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A conservative take on missing virtues

January 1st, 2015

A conservative thinker suggests that Hungary’s problems are largely due to the kind of institutional pragmatism according to which the founding generation of the post-Communist state tended to neglect the moral side of democracy.

But in a popular state, one spring more is necessary, namely, virtue,” Balázs Fekete quotes Montesquieu in Mos Maiorum. The great French philosopher, he explains, knew that democratic institutions and the division of powers would not yield a good political system without shared moral values that all representatives of public institutions are expected to abide by. Montesquieu is widely described as a liberal, because of his theory of the separation of the branches of power. But he was also a great conservative, since he knew that democracy was fragile and depended on the citizens’ willingness to abide by the law.  That idea was largely ignored in Hungary during the regime change, in 1989-1990, he continues. The authors of the new legal framework and the leaders of the political parties tended to believe that a democratic legal and institutional setup was bound to produce a well-functioning republic. Fekete goes on to admit that virtues, namely participation, political honesty and fairness, patriotism, courage and solidarity are impossible to create from one day to another, but have to be constantly nurtured in order not to fade away, as he thinks they have over the past 25 years. This, Fekete believes, is the main reason behind the declining prestige of public institutions in Hungary.

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