By the end of this section, you will be able to:
- Explain the connection between contemporary liberalism and political regimes.
- Examine the diversity of objectives and priorities set by governing regimes.
- Discuss political history and contemporary political and legal developments.
Having analyzed core concepts and surveyed a range of governing regimes, this chapter closes by reflecting on some recent global trends.
Contemporary liberal ideology affirms the importance of citizens having political freedom—that is, the freedom to participate in a meaningful way in democratic elections that can shape the actions of one’s government. However, contemporary liberalism also affirms a wider set of freedoms, including both economic freedoms and such freedoms as freedom of speech, a free press, religious freedom, and the freedom to define one’s own sense of personal identity and to be treated equally by the government regardless of one’s personal beliefs, practices, or sexual orientation. Although representative governments aspire toward liberal ideology in the sense of allowing political freedom, do they tend to respect these other freedoms? The answer is mixed. Among contemporary regimes, a number of representative regimes that are not fully in accord with this liberal ideology have emerged and persist.
Since the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe in the late 1980s, Hungary has had a representative parliamentary system. Although Hungary has a representative regime, one party—the Fidesz, an ideologically conservative, nationalist party that currently enjoys popular support—has used its majority position in the Hungarian parliament to enact laws curbing a number of freedoms. The government has created a National Media and Communications Authority that can impose heavy fines for coverage that it considers “unbalanced or offensive to human dignity or common morals.”77 It has curbed religious freedom by requiring religious institutions to register with the state in order to receive the guarantee of religious liberty and by designating only 14 religious communities as entitled to religious freedom;78 it has failed to condemn certain outbursts of anti-Semitism in the country;79 and it has banned same-sex marriage and adoption by LGBTQ persons, gender reassignment surgery, and the “promotion” of homosexuality to individuals under 18, as well as any “portrayal” of homosexuality directed at those under 18.80
European Elections: Exit Polls Show Victory for Orban’s Fidesz Party in Hungary in 2019
The resounding victory of Victor Orban’s Fidesz Party in Hungary’s 2019 election represented a major success for nationalist politics in Europe.
Some criticize certain acts of the Fidesz Party, such as the way it has used its power in parliament to draw electoral districts to advantage its candidates (what is called gerrymandering in the United States), for undermining Hungary’s representative system of government. Some further criticize how the Hungarian constitution allocates representation in the parliament in a way that favors certain regions of the country.81 Despite these criticisms, the Fidesz Party remains popular and has adopted its illiberal policies without contravening the basic structure of Hungary’s governing regime.
India, another parliamentary representative regime, recently has experienced a similar development. In 2014, a majority of the members of the Indian parliament elected Narendra Modi, and since then he has served as India’s prime minister. Modi’s party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has also won parliamentary majorities in a large number of India’s state-level parliaments. The BJP espouses an ideology of Hindu nationalism, seeing India as an inherently Hindu country. Pursuant to this ideology, as of 2021 eight state parliaments—each with a BJP parliamentary majority—have passed laws regulating religious conversion. Most observers view these measures as evidence of a fear that people will convert from Hinduism to other faiths.82 According to these conversion laws, to change their religion, individuals must first have their conversion investigated by state officials who must be convinced that the conversion is free and fully informed. Otherwise, the conversion is illegal.83 Human rights groups have argued that these laws inherently violate religious liberty by allowing the state to judge one’s religious beliefs (to determine if they are “sincere,” “freely adopted,” and “fully informed”). Moreover, human rights groups have documented how these laws are sometimes unfairly enforced so as to curb religious conversion, further undermining the principle of individual religious liberty.84 These laws—if not the ways they are alleged to be unfairly enforced—have been adopted by a process that aligns with India’s parliamentary system.
In Pakistan—a country that, like India, has a representative government at both the national and regional levels—threats to religious freedom have also become pronounced. When the Indian subcontinent (a territory that included the modern-day states of India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh) achieved independence from British rule in 1947, Pakistan was partitioned from the rest of the subcontinent to allow for the creation of a government that would rule a majority-Muslim population in accordance with Islamic values. Those who defend the legitimacy of the 1956 constitution of the Pakistan Islamic Republic do so in large measure on the basis that it affords Muslims from the subcontinent a place in which to safely practice their Islamic faith in a social and community context reinforced by the social norms of a Muslim society. Since the overwhelming majority of Pakistanis are Muslim, their elected representatives are as well. Working within the parliamentary system, in the 1980s Pakistani parliaments passed laws that expanded the earlier laws against blasphemy, insulting speech or publications about a religion or its tenets, that were in effect since Pakistan’s founding. Until the 1980s, these laws were general, mentioning no religion or religious text specifically and thus equally protecting all religions against blasphemy. In the 1980s, however, national and regional parliaments in Pakistan added to the blasphemy laws specific prohibitions on insulting Islam, the Prophet Muhammad, and the Koran. The source of these laws appears to many observers to be a desire to shield Islam in particular from blasphemous speech.85 Moreover, these laws define blasphemy broadly and require only a low level of proof to secure conviction in a Pakistani court. Human rights organizations have criticized these laws as being overly broad and unjustly enforced, and thus infringements on the freedom of speech and religion.86 These laws, however, appear to be popular, and nothing in the Pakistani Constitution prohibits the government from banning blasphemous speech.87
Not all representative systems will tend to advance what Western political regimes increasingly see as the cornerstone of their own political legitimacy—the preservation of a broad range of personal rights and freedoms. Whether these regimes will move or be moved to do so in the future remains an open question.