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Is Orban Protecting Hungary from Libertarianism?

Image: YouTube screenshot.

Tucker Carlson spent a week in Hungary extolling the accomplishments of Viktor Orban, the proud father of “illiberal democracy.” In an earlier edition of his show, Carlson had praised Orban for not “abandoning Hungary’s young people to the hard‐​edged libertarianism of Soros and the Clinton Foundation.”

Absurd, right? George Soros and the Clinton Foundation libertarian, much less “hard‐​edged” libertarians? Hardly.

And we might just have a laugh and leave it there. But maybe there’s a deeper sense in which Carlson has a point.

Libertarianism may be regarded as a political philosophy that applies the foundational ideas of liberalism consistently, following liberal arguments to conclusions that would limit the role of government more strictly and protect individual freedom more fully than other classical liberals would. But modern liberals such as Soros and Bill Clinton share a lot of those basic ideas with libertarians.

As Fareed Zakaria wrote about the success of libertarians:

They are heirs to a tradition that has changed the world. Consider what classical liberalism stood for in the beginning of the nineteenth century. It was against the power of the church and for the power of the market; it was against the privileges of kings and aristocracies and for dignity of the middle class; it was against a society dominated by status and land and in favor of one based on markets and merit; it was opposed to religion and custom and in favor of science and secularism; it was for national self‐​determination and against empires; it was for freedom of speech and against censorship; it was for free trade and against mercantilism. Above all, it was for the rights of the individual and against the power of the church and the state.

In all those ways libertarians and other liberals changed the Western world and increasingly the entire world. Today libertarians, liberals such as Soros and Clinton, and conservatives such as Mitt Romney and Boris Johnson agree on such basic liberal principles as private property, markets, free trade, the rule of law, government by consent of the governed, constitutionalism, free speech, free press, religious freedom, women’s rights, gay rights, peace, and a generally free and open society.

Not without plenty of arguments, of course, over the scope of government and the rights of individuals, from taxes and the welfare state to drug prohibition and war. But as Brian Doherty wrote in Radicals for Capitalism, his history of the libertarian movement, we live in a liberal world that “runs on approximately libertarian principles, with a general belief in property rights and the benefits of liberty.”

So one might say that with all the differences libertarians have with Soros⁠—who has been the target of anti‐​Semitic campaigning by Orban⁠—or with the Clinton Foundation, they are at least more liberal than Orban’s “illiberal state” modeled on the successes of Russia, China, and Turkey, a regime that is shutting down universitiestaking over mediasuspending parliament, chipping away at democracy, and undermining the rule of law.

And in that sense, while Soros and the Clinton Foundation are hardly libertarian, much less “hard‐​edged” libertarians, their conflict with the Orban regime does involve issues fundamental to the conflict between libertarianism and authoritarianism.

David Boaz is the executive vice president of the Cato Institute and has played a key role in the development of the Cato Institute and the libertarian movement. He is the author of The Libertarian Mind: A Manifesto for Freedom and the editor of The Libertarian Reader.

Written By

David Boaz is the executive vice president of the Cato Institute and has played a key role in the development of the Cato Institute and the libertarian movement. He is the author of The Libertarian Mind: A Manifesto for Freedom and the editor of The Libertarian Reader.