Project

The Political Economy of Illiberalism

Goal: This project extends our understanding of the human dimension of the postsocialist economic reforms through analysing how they paved the way for the illiberal populist backlash in East-Central Europe. The main findings of the project are summarised in my book, The retreat of liberal democracy (Palgrave, 2020). The book shows that democratic backsliding in Hungary is rooted in the tensions of global economic dependencies, but the specific form of authoritarian populism is the result of the ways in which the changing alliances of local classes, such as the business class, the political class and the working class, translated globalisation into the domestic context. In addition to the book, the project will result in several journal articles.

Updates
0 new
0
Recommendations
0 new
0
Followers
0 new
11
Reads
0 new
105

Project log

Gabor Scheiring
added a research item
The world is facing a new wave of autocratization. The coronavirus pandemic has further accelerated this global democratic backsliding. Though each country has its local history, some of the social foundations of illiberalism are similar worldwide. These divergent and convergent social requisites of illiberalism are the subject of this chapter. After clarifying the relationship between the concepts of "populism," "illiberalism," and "democratic backsliding," the chapter reviews the empirical literature related to these phenomena. Explanations of illiberalism cannot be reduced to mono-causal theories. Dominant cultural and overly agent-centric approaches have a proclivity to downplay the role of economic-structural tensions. The chapter shows how political-economic approaches to illiberalism in East-Central Europe can offer novel insights into the social foundations of illiberalism. The chapter concludes by arguing for complex, interdisciplinary approaches that refuse to pit culture, the economy, and politics against each other as separate variables. These factors act in concert through people's everyday perceptions of economic change and political entrepreneurs' maneuvers to maintain and forge class coalitions and shape institutions.
Gabor Scheiring
added a research item
The rise of populism has cast doubt on the sustainability of the marriage of liberal democracy and neoliberal capitalism. There is an urgent need to understand how neoliberal developmental bottlenecks foster populist social coalitions. This essay analyses how the combination of dependent development and various structures of dependency governance have contributed to different levels of socio-economic disintegration, engendering different populist countermovements in Central and Eastern Europe. These processes fostered exclusionary neoliberal populism with strong illiberalism in Hungary, welfare chauvinist populism with weak illiberalism in Poland, technocratic neoliberal populism without illiberalism in the Czech Republic and entrenched neoliberal populism with contained illiberalism in Slovakia.
Gabor Scheiring
added a research item
Has a post-neoliberal policy regime emerged from the challenges to neoliberalism that have accompanied the rise of nationalism and populism in some Eastern and Central European countries? Why has the political organization of these challenges to neoliberalism endured in some countries but not in others? By drawing on a mix of primary and secondary sources culled from the institutional, political and economic realities of Hungary and Romania, this paper makes two claims. First, the article suggests that these transformations have amounted to a distinctive variety of neoliberalism that can be dubbed 'national-neoliberalism.' At its core one finds the slightly modified old goals of neoliberal orthodoxy embedded into a protective cocoon of orthodox and unorthodox economic policy instruments and institutions. The second claim of the paper is that the political organization of the national-neoliberal project was resilient in Hungary but not in Romania. The evidence suggests that this variation owes not only to the fact that the 'national' elements of national-neoliberalism had protections against the bond markets. While this factor was indeed critical, the resilience of Hungarian national-neoliberalism seems to have been made possible by the fact that its proponents could manage a broader social bloc and deploy techno-political capabilities that bolstered their political power relative to that of challengers. In contrast, the challengers to orthodox ("globalist") neoliberalism did not possess these characteristics in Romania. As such, the paper rejects the hypothesis of a nationalist-heterodox successor to neoliberalism and takes a first cut at a theory of policy resilience for national-neoliberalism.
Gabor Scheiring
added a research item
The rise of populism has cast doubt on the sustainability of the marriage of liberal democracy and neoliberal capitalism. There is an urgent need to understand how developmental bottlenecks foster populist social coalitions. This paper builds on the dependency research program to demonstrate how the commonalities and differences in Poland’s and Hungary’s dependent integration into the global economy gave rise to two varieties of populism. While the two countries employed different industrial policies leading to different levels of domestic economic disintegration, they were more similar in the dimension of social policies before the populist breakthrough, giving rise to profound social disintegration in both countries. The disillusionment of the working class with the dependent liberal regime destabilized the social coalitions that were sustaining liberal democracy. The severe disintegration of the economy in Hungary also induced support for national-populism in the domestic business class, leading to a new compromise with transnational capital in the technological export sectors. Poland did not experience such economic disintegration; thus, the alliance between the domestic business class and national-populists is more ambivalent. Hungary’s populism redistributes significant resources upward, while Poland’s populism is more open to redistributive demands of the popular classes.
