Comparing communist and fascist ideologies towards courts: Historical lessons for addressing the contemporary authoritarian turn in Europe

Authoritarian ideologies towards law and legal institutions are a determining feature of law and politics in these regimes. As scholars pay greater attention to historical authoritarian regimes, the role of courts and possibilities for resistance comes to the fore. We observe a good deal of variation between the two main authoritarian ideologies of Europe of the twentieth century, Nazism/ fascism and communism. This article surveys the literature and develops a framework for understanding under what circumstances authoritarian rulers resorted to independent legal institutions as a means of repression and legitimation, how they sought to obtain the compliance of these institutions with their policies of oppression, and what we can learn from these experiences for addressing the current authoritarian turn in the EU. The analysis relies on Hungary as a case study and draws on archival materials of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party concerning the judiciary (1957-1988).