Twilight of Democracy
The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism
NATIONAL BESTSELLER • "How did our democracy go wrong? This extraordinary document ... is Applebaum's answer." —Timothy Snyder, author of On Tyranny
The Pulitzer Prize–winning historian explains, with electrifying clarity, why elites in democracies around the world are turning toward nationalism and authoritarianism.
From the United States and Britain to continental Europe and beyond, liberal democracy is under siege, while authoritarianism is on the rise. In Twilight of Democracy, Anne Applebaum, an award-winning historian of Soviet atrocities who was one of the first American journalists to raise an alarm about antidemocratic trends in the West, explains the lure of nationalism and autocracy. In this captivating essay, she contends that political systems with radically simple beliefs are inherently appealing, especially when they benefit the loyal to the exclusion of everyone else. Elegantly written and urgently argued, Twilight of Democracy is a brilliant dissection of a world-shaking shift and a stirring glimpse of the road back to democratic values.
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.
The Swirl of Party Attendees
Describing attendees at parties over the years, Applebaum demonstrates how historical actors, crises, etc. drive political and cultural wedges between friends and family. She compares and contrasts what has happened in Hungary, Poland and the United States to describe the fragility of democracy.
A cogent meditation on authoritarian threats to the liberal democracies of the world, circa 2020 — one that I couldn’t put down. Highly recommended.
A decent read but offers no real analysis. This book has some originality scattered here and there but is overall nothing new to say that hasn’t already been said. Her talks about the coronavirus also seem forced.