Talking Points

Tucker Carlson joins the right-wing pilgrimage to Budapest

Tucker Carlson has become the latest and highest-profile figure on the American right to make a pilgrimage to Hungary. 

Fans of Carlson's top-rated prime time show on Fox News learned Monday that he would be broadcasting all week from Budapest, where he would also be delivering a speech next weekend at MCC Feszt — a conference sponsored by the Mathias Corvinus Collegium, a think tank recently granted $1.7 billion (about 1 percent of Hungary's GDP) by Prime Minister Viktor Orban in order to help foster the kind of nationalistic conservatism favored by his government. That includes kicking Central European University out of the country, banning the academic study of gender from colleges, allowing the ruling Fidesz Party to gobble up 90 percent of media in the country, and demonizing George Soros for cultural trends the prime minister's supporters dislike.

Carlson is unlikely to be the last conservative to pay hommage to Orban. John O'Sullivan, a one-time Thatcherite conservative who served as an editor of National Review through most of the 1990s, has been president of the Danube Institute in Budapest since 2017, bringing in a long list of American conservatives for conferences on right-wing populism and the threat of cancel culture.

In addition to a speech by Carlson, the MCC Feszt will include remarks by such prominent figures on the American right as Dennis Prager and Rod Dreher, the latter of whom has been living in Hungary and blogging effusively for The American Conservative about the Orban government for months. Dreher was joined a few months ago by Notre Dame's Patrick Deneen, author of surprise bestseller Why Liberalism Failed, for a lengthy discussion at MCC of the transnational conservative future.

All of which means that Hungary looks to be for populist conservatives in the 2020s what the Soviet Union was for the international left a century ago: a foreign model of a morally and politically edifying future. That doesn't mean or imply a moral equivalence between Orban's nationalism and Soviet communism. But it does point to a similarly transactional relationship. In return for providing earnest intellectuals with hope, a government often treated as an international pariah gets to enjoy a flood of fawning coverage when those ideologically engaged writers and talkers start sharing their carefully curated experiences with the world.  

Time will tell if today's pilgrims turn out to be genuine prophets of the political future or just the latest band of useful idiots for a discredited and unsavory regime.