Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of

Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism 4.5 This is a disturbing book It s meant to be disturbing Many books have been written over the past few years let s pick 2016 as a randomly chosen starting point examining the dark shifts taking place in the world s democratic countries How Democracies Die, for one, and The Retreat of Western Liberalism, for another Applebaum s book covers similar ground but she brings something new and important to the subject.Applebaum is a highly regarded author and reporter I m most familiar with 4.5 This is a disturbing book It s meant to be disturbing Many books have been written over the past few years let s pick 2016 as a randomly chosen starting point examining the dark shifts taking place in the world s democratic countries How Democracies Die, for one, and The Retreat of Western Liberalism, for another Applebaum s book covers similar ground but she brings something new and important to the subject.Applebaum is a highly regarded author and reporter I m most familiar with her from her writings for The Washington Post and The Atlantic She is serious, smart, and perceptive She is also, unlike the authors of so many other previous books on the topic, a conservative a McCain Republican, as she puts it, and she is profoundly dismayed by what that party, and others like it around the world, has become The book opens with a New Year s Eve gathering at her house in 1999 in Poland, where she and her husband live The party is attended by numerous thinkers, writers, educators, diplomats, journalists, and such Mostly conservative in their thinking and deeply committed to and optimistic about democracy, they entered the new millennium with shared confidence and hope.Within the span of a few years, however, things change Applebaum finds she does not cannot talk to many of these same people who were her friends She will even cross the street to avoid encounters, as they will to avoid her Individuals who considered themselves as center left or center right were now spokesmen for or participants in authoritarian governments In trying to discern what factors led to this, the book covers a lot of ground, drawing examples from countries Applebaum has lived in and people she s known She talks about toxic forms of nostalgia, and the urge to power, of cynical actors and manufactured apocalyptic visions, of bots and social media, corrupted courts and compliant political institutions, of soft dictatorship and Medium Size Lies, of fictitious conspiracies and the undermining of faith in institutions, of aggrieved senses of entitlement and arguments about how nations define themselves and who gets to contribute to the process of definition And most importantly, perhaps, the psychological processes that lead people to buy into systems they would never seen themselves as being able to support In short, all the tools that can be brought to bear to crack open the fissures inherent in and necessary to democracy.At the heart of Twilight are three key points that democracies are neither guaranteed to survive nor self sustaining that democracies are by their nature messy, stress filled cacophonies of competing voices, viewpoints, and needs and perhaps most critically in today s world that there are large numbers of people for whom the appeal of authoritarianism is eternal because they are bothered by complexity They dislike divisiveness They prefer unity A sudden onslaught of diversity diversity of opinions, diversity of experiences makes them angry Authoritarian impulses always find fertile ground in times of uncertainty That said, societies that do slide from democracy into authoritarianism do not devolve on their own but are consciously shaped and molded Authoritarians need the people who can use sophisticated legal language, people who can argue that breaking the constitution or twisting the law is the right thing to do They need people who will give voice to grievances, manipulate discontent, channel anger and fear, and imagine a different future They need members of the intellectual and educated elite, in other words, who will help them launch a war on the rest of the educated elite, even if that includes their university classmates, their colleagues, and their friends.It had been an article of faith after the end of the Cold War, she observes, that democracy would spread, and along with it, economic prosperity that democratic societies would never collapse But those beliefs have been challenged by facts on the ground It is a grim and, in our time, all too familiar picture What seemed a shining future might become a dark avenue we fear to walk What, then, has caused this transformation Were some of our friends always closet authoritarians Or have people with whom we clinked glasses in the first minutes of the new millennium somehow changed over the subsequent two decades There is no single explanation, and I will not offer either a grand theory or a universal solution But there is a theme Given the right conditions, any society can turn against democracy Indeed, if history is anything to go by, all of our societies eventually will A frightening prospect, this.The book has so much power because Applebaum speaks as much from her heart as she does her head The writing throughout is clear and engaging, as one would expect from a gifted journalist It is filled with names that are familiar who knew that Laura Ingraham once dated Donald Trump and unfamiliar But mostly it is grounded in a warning that democracy is not guaranteed to last, that it must be protected.I can t recommend this important book enough.One quibble, offered here in the hope that someone at the publisher stumbles across this review The digital ARC I read thank you Netgalley has a LOT of typos Really, a lot I hope they re caught before the book goes to press I enjoy reading Anne Applebaum s