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The People vs. Democracy: Why Our Freedom Is…

The People vs. Democracy: Why Our Freedom Is in Danger and How to Save It

by Yascha Mounk

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Forgot how I came across author Mounk (article? interview?) but his book sounded intriguing, especially in light of current events. An examination of the ills facing liberal democracy and what can be done in order to save it. He looks at the United States, European countries and looks at the roles of various things like social media, money and more.

I have to say, I thought this was just a lot of words telling me quite a bit of what I already knew, that would have been better set as a magazine or newspaper longread. There are plenty of facts and figures and certainly history I did not know, but at the same time it was still rather lacking.

For example, racism does not get a focus that might be required of an examination like this. It only has a few mentions in the index, although I suppose it could be part of his discussion of immigration. But racism has a rather particular role in the history of the United States and so it was disappointing to see this discussion left out.

Overall it seems like there a lot of words dedicated to a subject the author still couldn't quite cover and/or tried a little too hard to be broad. I can only really speak from a US-centric POV but trying to apply his thesis so broadly across such a wide range of countries didn't work for me. I also have been following others in social media and read other books and so it just seemed like quite a bit of repetition or stuff I've read/heard of before.

Borrowed from the library and that was best. ( )
  acciolibros | Jun 21, 2018 |
The author provides a perceptive and timely analysis of the recent electoral successes of populist politicians. President Trump is of course the centerpiece, but a number of illiberally inclined European leaders are also discussed in detail. The scary prospect in populist victories is that so many voters prefer strong leadership ahead of liberal values, and that the campaign promises needed to gain their votes are so simplified, poisonous and adversarial.

The author articulates a justifiable fear that liberal democracy may soon be coming to an end. He identifies three important reasons behind this historical trend towards authoritarianism. The first is that living standards have not improved in western democracies in the past few decades - for most people, they have not changed. The second is that the populations in these western democracies are no longer so racially homogeneous as they once were, which makes many people susceptible to racism. And the third factor is the rise of social media, or perhaps more accurately the decline of traditional liberal news media, which allows racist and populist ideas to spread with ease to large masses of people.

Although reverence for liberal values seems to be in decline in many western democracies, the author's claim that liberal democracy is splitting into "liberal non-democracy" and "non-liberal democracy" still seems a bit forced. His only viable example of a liberal non-democracy seems to be the European Union, so I don't think that distinction makes that much sense.

The self-defense cures that the author offers for liberal democracies against the stupidity and low moral character of their citizens are for the most part quite obvious, though not necessarily easy to administer. The defenders of liberal democracy must always take the moral high ground and defend the existing political system, even if populists do not. A lot hinges on leaders who must conceive a positive message that ordinary people can assimilate. It is perhaps even more important that the defenders of liberal democracy should not be splintered into too many different parties (or, in a two-party system, into too many different interest groups within a party). If the threat of an authoritarian takeover is imminent, its opponents should join their forces.

One key long-term solution, which the author only discusses very briefly, is public education. Children should be educated on the basic ideas and importance of liberal democratic politics, and on its authoritarian alternative, from a young age, again and again. After all, as the author writes, the best bulwark against populists is to keep them from the halls of power, and a generation which has been inocculated against the most extreme forms of populism stands the best chance of forming that bulwark.
  thcson | May 16, 2018 |
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From India to Turkey, from Poland to the United States, authoritarian populists have seized power. Two core components of liberal democracy--individual rights and the popular will--are at war, putting democracy itself at risk. In plain language, Yascha Mounk describes how we got here, where we need to go, and why there is little time left to waste.--… (more)

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