A landmark book that completely transforms our understanding of the crisis of liberalism, from two pre-eminent intellectuals.
Why did the West, after winning the Cold War, lose its political balance?
In the early 1990s, hopes for the eastward spread of liberal democracy were high. And yet the transformation of Eastern European countries gave rise to a bitter repudiation of liberalism itself, not only there but also back in the heartland of the West.
In this brilliant work of political history, Ivan Krastev and Stephen Holmes argue that the supposed end of Communism turned out to be only the beginning of the age of the autocrat. Reckoning with the history of the last thirty years, they show that the most powerful force behind the wave of populist xenophobia that began in Eastern Europe stems from resentment at the post-1989 imperative to become Westernized.
Through this prism, the Trump revolution represents an ironic fulfillment of the promise that the nations exiting from communist rule would come to resemble the United States. In a strange twist, Trump has elevated Putin’s Russia and Orba´n’s Hungary into models for the United States.
Written by two pre-eminent intellectuals bridging the East/West divide, The Light That Failed is a landmark book that sheds light on the extraordinary history of the fall of the Western ideal.
Political scientists Krastev (After Europe) and Holmes (The Quest for the Trinity) deliver a salient and incisive analysis of the decline of Western liberalism centered on the evolution of Central and Eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Describing the region's political elites as genuine "converts" to liberalism who became trapped in a conflict between democratic ideals and entrenched cultural norms, Krastev and Holmes trace the current global rise in "populist xenophobia and reactionary nativism" to a backlash against the "politics of imitation" that emerged in post Cold War Europe. The authors note the irony of newly democratic countries including Poland and Hungary being compelled by "unelected bureaucrats from Brussels" to enact policies required for E.U. membership, and study the contrasting examples of Russia, where elites simulated democratic norms while aiming to "kill the West's victory narrative," and China, where leaders appropriated Western technologies while resisting Western values. Krastev and Holmes also chart how Donald Trump's instinctual sense that "America is the greatest victim of Americanization" began to resonate with the public in the wake of 9/11. Their lucid and cogent presentation mitigates the sense of discouragement many readers are apt to feel when reckoning with how liberalism "lost its way." Those searching for what comes next should consider this an essential resource.