books, especially her books on the Gulag and on Communism in Eastern Europe This book is short, relative to her other books My sense is that this began as an article or monograph and then expanded to its current size The focus of the book is on the rise of autocracy across Europe and the United States Applebaum s intent is to examine how democracies can be subverted and follow a political trajectory aw2ay from democracy and towards autocracy This involves a I enjoy reading Anne Applebaum s books, especially her books on the Gulag and on Communism in Eastern Europe This book is short, relative to her other books My sense is that this began as an article or monograph and then expanded to its current size The focus of the book is on the rise of autocracy across Europe and the United States Applebaum s intent is to examine how democracies can be subverted and follow a political trajectory aw2ay from democracy and towards autocracy This involves a survey of European cases related to the rise of Trump in the US The question is how a society can move from a solidly legitimate democratic constitution and cultural ethos and towards a negative and cynical nostalgia driven perspective on institutions that delegitimates democracy and lures citizens towards the greater simplicity and stability ofautocratic regimes.To address this, Ms Applebaum produces a series of cases, based in part on her experience, examining how these trends developed in Poland, Hungary, the United Kingdom, and the US She is an accomplished journalist and has connections within the upper levels of her case studies She is also a first rate historian who can place these cases in context and draw clear and often startling conclusions The general topic, combined with her many skills, leads to a fun and effective book To get the most out of the book and its punchlines, readers can look at this in conjunction with Masha Gessen s recent book Surviving Autocracy.Twilight of Democracy was published in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic and it complicates the story On the one hand, there is a sense that Ms Applebaum was trending towards a bit of optimism at the end of the book, except that it is also likely that the new autocrats will see the pandemic as an opportunity not to be missed one that can help them maintain and enhance their power Orban in Hungary is an example That is, as long as the pandemic crisis is effectively managed and does not become a liability for the autocrat HmmmThis is a fine book and shows a superb mind working through a complex set of problems I look forward to seeing how her thinking further develops as events unfold Anne ApplebaumHistory Will Judge the ComplicitFor tormented intellectuals, collaboration also offered a kind of relief, almost a sense of peace It meant that they were no longer constantly at war with the state, no longer in turmoil Once the intellectual has accepted that there is no other way, Mi osz wrote, he eats with relish, his movements take on vigor, his color returns He sits down and writes a positive article, marveling at the ease with which he writes it Mi osz is one of the few Anne ApplebaumHistory Will Judge the ComplicitFor tormented intellectuals, collaboration also offered a kind of relief, almost a sense of peace It meant that they were no longer constantly at war with the state, no longer in turmoil Once the intellectual has accepted that there is no other way, Mi osz wrote, he eats with relish, his movements take on vigor, his color returns He sits down and writes a positive article, marveling at the ease with which he writes it Mi osz is one of the few writers to acknowledge the pleasure of conformity, the lightness of heart that it grants, the way that it solves so many personal and professional dilemmas.Collaboration wasn t interesting, Birthler told me Almost everyone was a collaborator 99 percent of East Germans collaborated If they weren t working with the Stasi, then they were working with the party, or with the systemgenerally.The point is not to compare Trump to Hitler or Stalin the point is to compare the experiences of high ranking members of the American Republican Party, especially those who work most closely with the White House, to the experiences of Frenchmen in 1940, or of East Germans in 1945, or of Czes aw Mi osz in 1947 These are experiences of people who are forced to accept an alien ideology or a set of values that are in sharp conflict with their own.These kinds of lies also have a way of building on one another It takes time to persuade people to abandon their existing value systems The process usually begins slowly, with small changes Social scientists who have studied the erosion of values and the growth of corruption inside companies have found, for example, that people arelikely to accept the unethical behavior of others if the behavior develops gradually along a slippery slope rather than occurring abruptly, according to a 2009 article in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology This happens, in part, because most people have a built in vision of themselves as moral and honest, and that self image is resistant to change Once certain behaviors become normal, then people stop seeing them as wrong.But all of them are familiar justifications of collaboration, recognizable from the past Here are the most popular.We can use this moment to achieve great things.We can protect the country from the president.I, personally, will benefit.I must remain close to power.LOL nothing matters Cynicism, nihilism, relativism, amorality, irony, sarcasm, boredom, amusement these are all reasons to collaborate, and always have been Marko Martin, a novelist and travel writer who grew up in East Germany, told me that in the 1980s some of the East German bohemia, influenced by then fashionable French intellectuals, argued that there was no such thing as morality or immorality, no such