Gabor Scheiring
added a research item
Class analysis is back. Skyrocketing inequalities, the stagnation and marginalisation of the traditional working class, and the right-wing nationalist revolt have pushed issues of class into the limelight. The 2010s saw the publication of numerous books on the working class, causing quite a stir both in academia and public discourse (see the review by Bergfeld 2019). These phenomena challenged the view of 'classless' societies, dominant from the 1980s to the 2000s, that suggested individual success was determined solely by individual abilities or ethnic/gender hierarchies. Fitting into this class renaissance is Michael Lind's provocative, incisive, yet structurally flawed book on class war. Lind is both an academic and a journalist, whose writings always draw public attention across the political spectrum in the US. He is an excellent writer. His sentences are short and punchy, his argument is clear, and his message is dear to the heart of a reader who is sensitive to the problems of our times: 'Demagogic populism is a symptom. Technocratic neoliberalism is the disease. Democratic pluralism is the cure' (p. xv).
Gabor Scheiring
added a research item
Nationalism is back with a renewed force. Hungary is a virulent example of the new nationalist ascendancy. As the country was a former liberal star pupil, Hungary's neo-nationalist turn has been puzzling researchers for years. This study goes beyond the entrenched polarisations in the literature by highlighting the dynamic interplay between culture, structure and identity. It proposes to conceptualise Hungary's neo-nationalist turn as a Polanyian countermovement against commodification, globalisation and deindustrialisation. The article presents the results of a thematic analysis of 82 interviews with workers in four towns in Hungary's rustbelt and highlights how the multiscalar lived experience of commodifying reforms violated an implicit social contract and changed workers' narrative identities. In the absence of a class-based shared narrative and lacking a viable political tool to control their fate, working-class neo-nationalism emerged as a new narrative identity to express workers' anger and outrage.
Gabor Scheiring
added a research item
The results of Hungary’s transformation from a state-run economy into a market-based model are mixed at best. On the positive side, except in times of global recession, the country’s economy was able to expand continuously over the past 30 years, while domestic businesses integrated successfully into the global economy. Hungary was able to establish strong commercial ties with the major economies of the world, and today it is represented in some of the most important economic organizations, such as the EU and the OECD. On the negative side, however, the model along which it carried out its integration into the world economy had severe limitations. Economic growth, above all, has been dependent on foreign capital and financial support. This has shaped the country’s social and economic policy, leading to exploitative labour relations, growing inequality and precarity. The post-2010 illiberal state’s economic strategy was a response to the crisis of Hungary’s post-1990 liberal dependent economic model. In conclusion, the collapse of liberal democracy and the rise of illiberalism in Hungary is tightly interwoven with the vagaries of the country’s economic model.
Gabor Scheiring
added 5 research items
The previous chapters highlighted two crucial social dynamics behind the retreat of liberal democracy: the countermovement of the working class and the national bourgeoisie. Fidesz used this opportunity to rearrange the dominant power bloc by incorporating national capitalists. This chapter empirically analyses how the post-2010 accumulative state props up capital accumulation and how these new instruments affect various factions of the business class. The accumulative state fell short of a developmental state and so far failed to enact long-term industrial upgrading and reverse economic disintegration. The new accumulation strategy boosted precarious employment and reduced financial vulnerability at the price of increased inequality and weakened social, education and health policies. The chapter concludes that the two-pronged authoritarian strategy of the new regime combining institutional authoritarianism and authoritarian populism is in part a response to the social conflicts generated by the new accumulation strategy.
Starting from the reforms of the late socialist era, this chapter analyses how the growth model based on the extensive accumulation of transnational capital became the dominant, institutionally preferred accumulation strategy in Hungary. Relying on a new dataset exploring the revolving doors between the economic policy elite and the business class in the 1990–2014 period, the chapter shows how economic policy professionals passed in and out through the revolving doors and contributed to the establishment of transnational capital’s hegemony. Finally, based on the analysis of press materials related to the business advocacy organisations of transnational companies, the chapter also highlights the tensions between transnational capitalists’ economic policy preferences and the accumulation strategy of the competition state, showing that the competition state outperformed the expectations of transnational capital.
