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Why Our Freedom Is in Danger and How to Save It

by Yascha Mounk

Pub Date: March 5th, 2018
ISBN: 978-0-674-97682-5
Publisher: Harvard Univ.

The populists are on a rampage, and democratic institutions are in the way. Who will prevail?

There are times, writes Harvard government lecturer Mounk (The Age of Responsibility: Luck, Choice, and the Welfare State, 2017, etc.), when history seems to inch along, others when “everything changes all at once” and “a system of government that had seemed immutable looks as though it might come apart.” We live in one of those latter periods, and the news from the front is troubling. As the author notes, only one-third of millennials believe that “it is extremely important to live in a democracy,” and 1 in 6 Americans think that military rule is a good form of government. As a result, authoritarian populism has risen in America and elsewhere in the world, only a quarter-century after it seemed that with the fall of communism, liberal democracy would overtake the planet. Instead, “the primacy of the nation state has come roaring back.” Mounk documents several strains of this illiberality, many rising from the “rebellion against pluralism” that has announced itself in the culture war and the campaign against immigration, legal or otherwise. Accompanying this is a species of “demographic anxiety” about rising numbers of people in North America and Europe who are not of North American or European background as well as an overall decline in living standards and access to communications whereby malcontents can spread their views easily. Against all this, Mounk proposes reasonable remedies—or reasonable, one supposes, if one is not a political party operative, since, considering the Hillary Clinton defeat of 2016, he argues that “defenders of liberal democracy must demonstrate that they take the problems voters face seriously, and seek to effect real change.” Optimistically, the author even finds hope that the Trump administration will, by its bad example, “help to inoculate the United States against illiberal democracy.”

Provocative reading: ammunition for pundits and food for thought for anyone with an interest in political trends.