Stephen Harper has recently been promoting closer ties between Canadian conservatives and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government.
Harper is chair of the International Democrat Union, a global alliance of right-wing political parties that includes Canada’s Conservatives as well as Orban’s Fidesz Party. The Republicans in the US have also been cozying up to Orban.
If we can indeed know people by the friends they keep, we might ask what kind of politician this Urban is. The answer in a word is an “illiberal” one. Indeed he is an unabashed champion of illiberal democracy.
According to Wikipedia, an illiberal democracy is “a governing system that hides its nondemocratic practices behind formally democratic institutions and procedures.” In other words, it’s a democratic fraud, an autocracy with a democratic facade.
Human Rights Watch says Orban’s government has made sustained attacks on the rule of law and public institutions, including surveilling journalists and undermining judicial independence. The European Court of Justice has repeatedly ruled that Orban is violating EU migration laws with policies hostile to asylum claimants, whom he has referred to as “a poison” and “Muslim invaders.” A real sweetheart.
But that’s Eastern Europe, not the best place to look for vigorous democracy. We need to be more concerned closer to home. The. Republican Party—the party of Lincoln—has been shifting toward illiberalism for some time and lurched heavily in that direction under Donald Trump.
And now we have our own conservatives singing the praises of the Hungarian autocrat. And the praise was reciprocated. In Orban’s words, “Had a great meeting today with Chairman Stephen Harper. International cooperation between right-wing, conservative parties is more important than ever. Chairman Harper is a great ally in this respect. Thank you for your support, Mr. Chairman!”
Chairman Harper? Sounds appropriate somehow.
So what’s with conservatives and democracy? Do they believe in it or not? Certainly, while some of their policies—anti-union, for example—suggest not, they have traditionally been ardent supporters of political rights and constitutionalism. This includes both Republicans down south and Progressive Conservatives up here. After all, the GOP was the party of Lincoln, and former PM John Diefenbaker brought us the Bill of Rights.
But that was before Trump and Harper. Each moved his party toward a more right-wing version of conservatism, Trump almost to fascism. Undoubtedly many if not most conservatives continue to believe in freedom, human rights and democracy, but many seem to be finding these values increasingly less amenable to their interests.
At least one of our conservative elders certainly seems to, as he makes nice with an illiberal autocrat. He is showing some new colours and they are not the old Tory blue.