A leading scholar of democracy combines his academic research with his direct experience to piece together a wide-ranging study of the creation—and possible destruction—of that specific form of governance.
Although aware that the United States has termed itself a democracy since the 18th century, Diamond (In Search of Democracy, 2015, etc.), the founding editor of the Journal of Democracy and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and Stanford’s Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, writes that the nation never achieved that goal until 1965, with the Voting Rights Act, when meaningful voting rights became a reality for all adults, at least in theory. “Only in 1968,” he writes, “could an American presidential election plausibly be, for the first time, called free and fair.” Despite disagreement within the academy and within councils of government, the author maintains that democracy is necessary before a nation lays claim to freedom for its citizens. A durable democratic government must be broadly recognized as legitimate. Diamond has been disseminating such a message for decades, but he decided to write his latest book after Donald Trump became president—after suffering the “anguished knowledge of what his presidency would mean for democracy around the world.” As the author clearly shows, Trump is not just a threat to American democracy; he also plays an influential role in the retreat from freedom besetting numerous nations. Diamond is worried that the authoritarian governments of China and Russia are actively seeking to halt nascent democratic movements by encouraging other autocrats in nations such as Hungary, Turkey, and the Philippines. What to do with such complicated forces at work? The author suggests numerous potential promising paths, including a switch to a parliamentary form of government, specific measures to diminish the corruption pervasive in kleptocracies, and transparent elections that feature ranked-choice voting. Diamond is most comfortable with suggestions that would revive U.S. democracy before mounting sustained initiatives elsewhere.
A potent mix of theory and practice that runs from didactic to inspiring. A good addition to the growing library on fighting authoritarianism.