Is Viktor Orbán Right That Liberal Democracy Has Failed? Is Italy Exhibit #1?

2014-08-12 15:43:21
Marco Valerio Lo Prete
Huffington Post
In power since 2010 thanks to a series of electoral victories, he is a controversial figure in Europe because of his reforms.


A similar question was raised recently by Viktor Orbán, the Hungarian prime minister who belongs to the conservative party Fidesz. In power since 2010 thanks to a series of electoral victories, he is a controversial figure in Europe because of his reforms relating to, for example, the autonomy of the Central Bank of Budapest, the independence of the mass media and the penal code. During a rally, Orbán argued that "liberal democratic societies cannot remain globally competitive" because their decision-making mechanisms are anachronistic. As Orbán sees it, the alternative is to build what he calls an "illiberal" democratic state. And this, he posited, is not a personal whim:

"Today, the world tries to understand systems which are not Western, not liberal, maybe not even democracies, yet they are successful." And then he mentioned Singapore, China, Russia and Turkey as examples. But what if such dangerous and incorrect statements hide a kernel of truth?

Recently, Luca Ricolfi, sociologist at the University of Turin, wrote an editorial in the La Stampa newspaper that was critical of the current Renzi government, titled "Who will suffer the consequences of the primacy of politics": "The issue brought up by Orbán about the dysfunction of our democracies is not so politically incorrect," he said. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, for example, has posed the problem of a European continent that has 7 percent of the world population and 25 percent of the GDP, but an unsustainable 50 percent of global welfare spending. The late philosopher Ralph Dahrendorf, he noted, cited the alternative case of Singapore, with its model of soft authoritarianism and economic success. Ricolfi also wondered about the capacity of our political systems to integrate economic development, social cohesion and democracy and still be able to make decisions.

Having said that, Ricolfi "doubts" those who bring up this issue from a "political standpoint" and argue that "an authoritarian approach may look like an attempt to limit personal freedoms."

He continued: "There is, however, another approach to this issue, that of liberal Kenneth Minogue, for example," which contains lessons that fit Italy's case to a greater extent. In this light, "modern states have become oppressive for the excessive quantities of tasks that they have taken upon themselves and for their overuse of legislation. This is the model of continental Europe, and in this field Italy has definitely done its homework, unfortunately even more than required."

For Ricolfi, the situation has reached the point where it is impossible to undertake reforms:

"Seeking consensus at any cost is paralyzing our democracies. That is also the case, at the EU level, of the common foreign policy or any choice regarding the single currency. In Italy, we experience merely a difference in degree, not a qualitative difference of this fundamental problem."

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