Jan-Werner Müller is a Professor of Politics at Princeton. His books include What Is Populism? and Contesting Democracy: Political Ideas in Twentieth-Century Europe.
 (April 2018)


Homo Orbánicus

Viktor Orbán

Orbán: Hungary’s Strongman

by Paul Lendvai
Orbán: Hungary’s Strongman serves as a useful overview of Hungarian history since the fall of communism—after all, Viktor Orbán has been central to the country’s development since at least the late-1990s, when he was first elected prime minister. Paul Lendvai portrays him as ruthless, absolutely relentless in the pursuit of power, and, on many occasions, outright vengeful.


What Cold War Liberalism Can Teach Us Today

Isaiah Berlin, 1980s

Liberalism is in crisis, we’re told, assailed on left and right by rising populists and authoritarians. The center cannot hold, they say. But if liberal democracy itself is under threat of collapse because of this weakened center, why are the great defenders of the “open society” such as Isaiah Berlin, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., Karl Popper, and Raymond Aron so little invoked?

Italy: The Bright Side of Populism?

Italy's Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio, of the left-wing Five Star Movement, and Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, of the right-wing Northern League, during the swearing-in ceremony of the new government led by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, Quirinale Palace, Rome, June 1, 2018

In Europe, liberal democracy is being attacked by left-wing and right-wing populists simultaneously. As developments in Spain—where a new government also came into power last week—show, this impression is misleading. Some of the new left-wing parties in southern Europe are signs not of a deepening crisis of representative democracy, but of a possible solution to that crisis. Whether that outcome will hold for Italy very much depends on the Five Star Movement, a still unknown and, in many ways, unprecedented entity founded on a complete rejection of both political parties and professional media as means to connect electorates and politics.

Hungary: The War on Education

Riot police blocking people protesting the law aiming to close the Central European University (CEU) near the Fidesz Party headquarters, Budapest, April 9, 2017

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, long a pioneer in anti-liberal government in Europe and an admirer of Donald Trump, is making a wager that a crackdown on universities is the latest addition to the increasingly sophisticated repertoire of right-wing populism—with implications that go far beyond Hungary’s borders.

Austria: The Lesson of the Far Right

On one side of the new conflict are those who advocate more openness: toward minorities at home and toward engagement with the world on the outside. On the other side we find the Le Pens, Farages, and Trumps: close the nation-state off by shutting borders and thereby, or so they promise, take back control; but also, preserve the traditional hierarchies that have come under threat on the inside.

Behind the New German Right

Supporters of the anti-immigration right-wing movement Pegida (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West) carry versions of the Imperial War Flag (Reichskriegsflagge) during a demonstration march, in reaction to mass assaults on women on New Year's Eve in Cologne, Germany, January 9, 2016

The rhetoric of the rapidly growing Alternative for Germany party and its supporters indicates a potentially profound shift in German political culture: it is now possible to be an outspoken nationalist without being associated with—or, for that matter, without having to say anything about—the Nazi past.

The Problem with Poland

Jarosław Kaczyński, leader of Poland's main opposition Law and Justice Party (PiS) speaks during the final pre-election convention in Warsaw, October 7, 2011

In 2011, Jarosław Kaczyński, the leader of Poland’s right-wing Law and Justice Party (known as PiS), announced he wanted to create “Budapest in Warsaw.” Since his party’s resounding election victory in October, the conservative politician has kept his promise. The new Law and Justice government has done everything it can to emulate the authoritarian course of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán: already, it has attacked the constitutional court, undermined Poland’s independent civil service, and set out to bring the public media under government control.

Orbán’s Rhetoric: An Exchange

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, Vienna, September 25, 2015

Réka Szemerkényi, Ambassador of Hungary to the United States: Jan-Werner Müller paints a rather distorted picture of Hungary. While everyone is free in their particular selection of quotes and personal interpretations, factual correctness is not a matter of choice. Jan-Werner Müller: Ambassador Szemerkényi claims that my piece contains factual errors, but then fails to identify any. Instead, she attributes an argument to me that I did not make.