Viktor Orbán’s Hungary: “An illiberal democracy”

Now at last we have the road map for Hungary under the leadership of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. As László Szily of Cink wrote, the Transylvanian air has a strange effect on him because it is usually there at this time of the year that he delivers a visionary sermon about his plans for the future. The mostly middle-aged audience listens to him in awe, not realizing the true meaning of his words.

This time he was brutally honest. He is in the middle of introducing a different kind of political system: illiberal democracy. This simple message was couched in pseudo-scientific language, giving the false impression that he has both a wide and a deep knowledge of the world. This knowledge leads him to great discoveries, which sooner or later will bring spectacular results to the Hungarian nation. “Our time will come,” he added at the conclusion of his speech.

So, what is illiberal democracy? The concept became popular in political science circles in the late 1990s after Fareed Zakaria, an Indian-born American journalist and author, published an article in the November-December 1997 issue of Foreign Affairs. In it he argued that in the West “democracy meant liberal democracy–a political system marked not only by free and fair elections, but also by the rule of law, a separation of powers, and property. This bundle of freedoms which might be termed constitutional liberalism is theoretically different and historically distinct from democracy.” In his scheme “democracy” is very narrowly defined. For him democracy simply means “free and fair elections.” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton obviously agreed with Zakaria when she told the leaders of the Hungarian opposition in Budapest in June 2011 that as long as there are free and fair elections Hungary is a democratic country.

But in Zakaria’s view “constitutional liberalism” is what gives real meaning to Western democracy. He calls this liberalism constitutional because it rests on the rule of law that is a defense of the individual’s right to life, property, freedom of religion and speech. This is what Viktor Orbán wants to abolish in Hungary. There will be elections (more or less free though not fair), but the real backbone of our modern western political system, checks and balances, limits on the actions of the government, will be abolished if it depends on Viktor Orbán. And, unfortunately, at the moment it does depend on him.

Orbán was very careful to avoid defining liberalism as a political philosophy because if his audience had any knowledge of what liberals believe in, it should have been patently obvious to them that his plans involve depriving his fellow citizens of their individual rights. Instead, he invoked a popular saying about the extent of an individual’s liberty that in no way touches on the essence of liberalism: “one person’s freedom ends where another person’s freedom begins.” The cliché apparently has its origin in Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes’s claim that “Your right to swing your arms ends just where the other man’s nose begins.”

Explaining the inexpicable Viktor Orbán in Tusnád/Băile Tușnad

Explaining the inexplicable
Viktor Orbán in Tusnád/Băile Tușnad

From this saying Orbán derives far-reaching conclusions about the meaning of liberalism. In his view, in such a system the stronger always wins. In his world, the idea that “everything is allowed” cannot be an organizing principle of the state. Instead, he suggests another concept: “One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself.” In brief, the state should adopt as its organizing principle the Golden Rule or the ethic of reciprocity. (That would be a tall order for the current Hungarian government.)

According to Orbán, the time of liberal democracies has come to an end. Something else, something better will come that will ensure “competitiveness” in this global economy. Orbán mentioned a few countries worth imitating: Singapore, China, India, Turkey, and Russia. What a happy prospect in the center of Europe!

Surely, he himself must have wondered whether he will be able to dismantle the rule of law in Hungary given the country’s membership in the European Union, but he convinced himself that he will be able to do it since the EU grants broad powers to the governments of the member states. And, after all, so far his building of an illiberal democracy, which has been going on for the past four years, hasn’t had any serious consequences.

Index‘s report on the speech bears the title: “Orbán is building an illiberal state and he is proud of it.” Cink is convinced that “not even Putin is as much of a Putinist as Orbán.” Indeed, it is unlikely that Putin would openly admit that he is building, or has built, an illiberal state.

Close to the end of his speech Orbán listed a number of unexpected global occurrences. For example, no one would have ever imagined that Barack Obama could be sued by Congress for repeatedly encroaching on Congress’s power. He expressed his utter astonishment and continued: “What do you think, how long could I stay in office if parliament could sue me for overstepping our authority?” Viktor Orbán does not even pretend. He tells the whole world that he has unlimited power. He has no shame. In fact, he is proud of it.

Foreign journalists should no longer have to pretend either. They don’t have to use milquetoast adjectives like “conservative,” “right-of-center,” and “conservative-nationalist” anymore. Call it what it is. A one-man dictatorship with more or less free but unfair elections.

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Too mild.
Is the Orban regime not guilty of incitement, corruption, theft, legal dismantling, election rigging etc.?


A good time for OV to be frank, with the EU distracted by Ukraine events.

