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

Peter Wilkin


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.


political culture; far-right; authoritarian right; neo-fascism; Hungary; Orbanization

Full Text:



Ablonczy, B. 2015. The Struggle for Sovereignty. In O'Sullivan and Pócza, The Second Term of Viktor Orbán.

Andor, L. and Summers, M., 1998. Market Failure: Eastern Europe’s ‘Economic Miracle’. London: Pluto.

Andor 1, L., 2009. Hungary in the financial crisis: a (basket) case study. Debatte, 17(3), pp.285-296.

Andorka, R., 1999. A society transformed: Hungary in time-space perspective. Central European University Press.

Arato, A., 1999. Civil Society, Transition, and Consolidation of Democracy. Dilemmas of transition: The Hungarian experience, pp.225-250.

Arpad, J. J. 1995. The question of Hungarian popular culture. The journal of Popular Culture. 29(2) 9-31.

Bajomi-Lázár, P., 2013. The party colonisation of the media: The case of Hungary. East European Politics and Societies, 27(1), pp.69-89.

Balogh, L., 2012. Possible responses to the sweep of right-wing forces and anti-Gypsyism in Hungary. In Stewart, M. The Gypsy ‘Menace’, pp. 241-264.

Bánkuti, M., Halmai, G. and Scheppele, K.L., 2012. Disabling the constitution. Journal of Democracy, 23(3), pp.138-146.

Bánkuti, M., Halmai, G. and Scheppele, K.L., 2015. Hungary’s Illiberal Turn: Disabling the Constitution. In The Hungarian Patient: Social Opposition to an Illiberal Democracy, edited by Peter Krasztev & Jon van Til, pp.37-47.

Bauman, Z., 2004. Europe: an unfinished adventure. Polity.

Berend, T.I., 2003. History derailed: Central and Eastern Europe in the long nineteenth century. Univ of California Press.

Berend, T.I., 2009. From the Soviet bloc to the European Union: the economic and social transformation of Central and Eastern Europe since 1973. Cambridge University Press.

Berend, T.I., Ránki, G. and Ránki, G., 1982. The European periphery and industrialization 1780-1914. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Berend, T.I. and Ránki, G., 1985. The Hungarian economy in the twentieth century. Routledge.

Birch, K. and Mykhnenko, V., 2009. Varieties of neoliberalism? Restructuring in large industrially dependent regions across Western and Eastern Europe. Journal of Economic Geography, 9(3), pp.355-380.

Blokker, P., 2008. Multiple democracies: political cultures and democratic variety in post-enlargement Europe. Contemporary Politics, 14(2), pp.161-178.

Blokker, P., 2009. Multiple democracies in Europe: political culture in new member states. Routledge.

Blyth, M., 2013. Austerity: The history of a dangerous idea. Oxford University Press.

Bőgel, G., Edwards, V. and Wax, M., 1997. Hungary since communism: the transformation of business. Springer.

Bohle, D. and Greskovits, B., 2006. Capitalism without compromise: Strong business and weak labor in Eastern Europe’s new transnational industries. Studies in Comparative International Development, 41(1), pp.3-25.

Bohle, D. and Greskovits, B., 2012. Capitalist diversity on Europe's periphery. Cornell University Press.

Bokros, L., 2013. Accidental Occidental: Economics and Culture of Transition in Mitteleuropa, the Baltic and the Balkan Area. Central European University Press.

Bookchin, M., 1982. The ecology of freedom: The emergence and dissolution of hierarchy. Palo Alto, CA: Cheshire Books.

Boromisza-Habashi, D., 2011. Dismantling the antiracist “hate speech” agenda in Hungary: an ethno-rhetorical analysis. Text & Talk-An Interdisciplinary Journal of Language, Discourse & Communication Studies, 31(1), pp.1-19.

Borsody, S., 1993. The New Central Europe (No. 366). Matthias Corvinus Publishing Company.

Boschi, R.R. and Santana, C.H. eds., 2012. Development and semi-periphery: Post-neoliberal trajectories in South America and Central Eastern Europe. Anthem Press.

Bozóki, A., 1992. Democrats against democracy? Civil Protest in Hungary since 1990. Flying Blind: Emerging Democracies in East Central Europe, pp.382-97.

Bozóki, A., 1999. Intellectuals and politics in Central Europe. Central European University Press.