thing as good or evil, no such thing as right or wrong so you might as well collaborate If there is no such thing as moral and immoral, then everyone is implicitly released from the need to obey any rules If the president doesn t respect the Constitution, then why should I If the president can cheat in elections, then why can t I Mikhail Bakhtin, the Russian philosopher and literary critic, recognized the lure of the forbidden a century ago, writing about the deep appeal of the carnival, a space where everything banned is suddenly allowed, where eccentricity is permitted, where profanity defeats piety.My side might be flawed, but the political opposition is much worse.I am afraid to speak out Fear, of course, is the most important reason any inhabitant of an authoritarian or totalitarian society does not protest or resign, even when the leader commits crimes, violates his official ideology, or forces people to do things that they know to be wrong In extreme dictatorships like Nazi Germany and Stalin s Russia, people fear for their lives In softer dictatorships, like East Germany after 1950 and Putin s Russia today, people fear losing their jobs or their apartments.The choice to become a dissident can easily be the result of a number of small decisions that you take to absent yourself from the May Day parade, for example, or not to sing the words of the party hymn And then, one day, you find yourself irrevocably on the other side Often, this process involves role models You see people whom you admire, and you want to be like them It can even be selfish You want to do something for yourself, Birthler said, to respect yourself In the meantime, I leave anyone who has the bad luck to be in public life at this moment with a final thought from W adys aw Bartoszewski, who was a member of the wartime Polish underground, a prisoner of both the Nazis and the Stalinists, and then, finally, the foreign minister in two Polish democratic governments Late in his life he lived to be 93 he summed up the philosophy that had guided him through all of these tumultuous political changes It was not idealism that drove him, or big ideas, he said It was this Warto by przyzwoitym Just try to be decent Whether you were decent that s what will be remembered.The Atlantichttps www.theatlantic.com magazine The interesting thing to me in reading this book was the fact that the author has traveled in well connected circles and knows intimately the political characters of whom she speaks She bookends her account with two parties at her home in Poland, one at the New Year s Eve celebration in 1999, the second in the summer of 2019 Half of the people who attended the first party are no longer speaking to those who attended the second Thus are the divisions of our times, not only in the USA There ar The interesting thing to me in reading this book was the fact that the author has traveled in well connected circles and knows intimately the political characters of whom she speaks She bookends her account with two parties at her home in Poland, one at the New Year s Eve celebration in 1999, the second in the summer of 2019 Half of the people who attended the first party are no longer speaking to those who attended the second Thus are the divisions of our times, not only in the USA There are many revealing bits of late 20th century early 21st century European history told as only an insider could divulge The book gave me new ways to think about the slide toward authoritarianism and examples of how it has occurred fairly recently in , for example, Hungary and Poland The author is American but is married to a Polish government official and lives in Poland She clearly connects her examples to aspects of the current administration in the USA Her political background is as a conservative Republican, which makes her dismay thetelling The book was wonderfully well written, which is what you d expect from a Pulitzer prize winning author.Many thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my unbiased opinion Very useful for its summaries of the current political situations in Poland and Hungary and how they compare with the situations in the UK and the US that arewidely known.My slight hesitance here is that I can t quite identify with someone who was Republican until only 12 years ago The book is potentially informative of fault lines that have always existed within American conservatism It seems the author wrote this as a lament in part, and indirectly for not picking her friends and col Very useful for its summaries of the current political situations in Poland and Hungary and how they compare with the situations in the UK and the US that arewidely known.My slight hesitance here is that I can t quite identify with someone who was Republican until only 12 years ago The book is potentially informative of fault lines that have always existed within American conservatism It seems the author wrote this as a lament in part, and indirectly for not picking her friends and colleaguescarefully, but she doesn t mention if she feels any sense of responsibility or complicity for the direction that many other conservatives went in, then and now, or if she feels overall that she was one of the good ones or one of the bad ones in her past endeavors Anyway, to put a medium fine point on it, depending on who you are in the USA, you may not have had a real conversation with a conservative since 2001 or 1984 or 1968 That the Republican Party has pursued full on Nazification within the past five years and that upper echelon conservative commentators are increasingly feeling the pinch within their own social stratum is indeed a sad curiosity, but millions of Americans have been complaining about dimensions of this problem for their entire lives.Anyway, there aren t any solutions in this book It is very correct and very sad If you get anxious when you don t have a takeaway about how you can