Viktor Orbán’s 12 rules to win back the West

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán speaks at CPAC in Hungary (Source: MTI)
By John Cody
19 Min Read

Coming off a fresh landslide victory in Hungary’s April elections, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his Fidesz party have drawn conservatives from across the world to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Budapest, with many of them looking to Hungary for answers to the challenges facing Western civilization and an increasingly dominant left.

While addressing an audience of conservative opinion-makers, politicians, academics, and activists, Orbán put forward 12 rules that conservatives can use if they want to emulate the success Hungarian conservatives have enjoyed, which is made all the more relevant given that his Fidesz party secured 54 percent of the vote and another two-thirds majority in last month’s general election, equating to a nearly unrivaled democratic mandate in the Western world.

“The recipe is open-use, free to take away, and consists of 12 points, which I’m sharing with you forever. Twelve, I tell our foreign friends, is the lucky number of Hungarian freedom fighters,” Orbán said before kicking off his guide.

Play by your own rules

“The first point of the Hungarian recipe. We must play by our own rules. The only way to win is to refuse to accept the solutions and the path offered by others,” said Orbán.

Quoting Churchill, he continued, saying, “If you have enemies, it is a sure sign that you are doing something right.” He said it was important for conservatives to build a thick skin, and avoid being discouraged by claims they are “unfit for public life or treated as troublemakers,” because if such slings and arrows are not being thrown, that is actually suspicious in itself.

He also warns conservatives “that anyone who plays by the rules of his opponents will certainly lose.”

Know your people and what they want

The second point from Orbán is that national conservatism must always be responsive to domestic politics, and that means staying on the side of the electorate. He cited the example of immigration to highlight this strategy.

“We decided to stop migration and build the wall on the southern border because the Hungarian people said they did not want illegal immigrants. They said, ‘Viktor, build that wall.’ Three months later the border barrier was up.

“The secret of the thing is not to overthink it,” Orbán stressed. “The Hungarian fence is a simple wire fence, with motion sensors, watchtowers and cameras. But if people want to protect their country, it’s enough to serve that purpose.”

He also noted the idea that progressives want to impose their radically unproven fantasies on to society represents a true threat but also an opportunity for conservatives.

“Because on the important issues, people really don’t like leftist fever dreams. We need to find the few issues on which the left is completely out of touch with reality and present them, but in a way that is not only understood by pure intellectuals.”

A foreign policy based on interests instead of ideology

The third point Orbán outlined is the importance of maintaining national interest in foreign policy.

“The progressives always say that foreign policy is a battle of ideologies, a battle of good and bad, where the course of history is decided. But as far as I can see, my dear friends, there have been at least four of these great battles in the last 100 years, and something is wrong with the formula.”

He said that conservatives need a response to this, and should be “a clear antithesis” to what progressive are putting forward.

The answer according to Orbán? “The nation comes first, Hungary First, America First.”

He called for an interest-based foreign policy instead of a foreign policy based on ideology, and used the war in Ukraine to make his point while also stressing that this path is not always easy.

“Russia is the aggressor, Ukraine the victim. We condemn the aggressor and help the aggressed, but at the same time we know that Hungary is not defended by Ukraine. That is nonsense. Hungary can only be defended by NATO and the Hungarian Defense Forces. Population-wise, we have taken in the largest number of refugees, and the Hungarian people are happy to help … but they do not want to pay the price of the war, because it is not their war, and they do not benefit from it. They know very well that with war comes sanctions, inflation, stagnation and the economy, and war always impoverishes people.”

He stressed that Hungarians must not give in to “siren songs” calling for war, as this would be a complete departure from an interest-based foreign policy.

Conservatives need a powerful media voice more than ever

Orbán argues that conservatives needs to come to grips with not only the power the media holds, but how the left is using that power much more effectively.

“We can only show the insanity of the progressive left if we have media to help us do it. Leftist opinion can only appear to be in the majority because the media helps them amplify their voices. It is precisely the problem that the modern Western media is aligned with the leftist position,” he said.

Conservatives face a real problem, he acknowledged, saying “as soon as a conservative figure appears in the media space, he is criticized, discredited and made unpresentable.”

Orbán pointed to a reality that many conservatives still haven’t come to terms with, which is that the familiar old ethos in the West that party politics and the press should be separate has been destroyed by the left. Although such a separation is ideal, the conservatives must also play this game.

“The Democrats in America, for example, do not abide by these rules. Try to count how many media serve the Democratic Party? CNN, the New York Times, and I could go on and on, I would not get to the end of this list even by the evening. Of course, the Grand Old Party has its allies, its allied media, but they are no match for the liberal media dominance. My friend Tucker Carson is the only one who is steadfastly putting himself out there. His show is the most watched. What does that mean? It means they should be running shows like this day and night.”

Expose your opponent in advance

Orbán said the fifth point conservatives can use to pursue victory is to expose your opponents’ intentions.

“Having media is a necessary but not sufficient condition for winning. You also have to be a taboo-breaker. Perhaps I don’t need to introduce this to our American friends, because who would be a bigger taboo-breaker than President Donald Trump himself? But you can take it to the next level. It is not the taboos of today that need to be broken, but the taboos of tomorrow.

“Here in Hungary, we do this by revealing what the left is up to before they do it. At first they will deny it, but then it will be even more successful when it turns out that we were right all along.”

Orbán refers to his own country’s child protection law, which infuriated the left over the restrictions it placed on teaching LGBT ideology in children’s classrooms. The move has made Hungary the target of sanctions from the EU, but was backed by an overwhelming majority of Hungarians during a referendum process.

