Precarious Constitutionalism: The Ambiguities of Liberal Orders and the Rise of Illiberalism in Central Europe and Latin America

Precarious Constitutionalism: The Ambiguities of Liberal Orders and the Rise of Illiberalism in Central Europe and Latin America

Institute of Contemporary History, Czech Academy of Sciences
Vila Lanna, V Sadech 1/1
Funded by
Czech Republic
Takes place
In Attendance
From - Until
12.10.2023 - 13.10.2023
Joachim von Puttkamer, Historisches Institut, Imre Kertész Kolleg / Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena

Latin America and Central Europe are regions that share the experience of dictatorships, authoritarianism, strong modernizing states, rebellious civil societies and transitions to and from democracy. Both regions were also part of the so-called third wave of democratization, which represented a time of hope for democracy and constitutionalism as a means of overcoming dictatorship and difficult history.

Precarious Constitutionalism: The Ambiguities of Liberal Orders and the Rise of Illiberalism in Central Europe and Latin America

Mission Statement

Yet this period of democratizing constitutionalism, often through transplantations and adaptions from other constitutional models found elsewhere in the world, took place during the global rise of neoliberal economics and the Washington consensus with new political orders designed to increase the role of the market in the economy. The constitutional orders in these regions have undergone many upheavals in recent years, and the mob attack on the seats of the central constitutional institutions in Brazil in January this year is just one striking example.

In both regions, the promises regarding economic, social, and cultural rights as well as participative and deliberative democratic models collided with economic models and political agendas placing their bets on the market as the key driver of growth and redistribution. Both regions have also experienced the return of right-wing politics in the last decade or more, accompanied in many cases by the rise of illiberal constitutionalism. But there are also crucial differences: the role and ambition of the so-called “social constitutionalism” thriving in Latin America whereas almost non-existent in Central Europe.

The conference seeks to explore these histories, while rejecting a black-and-white dichotomous perspective that portrays countries simply divided between liberal democrats and illiberal anti-democrats. In contrast we encourage papers that examine how the rise of illiberal concepts and practices emerged from the ambiguities of liberal orders including the interlinkages of liberal economic reform programs with illiberal political practices and the non-democratic features inherent in liberal constitutional systems.

We very strongly encourage contributions from scholars focusing on Latin America and Central and Eastern Europe exploring the following questions, including:

- How have democratic historical narratives regarding the authoritarian and dictatorial pasts been put to use towards illiberal ends?
- What are the legacies of authoritarian and illiberal constitutionalist projects of the 20th century?
- What has been the role of the legal professions in authoritarian, transitional, and post-authoritarian orders? What can this tell us about the role of legal professions in illiberal projects of the present?
- What role has secularism, religion and clericalism in liberal and post-liberal orders?
- How have certain actors associated with “Third Wave” civil rights and democratization become part of illiberal movements after transition?
- How have illiberal movements transnationalized to link Eastern Europe and Latin America? Has this process been informed by earlier transnational human rights movements?

We encourage actor-oriented enquiry and welcome contributions combining systemic analysis with perspectives from below.

We welcome comparative papers, but are not concerned primarily with a detailed and elaborated comparative analysis of Latin America and Central Europe. Nor do we wish to merely point out the many analogies and similarities, which, on closer examination, usually reveal more differences than commonalities. Rather, we are concerned with parallel evolutions, narratives, and observations of the complicated developments in both regions, comparing the main research problems and questions as well as the ways of solving them. We are interested in using the parallel narrative of "the other region" to open ourselves up to themes, problems and perspectives that have remained hidden or obscured in our own research field of vision. As such, papers focusing on one region or the other are very welcome with the goal of using the event as an opportunity to compare and collaborate across geographical and cultural specializations.

The conference is a part of the Volkswagen-Stiftung funded project “Towards Illiberal Constitutionalism in East Central Europe: Historical Analysis in Comparative and Transnational Frame/Perspective”. The project aims to enhance historical, interdisciplinary, and comparative perspectives in scholarly engagement with illiberal and authoritarian challenges to constitutional democracy in ECE situating the present-day conflicts in the longer history of the ebb and flow of constitutionalism, democracy, legality and pluralism in the region. Focusing primarily on the era of late state socialism, the post-communist liberal transformation, and into the current illiberal challenge to constitutional democracy, the project situates these regional developments within broader European and global transnational perspectives.

Date: October 12–13, 2023
Location: Villa Lanna, Czech Academy of Sciences, Prague

Conference Committee:

- Michal Kopeček (Institute of Contemporary History, Czech Academy of Sciences, Prague)
- Marta Bucholc (University of Warsaw)
- Joachim von Puttkamer (University of Jena)
- Ned Richardson-Little (University of Erfurt)
- Renáta Uitz (Central European University, Vienna-Budapest)

Sponsor: Volkswagen-Stiftung funded project “Towards Illiberal Constitutionalism in East Central Europe: Historical Analysis in Comparative and Transnational Frame/Perspective”

Hosted by the Institute of Contemporary History, Czech Academy of Sciences in cooperation with the Centre for Ibero-American Studies (SIAS), Faculty of Arts, Charles University in Prague

Deadline: the deadline to submit abstracts is 20 March, 2023, to Matěj Slavík (

Questions regarding the conference are to be sent to the email contact above and/or to Michal Kopeček (

Contact (announcement)

Matěj Slavík

Michal Kopeček
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