THE CONSTITUTION AS THE SOUL OF THE NATION

The theme provides us with a great opportunity to examine how constitutional values have brought our countries to where they are today; and, how those values can take us to where we want to go. In large part, this is a metaphysical topic, as the drafting of a constitution is concerned with first principles regarding the nature of man and his existence in society.

As a simple starting point, let us take for example the recent formation of our host organisation, the Central European Policy Centre, or CEPC. Because they are smart and well-organised individuals, I presume that, as the founders of CEPC first started discussing the formation of their think tank, they asked themselves some very basic questions. These questions likely included “Who are we?”, “What do we believe?”, “Who do we want to become?”, “How do we accomplish that?” and “How can we evolve, but remain true to our principles?”

If the CEPC founders thoroughly considered these questions and honestly answered them, then their chances for success are good. If not, then they will face some real challenges in the years ahead.

Of course, we can assume that the drafters of the US Constitution and Bill of Rights, the Constitution of the Republic of France, the Fundamental Law of Hungary, and the various treaties of the European Union similarly engaged in this metaphysical undertaking. For discussion purposes only, and speaking in very general terms, perhaps we can briefly consider some of the various outcomes of this deliberative process.

In the case of the US Constitution, to the question of “Who are we?”, the drafters answered “We the People”. As for “What do we believe?”, they answered “That all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, including the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. As for “Who do we want to become?”, they generally answered “whatever each person wants to become, so long as he does not interfere with the rights of others”. “How do we accomplish that?” By “A federal system with a constitution that is designed to form a more perfect union and a Bill of Rights that protects civil and political rights.” “How can we evolve and remain true to our first principles?” “Through a constitution amendment process.”

No doubt, the drafters of the Constitution of the First Republic of France in 1793 engaged in this exercise. “Who are we?” “The French people.” “What do we believe?” “We believe that the aim of society is the general welfare. We respect loyalty, courage, the elderly, one’s parents and ancestors and misfortune. We believe in the rights contained in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, including equality, liberty, security and property. We also believe in the right to public assistance.”

Note that, already, we can see a difference between the individualist approach taken by the drafters of the US Constitution and the socialist approach taken by the drafters of the first Constitution of France. These two approaches can be compared with the more nationalist approach taken by the drafters of the Fundamental Law of Hungary in 2011, especially in its Avowal of National Faith.

“Who are we?” “The members of the Hungarian nation.” “What do we believe?” “We are proud of our king, Saint Stephen, who built the Hungarian state on a solid foundation; we are proud of our forebears, who fought for the survival, freedom and independence of our country; we are proud of the outstanding intellectual achievements of the Hungarian people; we are proud how we have enriched Europe’s common values; we recognise the role Christianity played in preserving our nation; and we commit ourselves to cherishing and preserving our heritage. Our fundamental cohesive values are fidelity, faith and love. We are duty-bound to help the vulnerable and poor. The common goal of citizens and the State is to achieve the highest possible measure of well-being, security, order, justice and liberty.”

“Who do we want to become?” “After the decades in the twentieth century leading to moral decay, we want to be the leaders of a spiritual and intellectual renewal.” “How do we accomplish that?” “Our Fundamental Law shall be the basis of our legal order; it shall be a covenant among Hungarians past, present and future. It is a living framework expressing the nation’s will and the form in which we wish to live.”

Next, how did the drafters of the 1992 Maastricht Treaty on European Union answer these questions? “Who are we?” “Nations in Europe.” “What do we believe?” “We believe in the historic importance of the ending of the division of the European continent and the need to create a firm basis for the construction of the future Europe.” “Who do we want to be?” “A European Community that establishes a European citizenship common to national citizenship, with solidarity among the citizens of all our nations, but with respect for the subsidiarity principle.” “How do we accomplish that?” “By adopting a treaty that organises relations between the Member States and between their peoples; promotes economic and social progress; asserts our identity on the international scene; and strengthens the protection of the rights and interests of the nationals of our countries.”

So, where has this metaphysical question and answer process led these countries and the European Community?

First, because the “We the People” of the US Constitution did not include African-American slaves, women (who could not vote), and Native Americans, the United States has experienced understandable political, social and economic upheavals. These upheavals included a Civil War, a protracted and sometimes violent civil rights movement, increasing wealth disparities, and contentious and divisive political debates and culture wars that continue to this day. Meanwhile, the individualist approach taken by the Constitution, and its failure to expressly mention the Christian heritage of America, have contributed to widespread materialism, secularism and relativism.

