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"The Hungarians" don't claim Hunnic descent; the relatively small pre-Orbán far-right claims that. (Orbán's own far-right is more of an import of the US alt-right, with not much focus on ethnic origins.) It was a popular claim in the middle ages, in line with how other countries tried to bolster their pedigrees at the time. Today, the theory popular on the wider right (but unpopular in academia) partially originates Hungarians from Pannonian Avars, who lived in the area some two hundred years after the Huns.

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Because while in Western democracies nobody has, as yet, tried the full panoply of Orban's tricks, one or the other of them has been used. As has been pointed out - giving spoils to your college chums? Cronyism? Jobs for the boys? This is not a uniquely Hungarian problem.

Control of the press? In the heyday of the Tories, it was Rupert Murdoch (an opportunist who changes citizenship and support to a particular political party as he changes his shirts) who used one of his tabloid newspapers, "The Sun", to push an anti-Labour and pro-Tory agenda, in the end boasting after the 1992 general election, "It's The Sun Wot Won It":

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/It%27s_The_Sun_Wot_Won_It

The same here in Ireland during the 90s when one national newspaper was very pro-one of our parties and used its influence to do down the opposition party.

Gerrymandering? Allegations of voter suppression/vote fraud? Again, not uniquely Hungarian.

Changing the Constitution to suit your own special interests? We've had several referenda in my country, since you can only change the constitution by that means, where activist groups pushed and pushed for change and got it.

Then there's ruling by the courts to extract from the Constitution what some might question was never in it - emanations of penumbras, so to speak.

Orban may be going the full nine yards, but it's not as if "perfectly democratic" countries haven't gone down at least part of the same path, for the same reasons, via the same means.

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But I think it makes sense to take a diagnostic view of what constitutes a dictatorship. There's a reason psychologists don't diagnose people with mental disorders just for having 1-2 symptoms from the diagnostic checklist; if they did, literally *everyone* would be considered mentally ill in some way. But if someone has 7-8 symptoms from a 10 symptom checklist, then it's probably safe to say they have the disorder in question.

Likewise, if you count any nation-state with 1-2 "symptoms" of autocracy to be a dictatorship, then yes, you won't find a single government on Earth that *isn't* dictatorial. But what makes the regime in Hungary different from the U.S. or Ireland or Germany is that it doesn't just have 1-2 autocratic elements, it has a whole slew of them.

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Yeah, I'm not saying Orban is a democrat. I am saying that the rest of us may not have perfectly pure, unsullied, clean hands democracies either. If we're going to condemn Orban for blatant "making my pals rich", there's a ton of politicians in all the Western countries as well who should be nervously shuffling their feet and looking down.

Orban is shaping the country to keep himself in power. But other countries have a lot of things they're kicking under the bed, as well.

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I think you're basically arguing the Nirvana fallacy at this point. I've skipped out on feeding the meter and engaged in other petty crimes in my life, but that doesn't mean I lose the right to pass moral judgement on Richard Ramirez- for that matter, neither does a purse-snatcher.

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The comments on this post seem to have attracted some very right wing folks, even more than the normal collection of fringe views. I wonder if its been shared elsewhere

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Perhaps you could demonstrate your claim with some positive spin on Hungary's richest man, Lőrinc Mészáros, who had little money 15 years ago. Don't forget to explain that his old friend Viktor Orban wasn't involved.

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this was quite overblown - Fidesz made a rule which affected foreign operated universities (and was admittedly aimed at CEU). That said, George Soros is quite unpopular around central Europe and he did so through democratic means, so it can be hardly called dictatorial.

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In what sense was the CEU “forced out of the country”? They still operate in Budapest and accept students there: https://www.ceu.edu/campus

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Certainly not the *most* dictatorial thing. E.g. half a year ago, he "privatized" two-thirds of Hungarian universities - and by privatized I mean, gave them away for free, to his loyal henchmen, in a legal construct that would require a two-thirds majority to undo.

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> half a year ago, he "privatized" two-thirds of Hungarian universities - and by privatized I mean, gave them away for free, to his loyal henchmen, in a legal construct that would require a two-thirds majority to undo.

That sounds like a terrible scandal, can you provide a source in English or Hungarian?

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In English: https://www.ft.com/content/18bad232-860d-4a2a-bd57-b180afcfaa75

In Hungarian: https://444.hu/2021/04/27/megszavazta-a-parlament-hogy-alapitvanyokba-szervezzek-ki-a-kozvagyont

It would probably be a terrible scandal, had the Hungarian public still any endurance to pay attention amidst what had been a multi-year sequence of non-stop scandals. (E.g. this week's news is the government setting a gasoline price cap that's slightly below the market price for gasoline, so gas station owners now lose about $0.1 on every litre of gas, having to sell it for that much less than they are buying it. They are required by law to continue selling it; if gas is unavailable at your has station continuously for more then two days, the government takes the station away from you and gives it to someone else to operate.)

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He's not a dictator for defending his country's borders, he's a dictator for everything he did in part III of this review.

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Orbán's government just made a law that Hungarian companies are allowed to do the exact same thing, by the way.

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I meant vaccination. I am not 100% caught up on US politics at the moment, is it already at the point where the company gets fined if they employ people without vaccination?

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Hoo boy. Very much so. $14k a pop I think for each unvaccinated worker.

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I would say (if I remember right) giving himself the power to amend the constitution freely, giving himself the right to fire any public servant, and making education workers public servants so they can’t protest against him is worse.

We could ask 100 teachers, nurses, cops, etc whether they would prefer a forced vaccine or the president having the ability to fire them (or their boss, so same thing) for speaking against them. I would guess the majority would be against the latter more.

But would the majority of anti-vaccine be against the latter? I’m unsure.

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The government actually being in charge of the bureaucracy is a good thing.

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Yeah, kind of? Supreme Court declared mandatory vaccination constitutional in 1905, which is well before I think it can be accused of becoming an apologist for dictatorship.

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Using mandatory vaccines to stop the spread of diseases that kill people is squarely within the spirit of the law.

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The essence of dictatorship is not whether the government's own courts sign off on something, otherwise there'd be no dictatorships at all. It's about governments dictating to people what they can and cannot do to a degree well beyond what is considered reasonable, necessary or appropriate. Forced vaccinations are absolutely none of those things, therefore, they are a dictatorial thing to do.

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No, the essence of dictatorship is the completely dominant power of the dictator's personal will. The original "dictatorship" was a Roman institution where an individual was given vast and sweeping emergency powers with absolutely no checks and balances (intentionally).

The fact that you don't like some policy that the government does, doesn't make it a dictatorship.

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I don't see how your definition is any different to mine? What "checks and balances" exist in the USA against vaccine mandates, exactly? As far as I'm aware it wasn't voted on by Congress, has been reviewed by no courts, is unjustifiable via any sort of logic, was not an announced policy during the election campaign (or was it?), and is being implemented entirely via executive order. Which makes it an expression of the completely dominant power of the President's personal will.

Note that dictators don't have to be dictators-for-life and often aren't. Dictatorships are defined by the ability of the leader to force the population to do whatever they want, not longevity of individuals.

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How many people have to consider a thing unreasonable before it becomes dictatorial?

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Wow!

It turns out, all civil societies are dictatorships!

We live in the blasted lands, where I can't even shoot heroin while driving the wrong way down the street firing my M32 into the nearest McDonalds for taking the beef fat out of their fry oil!

Where's the freedom, dude?

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😔

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I highly recommend reading more into the history of public health mandates, beyond Jacobson vs. Massachusetts. The best paper I've seen on the topic is the following: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3906452

Basically, the 1905 ruling only permitted very narrow means of enforcement - a fine for noncompliance - in emergency situations. The current state of the law of public health mandates rests not primarily on Jacobson, but a series of other decisions, including one endorsing forcible sterilizations ("three generations of idiots is enough", if you recognize that iconic phrase).

So the history of U.S. law around mandatory vaccination is probably more closely tied to human rights abuses than you think. (I say all this as someone who thinks people should get the vaccine.)

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I would push back on that characterization. The early 20th Century isn't exactly a high water mark for liberalism on the Supreme Court. Jacobson is... problematic, to say the least, and the only reason why it still exists as precedent at all is that it provides a convenient fig leaf judges can hide behind while refusing to hold state and local governments accountable to the Constitution.

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Government-funded propaganda, for example. Forced vaccination isn't used to create an uneven playing field for subsequent elections. Regardless of etymology, dictatorship is normally used as an antonym of democracy, and democracy is normally used to include representative democracy.

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How does that create an uneven playing field? The punishment for not getting vaccinated doesn't include losing the right to vote, does it? (If anything, forcing those Republicans to get vaccinated means fewer of them will die before the next election, but that's likely too small an effect to matter.)

