Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Home

The opportunism of populists and the defense of constitutional liberalism

  • Kim Lane Scheppele

Abstract

Liberal constitutionalism is under attack from a new breed of autocrats broadly classified as populist. These populists understand the weaknesses of constitutional liberalism and attack their opponents with criticisms that take advantage of internal weaknesses of the theory. But a closer analysis of theoretical framework used by populists to substitute for constitutional liberalism reveals that they are not really committed to populism in any serious sense. Instead, they have abandoned liberalism in the quest for raw power. Focusing on Viktor Orbán of Hungary and his chief ideologist András Lánczi, this article shows how their public critique of liberalism has attempted to wrong-foot their critics and how their recipe for gaining and wielding political power is only populist to the extent that these leaders are determined to (and often succeed in) winning elections. By peeling back the cover of populist ideology to look at the theories of legitimation under which they rule, however, we can see that the new breed of autocrats aims at primarily constitutional deconstruction through the concentration of political power in one leader. This sort of challenge to liberal constitutionalism is easily countered.

  • View HTML
    • Send article to Kindle

      To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure no-reply@cambridge.org is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

      Note you can select to send to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations. ‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

      Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

      The opportunism of populists and the defense of constitutional liberalism
      Available formats
      ×

      Send article to Dropbox

      To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      The opportunism of populists and the defense of constitutional liberalism
      Available formats
      ×

      Send article to Google Drive

      To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      The opportunism of populists and the defense of constitutional liberalism
      Available formats
      ×

Copyright

This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Footnotes

Hide All
*

Laurence S. Rockefeller is Professor of Sociology and International Affairs in the Woodrow Wilson School and University Center for Human Values at Princeton University. The author would like to thank Gábor Halmai, Paul Blokker, Bojan Bugaric and the other participants in the workshop on Populism and Constitutionalism at the European University Institute, where these ideas were presented and critiqued. Email: kimlane@princeton.edu

Footnotes

References

Hide All

1 Geert Wilders’s Party for Freedom has only one member: himself. James Traub, The Geert Wilders Effect, Foreign Policy, March 13, 2017, at https://foreignpolicy.com/2017/03/13/the-geert-wilders-effect/.

2 Perhaps it is unfair to paint John Rawls with this particular brush, but given that most of his readers assume that decisions made by ideal people behind a veil of ignorance do not simply approve the basic principles of the system but also justify particular decisions of governments or courts, Rawls has become the locus classicus for this proposition. John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (1971).

3 Jan-Werner Müller, What is Populism? (2016).

4 Mark Tushnet, Comparing Right-Wing and Left-Wing Populism, in Constitutional Democracy in Crisis? 639 (Mark Graber, Sanford Levinson, & Mark Tushnet, eds. 2018), and Mark Tushnet, in this issue.

5 Paul Blokker, in this issue.

6 Julian Scholtes, in this issue.

7 Gábor Halmai, in this issue.

8 Cas Mudde & Cristóbal Rovira Kaltwasser, Populism: A Short Introduction (2017).

9 Benjamin Moffitt, The Global Rise of Populism: Performance, Political Style, and Representation (2016).

10 Roger Cohen, It’s Time to Depopularize ‘Populist’. NY Times, July 13, 2018, at https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/13/opinion/populism-language-meaning.html.

11 Francis Fukuyama, The End of History?, 16 Nat’l Interest 3 (Summer 1989).

12 Juan Linz & Alfred Stepan, Toward Consolidated Democracies, 7 J. Dem. 14 (1996).

13 András Lánczi, The Renewed Social Contract–Hungary’s Elections, 2018, IX Hungarian Rev., May 2018, at http://www.hungarianreview.com/article/20180525_the_renewed_social_contract_hungary_s_elections_2018.

15 András Lánczi, Political Realism and Wisdom (2015).

16 Lánczi, supra note 16, at 50.

17 Lánczi, supra note 14.

18 Don Herzog, Without Foundations (1985).

19 Charles Dickens, Bleak House (1852–53).

20 Viktor Orbán’s Speech at Băile Tuşnad (Tusnádfürdő), July 26, 2014, at https://budapestbeacon.com/full-text-of-viktor-orbans-speech-at-baile-tusnad-tusnadfurdo-of-26-july-2014/.

21 Arch Puddington, Freedom House, Breaking Down Democracy: Goals, Strategies, and Methods of Modern Authoritarians, Chapter 5 (2016); William Galston, The Populist Challenge to Liberal Democracy, 29 J. Dem. 5 (2018), at https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/04172018_gs_galston-democracy.pdf.

22 Jeffrey Isaac, Is There Illiberal Democracy? Eurozine, Aug. 8, 2017, at https://www.eurozine.com/is-there-illiberal-democracy/.

23 Adam Halasz, Merkel Clashes With Orban on Meaning Of ‘Democracy’, EU Observer, Feb. 3, 2015, at https://euobserver.com/beyond-brussels/127468.

