As Donald Trump's presidency draws to a close, his opponents give thanks that he never developed a strategy or learned to use his powers and agencies efficiently. If he had, like Hungary's four-term prime minister Viktor Orbán, Trump could have created an "illiberal democracy" - a country with democratic trappings but with a charismatic, nationalist leader in charge of a hegemonic party, politicised institutions, and facing a divided and hobbled opposition.
“For two decades after the fall of socialism, Hungary was heralded as a champion of liberal reforms”, says Gábor Scheiring. "The country turned from a laboratory of neoliberalism into a laboratory of illiberalism”.
Orbán is a skilful politician, he argues, but his success is built on fundamental economic and political mistakes made by governments of the left in the early days of the transition. The prime minister and his party used this environment to launch a "pre-meditated, systematic and aggressive” campaign to court national rather than transnational capital and replace the socialists as the representatives of "left-behind" working class communities. This is a formidable coalition.
Today I talked to Scheiring about his book The Retreat of Liberal Democracy: Authoritarian Capitalism and the Accumulative State in Hungary (Palgrave, 2020). Scheiring is a sociologist and economist, a former Green member of the Hungarian parliament from 2010-2014, and is currently a Marie Curie Fellow at Bocconi University in Milan.
*His own book recommendation is Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism by Anne Case and Angus Deaton (Princeton University Press, 2020)
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