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Why Diverse Democracies Fall Apart and How They Can Endure

by Yascha Mounk

Pub Date: April 19th, 2022
ISBN: 978-0-593-29681-3
Publisher: Penguin Press

A well-considered examination of current threats to democratic societies and how to resist them.

Mounk, a professor of international affairs and contributing editor at the Atlantic, traces the connection between the Founders’ idea of a self-governing republic and the modern ideal of a democracy that protects diverse members of society, majority and minority alike. There are internal tensions everywhere. “The very logic of self-government, with its constant imperative to cobble together a majority of like-minded voters,” writes the author, “makes it tempting for citizens to exclude those they regard as different from full participation in their polity.” Diversity yields conflict, especially in times when identity politics come to the fore. Many Italians, for example, might say that an Italian’s distant ancestors lived in Italy, excluding African and Asian immigrants from any possibility of joining the polity. Mounk allows that immigration is a vexing challenge to European and North American societies, especially when so many politicians decry Islam as being fundamentally incompatible with Western ideals even if most Muslim immigrants wholly support the democratic tenets of their new homes. It will take considerable goodwill to do so, but, Mounk insists, “people drawn from different ethnic and cultural groups can, without needing to give up their own identities, embark on a meaningfully shared life.” Enemies of such a view are legion, of course, and even the best-intentioned among us “are hardwired to form groups” that exclude those who are in some way not like us. Democracies that have failed, such as Lebanon, have devolved into “consociational” societies in which identity politics are everything: Sunni vs. Shia, Muslim vs. Christian. Understandably, nationalism then thrives, the lifeblood of demagogues like Putin and Trump. To counter them, Mounk encourages the development of “civic patriotism” and firmer commitment to democratic ideals, from battling terrorism to providing equal access to “key services like quality health care or core entitlements like paid family leave.”

A thoughtful, timely defense of the ideal of a participatory, open society.