“Take LGBTQ propaganda targeting children. This is new here, but we have already destroyed it. We have brought it to light and held a referendum on it. The sensitization of children was rejected by an overwhelming majority of the Hungarian people. By revealing earlier what the left was up to, we forced them on the defensive, and ultimately they had to admit that this was indeed their plan.”

Achieve economic success or fail

Building on Hungary’s explosive GDP growth, low unemployment, and strengthening real wages, Orbán emphasizes economic success as a key plank for conservatives, stating that the left “wants to run the economy on abstract ideas. This is a no-no for the right.

“We, when we came to power, decided that we should only make economic policies that benefit the majority of the electorate. We have a motto about this here in Hungary: even those who do not vote for us will benefit. In this way, we are the complete opposite of the progressives, who are doing even those who voted for them a disservice.”

He stressed that people want to work, and that a right-wing government that cannot deliver economic benefits will not survive.

“People want jobs, not economic theories. People want to get ahead in life, and people want a better life for their children than they have.”

Don’t be marginalized

For his seventh point, Orbán emphasized that conservatives must not become marginalized, and said that “extremist conspiracy theories” also rear their head on the right at times, sometimes to the detriment of political parties. Nevertheless, the left is also partaking in this behavior, even if they are not called out on it in the same manner.

“But my friends, what is the difference between the denial of science from the extreme right and the denial of biology from the elitist movements? The answer is simple, there is no difference. We must give to God what is God’s, to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to science what is science,” he said.

Although promoting conspiracy theories may garner huge audiences on social media, they are not going to win elections, even if there is sometimes truth in them, he said. In the end, it will only alienate much of the electorate and result in conservative losses at the voting booth, Orbán argued.

In an increasingly digital world, never forget to read books

For his eighth point, Orbán urged conservatives to value the power of books.

“I’m not an academic person, but the fact is that no better tool for understanding and conveying complex ideas has been invented than books. And the world is getting more and more complicated, you have to take the time to understand it. For example, I myself set aside a day every week just for reading. Reading also helps us to understand what our opponents are thinking and where their minds are making mistakes.”

He emphasized that conservatives should take the time to read and understand the world, even if many parts of society are moving away from books. This knowledge must then be translated into political action and communication.

Orbán’s call for more reading comes at a time when the youth increasingly embraces smartphones, video content, and other forms of entertainment.

Have faith

Orbán’s ninth point is a call for conservatives to have faith, saying a “lack of faith is dangerous. If one does not believe that there will one day be a Judgement Day, and that one will have to answer to God for one’s actions, then one will attempt to do everything that is in one’s power. That is why we encourage young conservative political students to engage with a life of faith.”

Orbán acknowledged that this idea has only come to him over the years, saying that he did not immediately recognize the vital power of faith in the beginning of his political career, but that after 32 years in parliament and 17 years as prime minister, he recognizes that success derives from faith.

Make friends, avoid divisions

The tenth point Orbán promotes is the need for friends, emphasizing that liberals and neo-Marxists are incredibly united and always have each other’s backs.

“In contrast, we conservatives are capable of squabbling with each other over the smallest issue, and then we wonder why our opponents frame us. We do have intellectual sophistication, and we do care about intellectual nuance, but if we want to succeed in politics, we should never look at what we disagree with the other person on, but look for where we have common ground.”

Orbán referred to the Vatican to underline his point, stating that it is one of Hungary’s most important allies and a guardian of Christian values. In areas such as family policy, Hungary and the Vatican are “united in our belief that the father is a man and the mother is a woman.” In addition, both the Church and Hungary are united in pursuing peace and helping Ukrainian refugees.

“But at the same time we think differently about illegal migration. It is not a question of looking at where we can get on well together, but of looking at how we can work together,” he said. He then warned that a powerful and united left will hunt down a divided conservative movement and pick them off one by one.

Build communities or else

Orbán stated in his speech that conservative political success is not possible without strong communities.

“The fewer the communities and the lonelier the people, the more voters for Hungarian liberals, and the more community, the more votes we get. It is as simple as that. No need to explain it.”

Create institutions that will outlast us

For Orbán’s twelfth and final point, he urged conservatives to build successful institutions, undoubtedly a strong point of the Hungarian government, which either supports or runs a variety of educational, media, religious and youth organizations, which are remarkably absent in much of the West.

“Let us not forget, politicians come and go, but institutions stay with us for generations. These institutions have the capacity to renew politics intellectually. We need new ideas, new thoughts, new people again and again, and when they run out, we run out of ammunition and the opposition will mow us down without mercy.”

Orbán concluded his speech by pointing to the massive threat progressives pose to all of Western civilization, pointing out that “what is really dangerous is not from outside, but from within.

“You, my dear American friends, are dealing with the United States, we are dealing with the European Union. The same people, faceless, ideologically-trained, bureaucratic people are sitting in Washington D.C. and Brussels. Progressive liberals, the new Marxists, the stalwarts of George Soros, the propagators of the open society, want to abolish the Western way of life that you, and we love so much. What your parents fought for during the Second World War and the Cold War, and what we fought for when we drove the Soviet communists out of Hungary.”

Orbán called on conservatives to get organized and take back their institutions from Washington and Brussels.

“2024 will be decisive,” Orbán vowed. “You have presidential and congressional elections, we have European Parliament elections. These two venues mark out the two fronts in the struggle for Western civilization. Today, we have neither, but we need both. We have two years to prepare. The Hungarian lesson is that there is no magic bullet. There is only work to be done.”

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