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To compound the confusion, in Europe the term liberal has been applied to parties that support the free market and a more limited role for government.Moreover, especially outside the United States, figures on the left pin the label of “neoliberalism” on those they regard as too friendly to market capitalism.[End Page 6] Consequently, features such as the rule of law and the freedoms of speech, assembly, religion, and the press, though more properly categorized as liberal, are often regarded as hallmarks of democracy.
“Democracy” is derived from a Greek word meaning rule by the people, while “liberal” and “liberalism” derive from a Latin word meaning free.
Today, however, democracy often is used as shorthand for liberal democracy and thus is thought also to incorporate the protection of individual freedom.
Overall, it is the parties of the center-left (mostly socialist or social-democratic) that have been experiencing the steepest decline, and there are signs that the commitment to liberal democracy of some emerging forces on the left is questionable.
But at the moment I believe the graver threat to liberal democracy is that it will wind up being abandoned by substantial segments of the right.
Without grossly exaggerating, one can say that for decades the modal configuration of Western political systems has featured strong center-left and center-right parties or coalitions that support the basic principles and institutions of liberal democracy but compete with each other in regard to a variety of specific issues within this larger framework.
The primary cleavage separating these parties has been economic, with center-left parties typically favoring more government spending and allying themselves with trade unions, and center-right parties leaning toward more friendliness to the private sector and market-oriented policies.
Democracy and liberalism may be understood as addressing two different questions: , by contrast, prescribes not how rulers are chosen but what the limits to their power are once they are in office.
These limits, which are ultimately designed to protect the rights of the individual, demand the rule of law and are usually set forth in a written constitution (hence “constitutional democracy” sometimes serves as an alternative term for liberal democracy).
By seeking to embrace democracy and at the same time to jettison liberalism, Orbán is blazing a trail that he hopes to lure others on the right to follow.
It is useful to review the strange history of the term “illiberal democracy” in order to understand how Orbán has tried to wield it for his own purposes.