This chapter explores the lived experience of workers with the transition from socialism to capitalism. Drawing on the thematic analysis of 82 interviews conducted with workers in four towns in Hungary’s rust belt hit by deindustrialisation (Ajka, Dunaújváros, Salgótarján, Szerencs), the chapter highlights how the multiscalar lived experience of market-centric commodifying reforms violated an implicit social contract and changed workers’ narrative identities. However, this shared experience of class dislocation did not translate into a working-class identity. In the absence of a class-based, shared narrative and lacking a viable political tool to control their fate, working-class neo-nationalism emerged as a new narrative identity to express workers’ anger and outrage.
Gabor Scheiring
added a research item
This book is the product of three years of empirical research, four years in politics, and a lifetime in a country experiencing three different regimes. Transcending disciplinary boundaries, it provides a fresh answer to a simple yet profound question: why has liberal democracy retreated? Scheiring argues that Hungary’s new hybrid authoritarian regime emerged as a political response to the tensions of globalisation. He demonstrates how Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz exploited the rising nationalism among the working-class casualties of deindustrialisation and the national bourgeoisie to consolidate illiberal hegemony. As the world faces a new wave of autocratisation, Hungary’s lessons become relevant across the globe, and this book represents a significant contribution to understanding challenges to democracy. This work will be useful to students and researchers across political sociology, political science, economy and social anthropology, as well democracy advocates.
Gabor Scheiring
added a research item
This article presents and empirically substantiates a theoretical account explaining the making and stabilisation of illiberal hegemony in Hungary. It combines a Polanyian institutionalist framework with a neo-Gramscian analysis of right-wing hegemonic strategy and a relational class analysis inspired by the political economy tradition in anthropology. The article identifies the social actors behind the illiberal transformation, showing how 'neoliberal disembedding' fuelled the rightward shift of constituencies who had erstwhile been brought into the fold of liberal hegemony: blue-collar workers, post-peasants and sections of domestic capital. Finally, the article describes the emergence of a new regime of accumulation and Fidesz's strategy of 'authoritarian re-embedding', which relies on 'institutional authoritarianism' and 'authoritarian populism'. This two-pronged approach has so far allowed the ruling party to stabilise illiberal hegemony, even in the face of reforms that have generated discontents and exacerbated social inequality.
Gabor Scheiring
added 4 research items
The crisis of the Left, a post-communist peculiarity until just a few years ago, has become critical all over Europe. If the Left wants to avoid returning to the 1930s and becoming insignificant in European political history in the coming decades it has to be thoroughly overhauled.
As the world awakens from the shock of Donald Trump being elected, liberals and people on the left have started to draw the conclusions. Class plays a crucial role in the rise of illiberalism. You just have to ask the right questions to realise how. Restoring class analysis and class politics is the first step towards combating illiberal politics.
Most analysts describe Orbanomics as anti-liberal anti-business policies only serving the interests of the political elite and loyal oligarchs. However, this is a misunderstanding. A wide segment of domestic and transnational elites benefit. Orban’s regime has a socio-economic logic that can only be understood in the context of economic globalisation. Orbanomics is a faulty and polarising answer to the crisis of Hungary’s post-1990 liberal dependent economic model. The long-term viability of Orbanomics and his regime requires authoritarian fixes. This analysis explains the political-economic logic of Orbanomics.
Gabor Scheiring
added 3 research items
Using the strategic case of Hungary the article presents a relational political economy of illiberalism. Reorienting the scholarship on democracy and capitalism the article focuses on how the post-socialist dependent capitalism institutionalised in Hungary affected the chance of reaching democratic consolidation. Using a mixed-method process tracing framework, analysing macro-social data on the erosion of the social base of democratic legitimacy, presenting a quantitative content analysis of policy elite members' biographies as well as three case studies the article analyses two interrelated dimensions of the exhaustion of dependent development. First, the study analyses how the collapse of the social structures of legitimation in the liberal transition regime led to the rightward turn of the working middle class as a necessary but not sufficient condition of the illiberal breakthrough. Second, the article demonstrates how the polarisation of the economic elite and the growing frustration of the national capitalist class contributed to the illiberal breakthrough. The results demonstrate the different class composition of left and right-wing governments as well as how the national bourgeoisie uses the illiberal state to further its own accelerated capital accumulation. The most important theoretical implication of the article is that the social theory of illiberalism has to account both for the tensions among the working middle class and among the economic elites as interrelated processes. Ultimately the paper contributes to re-evaluating the relationship between capitalism and democracy pointing out structural tensions conducive to illiberalism.
