Wednesday 29 September 2021

2021 APSA Annual Meeting: Neoliberalization from the Monarchy to the COVID-19 Crisis in Hungary

Wed, September 29, 6:00 to 7:30am PDT (3:00 to 4:30pm CEST)


Electoral Effects of COVID-19 on Incumbents at Local and National levels (Olga Onuch, Henry E. Hale, Gwendolyn Sasse)

Subnational Response to the COVID Pandemic in Argentina (Jacqueline Behrend, Ximena Simpson)

COVID-19 and Political Support in Russia: Evidence from an Online Panel Survey (Margarita Zavadskaya)

This paper seeks to explore the historical and political theoretical origins of neoliberalization in Hungary. Such an oversimplification has been debated here which argues that the starting point of the neoliberalism is the regime change period of the late 1980s and early 1990s. In fact, the neoliberalism is an embedded phenomenon in Hungary with a long and tragic history. This explains the fact that the contemporary authoritarian Orbán regime has easily found the way of wrapping neoliberalism in a nationalist framework. The neoliberalization of the higher education and health system has started before the COVID-19 crisis and has been accelerated during the pandemic. What I am trying to do here is the deep political theoretical reconstruction of never ending neoliberalization.

It has been argued here there were five main eras of neoliberalization in Hungary in the 20th and 21st century. (1) First, I am put an emphasize on the early theoretical origins and antecedents of neoliberalism in the framework of Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Habsburg Empire was one of the main cradles of neoliberalism, as Quinn Slobodian argues: “It traces neoliberal globalism as an intellectual project that began in the ashes of the Habsburg Empire…” (2018: 13.). The main players in this field were Friedrich A. Hayek, moreover Ludwig von Mises, who belonged to the Vienna Circle and maintained the neoliberal ideas. It is to say that the views of neoliberalism on globalization also rooted in the Central European perspective, because after the fall of Austro-Hungarian Empire “it was Central European neoliberals who most consistently looked at the world as a whole” (Slobodian, 2018: 9.). (2) The next chapter is about the neoliberalization during the Communist era. Adam Fabry argues and proves in his book convincingly that “the origins of Hungary’s neoliberal transformation preceded the formal transition to a market economy and parliamentary democracy in 1989–1990 and need to be understood as part of a wider restructuring of the capitalist world economy from the early 1970s onwards. As such, neoliberal ideas and practices were not simply imported ‘from the West’ after the ‘regime change’ but emerged ‘organically’ in Hungarian society” (Fabry, 2017: 3.). As Johanna Bockman and Gil Eyal argues very sharply, there was an exchange of ideas on neoliberalism: “the roots of this rapid and strong embrace of neoliberalism reside in a transnational network composed of both American and East European economists” (Bockman – Eyal, 2002: 311). (3) During the Eastern European regime changes what has been evolved is the “unconditional neoliberalization”, which has been called by Dorothee Bohle & Béla Greskovits as “embedded neoliberalism. This means that the “social protection has increasingly lost its former purpose and institutional underpinnings and become ‘subordinated to the overriding objective of neoliberal competitiveness’” (Bohle – Greskovits, 2007: 445.). (4) During the 1990s and early 2000s the Hungarian economic and political system has constantly been integrated to the new neoliberal world order and the liberal and conservative elite made a compromise upon the case of the semi-peripherical Hungarian integration into the European Union. (5) This agreement has been crashed first by the economic and financial crisis of 2008/2009 and then the authoritarian turn of the Orbán regime by 2010. The authoritarian populism set the history of Hungarian neoliberalization on a new level (Antal, 2019). The authoritarian nature of neoliberalism has been strengthened to an unprecedent extent due to the parallel authoritarianization of the Hungarian state. The COVID-19 crisis has unfolded in this situation and the politics of permanent state of exception has become the main tool of Hungarian authoritarian neoliberalism.

Antal, Attila (2019): The Rise of Hungarian Populism: State Autocracy and the Orbán Regime. Emerald Publishing.
Bohle, Dorothee – Greskovits, Béla (2007) Neoliberalism, embedded neoliberalism and neocorporatism: Towards transnational capitalism in Central-Eastern Europe. West European Politics, 30:3, 443-466,
Bockman, Johanna, and Gil Eyal (2002): Eastern Europe as a Laboratory for Economic Knowledge: The Transnational Roots of Neoliberalism. American Journal of Sociology 108, no. 2 (2002): 310-352.
Fabry, Adam (2019): The Political Economy of Hungary: From State Capitalism to Authoritarian Neoliberalism. Palgrave.
Slobodian, Quinn (2018). Globalists: The end of empire and the birth of neoliberalism. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.