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A FINANCIAL TIMES, ECONOMIST AND NEW STATESMAN BOOK OF THE YEAR 2020
'How did our democracy go wrong? This extraordinary document, written with urgency, intelligence and understanding, is her answer' Timothy Snyder
In the years just before and after the fall of the Berlin Wall, people from across the political spectrum in Europe and America celebrated a great achievement, felt a common purpose and, very often, forged personal friendships. Yet over the following decades the euphoria evaporated, the common purpose and centre ground gradually disappeared, extremism rose once more and eventually - as this book compellingly relates - the relationships soured too.
Anne Applebaum traces this history in an unfamiliar way, looking at the trajectories of individuals caught up in the public events of the last three decades. When politics becomes polarized, which side do you back? If you are a journalist, an intellectual, a civic leader, how do you deal with the re-emergence of authoritarian or nationalist ideas in your country? When your leaders appropriate history, or pedal conspiracies, or eviscerate the media and the judiciary, do you go along with it?
Twilight of Democracy is an essay that combines the personal and the political in an original way and brings a fresh understanding to the dynamics of public life in Europe and America, both now and in the recent past.
Responsible conservatism has drifted into bigotry, antidemocratic ideology, and revenge psychology, argues this deeply personal analysis of the populist right. Historian and journalist Applebaum (Red Famine) calls out erstwhile center-right friends and colleagues who once supported democracy, meritocracy, free markets, and internationalism for accommodating xenophobia, homophobia, anti-Semitism, and illiberal one-party rule. Focusing on her adopted homeland of Poland, Applebaum decries former allies who now support the ruling right-wing Law and Justice Party's undermining of the independent judiciary and media. She also faults Tory acquaintances in Britain for backing Brexit, and Fox News pundit Laura Ingraham for abandoning Reaganite conservatism for "apocalyptic pessimism." Applebaum paints contemporary right-wing politics as a psychosis of "resentment, envy, and... the belief that the system' is unfair not just to the country, but to you," and of psychic anxiety about "clashing voices and different opinions." Her armchair psychologizing as when she suggests that the "loud advocacy" of Ingraham and other Trump boosters may help "to cover up the deep doubt and even shame they feel about their support for Trump" sometimes feels too glib and dismissive of the divisive issues that energize populist movements. Still, this anguished and forceful jeremiad crystallizes right-of-center dismay at the betrayal of the conservative tradition.