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Book symposium on illiberal capitalism

From the crisis of liberalism to the rise of illiberalism in Hungary: Perspectives from political economy

Book symposium with Attila Antal[1], Mary N. Taylor[2], Gábor Scheiring[3], and Kristóf Szombati[4], chaired and moderated by Don Kalb[5].

Convenors: Gábor Scheiring and Kristóf Szombati

Part of the 'Thirty Years of Capitalist Transformations in Central and Eastern Europe: Inequalities and Social Resistance' Conference, Cluj-Napoca, Romania, 3-5 April 2020.

Overall abstract of the panel:

The collapse of liberal democracy in Hungary represents one of the most paradigmatic cases of the contemporary rise of illiberal culture and politics. An erstwhile ‘poster boy’ of democratic transition, under the leadership of Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party, Hungary emerged as hybrid, competitive authoritarian regime and a regional stronghold of illiberal politics. While many argue that Hungary represents a unique example, conditioned by a historical legacy of nationalist anti-liberalism, political-economic analyses have shown that the country fits well into the international trend of democratic backsliding in the context of neoliberal globalisation. In many respects, Hungary has been a vanguard case, adapting avant-garde neoliberal policies, which explains why the illiberal countermovement is also deeper. The four recent books presented in this book symposium address the question of illiberalism from a culturally sensitive, multidisciplinary perspective drawing on insights from political economy, economic sociology and anthropology. The books contribute to our understanding how the thirty years of capitalist transformation in Hungary is linked to the rise of the new right-wing cultural hegemony, the stability of illiberal rule, and the authoritarian restructuring of the institutional landscape. The panel will touch upon several of the themes of the conference, such as ‘the limitations and external enablers of current varieties of capitalism’, ‘the emergence of neoliberal subjectivities’, and ‘the uneven record of forms of mass resistance to the dislocations produced by the market economy’. The presenters are from different institutions. The presentation of the four books is followed by a roundtable discussion with the authors and the chair of the symposium.


[1] Attila Antal, senior lecturer, Eötvös Loránd University Faculty of Law Institute of Political Science; Coordinator of the Social Theory Research Group at Institute of Political History

[2] Mary N. Taylor, Assistant Director of the Center for Place, Culture, and Politics at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York

[3] Gabor Scheiring, Academic Fellow, Department of Social and Political Sciences, Bocconi University, Milan, Italy

[4] Kristóf Szombati, post-doctoral researcher, Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, Halle (Saale), Germany

[5] Don Kalb, Professor, Department of Social Anthropology, University of Bergen, Bergen, Norway.

The four books to be discussed (in alphabetical order):

Attila Antal: The Rise of Hungarian Populism: State Autocracy and the Orbán Regime (Emerald Publishing, Bingley, 2019)

This book offers a historical and theoretical investigation into how Orbán’s authoritarian, populist regime has emerged, exploring factors such as the country's authoritarian populist past, the charismatic charm of populist leaders, and cooperation between neoliberal and state autocracy. Backlash from globalization, dissatisfaction with the European Union and international fiscal institutions have created a situation in which Orbán’s regime is able to thrive. The book provides a thoroughly researched historical narrative and an alternative critique of right-wing populism.

Gabor Scheiring: The Retreat of Liberal Democracy: Authoritarian Capitalism and the Accumulative State in Hungary (Forthcoming, Palgrave Macmillan, London, 2020).

Reorienting the scholarship on democratisation, the book analyses how the model of dependent capitalism affected democratic consolidation in Hungary. Building on a three-year empirical work resulting in novel qualitative and quantitative data, the book shows that the rightward turn of the working class and the polarisation of the economic elite explain the strength of illiberalism. The book advances the concept of the accumulative state as an authoritarian response to the tensions of dependent integration into the global economy.

Kristof Szombati: The Revolt of The Provinces: Anti-Gypsyism and Right-Wing Politics in Hungary (New York, Berghahn, 2018).

The book offers the first in-depth ethnographic monograph on the New Right in Central and Eastern Europe, exploring the making of right-wing hegemony in Hungary. It explains the spread of racist sensibilities in depressed rural areas, shows how activists, intellectuals and politicians took advantage of popular racism to empower right-wing agendas and examines the new ruling party's success in stabilizing an 'illiberal regime'. The book focuses on interaction between social antagonisms emerging on the local level and struggles waged within the political public sphere.

Mary Taylor: Movement of the People: Populism, Folk Dance, and Citizenship in Hungary (Forthcoming, Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 2020)

The book is an historical ethnography of Hungarian folk dance revival. It investigates the role of folk-dance revival in the cultivation of political personhood and construction of the ‘folk,’ ‘ethnonation,’ and ‘national affect’ across tumultuous rounds of incorporation of the Hungarian state into the world capitalist system. It gives insight into the cultivation of ethnonational sentiment under conditions of (neo)liberal governance, as well as nuances in understandings of ‘the people’ that are silenced by liberal antipopulism.

More about the conference here.

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© Created by Noemi Scheiring-Olah.