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I don't really see how Orban qualifies as a dictator. Even with the absurdly gerrymandered electoral system and the corrupt influence buying, Hungary is still a democracy and Orban is still a democratically elected head of state. To my mind, the line separating democracies from dictatorships is whether or not a majority of the people can vote out the party/leader in power, and whether or not people can openly campaign against the party/leader in power without being arrested or murdered. Both things are still pretty clearly true in Hungary. If Orban were to rig an election or violently repress his opposition, he would hop right over that line, but I don't think even his harshest critics have claimed that he's done that yet.

All democracies exist on a spectrum from more-or-less gerrymandered and more or less corrupt, but even the ones at the extreme end of the spectrum are still in fact a democracy.

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I know nothing about Orban, but am amused by Modi being called a dictator. Did these people know nothing of India in the past 70 years?!

It was also interesting that the book on Modi reviewed here had decided apriori that Modi was a genocidal murderer and that if the Supreme Court said there was no evidence, it could only be because the court made "a controversial decision"!

This in a time when the all-powerful actual dictator Sonia Gandhi, who saw in him a future political opponent, had hounded him for 12 years with no evidence. And in 1984, her party actually led a pogrom against Sikhs. With tons of evidence.

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Yeah, if anything Modi has done a lot more than the opposition at keeping Democracy intact.

The Press is still free. Hell, they are overwhelmingly negative towards Modi. Now he counters that using social media platforms, but that's just good politics.

The Courts are still free. They have routinely given judgements that go against Modi, and many times strengthened aspects of the constitution that they felt was under threat.

The elections are the freest they have been in India. Gone are the days of Booth capture and even the most remote towns have accessible voting. Hell, India has a more robust set of parties at the state level than were tolerated by the Congress.

While Modi does use majoritarian rhetoric, but his policies have continued to benefit minorities either directly [1] or indirectly [2] via economic handouts. The most-muslim state of India gets 10x the funding per capita of any other state [3]

Modi is also held accountable within his own party organization. The organization is brutally meritocratic, where underperforming leaders are quickly reshuffled and if his popularity drops, then Modi will be replaced just as quickly. (Yogi is already clawing at his heels). Modi also doesn't have any Children, so nepotism is out of the picture.

Many young and highly educated politicians have been joining the BJP (Scindia Harvard/Stanford grad), and leaving the Congress because the structure of that party is far more dictatorial. (More monarchical, but whatever). Similarly, many Congress veterans are similarly abandoning the party due to disillusionment from the high command. (See Punjab CM : Amrinder Singh. Best friend of Rajiv Gandhi leaving due to disillusionment from his son Rahul). This is not what squashing your opposition looks like.

Modi has many real issues as a leader of a democratic nation. His IAS aides are often incompetent and he still has an expert sourcing problem because of the image issues. Economics in particular has been lackluster and the biggest moves have led to bigger disasters. 2020-2021 has actually been amazing policy wise. So, I have my fingers crossed for some positive growth. Afterall, in a nation as poor as India, that is all that matters.

[1]: https://theprint.in/india/more-muslims-govt-scholarships-modi-govt-congress-upa/308154/

[2]: https://theprint.in/india/modi-govt-announces-27-reservation-for-obcs-10-quota-for-ews-in-medical-dental-courses/705935/

[3]: https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/JampK-gets-10-of-Central-funds-with-only-1-of-population/article14506264.ece

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West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata basically threw out the communist party there that was in power for over 3 decades, but used the same strategies - preventing voters from the other side (say, certain caste Hindus) from voting. Actually what they'd do is create a riot in certain Hindu neighborhoods. And provide safe passage to her voters : typically Muslim voters and certain caste Hindu voters.

If you wonder why there's so much violence in West Bengal on election day, this is it ..

Over 25 years ago, the Congress party (and really all parties) would do "booth-capturing" en masse, particularly in the state of Bihar. Their thugs would capture booths and stamp ballot papers as they wished.

T.N. Seshan (election commissioner) and electronic voting machines put an end to it. He had the right to bring in the army and was incredibly bold.

Mamata has been running a military style totalitarian govt. She basically created her own street armies.

Election violence in India happens only in the state of West Bengal now.

Communists pioneered these techniques and they believe so much in what they do that they justify their violence. So, this used to be bad in Kerala too, the other communist run state in India.

After T.N.Seshan shone a light on and cleaned up all of Indian elections, they have been real. Except West Bengal - police there works as thugs for Mamata.

The way BJP has been making inroads in to WB is to bring in their own thugs and say we will watch this street, so no riots can be started here.

Former election commissioner T.N. Seshan has to be one of the greatest Indians of all time. The EVM has been a huge success too.

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2020-21 has been amazing policy-wise? Do you mean the policies that put us at the lowest growth in almost the entire world? Presumably not. So what's the policy that's been so amazing as to counter the truly monumental mess ups they made with respect to lock down?

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You already had this debate in the comment section of that post - are you going to come to every post in the series to complain about Modi being called a dictator in a previous entry?

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I might, if it seems relevant. My point is, it is relative. He was preceeded by hard-core dictators..

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It's not relevant to the subject of this blogpost, though, is my point. You're just piggy-backing on someone else who is actually talking about the subject of this blogpost ("to what extent is Orban a dictator?") in order to continue complaining about something you didn't like about the previous post.

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Maybe you're right. I shall cease and desist.

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I'd like to take a moment to applaud your willingness to do that -- dropping a topic you feel strongly about is pretty hard to do, and is not something I see very often in discussion threads here or elsewhere.

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Neither of them are dictators. They are just very naughty boys.

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It is possible for an underdog enemy of one dictator to come to power and establish their own. Which is not to say that's what I think happened with Modi, as far as I'm aware I think him losing power in an election is still possible.

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What do you think of benevolent dictatorships, like in Singapore? They limit speech a little.

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I don't know that much about Singaporean politics, so instead I'll just point to what Bryan Caplan has written about it: https://www.econlib.org/archives/2013/01/democracy_in_si_1.html

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Great link. Thanks.

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If I were born in Singapore, I'd be bankrupt from defending myself from libel lawsuits by the government.

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> It was also interesting that the book on Modi reviewed here had decided apriori that Modi was a genocidal murderer and that if the Supreme Court said there was no evidence, it could only be because the court made "a controversial decision"!

Am I parsing your comment wrong? The book on Modi reviewed here was extremely favorable to Modi

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That is so interesting! I viewed it as promoting the usual "What about 2002?"

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You're parsing my comment correctly. I just saw the review as negative!

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You make a good point, and a lot of political scientists have been groping for some way to describe Orban's regime - "illiberal democracy" and "mafia state" have both been mooted.

But a few points. First, if a majority of people voted against Orban, he would still win handily from the gerrymandering, the ethnic-Hungarians-abroad vote, and the possible voter fraud, and the laws favoring his party and causes would still be in the Constitution and require opponents to win by 2/3 to repeal. So I think it would take something like 80 - 90% of Hungarians voting against him to change policy very much.

Second, yes, you can campaign against him, but the media will just ignore you and nobody will know you exist - the books gave some good examples of this. You can campaign against Putin in Russia - you can campaign against Erdogan in Turkey. I think one of the big stories of the late 20th early 21st century is that traditional "dictatorship" is less stable and valuable for leaders than some kind of hybrid regime that keeps the trappings of democracy, and there's a spectrum from perfectly functional democracy to total sham democracy which might as well be a dictatorship. Orban goes pretty hard to the sham side, and he's better at it than other leaders (ie he maintains the same low chance of ever getting voted out while having fewer bright line violations of the rituals of democracy).

Without wanting to claim I can draw a bright line here, I think he's a valuable target for this book club in the sense of learning about things that I don't want to have happen to democratic countries.

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First off, you're right, I forgot that the the current gerrymandering means that some possible majorities wouldn't be able to vote him out. But some majorities still could, which I think keeps Hungary over the line, albeit barely.

And I don't think the media ignoring you really matters here. It seems like media has never been less important for electoral campaigning/coalition building/policy debate, it's more like background entertainment while the real action happens on social media. I don't see how a corrupt media is any more or less important than a corrupt civil service or a corrupt industrial ownership class.

As for the comparison with Putin/Erdogan, and their electoral management, I don't think the comparison holds water. Putin has killed, attempted to kill, and jailed multiple electoral opponents. Erdogan has multiple political frenemies who've decided that it would probably be best if they didn't live in Turkey anymore for their own safety, and just a few years ago there were tanks rolling in the streets of Istanbul while jets flew overhead as some kind of real/fake "coup" was staged. Orban hasn't done anything close to that.

Overall though, I do agree that Orban is a worthy inclusion in this series for the reasons you laid out. I just still object to him being referred to as a dictator.

