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TWILIGHT OF DEMOCRACY by Anne Applebaum Kirkus Star


The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism

by Anne Applebaum

Pub Date: July 21st, 2020
ISBN: 978-0-385-54580-8
Publisher: Doubleday

Equal parts memoir, reportage, and history, this sobering account of the roots and forms of today’s authoritarianism, by one of its most accomplished observers, is meant as a warning to everyone.

Known for her historically grounded commentary and such well-received histories as the Pulitzer Prize–winning Gulag (2003), Atlantic staff writer Applebaum, a reflective, deep-thinking conservative, explores the “restorative nostalgia” and “authoritarian predisposition” of the far right in the U.S. and Europe. Her motivation in writing is a fear of the possible “fall of liberal democracy.” Sadly, she writes, “given the right conditions, any society can turn against democracy. Indeed, if history is anything to go by, all of our societies eventually will.” Well-acquainted with many of the figures she discusses, Applebaum analyzes the forces that have caused so many of them to turn ugly, revanchist, and unreasoning. She takes her examples mostly from Europe—Hungary, Poland, Spain, and Britain in particular—but also from Trump’s America. Sometimes too discursive, sometimes overlong (as on Laura Ingraham), the book is nevertheless critically important for its muscular, oppositionist attack on the new right from within conservative ranks—and for the well-documented warning it embodies. The author’s views are especially welcome because she is a deliberate thinker and astute observer rather than just the latest pundit or politico. In the spirit of Julien Benda, Hannah Arendt, and Theodor Adorno, Applebaum seeks to understand what makes the new right “more Bolshevik than Burkean.” Needless to say, any attack that places Viktor Orbán, Boris Johnson, and Donald Trump in the company of Lenin and Stalin is worthy of close attention. The author is highly instructive on what is happening in the increasingly grim realm of the far right: a hardening of bitterness and unreasoning vengefulness and a resulting shift of the spectrum that puts a growing number of conservatives like Applebaum in the center.

A knowledgeable, rational, necessarily dark take on dark realities.