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Since much of the coming contest on the right will be a battle over terminology, let me begin by offering brief and generally accepted definitions of the key terms at issue.“Liberal democracy” is the most common way of labeling the form of government that has long prevailed in the United States and Western Europe, and that since the mid-1970s many countries throughout the world have tried to establish.One of the biggest challenges to democracy today is posed by the dramatic change in the political-party landscape, especially in Europe but in some other parts of the world as well.
To compound the confusion, in Europe the term liberal has been applied to parties that support the free market and a more limited role for government.
Moreover, especially outside the United States, figures on the left pin the label of “neoliberalism” on those they regard as too friendly to market capitalism.
These days, however, virtually every new round of elections indicates that this longstanding pattern of dominance by the center-left and center-right is losing its hold.
Although the United States and Britain, with their first-past-the-post electoral systems, have so far resisted this trend, it can be observed in numerous countries in Europe and Latin America.
By seeking to embrace democracy and at the same time to jettison liberalism, Orbán is blazing a trail that he hopes to lure others on the right to follow.
It is useful to review the strange history of the term “illiberal democracy” in order to understand how Orbán has tried to wield it for his own purposes.
Democracy and liberalism may be understood as addressing two different questions: , by contrast, prescribes not how rulers are chosen but what the limits to their power are once they are in office.
These limits, which are ultimately designed to protect the rights of the individual, demand the rule of law and are usually set forth in a written constitution (hence “constitutional democracy” sometimes serves as an alternative term for liberal democracy).
The distinction between the liberal and the democratic aspects of liberal democracy has long been a topic of scholarly discussion, but the term “illiberal democracy” is not so old.
It was first introduced by Fareed [End Page 7] Zakaria in 1997, in an influential article that he wrote for Zakaria argued that in the past virtually all modern democracies were liberal democracies.