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If the US is any guide, the regular media provides the raw materials for social media. Someone writes an article somewhere, be it CNN or Townhall, and that gets posted on social media to "prove" one side or the other. The right went nuts about a NY Post article being censored.

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There definitely are still independent newspapers in Hungary, ie 24.hu now that index.hu was bought by an Orban friend, and explicitly leftist papers, ie 444.hu

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Those are news sites, "newspapers" as a printed medium are almost exclusively under Orbánist control by now.

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Hmmmm. Fair point, and I suppose something I simply wouldn't notice in a mostly left wing Budapest environment.

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Can you not get news from foreign networks there, like Der Speigel or Reuters or something? I mean, sure, it might be a bad situation overall to have consolidated control of dead tree newspapers in the hands of one not so scrupulous political faction, but Hungary is a small country floating in a see of independent media companies in Europe.

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A 100% majority would be an infeasibly high bar. I suppose US presidential elections where no party gets to gerrymander electoral votes seems better in comparison.

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They certainly *have* gerrymandered electoral votes, back when states were still being admitted to the Union, this is one reasonable perspective on the Missouri Compromise et sequens.

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True, but they can't just do that at will when they feel like it.

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I think you underestimate the power of traditional mass media when there isn't much opposition. I am not ready to defend any claims about younger people (I would expect them to be somewhat affected on average) but elderly people often tend to watch TV a lot and be affected by it a lot.

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>And I don't think the media ignoring you really matters here. It seems like media has never been less important for electoral campaigning/coalition building/policy debate, it's more like background entertainment while the real action happens on social media.

I doubt that.

In the political context I know best - Germany - media play a huge role for the political debate and for elections.

I looked up some figures (all for Germany) for the general dimensions: sinking number of printed daily newspapers: from roughly 20 million printed copies daily to 12 million in 2021. At the same time 13 + x million reading newspapers online daily. The association of newspaper publishers claims that newspapers daily reach ¾ of the german-speaking population. The two main TV evening news in public television got an average of 12 million viewers (first programme) and 4 million (second programme) daily in 2020. 35 million listen to the radio daily – though this need not be related to news. Overall population in Germany over 14 years: 72 million.

Compared to social media: Regarding Twitter in Germany, I found the following information: 3,6 million use Twitter at least once a week – other sources mention 5 million active Twitter users/ month or 12 million registered accounts. 14 million use Instagram and 19 million use FB at least once a week. Note, that while the figures above were ‘daily’ the social media figures refer to ‘at least once a week’, and more importantly, this is for all kind of topics, with news & politics probably less prominent than other fields of interest. Btw. 5% of Germans > 14 years say they read a blog at least once a week.

No ambition to be precise, rather to show general dimensions.

I'm even a bit surprised by the high numbers of traditional media use. However, their overall importance seems evident.

I guess this is different in different countries, but I doubt that ‘social media is so important, forget about media’ is a realistic description in most.

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The vast majority of the people (myself included) still get most of their political information from traditional media.

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"It seems like media has never been less important for electoral campaigning/coalition building/policy debate" That may have been correct 5 years ago in the US, but then the media made itself relevant again by leaning on big tech to suppress all political dissent that the media dislike. Looks like democracies will continue to be largely ruled by media and tech elites until the centralized corporate social media platforms are replaced with decentralized free and open source software.

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I agree that allowing expatriates to vote is not a great idea, which is why I don't support efforts to extend the franchise in my own country:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Right_of_Irish_expatriates_to_vote

I'm not at all sure if such a proposal makes us a "mafia state", sometimes given the way our governments in whatever combination behave, it's very tempting to think that.

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I know that was recommended for Jamaica because expats would not be controlled by indigenous gangs. https://paulromer.net/enfranchising-the-jamaican-diaspora/

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Sounds like an exceptional situation, but also very parternalistic. like Jamaicans couldn't decide for themselves what was good for them.

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Garett Jones & Bryan Caplan would say voters often shouldn't be tasked with deciding what's good for them.

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founding

If you're going to allow people to vote because they *might* live in your country someday, and particularly if their living-in-your-countriness is contingent on your government's actions today then, Population of Germany, 1914: "Some of us might decide we want to live in Extreme West Germany, er, France, in 1918 if things go well, so we vote for defunding the French army and immediate unconditional surrender".

Voting is for people with skin actually in the game, not just theoretically.

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Are you even an expatriate if it's your grandpa or great-grandpa who was born in the homeland?

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This section of the wiki page seems to say that never-resident citizens have NOT been included under these proposals; only citizens who have lived in the country for some period of time and recently expatriated (regardless of whether they are citizens by remote ancestry or not).

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AIUI, they define "lived in the country" by the pre-1918 borders.

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An impressively spicy clause!

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I meant Hungary as well, I haven't a clue about Ireland.

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Here in italy, expats can vote from abroad since 2001. Alas, as much as italy may or may not be a mafia state, it's not because of this. Their impact on the parliament is marginal at best, with a grand total of 12 representatives and 6 senators

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There is a huge difference between expats being able to vote and ethnic minorities abroad being able to vote.

The difference is that Hungary allows anyone who is ethnically Hungarian (not sure how they define that) to vote if they live within the boundaries of pre-1918 Hungary. There are three whole modern countries (Slovakia, Croatia and Bosnia) plus sections of two others (Transylvania in Romania and Vojvodina in Serbia) that were part of the "Crown of St Stephen". Hungary's policy basically doesn't entirely admit this terrority isn't Hungarian. If you're a Hungarian in Transylvania, you can vote by post and you retain your citizenship through an number of generations. If you're a Hungarian in the rest of Romania, you have to go to a consulate, and your grandchildren are not Hungarian citizens.

Most countries in Europe have a citizenship rule that has two types of citizens: ones that have lived in the country and ones that haven't - children born outside the country to a citizen that has lived in the country are citizens, but those children are now citizens that haven't lived in the country, so if they have children then those children aren't citizens.

The weird thing Hungary is doing is that they say that Hungarian citizens living in these lands (the ones they lost at Trianon) are treated as being Hungarians who live in Hungary, so any number of generations later, their children are still citizens.

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"The difference is that Hungary allows anyone who is ethnically Hungarian (not sure how they define that)"

Basically you need to speak Hungarian and have to be able to prove that it's reasonably probable that one of your ancestors was a Hungarian citizen.

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Dang it, now you've got me fantasizing about Canada adopting this policy...

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I've attempted to speak Magyar myself, and from that traumatic experience I have to say that the ability to do so fluently would be proof enough for me that a person must have Hungarian (not to say eldritch) blood.

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There's a piece of Ukraine that was part of Hungary. Do they count too?(I know of that piece because two of my great-grandparents were from there.)

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The definition of the group probably doesn't matter if the votes are fraudulent anyway

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I think the Irish proposal is totally different. It’s just for people born in Ireland who have recently emigrated. Ireland can’t afford to give everybody who can get an Irish passport the vote - the locals could be overwhelmed.

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Yeah, the article says Ireland has 4.8m residents, 2m never-resident diaspora members who have claimed Irish citizenship, and 1m diaspora members who have lived in Ireland for some period of time (all numbers including children) - the proposals here would only enfranchise that last group.

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Also, as a never-resident citizen-via-ancestry of Ireland myself, I half suspect the whole project is just a way to extract money out of nostalgic Americans via fees. Getting an Irish citizenship + passport was *extremely* easy, but did cost several hundred dollars in fees...

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We definitely don’t want you voting for the main parliament, though. Do you even know Irish political parties?

That said it’s a valuable passport.

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I can remember driving down Lake Shore Drive in Chicago in the spring of 1989 past the Polish consulate and seeing a huge line of Polish expatriates queued up to vote and thinking to myself, "Holy cow, things must be changing behind the Berlin Wall if all these Polish expatriates are bothering to vote!"

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I guess I can see a few problems with this argument. Let me play the devil's advocate.

Firstly, there are lots of places where the media doesn't enthusiastically cover opposition parties or goals. UKIP notably managed to bring about Brexit despite both receiving a mix of (at first) zero coverage and then later almost entirely negative coverage, mostly the former, and they achieved this through the basic hard work of doorstep campaigning until their vote share rose high enough that the government couldn't ignore them anymore. In the USA there actually are parties beyond the big two but you never, ever hear about them in the media. Yet the USA is still democratic. Media coverage of other parties and policies doesn't seem to be a genuine requirement of being a democracy.

