The Rise of ‘Illiberal’ Democracy: The Orbánization of Hungarian Political Culture

  • Wilkin P
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This article examines the rise of the political right and far-right in Hungarian political culture. It highlights the contribution that world-systems analysis can bring to an historical sociological understanding of the concept of political culture, with a particular focus on contemporary Hungary. Many commentators are asking: how it can be that 30 years of democratic transition has led to the dominance in Hungary of a politics of intolerance, illiberalism and ethno-Nationalism, as manifested in both the current government, Fidesz, and the neo-fascist party, Jobbik. This paper argues that the correct way to frame the question is to ask: why, given the legacy of authoritarian social and political movements that have shaped Hungary’s modern history, should a stable, liberal, political culture emerge after communism? Instead what the paper shows is that the goals of classical liberalism and a liberal political culture have long been destroyed by three factors: capitalism; the nation-state; and the persistence of traditional and sometimes irrational forms of social hierarchy, prejudice and authority. Hungary’s current Orbánisation reflects an on-going tension between liberal and illiberal tendencies, the latter being part of the foundations of the modern world-system. Rather than viewing Hungary as a dangerous exception to be quarantined by the European Union, it should be recognised that the political right in Hungary is linked to broader trends across the world-system that foster intolerance and other anti-enlightenment and socially divisive tendencies. Political cultures polarised by decades of neoliberal reforms and in which there is no meaningful socialist alternative have reduced Hungary’s elite political debates to the choice of either neoliberalism or ethnonationalism, neither of which is likely to generate socially progressive solutions to its current problems.




Wilkin, P. (2018). The Rise of ‘Illiberal’ Democracy: The Orbánization of Hungarian Political Culture. Journal of World-Systems Research, 24(1), 5–42.

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