In the case of France, an over-emphasis on equality of outcomes and the “right to public assistance”, without a corresponding emphasis on personal responsibility and public fiscal responsibility, have led to a nearly-bankrupt social welfare state in need of major reform.1

In the case of the European Community, an over-emphasis by Brussels bureaucrats on their desire for a “United States of Europe”, including the new proposal for a so- called “rule of law mechanism”, threatens the national sovereignty of EU member states.2Meanwhile, the promotion of ambiguous and controversial economic, social and cultural rights by the European Commission, Council of Europe and Fundamental Rights Agency threatens the organic consideration of these issues by member states in the context of their democratic processes.

So, that leaves us with our consideration of the Fundamental Law of Hungary. To some degree, the adoption of the Fundamental Law is a “new birth of constitutional values”. It represents an attempt by Hungary to apply the lessons learned from the experiences and shortcomings of older constitutional democracies, such as the US and France. It introduces a constitutional system that attempts to strike the right balance between the person and the common good; between rights and responsibilities. It attempts to strike this balance in the context of the national heritage and traditions of Hungary. I label this approach a “personalist-nationalist” one.

The Fundamental Law of Hungary emphasises what the great Hungarian natural and social scientist Michael Polanyi viewed as the four essential aspects of society: the sharing of convictions; the sharing of a fellowship; cooperation; and the exercise of authority.3

In his book titled Personal Knowledge, published in 1958, Polanyi explained how certain institutions embody each of these four aspects of society. Cultural institutions, such as universities, churches, theatres and art galleries serve the sharing of convictions. Social interactions, group rituals, and common defence are predominantly convivial institutions that foster and demand group loyalty. The economic system fosters cooperation for joint material advantage. Meanwhile, public agencies exercise authority, which shelters and controls the cultural, convivial and cooperative institutions of society.4

Yet, in Polanyi’s opinion, the participation in a unifying and transcendent ritual is foundational to the existence of convictions, conviviality, cooperation and authority. In his words:

By fully participating in a ritual, the members of a group affirm the community of their existence, and at the same time identify the life of their group with that of antecedent groups, from whom the ritual has descended to them. Every ritual act of a group is to this extent reconciliation within the group and a re-establishment of continuity with its own history as a group. It affirms the convivial existence of the group as transcending the individual, both in the present and through times past.5

In short, the Fundamental Law of Hungary creates a “social milieu” for the formation, work and evolution of what Michael Polanyi referred to as the “dynamic orders” of society. Dynamic orders are those groups or organisations that enable large numbers of individuals to work on complex problems in horizontally aligned groups, rather than being directed from above by the government. Dynamic orders are able to make adjustments that are necessary to address new problems as they are discovered within their specific areas of responsibility. The methods of adjustment include consultation, competition and persuasion, one or more of which may apply to a particular dynamic order.

According to Polanyi, the people engaged in various intellectual and moral dynamic orders of society are more or less officially organised in circles of special interest and professional bodies. As he expressed it:

Artistic, literary, musical, sporting, medical, technical, scientific, political, religious, legal [and other] circles cultivate one particular section of the social heritage and supervise its development. Their main functions are: to preserve and disseminate in approved form the past achievements and accepted principles of their special field; to stimulate new individual contributions and judge their value, discussing, and either rejecting or accepting, new additions to the body of the heritage under their care.6

Each dynamic order is ruled according to its own permanent fundamental ideal, such as truth, justice, mercy, beauty or wisdom. It is the fundamental ideal of each dynamic order in society to which a participant is committed and the advancement of which he owes his entire devotion.

Interestingly, the constitutional values manifested in the Fundamental Law of Hungary, and the dynamic orders they promote, represent the combination of two unique approaches to the restoration of French society that arose in the 1830s. First, the Fundamental Law’s Avowal of National Faith is consistent with the second stage of the Saint-Simonian movement, which emphasised intellectual and artistic dynamic orders and religious sentiments that “direct humanity toward the rapid betterment of the condition of the poorest and most numerous class of society”. As explained in one of the letters published by the Saint-Simonians:

Without those sympathies that unite man with his fellow-men and that make him suffer their sorrows, enjoy their joys and live their lives, it would be impossible to see in societies anything but aggregations of individuals without bonds, having no motive for their actions but the impulses of egoism.7

Second, the Fundamental Law’s constitutional values and rights are consistent with the liberal Catholicism articulated by the French Catholic priest Hugues- Félicité de Lamennais. His 1834 book, Words of a Believer, was one of the earliest discourses on human rights. It provided a Christian justification for the right to a fair and public hearing for criminals; the right to a presumption of innocence; the right to food; the right to work; the right to be free of slavery; the right to property; the need for solidarity; the right to equality; the right to life, liberty and security; the right to education; the right of parents to choose the moral education of their children; the right to form and join trade unions; the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; and the right to a nationality.