Secondly, people who are abroad being able to vote is also very common in western democracies. It took me 15 years to lose my UK right to vote after moving abroad. Is the UK not a democracy as a consequence? The difference here seems to be a quantitative one - Hungary has way more Hungarians abroad as a consequence of losing WW1. I think there's a fairly good argument that people who move abroad should lose the right to vote in a country after some time period, and I wasn't upset at losing my own voting rights, as it seems unfair to be able to influence policies that almost exclusively affect other people. But I was surprised to discover that none of my friends still in the UK agreed with that! I figured they would agree even more strongly but no, they didn't like the fact it worked that way. Also there seems to be an implicit assumption in this argument that "of course" Hungarians outside of Hungary are all wildly pro-Fidesz because ... umm ... well ... go Hungary! .... but that feels like a weak part of the thesis. Why are they like that? Expats routinely vote for left wing parties in other countries. Perhaps they are not actually very different to the Hungarians at home, where, it seems, Orban has no difficulty picking up genuine votes?

Thirdly, although you say Hungary is a dictatorship due to gerrymandering, again, the USA has some very oddly shaped districts and the UK has had problems for years with unfair boundaries that - ironically - actually penalize the party in power. They're only now fixing it. Of course they were going to be accused of gerrymandering so they've layered the whole process in 'independent' reviews and so on, but ultimately it's still the government redrawing boundaries in ways that will benefit its own vote and you could paint that badly if you wanted to. Yet the UK and USA are democracies.

Finally, it sounds like even when he had the power to change the constitution in any way he saw fit, he retained the 2/3rds majority rule. That's a pretty common threshold for amending constitutions, isn't it. Is there some specific problem with this threshold in Hungary?

I guess my over-arching point is that if a book author sets out to make an elected leader look like a dictator, it seems to be pretty easy to do so. Governments do change constitutions, reform voting boundaries and change the franchise, especially in the years following communist rule. And as you admit, Fidesz is genuinely popular. He's not literally a dictator. He wins elections by adopting popular policies. That's .... kind of what we want politicians to do.

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To me it seems a qualitative difference if you are an expat who was born in Hungary and moved abroad, or if your grandparents or great-grandparents were Hungarian and get the right to vote without ever having lived in the country.

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Yes. That was clear to me. Scott did say irredentist so he is talking about ethnic Hungarians across the border. These kind of people are always nationalist.

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> Also there seems to be an implicit assumption in this argument that "of course" Hungarians outside of Hungary are all wildly pro-Fidesz because ... umm ... well ... go Hungary!

It's not an assumption, it's a fact. In 2018, 96% of the Hungarians abroad without a Hungarian address (the ones that can vote by mail) voted for Fidesz, while 45% of the entire electorate did.

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FWIW, I personally am quite happy to call America undemocratic; I believe the technical term is something like "flawed democracy". FPTP + gerrymandering is the main structural issue, but there are cultural ones as well.

As for overseas citizens, the distinction between expats and people who've never lived in the country is significant. I am a UK citizen, but can't vote in their elections because I have never been resident there; France, I assume due to it's colonial legacy of random tiny islands all over the place, does allow overseas citizens to vote but the numbers are small enough that the main consequence is a bit of pork-barrelling. It sounds like Orban's policy allows ethnic Hungarians 100 years removed from living within the borders of Hungary to vote, and that there are a large number of these....

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"is less stable and valuable for leaders than some kind of hybrid regime that keeps the trappings of democracy, and there's a spectrum from perfectly functional democracy to total sham democracy which might as well be a dictatorship."

Authoritarianism has evolved to be far more respectable (think transition from mustachioed guys in uniform to legalese-babbling men in suits) since the mid-20th century. There's a particularly amusing graph summarizing this on pp. 115 here: https://econ.ntu.edu.tw/uploads/asset/data/60b469f548b8a1027b023ecc/HKBU_1100602.pdf

I suspect that the grand finale of this book series will be Putin. The main problem is that there are very few dispassionate dispassionate writers on the topic in the West, most of them are jilted journalists and emigre oligarch-funded activist types. On the chance you're interested in books that are not anti-Putin jeremiads but strive for some degree of objectivity, my recommendations, in this order, would be:

* Richard Sakwa - The Crisis of Russian Democracy, possibly still the single best characterization of Putinism as a "dual state" (though anything by Sakwa will be good)

* Daniel Treisman - The Return

* Hutchins & Korobko - Putin

* The English translation of Mikhail Zygar's All the Kremlin's Men

Incidentally, only one of them are pro-Putin apart from Hutchins/Korobko, the others are neutral to skeptical, but they at least have the advantage of not being driven by ideological animus like the Masha Gessens and Lucases and Pomerantsevs.

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On that graph, where would Western (semi-)democratic leaders of the early 20th century be placed? Say, Chamberlain, Churchill, Roosevelt, de Gaulle? The graph might just be picking up an atmosphere change towards pacifism across the world.

But yes, I agree that authoritarians have learnt quite a few tricks since the 1990s, starting with the "leave your borders open on the inside so the troublemakers can go to America" one that the Soviets had to be stuffed down their throats so violently. (Which is why I was so surprised about the Australian lockdowns...)

I'm curious about your book recommendations. When you say "in this order", do you mean "from most to least important"?

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The charts have FDR.

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I think using the term "gerrymandering" may soft-peddle what Orban has done. We normally think of gerrymandering as drawing funny-shaped districts precisely because of the need to manipulating a district's partisan makeup while keeping the total population in each district the same.

But it sounds like Orban is using the "rotten borough" strategy in which unpopulated areas get the same vote as more populated areas. That does violate the basic "one man, one vote" principle.

OTOH, in fairness, that was a common and legal practice for drawing state legislative districts until the Baker v. Carr decision in 1962. And of course unequal geographical representation is also a feature of the U.S. Senate. Moreover, I just did a quickie Google search and learned that Germany has an upper house in which the delegates are not directly elected but appointed by state legislatures (like pre-1913 US Senators). And in that chamber: "The number of votes a state is allocated is based on a form of degressive proportionality according to its population. This way, smaller states have more votes than a distribution proportional to the population would grant." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/German_Bundesrat#Composition

I guess this is why it's hard to pin an anti-democratic label on Orban. Each individual thing he does to consolidate his power has precedent in other democracies. But the sum total starts to look a little dictator-ish.

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I do not think this is true. Hungarian election laws what were implemented by Orban, have their roots in 2005 Supreme Court decision(when Orban was in opposition). Basically court said that due to demographic changes districts do not represent "one man, one vote" principle. Old way was more like "rotten borough" strategy.

When Orban implemented the law, I guess he used it to manipulate partisan makeup, but at the same time moved away from "rotten borough". Today population disparity between different districts is much smaller.

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Very interesting. Thanks.

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Directly electing Senators made them more like members of the House, rather defeating the purpose of the separate chamber.

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Well, not entirel I think. Probably the main purpose of the Senate, cf. the Grand Compromise, was to prevent bigger states from dominating a collection of smaller states, a very real concern when New York and Pennsylvania had 75% (or whatever) of the population of the United States, not to mention all the money.* The Senate made each state co-equal, so Delaware and Maine had equal weight with New York and Pennsylvania. That feature remains notwithstanding the Seventeenth Amendment.

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It was a bit different pre baker v carr. You couldn’t actually draw new districts unequally - you could only let very old district lines stay for approximately forever.

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I suggest "democratic dictators".

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founding

The gerrymendering situation is not actually that bad and the current electoral system generally favors the winner getting diproportianally many seats, so the opposition can probably get 2/3 majority in the parliament by getting 55% or 60% of the vote.

So I wouldn't call Orban a dictator, and although the situation is very bad, and is not nearly as bad as some parts of the review suggests. In a comment above, I try to explain how I see things from Hungary.

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Do the ethnic Hungarians abroad not count toward a "majority" in your view?

I do wonder how they are represented geographically for gerrymander purposes.

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No. They do not live in Hungary and are not impacted by the policies the government makes. Just because they speak the same language as most people in Hungary does not entitle the to suferrage. If they want to vote they should go through the immigration process like everyone else.

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Currently, as a matter of fact, they are even exempted from the citizenship exam that everybody else has to take.

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A clear case of discrimination.

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Actually, AFAIK, descendants of Hungarian citizens could get expedited citizenship if they moved to Hungary even before the new rules. The main change is that they can get citizenship and vote even without moving to Hungary. Fidesz talked about the "symbolic unity of Hungarians", but it was entirely about giving Fidesz votes.

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No, for the reasons Monkaap said.

Non-resident Hungarians can only vote for party lists, not for candidates in districts. This reduces their impact. (Hungary has a mixed electoral system with both single-member constituencies and party lists.)

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If it's a similar hybrid system to Germany, that still gives them almost as much power on the national stage.