Bozóki, A., 2002. The roundtable talks of 1989: The genesis of Hungarian democracy: Analysis and documents. Budapest: Central European University Press.

Braham, R, and Vago, B. 1987. The Holocaust in Hungary 40 Years Later. New York: Colombia University Press.

Braham, R.L., 2000. The politics of genocide: The Holocaust in Hungary. Wayne State University Press.

Braun, A. and Barany, Z.D., 1999. Dilemmas of transition: the Hungarian experience. Rowman & Littlefield.

Cassirer, E., 1951. The philosophy of the Enlightenment (Vol. 130). Princeton University Press.

Chirot, D., 1991. The origins of backwardness in Eastern Europe: Economics and politics from the Middle Ages until the early twentieth century. Univ of California Press.

Chirot, D., 2001. A clash of civilizations or of paradigms? Theorizing progress and social change. International Sociology, 16(3), pp.341-360.

Deák, I., 2001. Lawful Revolution: Louis Kossuth and the Hungarians 1848-1849. Phoenix.

Derluguian, G.M., 2005. Bourdieu's secret admirer in the Caucasus: A world-system biography. University of Chicago Press.

Dunai, M. 2012. Outrage at "Jewish list" call in Hungary parliament. Reuters World News. Outrage at "Jewish list" call in Hungary parliament, last viewed April 28th 2017.

Enyedi, G., 2009. Competitiveness of the Hungarian regions. Hungarian Geographical Bulletin, 58(1), pp.33-47.

Erős, F., 2014. Budapest, the capital of Hungarians: rhetoric, images, and symbols of the Hungarian extreme right movements.

Eyal, G., Szelényi, I. and Townsley, E.R., 1998. Making capitalism without capitalists: Class formation and elite struggles in post-communist Central Europe. Verso.

Fábián, K., 2009. Contemporary Women's Movements in Hungary: Globalization, Democracy, and Gender Equality. Woodrow Wilson Center Press.

Feldman, M., 2014. Doublespeak: The Rhetoric of the Far Right since 1945 (Vol. 3). Columbia University Press.

Fodor, E., 2002. Smiling Women and Fighting Men The Gender of the Communist Subject in State Socialist Hungary. Gender & Society, 16(2), pp.240-263.

Förster, M., Jesuit, D. and Smeeding, T., 2005. Regional poverty and income inequality in Central and Eastern Europe: evidence from the Luxembourg income study. Spatial Inequality and Development, pp.311-347.

Fromm, E., 2012. The sane society. Routledge.

Gagyi, Á. and Éber, M.Á., 2015. Class and Social Structure in Hungarian Sociology. East European Politics and Societies, 29(3), pp.598-609.

Gagyi, A., 2016. " Coloniality of Power" in East Central Europe: External Penetration as Internal Force in Post-Socialist Hungarian Politics. Journal of World-Systems Research, 22(2), p.349.

Gerő, A. 1995. Modern Hungarian society in the making: the unfinished experience. Central European University Press.

Goettig, M. and Lowe, C. 2014. Hungary’s anti-Semitic Jobbik party is spreading across Eastern Europe. Reuters Business Insider., last viewed April 28th 2017.

Guerin, D. 1970. Anarchism: From theory to practice. NYU Press.

Hanebrink, P.A., 2006. In defense of Christian Hungary: religion, nationalism, and antisemitism, 1890-1944. Cornell University Press.

Haney, L., 2002. Inventing the needy: Gender and the politics of welfare in Hungary. Univ of California Press.

Higley, J. and Lengyel, G., 2000. Elites after state socialism: Theories and analysis. Rowman & Littlefield.

Hudson, M., 2015. Killing the Host: How Financial Parasites and Debt Bondage Destroy the Global Economy. ISLET Books.

Von Humboldt, W., 2008. The limits of state action. Cambridge University Press.

Israel, J.I., 2002. Radical enlightenment: Philosophy and the making of modernity 1650-1750. OUP Oxford.

Janke, I. 2015. Forward! The story of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. Aeramentum Books.

Janos, A.C., 2000. East Central Europe in the modern world: the politics of the borderlands from pre-to postcommunism. Stanford University Press.

Janos, A.C., 2001. From eastern empire to western hegemony: East Central Europe under two international regimes. East European Politics and Societies, 15(2), pp.221-249.

