Fudan Journal of the Humanities and Social Sciences

, Volume 11, Issue 3, pp 323–339 | Cite as

Is There Such Thing as ‘Populist Constitutionalism’? The Case of Hungary

  • Gábor Halmai
Original Paper


The paper deals with recent deviations from the shared values of constitutionalism towards a kind of ‘populist, illiberal constitutionalism’ introduced by Hungary’s new constitution in 2011. The populism of FIDESZ was directed against all elites, including the ones that designed the 1989 constitutional system (in which FIDESZ also participated), claiming that it was time for a new revolution. This is why PM Viktor Orbán characterized the results of the 2010 elections as a ‘revolution of the ballot boxes’. His intention with this revolution was to eliminate all checks and balances, and even the parliamentary rotation of governing parties. His vision for a new constitutional order—one in which his political party occupies the centre stage of Hungarian political life and puts an end to debates over values—has now been entrenched in the new constitution. The paper argues that this current Hungarian constitutional system was made possible by FIDESZ’ anti-pluralist nationalist populism, but is not necessarily based on a true commitment to expressing the will of the people via ‘illiberal constitutionalism’. The populist government rather misuses the country’s lack of constitutional culture. Adherence to constitutional patriotism would mean that FIDESZ would have to endorse what John Rawls once called ‘constitutional essentials’. The core of this kind of constitutional patriotism is a constitutional culture centred on universalist liberal democratic norms and values. Instead, the current Hungarian constitutional system is confronted with unconstitutional patriotism, a kind of nationalism that violates constitutional essentials in the name of ‘national constitutional identity’.


Populism Constitutionalism Illiberal democracy Hungary East-Central Europe 


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Copyright information

© Fudan University 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.European University InstituteFlorenceItaly

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