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Authoritarian Populism Versus Constitutional Democracy

Wojciech Sadurski
Monday, October 21, 2019, 5:30 pm – 7:00 pm

WELCOME REMARKS / Michael Ignatieff / President and Rector, CEU 

ABSTRACT / Wojciech Sadurski will reflect upon the significance of the all-important parliamentary elections in Poland, and examine its implications for future developments in the context of the broader authoritarian populist turn occurring in a large number of countries around the world. The lecture, delivered a week after the elections, will be partly based on Sadurski’s recently published book, Poland’s Constitutional Breakdown (OUO 2019). It will outline the origins of successful authoritarian populists and sketch their dominant modus operandi: that is, to hollow out constitutional institutions, and transform them from providers of effective checks and balances into loyal helpers of authoritarian rulers. But in order to properly make sense of these developments, one must be clear about the key concepts used to describe them. What is “populism”? In contrast to currently dominant views, the lecture will propose a par excellence institutional, as opposed to “discursive”, interpretation of the concept. Further, the lecture inquires into whether “illiberal democracy” is an oxymoron, or if it is just another, but arguably equally legitimate, understanding of the democratic self-government by the People? The lecture suggests the choice is clear. The experience of Central and Eastern European countries, as well as Turkey, should teach us that “illiberal democrats” will sooner or later (and usually sooner) end up dismantling all the essential safeguards of democracy simpliciter.

BIO / Wojciech Sadurski is Challis Professor in Jurisprudence at the University of Sydney Law School and Professor at the University of Warsaw, Centre for Europe, and currently Visiting Professor at the University of Parma. His interests include jurisprudence, legal theory, philosophy of law, political philosophy, constitutional theory, and comparative constitutionalism.  His most recent books include Poland’s Constitutional Breakdown (OUP 2019), Constitutionalism and the Enlargement of Europe (OUP 2012), Equality and Legitimacy (OUP 2008), and Rights before Courts (Springer 2005 and 2014). In 1999-2009 he was Professor of Legal Theory at the European University Institute, and in 2003-2006, Head of the Department of Law there. He has taught at Yale Law School, New York University School of Law, Cardozo Law School, Fordham Law School, Cornell Law School, National University of Singapore and the University of Trento. Chairman of the Academic Advisory Board of the Community of Democracies, he is member of a number of boards of think tanks and NGOs, including the Institute of Public Affairs (Poland) and Helsinki Foundation of Human Rights (Polish branch).