Interestingly, the Fundamental Law and its Avowal of National Faith represent the first fusion of the two approaches taken in the second stage of the Doctrine of Saint-Simon and the liberal Catholicism of Lamennais. Yet, there is an important earlier link to Hungary that should be more widely known and celebrated by the Hungarian people.

As it turns out, during his years in Paris, Franz Liszt frequented the meetings of the Saint-Simonians and was motivated by the movement’s emphasis on the role of artists in creating a “social milieu” that would be conducive to inciting humanitarian impulses and actions.8  Later, Liszt entered into a close friendship with Lamennais, who encouraged him to use his musical talents to create works that would reach the depths of human concern over current social, economic and political conditions and injustices.9 After his involvement with these two historic social and religious movements, the remainder of Liszt’s musical career and personal life was greatly influenced by his Catholic faith, humanitarian concern and great love for Hungary.

Liszt’s example proves the potential of the constitutional values contained in the Fundamental Law of Hungary and its Avowal of National Faith. Yet, there are critics who fault the expression of these values as potentially fuelling the flames of nationalism.10 To the contrary, in his 1976 book, The Paralysis of International Institutions and the Remedies, István Bibó explained how a nationalist programme can be in keeping with the concept of liberty. Though cognisant of the potential harm caused by an aggressive type of nationalism, Bibó embraced nationalism in the meaning of “plain national sentiments [and] national consciousness”. He rejected the use of the term “nationalist” by those who would seek to portray natural displays of national sentiment and consciousness as an ideology that contradicts the internationalist concept. In his words,

There is no ideology represented when an individual with an emotionally intense national consciousness, loyalty and solidarity calls himself a nationalist, any more than there is an ideology of “familyism” for one who loves his parents or “urbanism” for one who loves his native town.11

The Avowal of National Faith makes it clear that the concepts of the Hungarian nation and national consciousness are based on human dignity and the individual freedom that can only be fully realised in cooperation with others. It emphasises the importance of family and nation and the fundamental cohesive values of fidelity, faith and love. It represents a truly personalist nationalism and, for that, it should be celebrated, respected and defended.
 

1 Martin Walker, “France’s crisis looms”, UPI, 24 June 2013 at http://www.upi.com/Top_News/Analysis/Walker/2013/06/24/Walkers-World-Frances-crisis-looms/UPI-85571372046640/
2 Viviane Reding, “The EU and the Rule of Law – What Next”, 9 September 2013 at http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_SPEECH-13-677_en.htm; José Barroso, “State of the Union Address”, 11 September 2013, at http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_SPEECH-13-684_en.htm?locale=en
3 Michael Polanyi, Personal Knowledge (1958), 212.
4 Ibid.
5 Ibid., at 211.
6 Michael Polanyi, The Logic of Liberty (1951), 441.
7 Georg G. Iggers, The Doctrine of Saint-Simon: An Exposition, First Year, 1828 –1829 (1958), 154.
8 Ralph Locke, Music, Musicians, and the Saint-Simonians (1986), 101–106.
9 Paul Merrick, Revolution and Religion in the Music of Liszt (1987), 7–25.
10 Géza Jeszenszky, “Doomsday in Hungary?”, Hungarian Review, 14 May 2012, at http:// hungarianreview.com/article/doomsday_in_hungary
11 István Bibó, The Paralysis of International Institutions and the Remedies (1976), 47.

Most recent

Newsletter signup

Like it ? Share it !

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on pocket
Share on email

More
articles

LEADERSHIP IN WAR

Winston Churchill had no doubts about the importance of studying history: ‘In history lie all the secrets of statecraft.’ This includes its subset, leadership in war. Great war leaders, as

REFLECTIONS ON ‘A NATION DISMEMBERED’

“But obligations are reciprocal. Those who gained at Trianon have obligations as well. Their obligation is to shape countries with an absolute minimum of injustice so that they can ask

THE ROLE OF THE UNITED STATES IN HUNGARY’S TRIANON TRAGEDY

“The extremely influential pan-Slavic movement and the idea of dismantling Austria–Hungary emerged in Cleveland and Pittsburgh after a long period of Germanization in the nineteenth century, while the quasi-declaration of