Essays by contributors allied with the Renew Democracy Initiative on the necessity of defending democratic institutions in an anti-democratic era.
The strongest point of this useful collection is the depth and breadth of its opposition to our current illiberal atmosphere. Conservative historian Max Boot, libertarian-inclined economist Tyler Cowen, and liberal author Richard North Patterson are among those who set aside their differences and join forces against the “resurgence of political authoritarianism and extremism” following the 2016 election. As many contributors note, Donald Trump is a symptom and not a direct cause for the breakdown of democratic institutions; he did not create the sharp divisions in society, but he certainly exploits them to his own advantage. Conversely, writes the RDI’s board—chaired by chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov, no stranger to dissidence—by way of an introduction to a work that its members characterize as a modern Federalist Papers, the initiative aims to work around division to emphasize “how much we have in common: a belief in the fundamental ideas that for generations have made so much of the world free, prosperous, and safe.” The return to first principles and catholicity of the approach are admirable, and if some of the pieces are rather aridly academic, others have a populist urgency to them. For example, journalist and historian Anne Applebaum dissects the reasons behind Vladimir Putin’s embrace of authoritarians in the West—namely, to discredit democracy itself and the ideals that inform it, for which he “needs to undermine the institutions that promote them, to create chaos and discord in the democratic processes of the West and above all in Western institutions.” (One such institution, she adds, is the European Union, which Trump has so regularly reviled.) Perhaps the best piece in the collection is by journalist John Avlon, who observes with considerable understatement that "America is living through a stark departure from its best political traditions.” Other contributors include Ted Koppel, Bret Stephens, and Nancy Gertner.
A valuable addition to the literature of democratic resistance.