I’d Love to Meet Bernie in Budapest

Bernie Sanders very nearly won the US Democratic Party’s nomination in 2016, only losing due to Hillary Clinton jiggery-pokery of the party’s rules around ex officio voting entitlements.  But here’s the thing.  What does it tell you about core Democrat voters that so many, probably more than half, would support a self-proclaimed ‘socialist’? Look at young Democrat activists and it was a lot more than half  who supported the long-time socialist Senator from Vermont.

What’s the big deal, you might ask?  Well, I think it boils down to the man’s moral antennae vibrating at such a shocking and illiberal frequency.  Sanders is the man who, in 1988, took his honeymoon in the then USSR. Some footage of the happy couple is below.  Just to remind you, that was before the Berlin Wall came down, the collapse of all of the satellite Soviet regimes and, indeed, of Soviet Russia itself.  New footage of that Sanders’ honeymoon trip has recently come to light, with Bernie sitting near or under portraits of Lenin (a mass-murderer himself, though not in the same league as Stalin, I concede) while praising the virtues of Soviet life.  Was the man completely unaware of the activities of the secret police?  Or did he just think a few eggs have to be broken to make an omelette?

And did you know Sanders was at that time already into his second term as mayor of Vermont’s biggest city, Burlington? Later, he would go on to support the Sandinistas in Nicaragua; to favour a massive warming of relations with Cuba; and to support the revolutionary policies in Venezuela, at least early on.  Let’s put it no more harshly than this: Mr. Sanders is blinded by his own ideology and seems to think that life in a non-Western, non-capitalist country is better than it is in the US.  I believe the scientific word for such beliefs is ‘bonkers’, but correct me if I’m wrong.

Inevitably, Sanders is again seeking the nomination of the Democratic Party in the US to contest the 2020 Presidential election against Donald Trump, and there would be millions of Americans who think Sanders the preferable candidate – and I mean a better choice on policy grounds, not simply the better exemplar of married life or some other personal quality.  This is Trump Derangement Syndrome turned up to eleven.  Let’s be clear:  Sanders is an economic know-nothing, as is anyone who believes a centrally planned economy can outperform, or come anywhere close to equalling, a market economy in a capitalist system.  Sanders is also wilfully blind to the oppression that is needed to suppress the disgruntlement and objections that such Soviet-type systems, or even hard core socialist systems, give rise to.

Want to know why we desperately need the Ramsay Centre to start educating at least some young Australians about the virtues of Western history and Western capitalism?  It’s because our universities, at least in the social sciences and law, have far, far too many academics who would opt for Sanders over Trump without blinking an eye and who deep down despise Western civilisation.  They prefer most other comers.  That’s also what makes it near on impossible for the Ramsay people to hook up with an Australian university.  Under the cover of ‘autonomy’ the chosen university will teach the sort of anti-Western diatribes the Ramsay money is meant to combat.  Frankly, I don’t believe there is any way for Ramsay to hook up with any Australian university and still push the pro-Western line. 

If you object to the pro-Western civilisation line then you are part of the problem.  Let me be blunt.  In terms of a host of criteria, including the treatment of women, the fostering of scientific knowledge because of a core commitment to the free exchange of ideas, the advancement of better treatment for individuals (again, in part, due to a core commitment to free speech and the holding up of all ideas to criticism and attack – so all you Coalition MPs who have called free speech a ‘third order issue’ ought to be ashamed of yourselves), and also the belief in democracy as the Churchillian ‘least-bad’ system of government going, the West is the best civilisation yet to have evolved.  I don’t apologise for that claim. In fact those who think all cultures are equal seem to me to run into the problem that in the philosophy of science is know as ‘the facts’.

At any rate, that is a long-winded way of telling you about the time my wife and I are having in Budapest.  I am here for a fortnight for work as part of my sabbatical.  Our two kids live and work in London and they came for a long weekend visit to the capital of Hungary.  Budapest is a beautiful place and is prospering in part from having not adopting the euro.  It has also founded a new museum — The House of Terror — to which all four Allans traipsed this past Sunday.   Every single Australian teenager should have to visit this place.  What this ‘House of Terror’ museum does is to document the evils of totalitarian systems, the ones that ran Hungary for about half of the last century.

It starts with the Nazis for a few years in 1940s and then moves to the Soviets and the Hungarian communists who took their orders from them.  The museum is housed where the Hungarian Nazi secret police headquarters were located.  Interestingly, when the Communists took over, their secret police used the same building.  You start upstairs and work your way down.  By the time you are in the basement you are seeing the cells where so many political prisoners were killed.  You are seeing the torture chambers.  You can look into the room with the gallows (pictured), the one where they left people in a couple feet of water, the one where it was impossible to sit or lie down and you had to stand for days on end, the various beating rooms, the faces of the prisoners who suffered there … the list of depressing exhibits goes on and on.

Take it from me, it’s hard to remain in that basement for more than a few minutes.  I wanted to fly in Bernie Sanders, paying his airfare on my own dime, and have him tell me what, exactly, he liked about the Soviet system.  Or about Venezuela’s socialist utopia – because you can bet your bottom dollar the political police there indulge in a spot or two of ‘terror’.