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The Hungarian system is more majoritarian than the German one. In Germany, party list seats are assigned in a way that more-or-less completely compensates for the FPTP seats, and produces a result proportional to the party list votes. In Hungary, party list votes have much less weight. Party list seats are assigned partly based on party list votes, and partly for compensation for the FPTP seats, but the latter is based on the FPTP votes, not the party list votes.

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I always got the impression, that 'illiberal democracy' was what Orban liked to call his government style, hinting that this was just another kind of democracy. But I'm not up-to-date with political science literature on this.

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Looked it up, there are poli-science papers using the term 'illiberal democracy'. Not sure how common this is in the literature, but certainly common enough for the statement: '"illiberal democracy" and "mafia state" have both been mooted.'

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Unfortunately (il)liberal democracy is something of an ambiguous term, open to equivocation fallacy/motte and bailey. As far as I understand, it's often used to refer to values such as a free press, due process and not suppressing the opposition: values that were originally considered liberal, but which nowadays every mainstream party upholds in a well-functioning democracy, and without which a country can't really be considered democratic at all. But it could also be used to literally refer to a country where the governing party is liberal in a modern sense.

So when a party tries to control all the media or harasses opposition, and gets accused of dismantling liberal democracy, it can retort "we soundly defeated liberals in the elections, so why should we be expected to uphold liberal democracy?" Conversely, modern liberals can accuse non-liberal politicians of dismantling "liberal democracy" simply for not being liberal in the modern sense, which (to some people) has worse connotations than what is actually happening.

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founding

Some other observations:

In the election of 2010, before Orban got the chance to change any of the rules or before he gave voting rights to Hungarians abroad, it was still possible for him to get 68% of the seats in the parliament with just 52% of the popular vote.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2010_Hungarian_parliamentary_election

So I was mistaken in my comment above, the Hungarian system was not "more or less proportional" even before Orban's reforms, the remorms just made it even more majoritarian, although still less so than the British system. Thanks for 10240 for pointing this out.

In 2014, with all the changes, he got 67% of the seats by getting 42% of the domestic popular vote and in 2018 he got 67% of the seats by getting 46% of the domestic vote. This is a significant change from 2010, but not super-significant, and I wouldn't call it "rigging the elections".

Also, these results are mostly the consequence that Hungarian politics in 2014 and 2018 didn't yet adapt to the fact that the system became more similar to first-past-the-post. Political theory tells us that first-past-the-post elections favor a two-party system, but Hungary had many parties before, and it took them time to coordinate (partially because of the selfishness and incompetence of certain opposition figures). So in 2014 and 2018 Orban could win almost all districts, because opposition votes wre fractured among more parties.

Now the opposition parties learned from their mistakes and formed a single coalition against Orban, they even held primary elections and in 2022 there will be only one Opposition candidate facing one Fidesz candidate in each district. A lots of things can happen until April 2022, but I give it a 40% chance that Orban will lose this election.

What happens after the Opposition wins, with many key positions still filled with Orban's loyal supporters who can't be removed without 2/3 majority is a very good question.

Still, I wouldn't call the Orban-regime ditatorical, because there is an actual cahnce for democratic change in power. It is just an extremely corrupt democratic governmet that shows many warning signs of becoming an actual sham-democracy (like Russia) one day.

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If you want to talk about a regime where voting procedures and requirements are manipulated to encourage favorable demographics to vote and ambiguously enable fraud among those ballots, where super-legislative constitutional law is used to systematically advance the regime's priorities and frustrate attempts to reverse them through the ordinary political system, where the press is dominated by the regime and ignores or slanders real opposition... aren't you just describing the current US?

Orban has probably gone further and been more blatant about it than the amorphous and non-personalized US system has, but it looks to me very much like the same kind of "manipulating procedural outcomes", without any major categorical difference.

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Tell me more about how Fox News is "dominated by the regime".

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It's interesting that my impression from these posts is that what you don't want to happen to democratic countries does not begin and end with "what the people in those countries want to happen." If a sufficient number of people in a *democratic* country vote for X (and whether the technical definition of "sufficient" is 50% + 1 vote or 80-90% or any number short of 100% is irrelevant to the point) -- then if you believe in democracy per se, that should be good enough. If enough people vote for Orban or Modi, then whether or not you like his policies, or person, that should be good enough in terms of "what's good for Hungary" or "what's good for India."

Unless, of course, you *don't* believe in democracy, or perhaps if there are some other values that trump democracy. That certainly not at all unreasonable -- I can think of dozens of ethical values that trump democracy, myself, in part because my view on democracy aligns with Churchill's ascerbicism -- but one should be clear about this.

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A democratically made decision to abolish democracy would arguably still count as undemocratic. And these aren't national referendums in these countries either determining the policies which affect how "democratic" it is.

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> what you don't want to happen to democratic countries does not begin and end with "what the people in those countries want to happen.

Indeed, domocracy does not begin and end with 'what the majority of people in those countries want to happen' at a given moment. Democracy enables people to vote people in power and out of power; it also allows the different majorities to decide on and implement concrete policies. It does not allow the majority of a given moment to strip minorities of their basic rights, and it does not allow the majority to change the rules of the game in a way that wouldn't give future potential majorities the same chance to vote for their goverment in the same way and have the same chance at implementing their policies. It is embeded in a set of rules, and safeguard mechanisms that should ensure that nobody gains total control - not even if this would be the wish of the majority.

The distinction between policies and rules of the game is important.

Majorities can vote for and implement their own policies. They mustn't touch the rules of the game that ensure that the system remains democratic (which doesn't mean they can never change, but not in a way that cripple the functioning of democracy).

Housing policy, foreign policy or migration policies are examples of a policy. The system of checks and balances is one very basic part of the rules of the game.

Orban can decide not to take in any migrants - that's maybe not nice, not showing solidarity or even inhumane, but it's still a democratic decision. If Orban decides to take over the media, making sure that it gets difficult to publish other opinions, this is changing the rules of the game, and its undemocratic. It will make it harder for other opinions to be heard and for other majorities to vote their people in power - it's applying the axe to the foundations of democracy.

>then if you believe in democracy per se, that should be good enough

This holds true, if you believe 'democracy' is 'rule of the majority'. The confusion is solved though, if you define democracy as a system that enables the souvereign to choose its government - not only now but also in future, a specific system of goverment that is charicterized by regular elections, rule of law, a system of checks and balances, and the protection of minorities. Characterized also in current conditions by a media landscape and civil society that support the expression of a pluralism of opinions. Once you assume this understanding of democracy, being 'very much pro-democracy' and saying 'Orban mustn't do this and that' even if he has a majority, are only two different expressions of the same.

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"It does not allow the majority of a given moment to strip minorities of their basic rights"

That sounds like liberalism, not democracy. When Friedrich Hayek was defending the Pinochet regime he said he would rather have a dictatorship that preserved some liberalism than an illiberal democracy. The founders of the US distrusted democracy and set rights in a Constitution that would be very difficult to amend (the section guaranteeing equal representation of the states is even separated out as impossible to amend).

"a specific system of goverment that is charicterized by regular elections, rule of law, a system of checks and balances, and the protection of minorities"

Only the bit about elections is a matter of democracy.

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Thin ice here. My grandparents´generation in Germany was much too fond of Hitler at least for some time. Democracy doesn't have to be badly flawed to lead to catastrophy. There doesn't seem to be a sustainable alternative though.

Free trade should prevent collective madness but it depends heavily on law, which in turn has to be agreed upon somehow.

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The Nazis won some votes, but they never took power legally.

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If you're going to continue this book club, you could do an effective altruism crossover by weighing the developmental successes of Paul Kagame's government against widespread allegations of its brutality. See e.g. (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/30/books/review/do-not-disturb-michela-wrong-rwanda.html).

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"Some kind of hybrid regime that keeps the trappings of democracy" is a trick that goes back at least to Caesar; that's why Caesar was called an "imperator" (usually translated into English as "emperor", but previously it was a military term meaning "commander") and "dictator" (a sort of commissioner with emergency powers, prior to Caesar always being temporary) but never a "king" ("rex") like Tarquin. The Roman Senate was the governing body in the Republican period, but it continued to exist all the way through the entire Western Empire and for another century-plus after the Western Empire fell; and, in the East there was still a Roman Senate for another 600 years after that, though not quite until the final fall of Constantinople.

So, rather than saying that this is "one of the big stories of the late 20th/early 21st century," I would say that this is one of the big stories of the first century BCE to the 12th century CE. This is precisely how the Roman Republic was destroyed. And it's far from novel even in modern times.

The USSR retained the trappings of its bottom-up grassroots democracy (that's what the "soviets" were) even while the Party took over real control.

