The Rise of Autocracies and American Exceptionalism

A shadow looms over democratic ideals of liberty and equality. The authoritative regimes humankind has so desperately attempted to discard in order to fashion a new social order, characterized by the freedoms and powers of the people as a collective whole, lurk ominously overhead.

The rise of autocracies in the modern world extends to that of Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban, a member of the conservative right wing Fidesz political party sworn into office on May 29, 2010.

As a cunning leader who proceeded to swiftly dismantle the democratic institutions of Hungarian democracy, Orban attempted to ensure reelection through the prevalent practice of gerrymandering.

The judiciary was infiltrated, unrecognizable a mere eight years later being made up entirely of nominees appointed during Orban’s tenure and its verdicts, when not aligned with the interests of the Fidesz party, maneuvered around through constitutional amendments as in the criminalization of homelessness.

The checks and balances established to prevent a return to the communist government, that once dominated Hungarian politics, eroded as positions of power in the prominent institutions that govern Hungary (the State Prosecution Office, National Fiscal Council, etc.) were filled with former Fidesz politicians and deemed worthless in their original intention to check the power of political leaders by remaining nonpartisan.

Media organizations were cracked down upon and are now heavily regulated, transformed into outlets of government propaganda as fear of grave consequences prevent honest journalism and independent reporting.

Crony capitalism abounds as power is manipulated to pursue personal business and economic endeavors and the European Union, built on the promising hopes of democratic liberty for all, offers little resistance, unprepared and baffled at the notion of the ongoing backslide from democracy as Hungary treads the slippery slope towards totalitarianism.

Liberty, a critical component of democracy, permits citizens to pursue whatever they wish to pursue, express independent thought without fear of repercussion and sustain an equality among all regardless of political power, economic status, race, religion, etc. in their ability to live as they wish and have a voice in the political process. It places power in the hands of the people.

Redrawing electoral maps to favor the Fidesz party and diminishing the power of institutions designed to check the power of any one political party. Projecting carefully constructed propaganda through a malleable media thereby clouding perceptions of free expression or thought. The Orban Administration has covered their bases in their effort to shirk the voice of the people in the democratic process — to eradicate liberty.

The mere notion of such blatant obstruction of personal freedoms and liberties and that I, living in a democratic society, am so ignorant of the power I may wield to prevent such devolving of societal dynamics, enrages me to no end.

Yet I am wary, of the American exceptionalism that threatens to engulf my way of thinking, the arrogance that we are above all others, that we may utilize this belief into forcing all others to behave the same, the danger of where this pride may lead.

For isn’t that simply another method of subservience to a higher power? Another way in which the power of an individual is overshadowed in the face of wealth and status?

 Orban walks a fine line in Hungary as parallels are drawn between his reign and that of single-party states of the past and present such as Syria’s ruling Ba’ath party.

The rule of law, an essential principle of democracy, holds little influence in Hungarian society as those in power reap the economic rewards of their prominent positions and those with poor economic status are criminalized.

The shift away from democratic principles in a host of nations incites alarm among much of the West and beyond as power is no longer derived from the people, rather methods of persuasion and coercion.

The dictatorships of Mussolini and Stalin, barring direct imitation, have certainly been emulated to a degree — a disconcerting prospect in itself that incites alarm: How was society led so astray? Is it too late to battle the impending shadow that threatens to irrevocably alter the freedoms and liberties of the people?

All the while, Hungary’s democratic facade only bolsters the transition from freedom to oppression as Zoltan Illes, a former Fidesz lawmaker turned government critic warns, “All the characteristics and features on the surface are democracy. But behind it there is only one party and only one truth.”

Photo: Dennis Jarvis

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