resist authoritarianism and when you have no assurance that the moral arc of history will bend toward democracy, well, this will be bleak for you Ultimately the book is a gentle warning to all of us to pay close attention to our circles of comradeship because we are all % and those who are most vulnerable will need to rely on each other The author is telling us what personality traits most lean toward authoritarian structure and that there s not much to be done about those people except to avoid them.I bloggeddetail on Medium. An excellent book trying to provide an analysis of the current rise of the populist nationalist and authoritarian rhetoric around the world, but especially in The former Soviet block and the States I gave 5 stars for the mere attempt of analysis of the situation we are in as I think that deeper andthorough one is only possible after we passed this This book made me think and try to beattentive to the political mood around me The only drawback is the so called cultural bubble that An excellent book trying to provide an analysis of the current rise of the populist nationalist and authoritarian rhetoric around the world, but especially in The former Soviet block and the States I gave 5 stars for the mere attempt of analysis of the situation we are in as I think that deeper andthorough one is only possible after we passed this This book made me think and try to beattentive to the political mood around me The only drawback is the so called cultural bubble that the vast minority of the thinkers and political analysts exist in They tend to sometime draw broad conclusions based on the relative advanced and informed although that is not the norm on some topics opinions where in reality the rest of the ordinary people have very different often conservative or backwards views I suffer from this as well and completely understand and relate to the party scene in the beginning of the book in the meantime I continue following this brilliant author , whose views I do not share completely but respect and admire This was ridiculous.After spending exhaustive detail on name dropping and burnishing her conservative bona fides, the author can t, for the life of her, figure out why folks blame right wing folks for being fascists She blames the Weather Underground whose agenda did NOT become the DNC platform , Emma Goldman, college kids who don t want their parents paying for bigoted and sexist professors as the exact equals of conservatives who have taken over Hungary, Poland, the UK, and the US.Five pages This was ridiculous.After spending exhaustive detail on name dropping and burnishing her conservative bona fides, the author can t, for the life of her, figure out why folks blame right wing folks for being fascists She blames the Weather Underground whose agenda did NOT become the DNC platform , Emma Goldman, college kids who don t want their parents paying for bigoted and sexist professors as the exact equals of conservatives who have taken over Hungary, Poland, the UK, and the US.Five pages or so were spent on lamenting losing the friendship of Laura Ingraham Keenly, she gets the details right So correctly that it is a damn shame she misses that this move to authoritarism is not an outlier of conservative thought, it is baked into the system and should probably be addressed in some way.You would expect better from someone who spent years cataloging the totalitarianism of the Soviet Union to know that extremes lead to brutalism, no matter that you went to cocktail parties with some of them excellent Kind of like listening to a very intelligent and insightful woman discourse on the complexity of a modern society with all its various aspects and the unending appeal of simplistic autocratic solutions. The Pulitzer Prize winning author, professor, and historian offers an expert guide to understanding the appeal of the strongman as a leader and an explanation for why authoritarianism is back with a menacing twenty first century twistAcross the world today, from the Americas to Europe and beyond, liberal democracy is under siege while populism and nationalism are on the rise In Twilight of Democracy, prize winning historian Anne Applebaum offers an unexpected explanation that there is a deep and inherent appeal to authoritarianism, to strongmen, and, especially, to one party rule that is, to political systems that benefit true believers, or loyal soldiers, or simply the friends and distant cousins of the Leader, to the exclusion of everyone else People, she argues, are not just ideological they are also practical, pragmatic, opportunistic They worry about their families, their houses, their careers Some political systems offer them possibilities, and others don t In particular, the modern authoritarian parties that have arisen within democracies today offer the possibility of success to people who do not thrive in the meritocratic, democratic, or free market competition that determines access to wealth and power Drawing on reporting in Spain, Switzerland, Poland, Hungary, and Brazil using historical examples including Stalinist central Europe and Nazi Germany and investigating related phenomena the modern conspiracy theory, nostalgia for a golden past, political polarization, and meritocracy and its discontents, Anne Applebaum brilliantly illuminates the seduction of totalitarian thinking and the eternal appeal of the one party state There is no doubt that Anne Applebaum can write this long essay on the rise of contemporary authoritarianism is informed by Applebaum s close involvement with important players in several countries, including Poland, Hungary, the UK, and the US This turns out to be both a strength and a weakness of the book Like Charles Dickens Our Mutual Friend, Twilight of Democracy is bookended by parties that capture evolving social and political dynamics In Our Mutual Friend it is changing attitudes t There is no