity to include outsiders, even if it changes our demographic makeup and influences future elections, is one the polity makes democratically about itself.
But for Carlson, this outcome is unacceptable. Only nefarious elite manipulation can be to blame for this. If majoritarian democratic outcomes result in these things, democracy has become self-destroying and no longer legitimate.
The problem, then, is American multiracial democracy itself. Mythologized Orbanism, or ethno-nationalism secured via competitive authoritarianism, is producing a “freer” society — the future the Carlsonist right truly wants.