Here in Argentina, our Congress has served unbroken since 01854, 167 years, despite coups installing dictators in 01930, 01943, 01955, 01962, 01966, 01971, and 01976, plus Perón taking Orban-style measures to consolidate his power to such a frightening degree during his first period of rule (01946-01958, during which he changed the constitution to permit his re-election) that in the 38 years since the restoration of democracy in 01983, the party Perón founded has ruled for 27 years, and other parties only 11 years.

In Venezuela, Maduro is clearly a dictator, which results from Hugo Chavez gradually clearing out all the obstacles to dictatorship. But Chavez himself was never a dictator, and he always preserved the forms of democracy, in fact greatly strengthening them in appearances. But at the same time, he weakened them to the point that his successor would face no significant opposition.

It's the same in most recent dictatorships. Hosni Mubarak held multi-party elections which he won, and the Egyptian Parliament was never dissolved during his brutal reign. Pervez Musharraf held elections to, in theory, decide whether he would continue in power, but nobody else was allowed to run. Hungary itself, though Communist, was theoretically a parliamentary republic from 01946 to 01949 and still had a multiparty legislature until 01953; even after opposition parties were prohibited from running candidates, the Hungarian Parliament continued to hold regular elections, and many independent (that is, non-Communist) candidates continued to gain seats.

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This is exactly the trick. If you are a wannabe-dictator, but you don't want the US or UN making noises at you (or sending drones to blow up your cities), then you must be careful to:

(1) Do not directly threaten US interests. If you make the right noises and play nicely, you can oppress and suppress at home all you like (ask Saudi Arabia for guidance on this).

(2) Keep the trappings of democracy: elections are a fun day out for all the army! have as many elections as you like! get plenty of people to vote! what counts is who does the counting, and you've got your people doing that. Fix it right, and you can be returned to power on 98% of the vote for the next thirty years as Perpetual President, and nobody will say boo to you!

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tangential, by why have you written all the years in your post as 0XXXX instead of the more usual XXXX?

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"Second, yes, you can campaign against him, but the media will just ignore you"

In contrast to the USA, where the Hunter Biden's laptop scandal was trumpeted out by all the news media and social media.

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Or the sexual assault accusations against Brett Kavanaugh (including at least one that was a fake accusation and admitted as such, for partisan purposes) versus the Tara Reade accusation against Biden. The Kavanaugh accusations (remember, the high school drug rape gang one?) got plenty of play and were treated as seriously as the Christine Blasey Ford accusation, which at least could have happened, but the Tara Reade soon fell under "we never said 'believe *all* women'" and "she's crazy" because it was inconvenient.

Meanwhile, Kavanaugh had to defend himself against the fake accusation as well as the rest of them, nobody was saying "well plainly this one is crazy":

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brett_Kavanaugh#Judy_Munro-Leighton

Here's our old friend the New York Times and how they treated Kavanaugh versus Biden allegations:

(1) "Brett Kavanaugh Fit In With the Privileged Kids. She Did Not.

Deborah Ramirez’s Yale experience says much about the college’s efforts to diversify its student body in the 1980s." (That one was the "we all got drunk at a frat party and maybe he stuck his dick in my face, I don't remember, I had to talk to my friends for a week before I decided" one).

(2) "Ms. Reade, a former Senate aide, has accused Mr. Biden of assaulting her in 1993 and says she told others about it. A Biden spokeswoman said the allegation is false, and former Senate office staff members do not recall such an incident."

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What is the NYPost if not "media"?

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This is a criticism that could also be leveled against Erdogan and Modi's inclusion in the list. Methinks `Dictator book club' needs a different name. Possibly `elected strongman book club' or something.

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I always learned that for a democratic state, you need: regular, free, equal and confidential elections, rule of law, division of powers and protection of minorities.

I would add, that you need a minumum of free and diverse media and of diversity in civil society.

I don't claim this is the only possible definition, but 'there are elections' is certainly not enough.

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You are quoting a definition for a LIBERAL democracy. If you don't care about the liberal modifier, then regular, free, equal and confidential elections are sufficient. Indeed, you could argue that each of Modi, Erdogan, and Orban has moved his country along the spectrum from liberal democracy to illiberal democracy, but the `dictator' claim seems hard to support.

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I don't know where do you got this from. Care to provide me with some poli-science sources?

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Thanks. I use wikipedia, but I'm far from being convinced that it adequately reflects whatever scientific or political philosphy consensus - if there is one.

If you wanted to go with wikipedia, the first paragraph on 'democracy' includes a sentence like this: "Cornerstones of democracy include freedom of assembly, association and speech, inclusiveness and equality, citizenship, consent of the governed, voting rights, freedom from unwarranted governmental deprivation of the right to life and liberty, and minority rights." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Democracy

Ultimately, it's a matter of wording / definition. One question could be: what is more common/better argued for in political science? The other could be: what is more useful in a given context?

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I wasn't aware this was a discussion in political science. Insisting on narrow academic definitions is like CNN insisting that CRT ISN"T TAUGHT in Virginia schools. The `illiberal democracy' label seems in pretty common mainstream use.

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This appears to be the original source (and a clearer exposition than wikipedia) https://web.archive.org/web/20051015040527/http://fareedzakaria.com/articles/other/democracy.html

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Okay, I had a quick look at the source and also a very quick look at google.scholar - my impression is, that this is used to describe and discuss specific phenomena in the past 20 years, rather than being at the core of more general definitions/descriptions of modern democracy. So I still get the impression, that if you want to convey the basic functioning of a democratic state, you go with the broad definition as above. The other is maybe more something for a specialized debate?

Ultimately, as in my comment to the wikipedia source, a matter of definition. As long as we agree that the thing we want is the one with rule of law, division of powers and protection of minorities ... Do we?

Interestingly, a lot of German political science paper seem to use 'flawed democracy' (or 'faulty' / 'damaged' democracy - defekte Demokratie) or put 'illiberal democracy' in " " where papers published in english might talk about illiberal democracy.

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The problem with using a single term to encompass a system that has `each of a long list of characteristics' is what do you do if you have all but one? Calling it `dictatorship' doesn't seem appropriate because that describes a system with none of the characteristics. An intermediate term for a system with some but not all of the desiderate is useful. Perhaps the German language press has converged on `faulty democracy' while the English language press has on `illiberal democracy.'

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Also, it makes semantic sense (to me at least) to use `democracy' to simply mean `you can get rid of your leaders via the ballot box' (something pretty rare historically!), with modifiers `liberal' or `illiberal' (or `faulty' if you prefer) to indicate whether it has the other desirable characteristics. But also, the `ballot box' bit is a fairly clear cut, bright line thing, whereas the other aspects are more of a continuum.

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If every political leader can just leave some infinitesimal mechanism by which they might theoretically be voted out and thus opt out of being called a 'dictator' then the term is fairly useless. It is also pretty clear that many of these leaders would change the rules in a moment if their grasp appeared to be slipping. It sounds like dictatorship to me.

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`Infinitesimal mechanism' is not right. I don't know the situation in Hungary or Turkey that well, but Modi for instance could absolutely lose power via the ballot box. And his party *has* lost state elections, without engaging in extra-constitutional shenanigans to hold on to power. Hell, he's a Prime Minister not a President, he could lose power even without losing a federal election, if his party turns against him. This doesn't sound much like a `dictator' to me. I don't know enough about Hungary to know if the same is true there, but I suspect it might be.

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I was only referring to Hungary. I don't know enough about Modi judge.

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Yes and no? I agree that he could lose. But I also feel like there's a clear pattern of 'extra constitutional shenanigans' which put him pretty far along the illiberal line. Yes he is pretty far away from being a dictator, but he tries to make it so that he can come as close as he can.

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"There are elections" is definitely not enough. Rotten boroughs participated in elections, but nobody would say those were free and fair and representative. Landlords directing their tenants as to whom they would vote for (or else be evicted) were not free and fair elections - this is why Daniel O'Connell's movement to get the mass of people into an association was so successful, and so threatening:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daniel_O%27Connell#Emancipation_and_the_agrarian_crisis

"To broaden and intensify the campaign for emancipation, in 1823, O'Connell established Catholic Association. For a "Catholic rent" of a penny a month (typically paid through the local priest), this, for the first time, drew the labouring poor into a national movement. Their investment enabled O'Connell to mount "monster" rallies (crowds of over 100,000) that stayed the hands of authorities, and emboldened larger enfranchised tenants to vote for pro-Emancipation candidates in defiance of their landlords.

The government moved to suppress the Association by a series of prosecutions, but with limited success. Already in 1822 O'Connell had manoeuvred his principal foe, the Attorney General, William Saurin, into actions sufficiently intemperate to ensure his removal by the Lord Lieutenant. His confrontation with Dublin Corporation, equally unbending in its defence of the "Protestant Constitution", took a more tragic turn.