doubt that Anne Applebaum can write this long essay on the rise of contemporary authoritarianism is informed by Applebaum s close involvement with important players in several countries, including Poland, Hungary, the UK, and the US This turns out to be both a strength and a weakness of the book Like Charles Dickens Our Mutual Friend, Twilight of Democracy is bookended by parties that capture evolving social and political dynamics In Our Mutual Friend it is changing attitudes towards class and social hierarchy that are explored and, at the end, it falls to Mr Tremlow to speak up against the prevailing snobberies, and we see him aligning with Mortimer Lightfoot in the wonderful BBC adaptation, looking out over the Thames with cigars and whisky By such small shifts do social changes occur Applebaum s parties track centrifugal changes in what appeared to be moderate right wing attitudes that later lurched towards the outright authoritarian and her circle s realignment with some of the moderate left in those attending the party recorded at the end of the essay What follows the millennium party that begins the book is a compelling and fascinating exposition of the rise of authoritarian politics and tactics across a number of countries differing in degree and extent by someone with direct personal knowledge of many of the key players For those of us in the UK, the descriptions of Boris Johnson from someone who has known him as a lazy narcissist come as no surprise, but are nonetheless compelling reading The description of the hideous Bullingdon Club s members as ironists is not explored sufficiently, however So, some ex members are now embarrassed but in what way and evidently Johnson and Applebaum s own husband view it as an extended joke p 61 Sometimes irony is the excuse bad behaviour makes for bad behaviour it is not in the least bit funny Clearly, from all we know about Johnson, his modus operandi is entirely based on a deep lack of seriousness for the serious But I digress.Unfortunately, Applebaum s close connections and personal politics weaken the book This mostly concerns the extent to which she tries to diagnose the seductive lure of authoritarianism There is a useful and worthwhile regference to Boym s The Future of Nostalgia p 73 with its contrast between reflective and restorative nostalgia, the latter being a myth making of the past, in this case for political ends It is somewhat related to Snyder s concept of the politics of inevitability The Road to Unfreedom Russia, Europe, America But this kind of nostalgia is a symptom and technique of authoritarianism rather than explanatory, we are still left asking why it is so successful.There is also discussion of an authoritarian disposition identified with simple mindedness a reaction to complexity and division p 106, reflecting on the work of Karen Stenner But again, it is not entirely clear that complexity is radically different from other times that have not seen an authoritarian turn She discusses immigration, inequality, and wage decline acknowledging the issues but without concluding that these are clearly the triggers pp 106 109 She is ratherpersuaded by the changes in communication, leading to divisiveness and hyper partisanship, as leading to terminal distrust of establishment politics e.g p 114 , as significant Here she is in good company but it is hardly a novel observation that social media has offered a whole host of opportunities for manipulation, and by a whole range of actors.However, fundamentally, she is speaking from what she sees nostalgically one might say from areasonable past of Thatcherite free market liberals or pro rule of law who is actually against rule of law pro market centre rightists In some sense paternalistic but also libertarian to large extent But those years from the mid 70s, through the Reagan Thatcher consensus, to the present day was a Hayek ian revolution of neoliberalizaton a word that does not appear in this book This turned out to be not simply an technocratic approach to running an economy but a fully fledged social philosophy one explored in detail, for example, in the work of Wendy Brown e.g Undoing the Demos Neoliberalism s Stealth Revolution and In the Ruins of Neoliberalism The Rise of Antidemocratic Politics in the West In this book, however, these notions of what Applebaum calls the centre right are not described in detail but feel almost cuddly For others, this period has been an unmitigated disaster, and one which is also being explored diagnostically as an explanation for the rise of authoritarianism.Similarly, Applebaum uses the term far left, freely with essentially nothing to support it beyond its scary self The examples of the left she gives are largely references to history rather than to the present, and to its undemocratic history at that What is entirely missing here is any proper engagement with the current left in relation to the rise of authoritarianism To be sure, there is and has been an anti democratic and authoritarian left but to be centre right in Applebaum s cuddly sense is not a place of refuge from which it is easy or even really possible to, on the one hand, well document the rise of the authoritarian right, and on the other make passing references to the far left the only party mentioned by name is Podemos, though there is implicit reference to Syriza There is also mention of the UK s Labour Party as far leftist As a centre rightist one is hardly obliged to agree with their politics but it is unreasonable to treat them as some unfulfilled alternative to the ascendent antidemocratic authoritarian far right No doubt Applebaum would see DiEM25 as far left too but, seriously, antidemocratic with authoritarian tendencies Overall, a compelling description because she was able to write this from the inside track in several countries But as an analysis no

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