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Terminology and Conceptualization

In his seminal essay in which he argues that liberalism, either as a conception of political liberty or as a doctrine about economic policy, does not necessarily coincide with democracy, Fareed Zakaria (1997) defines “liberal democracy” as a political system marked not only by free and fair elections, but also by rule of law, separation of powers, and the protections of basic liberties of speech, assembly, religion, and property. Scholarly discussion on definitions has burgeoned in the past years. As Rupnik and Zielonka (2013) and Collier and Levitsky (1997) argue, authors often qualify the term “democracy” by adding adjectives such as liberal (or illiberal), deliberative, representative, participatory, delegative, facade, direct (or indirect), electoral, hybrid, Western, Islamic, managed (Anderson 2007), etc. Others refer to electoral or competitive autocracies (Shevtsova 2000; LevitskyandWay2010). Following Mill (1993) and Huntington (1991) in their recent analysis, which serves as a starting point for this assessment, Csillag and Szelenyi (2015)define liberalism and democracy as two distinct dimensions of good governance, identifying “liberalism” with separation of powers and the security of private property rights, and “democracy” as majoritarian rule. They do not explicitly define illiberal democracy, but describe the features of the “emergent illiberal post-communist systems” in political terms, and claim that as long as democratic institutions operate and leaders are elected to office, the ruling elites of these “illiberal democracies need a legitimating ideology which can appeal to a broader electorate.” In their genealogy of what they call “post-communist managed illiberal democracy,” where property relations shift from private property and market capitalism to neo-patrimonial and eventually neo-prebendal property relations, they argue that the core distinguishing feature is this ideology, which they call postcommunist traditionalist or neoconservative (pp. 21-22).

To avoid further entanglement in a conceptual and terminological labyrinth, throughout this text “illiberal” should be understood as a privative prefix, referring to a constitutional and political condition that creates a unique middle ground between a constitutional democracy and an autocracy. This reading is not unique in the literature. Csillag and Szelenyi claim that the road from democracy to autocracy is paved with the “stones” of illiberalism, and while “illiberalism does not necessarily eliminate democracy, it creates conditions (given the weakness of Constitutional Courts and the legislative branch) for particularly powerful political leaders to flirt with abandoning democratic procedures if they may sense their electoral support eroded and they may not win the next elections” (p. 27). Bozoki (2011) argues that the “system of national cooperation,” introduced by Prime Minister Viktor Orban, which I will analyze in detail later in this chapter in order to make the claim that it is one of the manifestations of the “Hungarian illiberal democracy,” has emerged as an alternative to liberal democracy (p. 650). In developing this interpretation, it will be argued that illiberalism in Hungary is a form of constitutional identity, a political discourse that creates the rhetorical and political framework for the newly constructed political community.

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