Outraged at O'Connell's refusal to retract his description of the corporation as "beggarly", one of their number, John D'Esterre, challenged O'Connell to a duel. As an experienced duellist, there was some hope that D'Esterre, would dispose of a man considered "worse than a public nuisance". In the event it was O'Connell who mortally wounded D'Esterre. Distressed by the killing, O'Connell offered to share his income with D'Esterre's widow. She consented to a small allowance for her daughter, which O'Connell regularly paid for more than thirty years until his death.

In 1828 O'Connell defeated a member of the British cabinet in a parliamentary by-election in County Clare. His triumph, as the first Catholic to be returned in a parliamentary election since 1688, made a clear issue of the Oath of Supremacy—the requirement that MPs acknowledge the King as "Supreme Governor" of the Church and thus forswear the Roman communion. Fearful of the widespread disturbances that might follow from continuing to insist on the letter of the oath, the government finally relented. With the Prime Minister, the Duke of Wellington, invoking the spectre of civil war, the Catholic Relief Act became law in 1829. The act was not made retroactive so that O'Connell had to stand again for election. He was returned unopposed in July 1829.

...Entry to parliament had not come without a price. Bringing the Irish franchise into line with England's, the 1829 Act raised the property threshold for voting in county seats five-fold, eliminating the middling tenantry (the Irish "forty-shilling freeholders") who had risked much in defying their landlords on O'Connell's behalf in the Clare election. The measure reduced the Irish Catholic electorate from 216,000 voters to just 37,000."

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All true, but the point I've repeatedly been trying to make is that `free and fair elections to determine who is in charge' and `the suite of civil liberties taken for granted in modern Western societies' are two conceptually different things, and you can have societies that have (either) one but not the other. Graphically, you can put `free and fair elections' on the x axis and `liberal society' on the y, and while most societies cluster close to the diagonal there is no hard rule that says it has to be so, and you can imagine (and there exist) significant outliers in either direction.

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> 'free and fair elections to determine who is in charge

Free elections are mostly meaningless,

- if different options can't effectively compete to win the electorates favour (for this you need freedom of assembly, pluralism in the press and rule of law that makes sure you don't land in jail and are free from discrimination if you hold another view),

- if you can't publicly discuss different points of view (which despite the growing importance of social media still highly depends on the traditional media)

- if you get only the goverment's PR view on what they are doing, without additional insights, opposing views and critical analysis (effective opposition, diverse media)

- if nobody makes sure that the given majority does not do things that encompass their power (like changing the election rules in way that give them 99% advantage, use their 60% majority in one chamber to change basic law that can be changed only with 2/3 majority in two chambers and so on - here you need rule of law again and division of powers/ checks and balances)

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From our discussion above it seems you like clearcut definitions. I challenge you to find an example of a modern state which has regular elections but: no rule of law, no devision of powers or checks and balances, no free and/or diverse press, no freedom of assembly, no pluralism in civil society and which we still call a democracy.

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not -> note. wish ACX allowed edits to fix typos.

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I don't think I can find en example where all these values are set to zero but we call the state a democracy but (a) these values are continua, not binaries. For instance, `freedom of the press' can be abridged to greater or lesser extend by libel law, hate speech legislation etc. and (b) some of these values are easier to separate from free and fair elections than others. For instance, (i) minority rights (on your original list but not your latest): Examples of states generally considered democracies but without minority right abound. Jim Crow era USA for one (de facto at least). (ii) rule of law (as opposed to substantial discretionary powers vested in individuals): It is debatable to what extent the Republic of India has had rule of law (including before Modi). (iii) checks and balances: all Westminster model parliamentary democracies (such as the UK and its `children') have practically speaking no checks or balances on the power of the legislature.

Now, freedom of assembly, speech and press seem harder to separate from the regular exercise of free and fair elections (for reasons that you articulate in another post), but here too, I will note that over the past two years large swathes of the West have suspended freedom of assembly and curtailed freedom of speech, and yet I have not heard it seriously argued (except on DSL) that e.g. Australia is no longer a democracy.

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I agree with most of what you say. I don't think it speaks much for the 'elections are sufficient' - definition.

a) continua not binaries for many of those 'values': definitely.

(I had a long text related to this in one of my former comments - just saying in case it got overlooked, quite easy to happen I guess.)

b) no country I know is 100% maximum on all of those aspects. They also don't need to be. Also, each democracy evolves in a certain context, and the country-specific solutions differ a lot.

So what you would do is: you'd look at all the relevant elements (free media, checks and balances, ...) in a specific country, try to understand how they work in practice, and check to which extend they 'function well'. Then you put your results on all those elements together to get a picture that leaves you with an image of 'clearly democratic' 'clearly not democratic' or eg. 'mostly democratic, but worrysome with regard to x and z'. To make things more fun, often those elements interact, and you only understand the functioning of one if you understand the whole system pretty well.

Once you have a category with several elements that are continua, it makes no sense to say: look, in country x there are problems with this one criterion z and we still call the thing a democracy, so criterion z can't be relevant. It's the specific value of each criterion and the combination of all those together that counts.

Therefore I don't want to go too much into detail with the examples you mention, as 'this one criterion in country x has value y' is not very relevant. Still, '*no* checks and balances' in UK is an overstatement.

I don't know Australia very well. I can certainly think of western countries where we might say 'clearly a democracy, but looking quite worrysome with regard to criterion x and z'. Whether this fits the Australian case, no idea. I'm not in the mood to start the next part of the discussion, so I refrain from mentioning any names.

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Excuse the long extract, but it sums up why "nominal democracy" and "effective dictatorship" may have a considerable overlap:

"Orbán is the ultimate twenty-first-century dictator. Twentieth-century dictatorships were about ideology and repression: physical repression with this detestable ideology. Twenty-first-century authoritarianism works through economic means rather than physical means. So economic coercion is everywhere in Hungary. But, if you went there on vacation, you would never guess that it’s a dictatorship. And that’s because the way that Orbán exercises control is through money. Orbán has eliminated the system of welfare and unemployment insurance and so on, so that you only get those things if you pass his litmus test. With the media, his oligarchs have bought out all the media that were critical of him. They’ve consolidated the banking sector in their hands.

"And so this is the new form of oppression. It doesn’t look like oppression if you’re on the streets of Budapest. But if you live there and you have no money and you can’t get an income because no one will hire you, then what happens? You have to leave. So, it’s a combination of regulatory adjustments, but mostly it’s economic measures, and those are not very visible. Human-rights groups are not really attuned to tracking those the way that they would track journalists in jail."

From "Why Conservatives Around the World Have Embraced Hungary’s Viktor Orbán

A sociologist explains why the country’s Prime Minister is “the ultimate twenty-first-century dictator.”"

at https://www.newyorker.com/news/q-and-a/why-conservatives-around-the-world-have-embraced-hungarys-viktor-orban

My partner is Hungarian, so I've been there a lot over the past 20 years. It's true that, to an "outsider", like me, it seems essentially "normal", like other European countries of my experience. (Fwiw I also visited East Germany, when it still existed, and that felt very different, even to a visitor.)

But the normality is just "surface". What matters, in the long term, is how the various mechanisms, de jure and de facto, of checks-and-balances and accountability are being dismantled and subverted. (Cf. what the current Tory govt in the UK is doing or trying to do.)

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Hungary is no longer a democracy by most rankings. It's perhaps a little better than Russia - the opposition doesn't routinely end up murdered - but not by too much.

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> perhaps a little better than Russia

Seriously? "perhaps" "little"

> the opposition doesn't routinely end up murdered

Can you give examples of political murders on orders of ruling party/Orban?

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Huh? *Unlike* Russia.

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"perhaps a little better than Russia" suggested that it is almost as bad as in Russia

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In that it's almost as undemocratic - i.e. essentially zero - not that it's almost as murderous.

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It appears quite likely that Orban will be voted out in the next elections, what is far away from situation in Russia.

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China technically has elections, its just that coincidentally the only people who ever win are CCP members. I guess that makes China a democracy? You're giving too much focus to symbolic structures not outcomes

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Nail on head.

Hungary needs to retain the pretence of democracy to remain in the EU (vital to its economy), but if only one party can win, it is only a pretence

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> Even with the absurdly gerrymandered electoral system [...] Hungary is still a democracy. To my mind, the line separating democracies from dictatorships is whether or not a majority of the people can vote out the party/leader in power

Gerrymandered electoral systems often (usually) mean that a majority of people can vote against a leader and that leader still be re-elected. E.g. in the UK election in 2019, the Tories won 56.2% of the seats despite only getting 43.6% of the votes. Consequently, countries that use FPTP, such as the UK and many of its former colonies (India, USA, Canada, etc) aren't full democracies.