D7 Democrat
“Orbán mentioned a few countries worth imitating: Singapore, China, India, Turkey, and Russia” Singapore’s economic success is based on its role as a global financial hub, China and India mainly on the cheapness of its labour and the size of their internal market, Russia on its natural resources. Turkey seems to be on the brink of economic problems ( but nevertheless it has the advantage of a large young population and an ideal position situated between east and west. So how exactly does Our Beloved Chief Shepherd believe Hungary can copy this success with the version of *illiberal democracy* practiced in the countries? We are going to import half a billion wage slaves from somewhere? Paprika and palinka are going to rival oil and gas as a world commodity? He is going to give freedom to make profits back to and open and globalised financial system.? No, no and no. Probably he thinks that if Hungary imports the same type of state repression, censorship and, in the case of Russia and China, downright violence against its own citizens then economic success will surely follow. Nope, I am afraid not. There are so many weaknesses in his regime which, thankfully, prevents… Read more »
Mrozek L.

You overestimate Orban, There is no need to analyze his speech. It is incoherent rambling. He is repeating catch phrases he heard somewhere, he talks about what he just read in the paper… He repeated several times, his most astute observation… “Anything can happen…”

Let’s face it, the man has limited intellectual abilities… with that statement, I think I was quite polite.

Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10)

(…) “one person’s freedom ends where another person’s freedom begins.” The cliché apparently has its origin in Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes’s claim (…)

Actually, it’s much older than that: Article 4 of the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen. It was somehow a generalization of the 18th Century enlightened views on property rights. The now proverbial formulation is unattributed, but occurrences can be found from the 1840s in French political essays.

But the people who wrote OV’s speech don’t seem to understand the subject. The main point of the “freedom of others’ stance is not freedom itself, but the role of the law as the superior organizing principle of society, a principle that contains its self-limitation.

Interestingly perhaps, Article 6 of the never enforced 1793 Declaration did also state that ‘Don’t do unto others what you don’t want others to do unto you’ was a moral limitation of freedom. Moral, not legal. There’s no need to oppose the ‘harm principle’ and the ‘golden rule’, they’re simply not on the same level.

At least, in a Rechtstaat. But it seems that it’s not ‘1968’ that OV wants to throw away. It’s the whole Enlightenment.


The origin of the “Golden Rule”

Once there was a gentile who came before Shammai, and said to him: “Convert me on the condition that you teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot. Shammai pushed him aside with the measuring stick he was holding.

The same fellow came before Hillel, and Hillel converted him, saying: That which is despicable to you, do not do to your fellow, this is the whole Torah, and the rest is commentary, go and learn it.”

– Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 31a


London Calling!

As I said most Hungarians don’t understand ‘democracy’.

The Chief Non-Understander is President Thug.

And Hungary is a Commocracy – a state stuck in the transition corridor between communism and democracy….

…and it has taken a wrong turning to Autocracy.

And with most Hungarians’ blessing.

It will take a millennium to unwind.



Agree with Mrozek. This is overwhelmingly bullshi**ng, time of an annual celebration/sermon for his most die-hard fans. I mean Singapore and India or China in the same category? Turkey and Russia? Has he been in any of these places outside the state dignitary bubble? What I can agree on is that nationalism (and more or less racism) is rampant in these countries. But otherwise apples and oranges are more similar. On the other hand, some of his populist, practical points would normally need attention by his competitors (if he had any). Not because he says it, but because these ideas would be self-evident to anybody, but the incompetent opposition. He mentioned for example that the OSI had a recent study about the state of European white working class. The results were deemed so important that even Financial Times (which cannot normally be charged with caring too much about the ‘proletariat’, although FT is much more critical that WSJ) sacrificed an entire page on it. Since 1/3 of the people at the EU elections voted anti-immigrant and other protest parties the results could even be important to mainstream leftist parties who have been busier with gay rights and racism instead of… Read more »

Eva: “So, what is illiberal democracy?”

Liberal can mean many things. Illiberal negates them all. Illiberal means no freedom of any sort.

Illiberal democracy is a contradiction in terms. Illiberal kleptocracy is not, and that is what he is really talking about.

Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10)

@Tamas: the word ‘liberal’ has a different scope in EU / US political debates. In the US it’s about values, in EU about the economy. On both sides of the pond the word is disliked at the moment, but the reasons why are quite different.

On the other hand, ‘liberal democracy’ has roughly had the same meaning in the US and Europe for decades, if not centuries. And in neither areas is the expression taboo: on the contrary, it is an overwhelmingly shared set of standards (to which we’ve always have a hard time to strictly abide by, but that’s in the nature of things: it’s a process, a goal, not a given).

I personally think ‘sermons to die-hard fans’ are significant. They may be full of factual errors and fallacies, but the cards are above board.

Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10)

@Jean P.

Hungary already experienced the Cominform version of a ‘People’s Democracy’. Démocratie populaire could easily turn into démocratie populiste, with the same amount of ‘democracy’ in it – that is, close to nothing – and less and less people.

After all, we’re talking about what was once a kingdom with no king, ruled by an admiral with no Navy.

@Marcel it does not matter what philosophers or political scientists think about the meaning of a term (they disagree anyway). The point is the L word became a symbol. French politicians use it, Americans use it. Germans voted the liberals out of the Bundestag (of course even the most conservative German politician is way more liberal than anybody on the Hungarian scene). All politicians want to symbolize for the average joe is the “bad”, that which we do not want, which goes against the good old way. Of course, in Hungary liberal also means jewish. The political discourse must be tuned to the ears of the average joe, as 9 out of 10 people could not define with their own words what democracy is or rule of law or even a state budget. So 99.9% of the people do not and cannot make distinctions between the liberal in liberal democracy and liberalism as an ideology or philosophy or economic policy. They all sound the same, so it’s the same thing. It’s an alien thing like communism, brought to us – again – by jews, we don’t want it, thank you very much. Obviously politicians need to avoid the term like… Read more »

Hungary ceased to be a democracy after the constitution was abolished on January 1, 2012.

D7 Democrat


“He mentioned for example that the OSI had a recent study about the state of European white working class.”

OSI being one of those *foreign* NGOs he actually criticised in the very same speech which were out to destabilize Mother Hungary!

Perhaps you and others were right to classify the speech as incoherent BS. Along with his paranoia there is an overwhelming inferiority complex which pushes him to push out this kind of nonsense just to prove to the unthinking sheep that their leader is indeed an intellectual to be reckoned with.


Not too much OT – re the weak Germans:

Just in: A majority of Germans favours sanctions against Russia – even if it means the loss of a lot of jobs!

And still 40% are even in favour of Germany going it alone if the other EU members would not agree to stronger sanctions!

Andy - ORBÁN, I cant wait for you to TRIP UP !!!

As ORBÁN said at Tasnádfürdő:: “slágertéma azon rendszerek megértése, amelyek NEM nyugatiak, NEM liberálisok, talán NEM is demokráciák,…” — translated as: ‘in popular terms we are talking about non-Western, non-Liberal and perhaps not even Democratic methods…’
So Orbán makes no bones about talking in non-democratic terms…

His actions of the past 4 years have shown this plentifully. He has not fooled anyone who is the slightest bit observant. Unless of course his cronies wanjt to believe him by any and all means. And many who think they depend on him for benefits want to delude themselves…

Hungary has always had a huge clientele willing to sell their soul and that of their grandmother too to anyone offering the current goodies to be had…

Orban’s Achillees heel is his penchant for overpspending. Mark my words: this will become his eventual downfall. He will trip himself up sooner rather than later and be UNABLE to REPAY his DEBTS.

I am eagerly awaiting the moment he seriously slips up !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


For a long time it has not been about conservatism or liberalism, it is simple about Caesarism.
He can call it illiberal or smarty-party democracy if he wish, in reality he just tries to find a better name for Caesarism, as even in Hungary people have some inclination what is they mean.
For a ling time Fidesz and Jobbik worked very hard (in fact worked hardest above anything else) to install in people that liberal equals communism, a Jewish organization, homosexuals and the rich. When he says illiberal people would associate this with: without communists, Jews, homosexuals, and the rich. THey will line-up to vote for this in big numbers. THis is about appealing to the politically illiterate masses that voted for Orban at the first place. Dumbing down the masses is Orban’s real platform.
As far as the politically literate, who votes for Orban, their vote can be bought, and this is what Orban also doing for the last while.



“I am eagerly awaiting the moment he seriously slips up !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

It doesn’t matter.
Fact is, he’s being supported by an administration, and a coterie, that happily accepts his ‘peccadilloes’ while in the background they suck the value out of the country. (That is, what he hasn’t already taken himself..)

And who can say that Hungarian ‘believers’ don’t deserve it? Have they, at any point, considered that their children and grandchildren will inhabit a country where the chief attribute will be


Here are a few quotations from Mussolini’s speeches proving that Orban is his pupil.

The century of democracy is over (1922)

The history of mankind is the gradual restriction of freedom (1924)

Freedom is not a right (1924)

The foreword to the Hungarian edition was written by Istvan Bethlen, prime minister of Hungary 1921-1931.


London Calling!


Mussolini is more deeply ingrained into Orban’s psyche than most people think.

Apart from Hitler Adolph Her which I have gone on and on endlessly about….

I believe Mussolini was similarly honoured.

I’m on the case!

Does anybody have any information of a Mussolini Benito Korond?

President Thug meets Thug Ultra – the most ‘illiberal’ thug of all, (except when it comes to his own freedoms, of course).




Her should be Ter – google android Tch Tch!


Re Mussolini tér: I have a book on Budapest architecture, published in 1959, with wonderful fold-out maps. So I can see Englel’s tér (Erzsebet tér), Lenin körút (Terez and Erzsebet). Népkötársaság útja (Andrassy) is not shown in it’s entirety–so no Hitler korond. Can find no mention of Mussolini.


gedance: can you seriously imagine that in 1959 in Hungary anything was stilled called Mussolini?

Oktogon was called Mussolini square from 1936-1945. It was celled Oktogon between 1945-1950 when it became 7th of November square until 1990, it is currently Oktogon again.


@Charlie H

Körönd was named after Hitler 1938-1944,
Oktogon after Mussolini, 1936-1944


Not too much OT:

The news on RTL Klub continues to be very different from what you see on “North Korean State TV” aka M1 etc …

Right now RTL had a long report on Zuschlag and then on the Chaos at the Serbian border – seems the Hungarian police was more than stretched to its limits.

Re Orbán’s speech:

I’m waiting for a reaction from the “Decadent Western media”, let’s see what they make out of it.

Does there exist an official translation yet?

D7 Democrat, Good comment overall. You wrote: “Orban has purged the system of clever and intelligent individuals full stop.” Not to nitpick, but I feel that this is an important fallacy employed by the Hungarian democratic elite. Of course Orbán has clever and intelligent people working for him, but they are using their skills mostly for staying in power, not running the country properly. They regularly come up with clever changes to the rules that allow them to suppress opposition to their rule, and they have done a passable job of getting the economy going (mainly, as far as I can tell, by attracting German automobile factories). We keep underestimating their ability to do just enough to keep from being punished by the EU, or at least to portray the EU as unfair and oppressive when they do punish Hungary in some small, symbolic way. There are intelligent people in Fidesz, but they are often overruled, or they have absolutely no morals and are solely concerned with short-term personal gain, after which they can abscond with their stolen wealth to whatever tropical island they like (though I’m sure that even after democracy and the rule of law have returned to… Read more »
Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10)
@Tamas “it does not matter what philosophers or political scientists think about the meaning of a term (they disagree anyway).” I beg to… disagree. For as you wrote yourself, OV does have “supporting intellectual/ eszmetörténész”. So does VP. So does, as a matter of fact, every person holding a high executive position, whether in politics or business. Those people read other thinkers, and they develop concepts. And I agree with googly here: we shouldn’t think that those people are not clever, are not intelligent. Even if we may think very little of them, or their productions. Of course, politics as well as business is a matter of action. Not only might the general public never be aware of the concepts that lay behind the executive measures, but also the productions of the thinking entourage may be betrayed, or adulterated beyond recognition. Moreover, some executives like to surround themselves with people bearing adverse opinions – which is why it may be also important that thinkers disagree. Now, we’ve mentioned before in the comment section of the HS how OV was perpetuating both Horthy and Kádár’s conception of power: giving people some space in their own backyard, in exchange for them leaving… Read more »
D7 Democrat

Googly, on a day to day basis the regime’s operation is shambolic.

Whole ministeries have been purged and filled with people who struggle with basic literacy skills- for example, one of the reasons that the EU has been holding back funding is that applications have been incorrectly filled in. In the foreign ministry and others with direct contact with the EU you will search for a long time to find anyone who can handle a foreign language to even intermediate level.

Similarly with the judiciary- the legal system is now crawling along at a snails’ pace, not because of political reasons but because the new, Fidesz-approved young judges simply haven’t got a clue about basic legal principles. My point is that for Orban’s dream state to be fully recognised, he needs a much better functioning state apparatus but he is not prepared to risk letting qualified “unsafe” people do the job just in case they forment an internal revolution.

I have no doubt that any intelligent Fideszniks which may exist are methodically robbing the country’s coffers but it would be in their and their boss’s better longterm interests to sort out the day to day running of the country first


“Illiterate state” would be more appropriate.

I wonder if the beloved Leader of all Hungarians ever managed to get near enough to a dictionary to read the definitions too, or just fell in love with the word by hearing it only from someone..?

“Definition of illiberal in English:

1.Opposed to liberal principles; restricting freedom of thought or behavior:
illiberal and anti-democratic policies
intolerant, narrow-minded, unenlightened, conservative, reactionary; fundamentalist, puritanical; undemocratic, authoritarian, repressive, totalitarian, despotic, tyrannical, oppressive, draconian, fascist
[ANTONYMS] tolerant progressive

2.(RARE) Uncultured or unrefined.
3.(RARE) Not generous; mean.”

– Actually this is from the Oxford, but you get about the same from the others too.

In my opinion you hardly can have democracy without being liberal, but hey, I don’t really want to further confuse those “innocent” lambs worshipping the new ‘Genius of the Carpathians’, they have a hard time to figure out alternate explanations anyway…