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NXT: The War on Education

NXT TakeOver: Chicago 2017 Is a crackdown on universities the latest addition to the increasingly sophisticated repertoire of right-wing populism? Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, long a pioneer in anti-liberal government in Europe and an admirer of Donald Trump, is making a wager that it is—with implications that go far beyond Hungary’s borders. At issue is a new law aimed at shutting down the Central European University (CEU) in Budapest, founded and endowed by George Soros, the Hungarian-American hedge fundmanager and philanthropist. But it is clearly part of a larger culture war against liberal values as well as a very concrete attempt to bring any independent institutions remaining in Hungary Watch WWE NXT TakeOver: Chicago under Orbán’s control. Both the European Parliament and the US State Department have called for the suspension of the new law. But it is not clear they can stop him.

In recent years, Orbán has moved Hungary in a more authoritarian direction than any other European country. Since 2010, he has written a new constitution, enfeebled the judiciary, put much of the news media under the control of government-friendly oligarchs, and created a system of crony capitalism in which economic success NXT Harvard depends increasingly on connections to his party. He has also taken an extremely hard line against refugees, building a fence with Serbia and running government-sponsored campaigns that portray all asylum seekers as “illegal immigrants” posing a threat to the nation’s Christian European identity.

One would have thought that the nation’s well-being is in fact much more endangered by Orbán’s drastic reductions in education budgets at all levels; rare is a government in today’s world that seems determined to make society less smart. The number of university students has been declining dramatically since 2010; meanwhile, the age at which students can legally leave school has been lowered from eighteen to sixteen. Orbán, as part of his self-professed turn to “illiberalism,” has put forward the notion of a “work-based state.” In theory, such a state is the opposite of a polity where financial speculation generates most of the wealth. In practice, this idea has meant public works programs—especially for Roma—that critics view as highly exploitative; it has also resulted in an attempt to create a workforce primarily of manual laborers, where everyone knows their place and can at most aspire to employment by German industry (Mercedes is currently spending a billion euros on a new plant in central Hungary).