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The winner in FPTP usually has a plurality of the vote, if not a majority. Claiming that in a multiparty system every vote not for a given party is a vote against them is disingenuous. Even under proportional representation with multiple parties the person who ends up in charge of the executive is normally not from a party that commanded a majority of the vote. This line of argument leads to the conclusion that no multiparty system can ever be a democracy. (Unless perhaps it implements a strictly two party runoff, French Presidential election style). But if we are making isolated and ridiculous demands for rigor, why stop there? Why not go the whole `no representative system can ever be a democracy, Switzerland is the only democracy to ever exist.'

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> Claiming that in a multiparty system every vote not for a given party is a vote against them is disingenuous.

It certainly isn't a vote *for* them! Under PR, the largest party would have to do deals with smaller parties if it didn't get a majority of the votes, if it wanted to control a majority of the seats.

Furthermore, under FPTP many voters end up voting for one of the 2 biggest parties, even though they don't like either of them, because otherwise their vote may be wasted. That's why the last 4 times their was a UK-wide election under a semi-proportional system, the Conservatives and Labour between them got less than half the vote. Both these parties know full well the voters don't like them, which is why they keep FPTP, in order to thwart democracy.

> Even under proportional representation with multiple parties the person who ends up in charge of the executive is normally not from a party that commanded a majority of the vote.

Under PR, there is usually no party that got a majority of the vote. E.g. in the 2021 Scottish election no party got a majority of the votes or seats, and the result was a coalition between the SNP and Greens.

> This line of argument leads to the conclusion that no multiparty system can ever be a democracy.

It's a nonsense argument. Under a pure PR system, a group of parties that have a majority of seats will have a majority of votes, so most voters will have voted for one of the parties in it.

> (Unless perhaps it implements a strictly two party runoff, French Presidential election style)

Presidential elections -- and elections for 1 place generally -- are different because they can't be proportional, since one candidate must get 100% of the seats and everyone else get 0%. They can avoid the wasted vote phenomenon e.g. by having run-off elections as they do in France.

> But if we are making isolated and ridiculous demands for rigor

I fail to see where I have done any such thing.

> Why not go the whole `no representative system can ever be a democracy, Switzerland is the only democracy to ever exist.

They *do* have representatives in Switzerland. See for example https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2019_Swiss_federal_election

They also have referendums, as do several places. I do think referendums are part of making a country a democracy, particularly when the people want one thing and the politicians something else.

But really, it's not a binary thing. Democracy is instead a continuum, with Norway near one end and North Korea towards the other end.

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The New York Times is currently very excited about the prospect of Orban being voted out of office, if only his rivals can unite:

"In Hungary’s Heartland, Orban Faces a Unified Challenge to His Rule

"The country’s normally fractious opposition has rallied around a conservative mayor who just might be able to oust the authoritarian prime minister after more than a decade.

"By Andrew Higgins and Benjamin Novak

"Oct. 18, 2021"

Some dictator ...

Orban has been in power for 11 years, but Bibi Netanyahu spent 15 years as Israel's supremo and finally got pushed out by a guy to his right, Naftali Bennett. The notion that Orban is a dictator rather than a talented politician appears to be largely a concoction of another talented politician who used to be Orban's mentor, George Soros.

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"The notion that Orban is a dictator rather than a talented politician appears to be largely a concoction of another talented politician who used to be Orban's mentor, George Soros."

It's irrelevant whether Soros "concocted" the notion that Orbán is a dictator (in some sense or other of the word) — you just have to look at what Orbán has done to come to a conclusion about whether he is some sort of 'effective dictator' or not.

Mind you, given Orbán's vendetta against Soros and the CEU, it'd be hard to blame Soros for thinking like that.

In any case,, plenty of other people regard Orbán in a very similar way.

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So many people that they might just vote The Dictator out of office in the upcoming election...

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Soros conspiracies, *really*?

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Even in old age, George Soros is a brilliant, vastly wealthy, and highly effectual man who has been organizing political operations all over the world for decades to attain his goals (such as, among much else, electing anti-law & order prosecutors like Chesa Boudin in San Francisco: https://www.thesfnews.com/george-soros-backs-district-attorney-campaigns-nationwide/66204).

It's an insult to Soros to assert that he couldn't possibly help organize all the movements -- because that would be a conspiracy theory -- that he has famously helped organize.

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Using language like 'anti-law & order prosecutors' and relying on the highly partisan Daily Caller News Foundation as the primary source for your exemplar story shifts my needle, at least, in the direction of 'yeah, I guess we're doing Soros conspiracies here now'.

Since you speak admiringly of the dark arts of political manipulation, I don't feel too uncharitable in pointing this out as a shortcoming.

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You are demeaning Mr. Soros by refusing to acknowledge his impressive effectiveness at getting anti-law and order prosecutors elected across America.

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I suggest Pulitzer winning nytimes guy Joe Lelyveld's book "Great Soul", on Gandhi, next. :)

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Sadly every Hungarian I have met were extremely nationalistic and somehow believed it to be the best country in the world and Hungarians to be the best at everything. Never mind reality.

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That's a gross misrepresentation of the population – not to say that that couldn't have been your experience, but sounds like your sample is quite small.

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It is my experience, as I wrote. And a lot of people clearly votes for Orban.

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Alternatively the ones who disagree don't talk about it very loudly, for health reasons

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Better than being a self-hating white Briton who longs to be a minority in their own homeland.

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I don't think any of the people in the so-called "Dictator's Book Club" have actually been dictators. I really dislike the hyperbolic use of dictator for anybody who has any kind of "authoritarian" tendencies, it really cheapens the label and makes the word meaningless.

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Should probably plug here that Hungary has elections coming in 2022 in which all of the non-Fidesz parties have united into a single coalition, and are currently leading in the polls. Unclear how much that will matter given all the gerrymandering, but this is the most significant threat to Orban's power in a long time: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/oct/28/hungary-anti-orban-alliance-leads-ruling-party-in-2022-election-poll

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It looks like the opposition might win!

Betting markets are not particularly liquid but one bookie is offering odds which imply a 60-70% chance that Fidesz will not win a majority at the next election.

https://www.olbg.com/blogs/hungarian-general-election-betting-odds-and-history

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All of the things you accuse Orban of doing, are routine with the Left in most Western countries. In fact, if he ever rigged an election it could be called "fortifying" it (see NYT on February 4, 2021).

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I think OP meant this one https://time.com/5936036/secret-2020-election-campaign/ which is from Time rather than the New York Times but the dates match.

"That’s why the participants want the secret history of the 2020 election told, even though it sounds like a paranoid fever dream–a well-funded cabal of powerful people, ranging across industries and ideologies, working together behind the scenes to influence perceptions, change rules and laws, steer media coverage and control the flow of information. They were not rigging the election; they were fortifying it."

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Having read that before many of the things were reasonably termed as 'fortifying' but the one thing that truly shocks me is that Zuckerberg ran about 300 million through swing state governments with around $20 to $1 spent in get out the vote advertising in liberal vs conservative areas. 95% of turnout funding targeted at the preferred voters of a billionaire

You become what you fear sometimes

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Molly Ball

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All of the things? Like amending the constitution dozens of times? The 2013 amendment runs 15 pages. Here's a full list of changes: https://lapa.princeton.edu/hosteddocs/hungary/Fourth%20Amendment%20to%20the%20FL%20-Eng%20Corrected.pdf

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If they got a 67% majority? Of course.

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67% majority thanks to extreme gerrymandering. It's like if the US Senate were the only parliamentary body and 80% of the states had the population of Wyoming.

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And nice moving of the goalposts from "all these things are routine on the left" to "in a theoretical universe where western leftists routinely get 67% majorities."

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Orban's 67% majority came when he was in opposition so gerrymandering is not an explanation, and also I don't know how you can imagine a scenario where leftists get a supermajority and not completely insert their agenda into the constitution. If dictatorship is winning a big majority and doing what your base wants, then dictatorship is not that bad.

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They won that before they were in power. So if anything, the gerrymander would have been against them.

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I'm sorry, what did you say? I believe it was "All of the things you accuse Orban of doing, are routine with the Left in most Western countries."

So far we have at least one thing they don't do; and I have sneaking suspicion that if you looked hard enough; you'd see that number climb a little higher.

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They have a bare majority now and are seriously considering court packing. Which is just a barrage of constitutional amendments by another procedure.

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What's that?

"Bare Majority" and "Considering" I see.

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You are moving the goalposts. The claim in the GP comment was

“All of the things you accuse Orban of doing, are routine with the Left in most Western countries.”

Which was rightly challenged by the parent comment as hyperbole. “If they got 67% majority” is a hypothetical that is irrelevant to the concrete claim about the actual Left in actual Western countries.

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