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Photo: “Viktor Orbán,” by Annika Haas (EU2017EE) licensed under CC Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0). Hue modified from the original.

Halmai, Gábor. “The Pandemic and Constitutionalism.” Jus Cogens 4, no. 3 (2022): 303-315.


The paper discusses the reactions of different political and constitutional systems reactions to the pandemic and also the impact of COVID to populism, constitutionalism, and autocracy. Beyond the choice between economic and health considerations also applied in liberal democratic countries, which have lead either to “under-” or “overreaction” to the pandemic, certain illiberal regimes used the crisis situation as a pretext to strengthen the autocratic character of their systems. In some cases, this needed an “underreach,” like in Poland to insist on the presidential election, which has been important to entrench the power of the governing party’s incumbent, elsewhere “overreach,” like in Hungary, where an unlimited emergency power of government has been introduced after the very first cases of contagion. These autocratic “overreactions” have breached the formerly used authoritarian legalistic approaches by openly violating their own illiberal constitutions. New “conservative” theories on “common good constitutionalism” emerged to legitimize the necessity of authoritative rule by the executive power. The paper concludes that one possibility to overcome authoritarian populism and restore constitutionalism in crisis situation such as the COVID-19 pandemic would be to rely on the involvement of the well informed public, one that is capable to understand and assess the advice of the meritocratic elite. This kind of participation would also help build up a constitutional culture necessary to preserve the values of constitutionalism.

The Illiberalism Studies Program studies the different faces of illiberal politics and thought in today’s world, taking into account the diversity of their cultural context, their intellectual genealogy, the sociology of their popular support, and their implications on the international scene.