Friday 5 November 2021

Crisis, Pandemics, and Right-Wing Populism: The Political Economy of Authoritarian Neoliberalism (Historical Materialism Annual Conference, 2021)

Abstract: Morbid symptoms: The political economy of authoritarian neoliberalism

Since the 2008-9 global financial and economic crisis liberal democracy has been facing increasing challenges around the world. From the strangling of progressive governments in the semi-periphery of the EU (e.g. Greece, Portugal, Spain), through the Brexit vote in the UK, to the governments of Donald Trump, Viktor Orbán and Jair Bolsonaro in the US, Hungary and Brazil respectively, the retreat of liberal democracy has led to the deepening of austerity measures, the ascendancy of ‘authoritarianism’ and ‘illiberalism’, and the growing racialisation or ethnicization of class inequalities across the world. In response to these dark developments, a number of progressive scholars and activists have in recent years introduced the concept of ‘authoritarian neoliberalism’ to describe a qualitative shift in state-market relations, characterised by attempts to construct a legal and constitutional framework designed to disenfranchise subordinate groups or populations by rendering democratic institutions marginal to the political decision-making process, while moving neoliberal policies beyond the domain of popular contestation (cf. Bruff 2014, 2016; Bruff & Tansel 2019; Fabry 2019; Kiely 2017; Tansel 2017). The aim of this panel is to engage with the growing literature on ‘authoritarian neoliberalism’ by interrogating the theoretical, methodological and empirical usefulness of the concept. To fulfil this objective, the contributions to this panel will analyse a range of case studies in the centrum and semi-periphery of global capitalism that might be considered to occupy the forefront of authoritarian neoliberalism from a critical, interdisciplinary perspective.


Adam Fabry, (Universidad Nacional De Chilecito, Argentina);

Berch Berberoglu, (University Of Nevada, Reno, United States);

Attila Antal, (Eötvös Loránd University, Hungary);

Dr Noemi Lendvai-Bainton, (University Of Bristol, Uk);

Paul Stubbs, (Institute Of Economics, Zagreb, Croatia);

Hernán Ramirez, (Universidade Do Vale Do Rio Dos Sinos, Brasil)

The 2008 global financial crisis did not lead to the ‘end of neoliberalism'. Instead, we have since then seen the deepening of austerity measures, the increasing commodification of the commons, the ascendancy of 'authoritarian' and ‘illiberal’ political parties and state practices, and the growing racialisation or ethnicisation of class inequalities across the world. One of the most conspicuous examples of these dark developments is provided by the Orbán regime in Hungary. Drawing on the works of Antonio Gramsci (1973) and Stuart Hall (1979, 1980, 1985), as well as more recent writings on the contested relationship between neoliberalism and democracy (Berberoglu 2020; Bruff 2014, 2016; Dardot and Laval 2013, 2019; Davidson and Saull 2017; Kiely 2017; Tansel 2017), this paper argues that what has been dubbed as the ‘illiberal revolution’ (Krastev 2018) in Hungary and elsewhere in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) is a symptom of a wider shift towards 'authoritarian neoliberalism' (Bruff 2014, 2016; Tansel 2017). This turn is characterised by the fusion of radical right-wing populism and the deepening of neoliberal policies and practices (often against economic rationality) through coercive and/or legal measures by governments (Antal 2019; Fabry 2019). The paper principally concentrates on the relationship between authoritarianism and neoliberalism in Hungary under the Orbán regime, with a particular emphasis on developments since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, but also presents some illustrative examples from other countries in CEE to reflect on broader trends toward authoritarian neoliberalism in the region.