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Twilight of Democracy
Cover of Twilight of Democracy
Twilight of Democracy
The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism
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NATIONAL BESTSELLER • "How did our democracy go wrong? This extraordinary document ... is Applebaum's answer." —Timothy Snyder, author of On TyrannyThe Pulitzer Prize–winning historian...
NATIONAL BESTSELLER • "How did our democracy go wrong? This extraordinary document ... is Applebaum's answer." —Timothy Snyder, author of On TyrannyThe Pulitzer Prize–winning historian...
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  • NATIONAL BESTSELLER • "How did our democracy go wrong? This extraordinary document ... is Applebaum's answer." —Timothy Snyder, author of On Tyranny
    The Pulitzer Prize–winning historian explains, with electrifying clarity, why elites in democracies around the world are turning toward nationalism and authoritarianism.

    From the United States and Britain to continental Europe and beyond, liberal democracy is under siege, while authoritarianism is on the rise. In Twilight of Democracy, Anne Applebaum, an award-winning historian of Soviet atrocities who was one of the first American journalists to raise an alarm about antidemocratic trends in the West, explains the lure of nationalism and autocracy. In this captivating essay, she contends that political systems with radically simple beliefs are inherently appealing, especially when they benefit the loyal to the exclusion of everyone else. Elegantly written and urgently argued, Twilight of Democracy is a brilliant dissection of a world-shaking shift and a stirring glimpse of the road back to democratic values.

Excerpts-

  • From the book I
    New Year’s Eve
     
    On December 31, 1999, we threw a party. It was the end of one millennium and the start of a new one, and people very much wanted to celebrate, preferably somewhere exotic. Our party fulfilled that criterion. We held it at Chobielin, a small manor house in northwest Poland that my husband and his parents had purchased a decade earlier—­­for the price of the bricks—­­when it was a mildewed, uninhabitable ruin, unrenovated since the previous occupants fled the Red Army in 1945. We had restored the house, or most of it, though very slowly. It was not exactly finished in 1999, but it did have a new roof as well as a large, freshly painted, and completely unfurnished salon, perfect for a party.
     
    The guests were various: journalist friends from London and Moscow, a few junior diplomats based in Warsaw, two friends who flew over from New York. But most of them were Poles, friends of ours and colleagues of my husband, Radek Sikorski, who was then a deputy foreign minister in a center-­­right Polish government. There were local friends, some of Radek’s school friends, and a large group of cousins. A handful of youngish Polish journalists came too—­­none then particularly famous—­­along with a few civil servants and one or two very junior members of the government.
     
    You could have lumped the majority of us, roughly, in the general category of what Poles call the right—­­the conservatives, the anti-­­Communists. But at that moment in history, you might also have called most of us liberals. Free-­­market liberals, classical liberals, maybe Thatcherites. Even those who might have been less definite about the economics did believe in democracy, in the rule of law, in checks and balances, and in a Poland that was a member of NATO and on its way to joining the European Union (EU), a Poland that was an integrated part of modern Europe. In the 1990s, that was what being “on the right” meant.
     
    As parties go, it was a little scrappy. There was no such thing as catering in rural Poland in the 1990s, so my mother-­­in-­­law and I made vats of beef stew and roasted beets. There were no hotels, either, so our hundred-­­odd guests stayed in local farmhouses or with friends in the nearby town. I kept a list of who was staying where, but a couple of people still wound up sleeping on the floor in the basement. Late in the evening we set off fireworks—­­cheap ones, made in China, which had just become widely available and were probably extremely dangerous.
     
    The music—­­on cassette tapes, made in an era before Spotify—­­created the only serious cultural divide of the evening: the songs that my American friends remembered from college were not the same as the songs that the Poles remembered from college, so it was hard to get everybody to dance at the same time. At one point I went upstairs, learned that Boris Yeltsin had resigned, wrote a brief column for a British newspaper, then went back downstairs and had another glass of wine. At about three in the morning, one of the wackier Polish guests pulled a small pistol out of her handbag and shot blanks into the air out of sheer exuberance.
     
    It was that kind of party. It lasted all night, continued into “brunch” the following afternoon, and was infused with the optimism I remember from that time. We had rebuilt our ruined house. Our friends were rebuilding the country. I have a particularly clear memory of a walk in the snow—­­maybe it...

About the Author-

  • ANNE APPLEBAUM’s 2018 Atlantic article “A Warning from Europe” inspired this book and was a finalist for a National Magazine Award. After seventeen years as a columnist at The Washington Post, Applebaum became a staff writer at The Atlantic in 2020. She is the author of three critically acclaimed and award-winning histories of the Soviet Union: Red Famine, Iron Curtain, and Gulag, winner of the Pulitzer Prize.

Reviews-

  • Kirkus

    Starred review from May 15, 2020
    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.

    COPYRIGHT(2020) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Publisher's Weekly

    June 15, 2020
    Responsible conservatism has drifted into bigotry, antidemocratic ideology, and revenge psychology, argues this deeply personal analysis of the populist right. Historian and journalist Applebaum (Red Famine) calls out erstwhile center-right friends and colleagues who once supported democracy, meritocracy, free markets, and internationalism for accommodating xenophobia, homophobia, anti-Semitism, and illiberal one-party rule. Focusing on her adopted homeland of Poland, Applebaum decries former allies who now support the ruling right-wing Law and Justice Party’s undermining of the independent judiciary and media. She also faults Tory acquaintances in Britain for backing Brexit, and Fox News pundit Laura Ingraham for abandoning Reaganite conservatism for “apocalyptic pessimism.” Applebaum paints contemporary right-wing politics as a psychosis of “resentment, envy, and... the belief that the ‘system’ is unfair—not just to the country, but to you,” and of psychic anxiety about “clashing voices and different opinions.” Her armchair psychologizing—as when she suggests that the “loud advocacy” of Ingraham and other Trump boosters may help “to cover up the deep doubt and even shame they feel about their support for Trump”—sometimes feels too glib and dismissive of the divisive issues that energize populist movements. Still, this anguished and forceful jeremiad crystallizes right-of-center dismay at the betrayal of the conservative tradition.

  • Library Journal

    Starred review from July 1, 2020

    With this latest work, renowned historian and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Applebaum (Gulag; Iron Curtain) issues a clarion call about the current state of democracies. She sees threats that can transform democracy into authoritarianism--and shows how they emerge over time. While the work primarily focuses on Eastern Europe, there are echoes of current situations in Great Britain and the United States. The underlying root of the problem is a perceived mistrust in government and the amplification of mistrust. Enablers of mistrust rely on conspiracy theories (such as birtherism) to create audience buy-in, she maintains, as simplistic arguments outweigh complexity. Mistrust is also directed at minority populations: the othering effect. Taking advantage of a fractured media structure, these opinions creep into political dialog. Then, promising an elixir to solve these problems, strongmen can take over with empty solutions and promises. This work is personal for Applebaum because Poland, her adopted home, has turned into a single party authoritarian state following this pattern. She also touches on the history of authoritarianism in Hungary and Spain, and how leaders have used nostalgia and social media to sway beliefs. VERDICT Highly recommended; the currency of this work is both engrossing and petrifying.--Jacob Sherman, John Peace Lib., Univ. of Texas at San Antonio

    Copyright 2020 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Library Journal

    February 1, 2020

    The Pulitzer Prize-winning Applebaum explains today's surge of strongmen worldwide by arguing that humans are surprisingly attracted to authoritarianism and the corollary one-party rule. And it's not about ideology or simple meanness: Humans are practical and primarily worried about what's up close--their families, their houses, and their careers.

    Copyright 2020 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

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Anne Applebaum
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