the big-empire syndrom; or the story of hungary

in a fantastic book, john grey analyzes different forms of belief systems and ideologies over time – starting from different religions, all the way to the enlightenment and liberal thoughts; and in conclusion he realized there to be two basic forms of ideology: those that understand ‘utopia’ to be in the future and those who see in the past. thereby, utopia is the idea of any ‘better’ form of society than the current status of being – if you can think it, you name it; any form of ‘better’ you wish to reach. and john grey realizes that both of these tendencies have effects on the way policies are taken.

now, discussing this thought with many friends, i found support for his theory in the warning notion of some historians who declared how easy it is to overstylize the past. it is easy to make something sound good when no one actually is there to hold witness to the times one imagines to define ‘the grand years of our society’. everything used to be better – right? – wrong?
in my opinion, the answer is: neither. it depends on how you look at it; which variables and factors of ‘society’ and ‘community’ one focuses on. the same, by the way, is true for those ideologies that see ‘utopia’ in the future – and scenario that has not yet been is easy to be presented in a most lovely way – without any consequences of course. how could good intentions ever have bad outcomes, after all, right? and is not building the best society in the world, in the full belief in education and opportunity – if only more people would be well educated, even smart, and economically well off, we would live in a much more peaceful world, right? have you ever heard this belief before? – the best reason to take some ‘colateral damage’ on the way to an ever peaceful and prosporous ideal? well, just recently a brilliant czech economist, tomas sedlacek, made me aware of a fantastic irony in this world: no paradise, ever!, was described in terms of its system and structure. how will things actually work in ‘paradise’? no one knows – and why? because any system, particularly with human beings, will eventually be questioned as in ‘is this the best there is or could be’. the answer is irrelevant, because the ‘damage’ to ‘paradise’ has already been done. and the question itself is the source of the human capability to think, strive and develop. so can there ever be a utopia on earth then? a place where everything just ‘is‘ “perfect”? just a thought…

well, let’s leave the future for a while and actually look into the past – or more correctly into those systems of beliefs and ideologies that position utopia in the past; an ideal form of society that can not be reached by striving into the future but by going ‘back’ into the past. the most prominent example is the islamic state at the moment. the story line is simple: “the world has beaten us, laughed at us, patronized us – and yet we were once the hub of civilization, the heart of progress and the spirit of greatness. no one laughed at the great islamic empire. we were a force to be reconned with. if only we go back to those times; and bring purity into our own society, we can show the world our true greatness and shuff their laughter down their throats.”
isis of course did not invent this. even before isis, there were some who exhibited exactly this kind of behavior and attitude – it is those most often not understood by the international community of the west: former empires. think russia, iran, turkey. and it was exactly this tendency i saw coming when the baath party was released of duty and surpressed in iraq. a ruling elite who grows up, for decades and generations, in the belief that it has an inherent right to rule will not just ‘go away’ after a defeat. they lick their wounds and they come back at you.
obviously, not all empires show this tendency in the same manner. great britain for example shows the behavior in a much more subtle way. old western galantry, of course. and some even do not show it at all – in the case of austria i always said, more jokingly but by actually trying to make a point, that the luck of austria is that we have been beaten down so good twice (!) that we really got the revisionist great power posture out of our system. but this morning, as i am flipping through the newspapers and read about the astonishingly frightening behavior of hungary, and how successful orban’s strong state posture seems to be in the wider population, i could not help but wonder whether hungary has caught the shadow of a big-empire syndrome from the austro-hungarian past…

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