Jászi, O., 1923. Dismembered Hungary and Peace in Central Europe. Foreign Affairs, 2(2), pp.270-281.

Jászi, O., 1942. Anarchism. Encyclopaedia of the Social Sciences.

Jessop, B., 1993. Towards a Schumpeterian workfare state? Preliminary remarks on post-Fordist political economy. Studies in political economy, 40(1), pp.7-39.

Kampfner, J., 1994. Inside Yeltsin's Russia: corruption, conflict, capitalism. Weidenfeld & Nicolson.

Karácsony, G. and Róna, D., 2011. The secret of Jobbik. Reasons behind the rise of the Hungarian radical right. Journal of East European and Asian Studies, 2(1), pp.61-92.

Kaul, N., 2009. The Economics of Turning People into Things1. Development, 52(3), pp.298-301.

Kemp, W., 1999. Nationalism and communism in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union: A basic contradiction. Springer.

Kenez, P., 2006. Hungary from the Nazis to the Soviets: the Establishment of the Communist Regime in Hungary, 1944-1948. Cambridge University Press.

Kiss, E., 2007. The evolution of industrial areas in Budapest after 1989. The Post-Socialist City, pp.147-170.

Kligman, G. and Limoncelli, S., 2005. Trafficking women after socialism: From, to, and through Eastern Europe. Social Politics: International Studies in Gender, State and Society, 12(1), pp.118-140.

Koltay, A., 2013. Hate Speech and the Protection of Communities in the Hungarian Legal System, Hungarian Media Law,, last viewed April 28th 2-17.

Kontler, L. 1999. Millennium in Central Europe: a history of Hungary (p. 238). Atlantisz Publishing House.

Korkut, U., 2012. Liberalization Challenges in Hungary: Elitism, Progressivism, and Populism. Springer.

Kornai, J., 1990. The road to a free economy. Shifting from a socialist system: the example of Hungary. New York: W. W. Norton.

Körösényi, A., 1999a. Government and politics in Hungary. Central European University Press.

Körösényi, A., 1999b. Intellectuals and democracy: The political thinking of intellectuals. Intellectuals and politics in Central Europe, pp.227-244.

Kovai, C. (2012). Hidden potentials in ‘naming the Gypsy’: the transformation of the Gypsy-Hungarian distinction. In Stewart, M. The Gypsy ‘Menace’, pp. 281-294.

Kowalik, T., 2012. From Solidarity to Sellout. NYU Press.

Krasztev, P. and Til, J.V., 2015. The Hungarian Patient. CEU Press.

Kropotkin, P. (2012). Mutual aid: A factor of evolution. Courier Corporation.

Kurti, L., 2002. Youth and the state in Hungary: capitalism, communism and class. Pluto Press.

Lakner, Z. and Tausz, K., 2016. From a welfare to a workfare state: Hungary. In Challenges to European welfare systems (pp. 325-350). Springer International Publishing.

Lane, D., 2005. Revolution, class and globalization in the transition from state socialism. European Societies, 7(1), pp.131-155.

Lane, D., 2010. Post-socialist states and the world economy: The impact of global economic crisis. Historical Social Research/Historische Sozialforschung, pp.218-241.

Lane, D., 2012. Post Socialist States in the System Of Global Capitalism: A Comparative Perspective. In Boschi and Santana eds., Development and semi-periphery. pp. 19-44.

Lendvai, P., 2010. One day that shook the Communist world: the 1956 Hungarian uprising and its legacy. Princeton University Press.

Lendvai, P., 2012. Hungary: between democracy and authoritarianism. Columbia University Press.

Lomax, B., 1997a. From death to resurrection: The metamorphosis of power in Eastern Europe 1. Critique: Journal of Socialist Theory, 25(1), pp.47-84.

Lomax, B., 1997b. The strange death of ‘civil society’ in post‐communist Hungary. The Journal of Communist Studies and Transition Politics, 13(1), pp.41-63.

Lomax, B., 1999. The inegalitarian nature of Hungary’s intellectual political culture. Intellectuals and Politics in Central Europe, pp.167-184.

Lozowick, Y., 2005. Hitler's bureaucrats: The Nazi security police and the banality of evil. A&C Black.

Magyar, B., 2016. Post-Communist Mafia State. Central European University Press.

