From Publishers Weekly
A prolific historian and theorist of international relations, Lukacs (The Hitler of History) offers a compact view of political change in Europe and the United States from the Napoleonic Wars to the present, with a particular focus on his area of expertise, WWII and the decades just before and after. For him, Western democracy as we have known it may have already begun to follow a course similar to that of Nazi Germany, where demagogic populists seized power, took control of the media and brainwashed their way through subsequent "elections." Lukacs derides familiar models of modern politics that pit liberals against conservatives; true conservatives, who stress aristocracy and traditional authority, have (he argues) been in decline since at least 1870. Instead, modern history shows a steady increase in popular sovereignty, in the power of public opinion and in the appeal of aggressive nationalism, which tends to control that opinion given a chance—with the aid of mass media. Lukacs decries the "devolution of liberal democracy into populism" and "popular nationalism," especially but not only under George W. Bush. He also decries gay marriage, television, contemporary feminism, "permissiveness" and American "decadence." His hauteur, fast pace and frequently cantankerous asides may impede what is otherwise a thoughtful warning from a very knowledgeable source. (Mar.)
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*Starred Review* Lukacs has written imaginatively (A Thread of Years, 1998) and persuasively (At the End of an Age, 2002) about the present as the conclusion of an era. That he also descries the rough beast shuffling on the immediate horizon this concentrated discussion of political modes and motivations attests. Aristocracy and monarchy died in the modern era, and democracy prevails as the regnant form of governance. Moreover, such styles of democracy as socialism and liberalism have failed, overpowered by nationalism and populism; for instance, Russia turned from an international to a national socialism under Stalin and never reverted, while the prevalence of politics by poll and publicity in the West has marginalized political parties, encouraged charismatic candidates, and led politicians to be concerned with what "the people" want. The temptations of crude majoritarianism and of strongmen embodying national destinies are rampant. Lukacs believes deeply in the power of ideas and insists upon defining terms precisely, based on their actual usage and effects; this accounts for some of the most striking passages, such as his discrimination of fascism from national socialism, in a book so dense and cogent that many will want to read it repeatedly and refer to it often. Ray Olson
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