You can also see commemorations of the many Hungarians who died or were tortured in the aftermath of the 1956 uprising.  You learn what it was like to live in a centrally planned economy. You discover that the result was not ‘equality’ but, rather, that inequality depended on where you stood in Communist Party.  The higher up you were, the more you got of things no one else could have. If you weren’t in the Party, forget about it.  And if you were deemed to be an opponent of the system, well they might not even let you work.  You became, in effect, a beggar.

How many Australian high school kids have a basic idea of all this?  That’s not a rhetorical question because I really do wonder.  My guess is that it’s not anywhere near as many as it should be.

I finish by recommending Quadrant Online readers take a trip to Budapest.  It’s a beautiful European city with hints of Paris.  The government is in open ‘cold warfare’ with the European Union technocrats because it has refused to open its borders and has been very careful that newcomers will be likely to assimilate the values of the country in which they seek to live – sort of like the way things were for a century or more in Australia, Canada, the US and Britain before the worst side of multiculturalism (the ‘all cultures are equal’ idiocy) took hold.  The food is excellent.  So too is the Hungarian wine.  It’s cheap, even on an Australian dollar.

And did I mention the magnificent new museum that’s opened, the House of Terror?

James Allan is Garrick Professor of Law at the University of Queensland and the author of Democracy in Decline. He is in on sabbatical in the UK

  • en passant

    My cousin was a lifelong communist.
    He wrote a book called ‘One Great Vision’, which makes interesting reading about the psychology of those so blind they deliberately refuse to see. NOTHING ever swayed him from his beliefs. He accurately described the Merkelites of East Germany and how they harrassed and treated him with suspicion when he was there at their invitation to attend a World Youth Rally. In Russia, the lack of everything was obvious, but he regarded that as the ‘temporary’ price of building a workers paradise. Yet as late as 1975 (when the rest of Europe had recovered and was packed with goods he was still blaming the anti-fascist war for the failed East European and Russian economies.
    Unlike Bernie and the other Chardonnay Communists he struggled to stay on the bottom rung so as not to contaminate his classless credentials. He was bright enough and in his 50’s went to university and became a teacher with (as he says in his book) the express purpose of indoctrinating children to the Cult of Communist Totalitarianism. He was all for the worker and humanity, but despised both, all the whil struggling to under-achieve.
    So, to answer your question: Bernie et al would see nothing but the eradication of enemies denying the full implementation of the Worker’s Paradise.
    Resistance is futile as the Green, Red, Brownshirts and Blackshirts see their ultimate imposition of poverty on everyone else as not only inevitable, but as desirable.


    I just completed a Tour of the House of Terror on Google Earth. Faster, cheaper, safer and a whole lot less trouble than going there in the flesh.

  • Jody

    Sanders has a snowball’s chance in hell of being elected!!

  • Richo

    I recently read Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon. A ‘fictional’ account of the Stalinist Terror. There could be no better antidote to the Utopian pretentiousness of wilful acolytes like Bernie Sanders. It should be required reading in our school curriculum but I won’t hold my breathe. That’s the trouble with the coalition, even in victory, they are too scared to engage in the cultural battle of ideas.

  • Davidovich

    James, you write “Sanders is also wilfully blind to the oppression that is needed to suppress the disgruntlement and objections that such Soviet-type systems, or even hard core socialist systems, give rise to.”. I seriously doubt that he is or would be if he gained power.

  • Tricone

    Darkness at Noon WAS required reading at Victorian high schools in the early 70s.
    We also had One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and Animal Farm.

    Today’s socialists simply don’t equate that to what they advocate.
    They don’t recognise themselves in Venezuela.
    They don’t think anything advocated by Labor or Greens is even socialist.
    They believe life would be just great if not for The Right Wingers who are behind every social and environmental evil.

    By the way, there is a similar place in downtown Riga that was also used for interrogation and torture (and summary execution) by the Soviet KGB, then the Nazi SS and then the Soviet KGB again.
    A nice-enough-looking building from the outside, but a prominent sign of oppression to Latvians.

    There is also (in another building) an excellent Museum of Occupation. 51 years of occupation, as Latvians say bluntly.

    I suspect you can find such places in most former Iron Curtain countries.

  • John

    Denial of the past is why Labor still seeks to implement a socialist utopia based on Karl Marx’s laudable demand for universal equality “consider the working classes, in all their oppression, and work forthrightly to free them”. Paul Kelly (Beaten Labor Party commits to three more years in denial The Australian 25-26/5) elaborates on the progressive causes that Labor will cling to and states “The essence of progressive politics is a change in the established order – new ideas and interests will prevail and old ideas and interests will be subjugated and punished”.
    Thankfully the electorate recognised that in this era of identity politics their demographic might be next in line for subjugation and punishment. History teaches us how easily the initial “class enemy”, Bill Shoten’s “big end of town”, grows exponentially until it consumes every single person within its insatiable and devouring net of grievance and retribution.
    Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago should be compulsory reading for all aspiring politicians.

  • Les Kovari

    The irony of my life – in 1956 I escaped from my beloved Budapest where I was treated by the communist regime like enemy number one, Now, sixty or so years later, emigrating back from Australia, my third chosen country (the second was England) does not seem such a bad idea except that I am now too old. Let’s wait for God then.

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