The following is adapted from remarks delivered at the University of Public Service in Budapest, Hungary, on November 30, 2022.
It is an honor and a privilege to be here at the University of Public Service, in this great city and this great country. There are few people in The West standing up for The West with as much courage and resolve as the people of Budapest and their fellow citizens across Hungary.
It might seem presumptuous for an American to come to Hungary to lecture anyone about the civilizational Cold War now being waged between globalist elites and the sovereign peoples of democratic nations. Then again, it might be asked what Americans are for if not our presumption? And as a Texan, I can take that question not as a jibe, but a compliment.
But, in either case, there is an answer to that question. The thing Americans are for—now and always—is the freedom to govern ourselves. And history is very clear that the greatest bulwark of any people’s freedom—across continents and centuries—is the nation-state. National sovereignty, ensured by an independent national politics and sustained by a unique national culture, is every people’s strongest defense against all its enemies, foreign and domestic.
Today, as always, the nation-state is in a fight for survival. As you know, Hungary is not merely on the front lines of that conflict. It is the salient—the tip of the spear, thrusting forward into unfriendly territory, surrounded on three sides, hoping that allies will emerge to reinforce their flanks.
The American people are—and must be—among those allies. However goes the nation-state in Europe, so it will go around the world. Our independence—our freedom—back home is very much tied to yours here. The same forces threatening Hungary’s sovereignty today have their sights set on America’s tomorrow. The only question is whether the campaign against nationhood in Budapest is a dress rehearsal for a future siege of Washington, or whether The West stands together, here, in defense of the values that made us the The West in the first place.
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Superficially, the nation-state in the 21st century is beset by two principal adversaries. On one hand, there is the enemy above. These are the supranational organizations that indict nation-states as parochial special interests obstructing capital-H History’s march toward global “unity.”
On the other, there is the enemy below. These are the woke propagandists who condemn the nation-state as an artificial usurper of people’s rightful loyalty to their racial, gender, class, or tribal identity group.
In truth, though, these are not two distinct attacks against political democracy and cultural diversity. They are a coordinated pincer movement of one attack, led by the same enemy—an entitled cabal of globalist elites whose messianic ambition is matched only by their pharisaic self-regard. There is no bigger cabal of globalist elites than the woke totalitarians in Brussels, who use the trope of “European unity” as a cudgel against common sense, traditional values, and Truth.
The goal of woke activists and supranational organizations is one and the same: eroding the political authority of independent nation-states and transferring that authority to foreign, unelected bureaucracies unburdened either by patriotic sympathy or the rigors of democratic accountability.
There was a time when Leftist elites were transparent about these aims. Wilson’s League of Nations, Mussolini and Hitler’s fascism, and Soviet Communism openly boasted their global imperial projects. And progressive elites hailed each in turn as “the wave of the future.” No fashionable intellectual in the world doubted that some form of centralized management of society by enlightened cosmopolitans simply had to be the end point of History.
But in quick succession, those dreams died—or rather, were exposed as nightmares.
The butcher’s bill of 20th century totalitarian imperialism should have discredited their progressive-elite cheerleaders for generations. But one of the perks of controlling the news media, the entertainment industry, cultural institutions, and the education system is that you never have to say you’re sorry.
Today, progressive totalitarians who failed to conquer the authority of nation-states by force or persuasion rely on a subtler and more dangerous tactic: gradual insinuation. What the global Left could not achieve with armies and invasions they now attempt with bureaucrats and treaties.
This, more or less, is “The European Union as seen from Washington, D.C.”
The E.U. is the most aggressive and dangerous enemy of the nation-state anywhere in the world. Born in the rubble of World War II, at the dawn of the Cold War, the E.U. was originally a scheme designed to prevent yet another continental conflict.
And after all, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization had already bound western Europe together in a mutual defense pact to check Soviet expansion. The argument for a “common market”—free trade, passport-free travel, and a permanent venue for multilateral communication—made all the sense in the world.
The problem is that progressive ideologues never stopped wanting to wield power that transcended nation-state sovereignty. The E.U. presented them an opportunity to finally play the long game. First, though, it needed to reframe its recent, catastrophic, miscalculations. And so, the continent’s taste-making cultural institutions concocted a narrative that World War II was caused by nationalism. This is the story told in parliaments, newsrooms, and schools across Europe.