Mammone, A., Godin, E. and Jenkins, B. eds., 2013. Varieties of right-wing extremism in Europe. Routledge.

Mann, M., 2004. Fascists. Cambridge University Press.

Marangos, J., 2005. Shock therapy and its consequences in transition economies. Development, 48(2), pp.70-78.

Marer, P. 1999. Economic transformation, 1990-1998. In Braun and Barany. Dilemmas of transition, pp. 157-202.

Marche, S. (2012) The new fascism in Europe. Macleans., last viewed April 28th 2017.

Marsovszky, M., 2010. Antisemitism in Hungary. How an ideology threatens to become violent. Antisemitism in Eastern Europe. History and Present in Comparison, Frankfurt am Main, pp.47-65.

Mason, P., 2016. Postcapitalism: A guide to our future. Macmillan.

McQuade, B., 2015. "The road from Mandalay to Wigan is a long one and the reasons for taking it aren't immediately clear": A World-System Biography of George Orwell. Journal of World-Systems Research, 21(2), p.313.

McGuigan, J., 2014. The neoliberal self. Culture Unbound: Journal of Current Cultural Research, 6(1), pp.223-240.

Mestrovic, S., 2004. The Balkanization of the West: the confluence of postmodernism and postcommunism. Routledge.

Minkenberg, M. and Pytlas, B., 2012. 12 The radical right in Central and Eastern Europe. Class Politics and the Radical Right. In Rydgren, J. ed., 2012. Class politics and the radical right. pp.206-224.

Molnár, M., 2001. A concise history of Hungary. Cambridge University Press.

Mudde, C., 2014. Youth and the extreme right. Idebate Press.

Murer, J.S., 2015. The rise of Jobbik, populism, and the symbolic politics of illiberalism in contemporary Hungary. The Polish Quarterly of International Affairs, 24(2), pp.79-102.

Nagy, G., 2005. Changes in the position of Hungarian regions in the country’s economic field of gravity. Barta, Gy.–Fekete, GÉ–Szörényiné, KI–Timár, J. eds: Hungarian Spaces and Places–Patterns of Transition Centre for Regional Studies: Pécs, pp.124-142. Available at, last viewed April 25th 2017.

Nemes, D. ed., 1973. History of the revolutionary workers movement in Hungary: 1944-1962. Corvina Press.

Ost, D., 2006. The defeat of solidarity: Anger and politics in postcommunist Europe. Cornell University Press.

O'Sullivan, J. and Pócza, K., 2015. The Second Term of Viktor Orbán: Beyond Prejudice and Enthusiasm. Social Affairs Unit.

O'Toole Jr, L.J., 1977. Schumpeter's" Democracy": A Critical View. Polity, 9(4), pp.446-462.

Pateman, C., 1970. Participation and democratic theory. Cambridge University Press.

Paxton, R.O., 2007. The anatomy of fascism. Vintage.

Petőcz, G., 2015. Milla: A Suspended Experiment. In The Hungarian Patient: Social Opposition to an Illiberal Democracy, pp.207-229.

Pittaway, M., 2004. Eastern Europe 1939-2000. Hodder Arnold.

Pogány, I., 2013. The Crisis of Democracy in East Central Europe: The ‘New Constitutionalism’in Hungary. European Public Law, 19(2), pp.341-367. 2014. Campaign encourages LGBT election turnout amid renewed furor over Jobbik anti-gay legislation., last viewed April 28th 2017.

Ramet, S.P., 1998. Nihil obstat: religion, politics, and social change in East-Central Europe and Russia. Duke University Press.

Ramet, S.P., 2007. The liberal project and the transformation of democracy: the case of East Central Europe. Texas A&M University Press.

Renwick, A., 1989. The Role of Non-Elite Forces in Hungary’s Negotiated Revolution. In Bozóki The Roundtable Talks of 1989. pp.191-210.

Rocker, R., 1937. Nationalism and culture. Los Angeles, CA: Rocker publications committee.

Rowlands, C. 2013. Hungary’s rabid right is taking the country to a political abyss. The Guardian Newspaper., last viewed 2nd May 2017.

Rustow, D.A., 1989. Democracy: A global revolution. Foreign Affairs, 69, p.75.

Rydgren, J. ed., 2012. Class politics and the radical right. Routledge.