Recent episodes of democratic backsliding do not fit well the existing theoretical approaches. Understanding the process of democratic backsliding in Hungary represents a unique opportunity to revise and refine theories of democratic consolidation and backsliding. This article provides a Weberian class based and international political economy inspired account of de-democratization. Using descriptive and comparative macro-economic and macro-social statics as well as providing two case studies the paper analyses the two sides of the development trajectory that lead up to democratic backsliding in Hungary: (1) the exhaustion of the political economy of patience and the resulting demobilization of the voters of the Left and (2) the polarization of the economic elite leading to the native capitalist class pushing for central intervention into existing rights to secure protection and accelerated capital accumulation. Both processes are linked to the Hungarian political economic model of international integration, to the evolving tensions of building capitalism without capitalists.
Authoritarian capitalist practices are gaining foothold not only in non-democratic states, such as China, but even in countries with strong liberal institutions. From Greece to the US, an increasing number of countries show its symptoms: curtailing democratic contestation in order to stabilise accumulation. Hungary is one of the most puzzling cases. Hungarian elites followed the good governance blueprints of international institutions, implementing liberal political and economic reforms between 1990 and 2010. For long, the country was considered to be a frontrunner of the third wave of democratisation, yet now it is seen as the prime example of the illiberal turn. Orbán’s political-economic model, hybrid authoritarian capitalism institutionalised by the accumulative state, has been stable for eight years now. To understand the emergence, stability and potential vulnerability of this regime, this article digs deeper into the contradictions of post-socialist liberal policies.
Gabor Scheiring
added a project goal
This project extends our understanding of the human dimension of the postsocialist economic reforms through analysing how they paved the way for the illiberal populist backlash in East-Central Europe. The main findings of the project are summarised in my book, The retreat of liberal democracy (Palgrave, 2020). The book shows that democratic backsliding in Hungary is rooted in the tensions of global economic dependencies, but the specific form of authoritarian populism is the result of the ways in which the changing alliances of local classes, such as the business class, the political class and the working class, translated globalisation into the domestic context. In addition to the book, the project will result in several journal articles.
 
Gabor Scheiring
added 2 research items
In this article we seek to shed light on the decline of labour politics in Hungary,, which has been laid bare in a particularly stark manner by the failure of the ‘slave law’ protests and the Left’s dismal electoral performance at the last European parliamentary elections. We focus on political-economic processes that played out over a longer period of time: the generation of working-class discontents under the auspices of a neoliberal Left, the gradual fragmentation of labour in a dualised dependent economy, the rearticulation of working-class solidarities in the idiom of the nation and the subsequent incorporation of some popular demands into ‘illiberal’ politics. Our endeavour to theorise the demise of labour – and more broadly: class politics – we rely on the work of Karl Polanyi and more particularly his conceptualisation of the ‘double movement’ through which he sought to grasp the process whereby society reacts to the vicissitudes of marketisation. Elsewhere, we have demonstrated that Polanyi’s theory can be adapted to the context of contemporary financialised capitalism on Europe’s Eastern periphery and its usefulness for highlighting the tensions of postsocialist capitalist democracies. We combine Polanyi’s framework with neo-Gramscian political economy and power structure theory to describe the power blocs that compete to take control of the state and their strategies vis-à-vis capital and labour. To substantiate our theoretical narrative, we rely on empirical research we carried out over the last five years, as well as the existing literature. First, we outline the process whereby labour relations became disembedded during Hungary’s re-integration into the global capitalist economy under neoliberal governments. We then describe Fidesz’s strategy of authoritarian re-embedding, which combines pre-emptive repression with authoritarian populism, allowing the hegemonic ruling party to incorporate workers while neutralising discontents. We end by arguing that these processes have created a structural trap for labour politics.