It just so happens to be a fairy tale.
Adolf Hitler was not a nationalist. He was as nakedly imperialist as any tyrant who ever drew breath. He ignored national borders, resented national sovereignty, and tore up treaties signed by nation-states—including his own! On the other side of the world, the Empire of Japan took a similar view. The historical record is laughably clear that Benito Mussolini cared only about himself, not Italy.
The nationalists of World War II—Winston Churchill, Charles de Gaulle, Franklin Roosevelt, and Harry Truman—were the victors. The story of the Second World War was that coercive, centralized empires lost to a voluntary alliance of independent nation-states. Even in Moscow, home of Lenin’s “Communist International,” Russian morale demanded Josef Stalin’s imperialistic regime rebrand the fight against Germany as “The Great Patriotic War.”
The villains of World War II were not the nationalists, but the imperialists, sworn enemies of independent nation-states: Germany and Japan before and during the war, the Soviet Union at its end.
The nationalists were the heroes. And the victors. And thank God for them.
After the war, left-wing, centralizing imperialists did not change sides, just tacks. Nationalism, they begrudgingly discovered, was not an impediment to peace and prosperity. Just to them.
And so progressives on both sides of the Atlantic began their “long march through the institutions:” the academy, the media, corporations, government agencies, and international organizations.
At this point, Americans saw the E.U. as a political and economic complement to NATO’s security alliance. A Europe “United in Diversity,” as the official motto claims, was an asset in the Cold War. Most Americans didn’t give the E.U. any more thought than how much easier it would make traveling.
As you know, the E.U.’s professional bureaucracy—and their allies in elite enclaves in the public and private sectors across the West—had other plans. Brussels sees itself as the capital of a future United States of Europe—one unchecked by constitutional limitations on the central government’s powers.
The issues may change: trade, immigration, carbon emissions, the hifalutin’ nonsense of identity politics. And the talking points are always shifting. On Monday, “Europe must stand as one.” On Tuesday, it’s something about “human rights.” On Thursday, climate change is too big for one nation to combat. On Friday, it’s neighborly reciprocity.
But whatever the soundbite, the effect is always the same: to syphon away the authority of nation-states and give it to unelected, unaccountable foreign elites. It is the definition of imperialism.
And, even for all that, the empire they imagine is one utterly alien to the peoples they plan to rule.
Europe has been a geographic entity for about 200,000 millennia. But it has been a civilization… it has been The West… for only about two or three. In that time, tribes and nations and empires rose and fell. But all along, though Europe had many monarchs, it has only one King. And the source of its strength, its beauty, its unity, and its spirit is not in Brussels, but in Rome.
E.U. elites act as though they are embarrassed by the Roman Catholic Church and the legacy of European Christendom they inherited from it. It’s a touchy subject. They celebrate Renaissance art, but not its subjects. They promote religious sites, but only for tourism. E.U. officials tacitly disavow the religious culture that created the possibility of an E.U. in the first place.
They take this act to comical extremes, like putting generic, allusive architectural images on euro bills rather than the cathedrals, art, and saints that everyone knows belong there. They pretend as though, if they all agree not to look down, the Christian heroes on whose shoulders they all stand will disappear.
But the operative word here is pretend.
Make no mistake. The woke, indoctrinating imperialists now preying on European nation-states’ sovereignty—like those corrupting America’s own culture—are not bored by Christianity. They hate it. For the same reason they hate marriage and the nuclear family, the U.S. Constitution, democracy, free speech, and the nation-state. Because to totalitarians, all rival sources of power and meaning are enemies.
Tyrants are never religiously, culturally, politically, or intellectually tolerant. To the progressive, totalitarian Left, diversity is not a strength but a heresy. The diversity they ostentatiously champion is fake and superficial—people who look different but think the same.
Europe, for millennia, has been almost the opposite—peoples whose superficial similarities mask a dizzying diversity of culture, custom, and habit.
To look at the airless bureaucracies of Brussels and then at the nation-states they presume to supplant, one cannot help but remember C.S. Lewis’s quip: “How monotonously alike all the great tyrants and conquerors have been; how gloriously different are the saints.”
