Academic journal article The Innovation Journal

Orbán: Hungary's Strongman

Academic journal article The Innovation Journal

Orbán: Hungary's Strongman

Article excerpt

Paul Lendvai Orbán: Hungary 's Strongman New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2018

Reviewed by Howard A. Doughty

This review is divided into three main parts. The first describes a general state of worry about the future of our civilization in light of the myriad dangers we face and emphasizes the problem of democratic governance in an age when skepticism seems to tilt toward cynicism. The second deals with a specific case of the kind of authoritarianism that is being embraced wholly through the functioning of formally democratic electoral systems - a possible example of what Sheldon S. Wolin (2017) brilliantly described as "managed democracy" verging on "inverted totalitarianism." The last offers a brief comment on an enduring theme within The Innovation Journal, namely the role of the individual in social relations and, specifically, the time-worn question of whether innovation is a matter of will or circumstance (cf. Glor, 2000).

1.

Jack Alpert is an engineer. In 1978, he started the Stanford Knowledge Integration Lab (SKIL) at Stanford University in "Silicon Valley." It is now a private research facility which Alpert uses as the base from which to make some of the more pessimistic predictions you are ever likely to hear. This is what he tells people who seek (and pay heftily for) his insights:

It's my belief that you personally will most likely die of starvation or conflict between 2040 and 2075. You will experience a collapse of human civilization, a 90% die-off of humans, a destruction of the ecosystem, a loss of access to mined and drilled resources, and a dark age from which your descendents will not reemerge. If your kids survive to 2100, they will have been cannibals and will live like seventeenth-century serfs - no electricity, no running water, no schools, no medicine, and life will be short, nasty, and brutish.

One disturbing thing about that ominous forecast is that it's actually a little more optimistic than what he used to say. He used to say that our descendents would live like fifth-century post-Roman European peasants, not seventeenth-century serfs. I stand to be corrected, but I suspect the intervening millennium might have brought at least a few improvements for land-bound agricultural workers. Surely life among the Ostrogoths and the Visigoths was a bit rougher than lives lived tending crops or herding sheep in the time of the English Revolution and the Restoration. In any case, although I suspect that the socalled "Dark Ages," seen only in the rear-view mirror of (post)modernity, may be a bit underrated, I am also pretty sure that living the peasant life, whether in the fifth, the seventeenth or even the twenty-first century, has seldom been excessively commodious. Peasants (or serfs) have generally lacked indoor plumbing and few have Internet access even today. Rarely have they enjoyed the delights of democracy and an overabundance of human rights. They seldom establish substantial lines of credit I shall return to Alpert shortly.

2.

I write as a North American who is as blind as any other to the fact that there is a thriving, challenging world beyond the reach of our strip malls, supermarkets and superhighways that may well look with curiosity and possibly contempt upon our conceits. As such, I confess to beginning with an admittedly tangential reference to deep pessimism in order to emphasize the point that, Steven Pinker's recent ebullient, joyful and possibly Panglossian celebration of the achievements and ambitions of contemporary society notwithstanding (Pinker, 2017), people in this exaggerated part of the world are today experiencing a great deal of perfectly rational anxiety about what the present betokens and the future portends. We do not self-medicate with "uppers" and "downers" for nothing.

We know that, both in and outside of North America, all manner of upset about religioethno-racial conflict is in evidence. "Tribal" bigotries and resentments invade our consciousness with the noise of violence and hatred played out in both major and minor scales. …

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