Democracy is in crisis around the globe. Hungary was long heralded as a champion of political and economic liberalization in postsocialist Eastern Europe. However, the country recently emerged as a striking example of the current wave of autocratization. Starting from the premise that political regimes are the results of class compromises, in this paper, I argue that Hungary’s authoritarian turn is in part rooted in the reconfiguration of the dominant power bloc and the concomitant change in the state’s strategy. The aim of this article is twofold. Firstly, I analyze the socio-economic roots of Hungary’s authoritarian turn and propose a new, theoretically driven causal narrative challenging and extending existing accounts. Relying on macro-statistics and a new dataset on the economic elite, I describe how the collapse of the class compromise that sustained the post-socialist liberal competition state engendered the revolt of the national bourgeoisie and the rise of the new authoritarian regime of accumulation. Secondly, I offer a new conceptualization regarding the political-economic nature of the new regime: the accumulative state. I empirically identify the political instruments through which the accumulative state props up capital accumulation and the ensuing social conflicts. Instead of portraying Hungary as a divergence from liberal capitalist norms based on a textbook view of markets, I situate authoritarian politics in the logic of capital accumulation. However, I stress that the post-2010 accumulative state serves only short-term capital accumulation and fails to enact long-term structural transformation.
Gabor Scheiring
added a research item
A rendszerváltás főáramú társadalomtudományos olvasata, a tranzitológiai paradigma illetve annak közéleti megfelelője, a liberális modernizációs keret önmagában alkalmatlan arra, hogy megértsük a magyar demokrácia leépülését. Ez a tanulmány a demokrácia hanyatlásának egy olyan, a nemzetközi politikai gazdaságtanra alapozott megközelítését mutatja be, mely a weberiánus osztályelemzésre épül. Leíró és összehasonlító makrogazdasági illetve makrotársadalmi statisztikák, valamint két esettanulmány bemutatásával a cikk magyar fejlődési modell két olyan jelenségét elemzi, melyek a demokrácia hanyatlásához vezettek: (1) a türelem politikájának kimerülése és a baloldal szavazóinak ebből következő kiábrándultsága és (2) a gazdasági elit polarizációja, ami a hazai kapitalista osztályt arra sarkallta, hogy a tőkefelhalmozás felpörgetéséért és védelem biztosításáért központi beavatkozást próbáljon kiharcolni. A választók rendszerváltásból való kiábrándulása nem okozta, hanem csak lehetővé tette, hogy a 2010 utáni kormány a nemzeti tőkésekkel részben együttműködve részben passzív beleegyezésével lebontsa a liberális demokrácia intézményeit, és saját érdeki alapján módosítsa a függő kapitalizmus szerkezeti elemeit. A magyar fejlődési modell kifulladásának megértése nélkül tehát nem érthetjük meg a magyar illiberalizmus felemelkedését és stabilitását.
Gabor Scheiring
added a research item
Hungary was once praised as an example of successful democratisation and EU integration, but now has joined the ranks of ‘liberal’ nations backsliding into authoritarianism. Many commentators blame Orbán and his anti-migrant, anti-EU populist rhetoric, but ignore the underlying causes in particular the failings of market reforms in the country, high unemployment, low wages, spiraling household debts, and a nationalist capitalist class resentful of the advantages given to their transnational capitalist competitors. To understand the emergence of authoritarian capitalism in Hungary, this paper digs deeper into the contradictions of post-socialist liberal policies and institutions to unearth its social and economic roots.
Gabor Scheiring
added a research item
With the contemporary crisis of liberal democracy and the rise of illiberalism in the aftermath of the global financial crisis we are witnessing a renewed interest in structuralist theories that conceptualize the inherent tensions of modernization, crises and democracy. In my paper I attempt to show that Polanyi’s thinking represents such a framework that can be updated to fit contemporary realities both in core and peripheral countries. After the introduction I reconstruct Polanyi’s political stance regarding democracy, socialism and the market based on a reading of his political speeches as well as other non-academic texts. Next I will bring to the fore his often neglected views regarding the commodification of money and the tensions between international finance and democracy. In the fourth section of the paper I introduce the notion of dependent financialization to make Polanyi’s theory of money compatible with non-core capitalist economies. The Polanyian theory of money allows us to formulate hypotheses about political dynamics in different varieties of core and peripheral capitalisms as well. In the final section of my paper I conclude that Polanyi’s theory of the double movement and fictitious commodification can only be understood and applied to empirical analysis once we bring it into dialogue with his political views. Polanyi urges us to preserve the market by protecting the economy and society from the damages of excessive commodification: markets need to be protected from themselves.