The natural sovereignty of the nation-state protects that diversity, and each nation’s unique perspective and culture. That is precisely what the EU wants to destroy.
The United States faces a similar challenge. Leftist elites resent, in the extreme, the American people’s appreciation of real diversity. Normal Americans don’t mind that New York and Texas have different cultures, different foods, different politics. As in Europe, it’s the elites who mock this.
The American Left has fought for a century to centralize decision-making in Washington, and then to transfer any power successfully nationalized to the unelected executive bureaucracy or the unelected Supreme Court.
It may seem incongruent, in a speech defending nationalism, to abjure nationalizing politics in my own country. But it’s not. In the United States, diversity is written into our Constitution. Not as a gauzy aspiration or ideological Trojan horse. Federalism is established, in the law, as a foundation of our union. Put another way: one of the core principles of what we call “the American way of life” is our commitment to regional and cultural diversity. Our national solidarity is in many ways a function of our constitutional subsidiarity. We love our country because, despite our differences, America lets us be ourselves. E pluribus unum.
American conservatives are as suspicious of the E.U. as we are the United Nations, and other international bodies and agreements the Left so enthusiastically endorses. Most Americans know that these institutions promote the elites’ interests, but not ours. That is why American elites across the political spectrum are so unpopular. The great political cleavage across the West today is no longer horizontal—left-versus-right—but vertical—the elites-versus-everyone-else.
Hence our Euro-skepticism. Americans have no interest in sharing our national sovereignty with Canada or Mexico. So we don’t see why Czechs or Danes or Portuguese should defer to Brussels. If globalist progressives have such great ideas, let them persuade us, and we will vote for them. Otherwise, they can mind their own business.
The problem is, they won’t. While we are minding our business—raising families, building careers, coaching our kids’ baseball teams, going to church—the imperialists never rest. Hardly a week goes by without some new scheme, some new agreement or charter or treaty or memo of understanding that, little by little, is taking another milligram of power away from us and adding it to their own pile.
The International Criminal Court has one purpose: to replace national criminal justice systems.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child has one purpose: to sever the bonds of parental authority.
The same is true for every such treaty.
Globalist elites absolutely intend to supersede national policymaking authority on carbon emissions, immigration, taxation, trade, gender, religious expression, the internet, and finance. The World Trade Organization is already chipping away at U.S. intellectual property protections. The World Health Organization got a glimpse during the Covid pandemic of how much power they can wield when they really want to. And wield it, they will, with ever more spurious grounds.
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In the United States, woke activists are openly opposed to free speech, religious liberty, and even access to banking for religious traditionalists. Is there any doubt they would centralize and globalize cancel culture if given the chance?
Recognizing how misguided the E.U. has become ought not prevent conservative reformers from creating and expanding alliances that honor national sovereignty. The Three Seas Initiative and Visegrad Group, for example, are promising opportunities for nations to work multilaterally while still respecting the particular interests of the respective nation-states.
And there is nothing wrong with treaties, or with international alliances that provide nation-states collective benefits while ensuring national sovereignty. NATO represents a model of both.
But, if you’ll notice, these are not the kinds of treaties that the E.U. and UN and Davos-set promote. For their real motto is not, “United in diversity,” but, “divide and conquer.”
Their methods may be different, but their goal is the same as all the goose-stepping thugs who have sought to put The West under their heels. Xerxes. Caesar. The Ottomans. The sociopaths of 1789 and 1917. Bonaparte. Hitler. Putin. Wave after wave of imperialist ambition has crested and crashed into the Rock of The West and receded back whence it came. And Europe remains.
Not as a zone of treaties, and certainly not as a chessboard for Brussels bureaucrats, but as a civilization of nations and nation-states: independent, free, sovereign.
Americans are proud to stand for those same principles. And, as we have for 246 years, we are just as proud to stand with friends who do so. This is the fight of the 21st century, as it has been the fight of the previous 30.
The future is not Brussels, Berlin, or Paris, but Warsaw, Budapest, and Central and Eastern Europe. And if we stand together, the nation-state, Hungary, Europe, and the West will prevail. In the words of Francis II Rakoczi, “With God for Homeland and Freedom."
This piece originally appeared in The American Conservative