Eastern Europe: Hope of the West

Western Civilization, it would seem, has a death wish. In the past two weeks there have been as many terrorist attacks in Western countries, both of which having occurred in what could have once been considered the very bastionic heart of the Western world. Yet, England has long since surrendered its claim as the protector of the Western mind. The Brexit vote notwithstanding, there has been overwhelmingly popular support in the United Kingdom for the futurist promises of the globalized world. While Britain still holds at its core its best traditions, the average Briton is largely indifferent to their very great inheritance.

Who, then, carries the torch of the Western tradition? Who will stand up to hold and protect its values? Quizzically, one need go not West, but rather East, to find the answer.

Robert Royal, editor of The Catholic Thing recently wrote about what he learned at a conference in Hungary, namely that Hungary as well as a few other Eastern European countries, are taking active steps to protect the sanctity and the primacy of the traditional family unit. Royal writes:

“Hungary is a leading example in Europe itself. Prime Minister and former anti-Soviet dissident Viktor Orban has succeeded in starting to reverse the disastrous trends in marriage and births that Hungary, like Western Europe, had been showing for years. This has been the result partly of social commitment, partly of specific policies. 

“The 2011 Hungarian Constitution, the first one adopted since it regained freedom after the fall of the Soviet Union, states this:

“Article L (1) Hungary shall protect the institution of marriage as the union of a man and a woman established by voluntary decision, and the family as the basis of the survival of the nation. Family ties shall be based on marriage and/or the relationship between parents and children. (2) Hungary shall encourage the commitment to have children.”

Interestingly, because of Hungary’s proactivity, their fertility rate has risen to 1.45, which is well above the European average, and is expected to reach 2.1 by 2030. This is significant as a fertility rate of 2.1 is the rate needed for population stability. While Western Europe has a death wish, literally, countries like Hungary seem intent on survival. As Royal writes, “Recovering healthy attitudes towards marriage and family is not impossible if a society recognizes that both are important to human well being and social stability – and the national government doesn’t go on an ideological crusade to destroy them.”

Hungary is not alone in this endeavor. Under a socialist government, the Slovak Republic amended its constitution in 2014 to read as the Hungarian’s reads. Poland’s 18th article of their Constitution reads similarly:

“Marriage, being a union of a man and a woman, as well as the family, motherhood and parenthood, shall be placed under the protection and care of the Republic of Poland.”

There are three points to consider here, aside from the obvious that there are countries – sovereign nations – that are putting into place governmental protections in defense of the family. What so many in the West would weep and gnash their teeth over, the East is doing without missing a beat. No, the points to consider are other, and significant.

First, consider which nations are doing this – Hungary, the Slovak Republic, Poland, and perhaps very soon Romania. What ties these countries together, aside from being European? Two commonalities, the first of which being that not too long ago all four were Soviet periphery states. All of them had lived for decades under the crimson haze of Communism, and have witnessed first hand what such disastrous policies can mean for the family and, by extension, the health of the state.

Second, these are not major international players, but the very little guys. Think of how strange this is. Since the inception of the international system it has been the leaders of the international community – the US, UK, France, Germany, and lately China – that have set the agenda in terms of the direction for the rest of the world to follow in. Having done this so poorly, these very small countries that most Westerners would not be able to locate on a map have decided to chart their own course. This is a rare display of political courage that should not be overlooked.

Third, this does not appear to be anything more than a nation doing what’s right. This is not some veiled political power play. There is no sort of international manipulation happening here. Neither is there any apparent financial gain to be had. This is, rather, a nation that has learned from past mistakes and wants to ensure that those mistakes are not allowed to happen again. Notice, also, that these are not Christian attempts, though certainly they are influenced by Christian principles to some degree. No, there is no mention of God here, nor appeals to Christian scripture or any other religious tradition. Instead what is written is plain language that the governments of these countries adhere to the notion that marriage is between one man and one woman, and that those who are married are encouraged to procreate. Let those who may be offended by such dry and morally neutral language.

Ours are strange times indeed when the protection of Western values has been forfeited by Western nations only to be recovered by the East. To be considered at a later time is this: even as the West slowly and subtly slips into a soft tyranny (for now), these Eastern European countries who for so long languished under much more direct tyrannical persecution are taking bold and courageous steps toward building a sort of freedom that the West once dreamed of – one built upon the idea of personal responsibility, social obligation, and individual liberty.

Strange times, indeed.

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