24 As the Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights’ electoral observation mission concluded, the Hungarian 2018 parliamentary elections “were characterized by a pervasive overlap between state and ruling party resources, undermining contestants’ ability to compete on an equal basis. Voters had a wide range of political options but intimidating and xenophobic rhetoric, media bias and opaque campaign financing constricted the space for genuine political debate, hindering voters’ ability to make a fully-informed choice.” ODIHR, Hungarian Parliamentary Elections 8 April 2018, ODIHR Limited Election Observation Mission Final Report, at https://www.osce.org/odihr/elections/hungary/385959?download=true.

25 Ryan Heath, Viktor Orbán Cements Place in Europe’s New Center Right, Politico.EU, June 21, 2018, at https://www.politico.eu/article/viktor-orban-epp-hungary-reshapes-european-center-right/.

26 Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s speech at the 29th Bálványos Summer Open University and Student Camp, July 28, 2018, Tusnádfürdő (Băile Tuşnad), at http://www.kormany.hu/en/the-prime-minister/the-prime-minister-s-speeches/prime-minister-viktor-orban-s-speech-at-the-29th-balvanyos-summer-open-university-and-student-camp.

27 Elizabeth Zerofsky, Viktor Orbán’s Far Right Vision for Europe, New Yorker, Jan 14, 2019, at https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2019/01/14/viktor-orbans-far-right-vision-for-europe.

28 Péter Krekó and Zsolt Enyedi, Explaining Eastern Europe: Orbán’s Laboratory of Illiberalism, 29 (3) J. Dem. 39 (2018).

29 For the origins – and uses by the right – of the term political correctness, see Moira Weigel, Political Correctness: How the Right Invented a Phantom Enemy, The Guardian, Nov. 30, 2016, at https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/nov/30/political-correctness-how-the-right-invented-phantom-enemy-donald-trump.

30 Éva Balogh, Trump and Orbán on Political Correctness, Hungarian Spectrum, Dec 2, 2016, at http://perma.cc/76NF-DXGL.

31 Id.

32 Dmitry Kiselev, Russia and the West Are Trading Places on Freedom of Speech, The Guardian, Apr 10, 2014, at http://perma.cc/GK6K-Q8XF.

33 For a catalogue and a criticism, see Chris Cilizza, The Dangerous Consequences of Trump’s All-Out Assault on Political Correctness, CNN.Com, Oct. 30, 2018, at https://edition.cnn.com/2018/10/30/politics/donald-trump-hate-speech-anti-semitism-steve-king-kevin-mccarthy/index.html.

34 Lucian Gideon Conway III, Meredith A. Repkea and Shannon C. Houck, Donald Trump as a Cultural Revolt Against Perceived Communication Restriction: Priming Political Correctness Norms Causes More Trump Support, 5 J. Soc. Pol. Psych. 244 (2017).

35 I suppose I am doing the same thing here that those on the right do with “political correctness”, since the term “fellow traveler” was used first by Leon Trotsky to describe people who were somewhat sympathetic to communism. But since these sympathizers were not of the proper class origin to be true communists, they always generated some doubts about how far they were willing to support the cause. David Caude, The Fellow Travelers: Intellectual Friends of Communism 2 (1973).

36 Lánczi, supra note 14.

37 Lánczi, supra note 16 at 3–6.

38 Lánczi, supra note 16, at 6–7.

39 Id. at 9–12.

40 Viktor Orbán Speech at Kötcse, September 2009, HírExtra Feb. 17, 2010, http://www.hirextra.hu/2010/02/18/megorizni-a-letezes-magyar-minoseget-orban-kotcsei-beszede-szorol-szora/.

41 Lánczi, supra note 16, at 13–14.

42 Carl Schmitt, The Concept of the Political [1932] (trans. G. Schwab, 2007).

43 Lánczi, supra note 16, at 44.

44 Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s speech at the 27th Congress of Fidesz – Hungarian Civic Union, Nov. 12, 2017, at http://www.kormany.hu/en/the-prime-minister/the-prime-minister-s-speeches/prime-minister-viktor-orban-s-speech-at-the-27th-congress-of-fidesz-hungarian-civic-union.

45 Lánczi, supra note 16, at 32–33.

46 Pippa Norris, Why Populism Is a Threat to Electoral Integrity, LSE EUROPP Blog, May 16, 2017, at http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/europpblog/2017/05/16/why-populism-is-a-threat-to-electoral-integrity/.

47 Kim Lane Scheppele, The Rule of Law and the Frankenstate: Why Governance Checklists Do Not Work, 26 Governance 559 (2013).

48 Nancy Bermeo has made this argument for the leaders who bypass elections by launching coups. She has documented the rise of “promissory coups” in which the coup leader immediately promises to restore democracy as soon as possible. Nancy Bermeo, On Democratic Backsliding, 27 J. Dem. 5 (2016).

* Laurence S. Rockefeller is Professor of Sociology and International Affairs in the Woodrow Wilson School and University Center for Human Values at Princeton University. The author would like to thank Gábor Halmai, Paul Blokker, Bojan Bugaric and the other participants in the workshop on Populism and Constitutionalism at the European University Institute, where these ideas were presented and critiqued. Email:

Keywords

Metrics

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed