The Constitution of Illiberal Democracy as a Theory About Society
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Central European University
Publication date: 2019-12-12
Polish Sociological Review 2019;208(4):395-412
Relying on Grażyna Skąpska’s theory of the constitution as a theory of the society, the paper considers the ‘theory of the society’ provided by the constitutions (public law) of illiberal political regimes, applying a sociolegal perspective. Illiberal democracies are understood as electorally endorsed regimes produced by populism. The present paper concentrates on EU member states, using Hungarian examples. The constitution is understood as a symbolic order with a vision of society that changes social and political realities. The paper argues that illiberal constitutions do not need to depart from mainstream liberal constitutions, notwithstanding the strong nationalist element. The constitutional reality is mostly sub-constitutional and it operates at the level of statutes. The emerging political structure is based on the primacy of the executive branch which in turn serves personalistic rule in the tradition of Weberian Caesarism. The rule is centralistic and creates and consolidates social, cultural and economic dependencies. Following Szelényi and Max Weber, this traditionalist, and therefore antiliberal society (or the selection of these social structures among competing formations by the political management of the society) is described in terms of neo-feudalism. The emerging social relations are reflected in and enabled by public law. The illiberalism of the regimes is not imposed on society and it is greeted as liberation by a considerable part. This genuine sentiment, together with electoral and media manipulation is capable to sustain the illiberal personalistic regime through formally democratic processes.
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