The social foundations of stable illiberal-populist rule: lessons from Hungary

This briefing from UK think tank the Foreign Policy Centre looks at the foundations of Hungary’s stable illiberal rule.

Relying on the author’s recent book, this briefing examines the foundations of Hungary’s stable illiberal rule. Two seemingly contradictory tendencies are crucial for the stability of illiberalism in the country. First, Orbán capitalises on the disillusionment of the working class with the liberal transition era after the fall of Communism. Second, Orbán used the momentum presented by the collapse of working-class support for the parties of the Left to gain power and then to renegotiate the class compromise with transnational elites, emancipating the domestic bourgeoisie at the expense of domestic workers. The stability of the regime increasingly depends on authoritarian-populist fixes. However, despite the crass classism of upwards redistribution under Orbán’s business-friendly regime, a significant part of workers still supports the illiberal state because it presents itself as a break with the pre-2010 liberal era. The briefing also shows that the policy logic behind the government’s responses to COVID-19 corresponds to the controversial logic of Orbán’s socioeconomic strategy. Finally, the briefing concludes by pointing out the broader political lessons from Hungary’s descent into illiberalism.

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