Scheppele, K.L., 2013. The rule of law and the Frankenstate: why governance checklists do not work. Governance, 26(4), pp.559-562.

Schöpflin, G., 2009. Democracy, Populism and the Political Crisis in Hungary. The New Presence, (1), pp.32-36.

Schumpeter, J.A., 2013. Capitalism, socialism and democracy. Routledge.

Schwartz, A., 2006. The politics of greed: How privatization structured politics in Central and Eastern Europe. Rowman & Littlefield.

Szalai, E., 2005. Socialism: An Analysis of Its Past and Future. Central European University Press.

Sissenich, B., 2007. Building states without society: European Union enlargement and the transfer of EU social policy to Poland and Hungary. Lexington Books.

Smith, A. and Timár, J., 2010. Uneven transformations: Space, economy and society 20 years after the collapse of state socialism. European Urban and Regional Studies. 17(2): 115-125.

Somers, M.R., 1995. Narrating and naturalizing civil society and citizenship theory: the place of political culture and the public sphere. Sociological theory, pp.229-274.

Stephan, J., 1999. Economic Transition in Hungary and East Germany: Gradualism, Shock Therapy and Catch-Up Development. Springer.

Sternhell, Z., 2010. The Anti-Enlightenment Tradition. Yale University Press.

Stewart, M., 2012. The Gypsy ‘Menace’. Populism and the new anti-gypsy politics. London: Hurst & Co.

Száraz, G., 1987. The Jewish Question in Hungary: A Historical Retrospective. The Holocaust in Hungary: Forty Years Later. In Braham and Vago. The Holocaust in Hungary 40 Years Later.

Taylor, A.J.P., 1954. The struggle for mastery in Europe, 1848-1918. Oxford University Press.

Than, K. 2016. After shock therapy, Hungary's Orbanomics starts to produce rewards. Reuters Economic News,, last viewed 26th April 2017.

Til, V.J., 2015. Democratic Resurgence in Hungary. In Krasztev and Til.The Hungarian Patient, pp.367-384.

Timár, J. and Váradi, M.M., 2001. The uneven development of suburbanization during transition in Hungary. European Urban and Regional Studies, 8(4), pp.349-360.

Tökés, R.L., 1996. Hungary's Negotiated Revolution: Economic Reform, Social Change and Political Succession. Cambridge University Press.

Tökés, R.L., 1999. A Tale of Three Constitutions: Elites, Institutions, and Democracy in Hungary. Institution Building in the New Democracies: Studies in Post-Communisms. Budapest: Collegium Budapest.

Tomka, M. and Harcsa, I., 1999. Denomination and Religious Practice. A Society Transformed. Hungary in a Time—Space Perspective, pp.61-72.

Tökés, R.L., 2002. Institution-building in Hungary: Analytical Issues and Constitutional Models, 1989-1990’ in Bozóki The Roundtable Talks of 1989. pp. 107-137.

Tóth, A. and Grajczjár, I., 2015. The Rise of the Radical Right in Hungary. The Hungarian Patient: Social Opposition to an Illiberal Democracy, pp.133-163.

US Department of State. 2016. Hungary., last viewed April 28th 2017.

Virchow, F., 2013. Creating a European (Neo-Nazis) Movement by Joint Political Action. In A. Mammone, E. Godin, & B. Jenkins, Varieties of Right-Wing Extremism in Europe, pp.197-213.

Ward, C., 1973. Anarchy in action. London: G. Allen & Unwin.

Wilkin, P., 2010. The Strange Case of Tory Anarchism. Libri Pub.

Wilkin, P., 2016. Hungary’s Crisis of Democracy: The Road to Serfdom. Lexington Books.

Wilkin, P., Dencik, L. and Bognár, É. 2015. Digital activism and Hungarian media reform: The case of Milla. European Journal of Communication, 30(6), pp.682-697.

Wolin, R., 2011. Ghosts of a tortured past: Europe's right turn. Dissent, 58(1), pp.58-65.

Wolin, S.S., 2009. Politics and vision: Continuity and innovation in Western political thought. Princeton University Press.

Wolin, S.S., 2010. Democracy incorporated: Managed democracy and the spectre of inverted totalitarianism. Princeton University Press.



  • There are currently no refbacks.

Copyright (c) 2018 peter wilkin

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.