- Hardcover: 400 pages
- Publisher: Harvard University Press (March 5, 2018)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9780674976825
- ISBN-13: 978-0674976825
- ASIN: 0674976827
- Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.2 x 8.8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 29 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #18,511 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The People vs. Democracy: Why Our Freedom Is in Danger and How to Save It Hardcover – March 5, 2018
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“An acute analysis of the rise in populist nationalism and the challenges to democracy in our time. If you’ve not heard of Yascha Mounk before, you definitely will in the future.”―Francis Fukuyama
“Brilliant… Mounk’s argument takes us back full circle to the trepidations of the Founders, who empowered the people to select their own leaders but whose ultimate authority would be mediated and constrained by independent forces within a constitutional framework. As this superb book makes clear, we need both the liberal framework and the democracy, and bringing them back together is the greatest challenge of our time. The last 68 pages describe what we can do to pull ourselves back from the brink…take notes and start your to-do list. It’s important.”―Mickey Edwards, Los Angeles Times
“Democracy is going through its worst crisis since the 1930s. The number of countries that can plausibly be described as democracies is shrinking. Strongmen are in power in several countries that once looked as if they were democratizing, notably Russia, Turkey and Egypt. The United States―the engine room of democratization for most of the post-war period―has a president who taunted his opponent with chants of ‘lock her up’ and refused to say if he would accept the result of the election if it went against him. But what exactly is the nature of this crisis? And what is driving it? Yascha Mounk’s The People vs. Democracy stands out in a crowded field for the quality of its answers to these questions. Mounk provides an admirable mixture of academic expertise and political sense… A chastening read for all sorts of reasons.”―The Economist
“One of the many things to recommend this clarifying book is its international scope. As much as Donald J. Trump might fancy himself one of a kind, Mounk argues that the American president is part of a global wave. Populist forces are surging in Britain, Germany, Italy and France; in places like Venezuela, Hungary, Turkey and Poland they have already settled in, set up house and gotten around to the next step: gutting institutional safeguards in order to shore up their rule.”―New York Times
“Mounk’s extraordinary new book…provides a clear, concise, persuasive, and insightful account of the conditions that made liberal democracy work―and how the breakdown in those conditions is the source of the current crisis of democracy around the world.”―The Guardian
“A trenchant survey from 1989, with its democratic euphoria, to the current map of autocratic striving… Mounk…points out that one reason for the increasing indifference to democratic rule and the rising enthusiasm for authoritarian alternatives, particularly among young people, is the widening historical distance from any direct experience of the horrors of German Fascism or Soviet Communism.”―David Remnick, New Yorker
“Mounk, who writes with great verve and clarity, makes good use of survey data to illustrate the declining support for democracy across the west. He pours cold water on the idea that idealistic young people will prove to be the saviors of democracy. On the contrary, less than a third of millennials in America believe that it is extremely important to live in a democracy, compared to over two-thirds of older Americans… Mounk’s analysis of the strains within liberal democracy is acute and revealing.”―Gideon Rachman, Financial Times
“The comprehensiveness of Mounk’s analysis of populism’s advance is valuable, helping get beyond narratives that focus on a few especially colorful or nasty political figures or movements.”―Thomas Carothers, Washington Post
“According to Yascha Mounk, the tide that washed Donald Trump into the White House has been rising for decades, over much of the world, and it may not leave our form of democracy standing… Mounk convincingly explains the populist storm surge and suggests ways in which we might arrange democracy’s sandbags.”―Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
“Yascha Mounk mounts a powerful argument that liberal democracy stands at a critical point. He shows that the forces of technology, economics, and identity are pulling our political systems toward one of two highly undesirable extremes: illiberal democracies run by populist demagogues and undemocratic liberalisms governed by technocratic elites. He points us wisely toward a domesticated, inclusive nationalism and a renewed civic faith. An important book that should be read widely.”―Dani Rodrik, Harvard University
About the Author
Yascha Mounk is a Lecturer on Government at Harvard University and a Senior Fellow in the Political Reform Program at New America.
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I've found a synthesis of extraordinary worth. It is this book.
Something to bear in mind throughout the book is the meaning of the phrase "liberal democracy". The opposite of "liberal" in this case is "illiberal"; this has nothing to do with "liberal" versus "conservative" political views, but goes back to the original meaning of "liberal": suitable for free people (Latin "liberalis"). Illiberal democracies risk becoming oligarchies or dictatorships, whether of the right or the left.
The 24 page introduction covers much of the same ground as the rest of the book, but I'm not sure it adds much value. If you find it annoying or boring, then skip to Part One and Part Two, where the author presents and develops the same ideas in a more complete and coherent way.
Part Three, "Remedies", looks at ways to counteract trends such as toxic expressions of nationalism and extreme concentration of wealth to create an environment in which democracy can function more effectively. All of these suggestions deserve serious discussion and study, but a few might need some adjustment to avoid unintended consequences. For example, Mounk suggests that higher taxes on undeveloped land would encourage more housing development. While that may be true, land use policy should also consider environmental impacts ranging from destruction of wetlands to the effect of deforestation on climate.
Populism seems to be on the rise. In this case, you need a leader willing to fight on the behalf of the people and win high office. Second, once in charge, the leader needs to abolish institutional roadblocks that prevent carrying out the will of the people. Illiberal populists have already been elected in Poland and Turkey. These leaders prefer a “hierarchical democracy,” which allows them to carry out the will of the people without having to make allowances for obstinate minorities. What the author sees now is that liberal democracy (unique mix of individual rights and popular rule) is coming apart at the seams. We now see a rise of “illiberal democracy” and “undemocratic liberalism.” That is democracy without rights and rights without democracy respectively. It appears that past conditions that maintained the stability of democracy may no longer be in place, and the author discussed these. So Mounk, in this book, tries to make sense of the new political landscape by discussing the decomposition of liberal democracy, the deep disenchantment with our political system, the roots of the crisis, and what we can do “to rescue what is truly valuable in our imperiled social and political order.”
We can see the populist appeal by understand that glib, facile solutions are at the core. Voters do not want to think that the world is that complicated. They feel that if solutions are as obvious as claimed, then the political elites are either corrupt or secretly working on behalf or outside interests. Also, populists demonstrate a political consideration to some citizens but not to others. This is referred to as a “moral monopoly of representation.” When the press calls out this leader critically, they are maligned; the press becomes a danger to the populist rule. Following the attack on the press, comes the targeting of foundations, trade unions, think tanks, religious associations and other institutions.
In the first section the author distinguishes between a democracy without rights and rights without democracy, while understanding that democracy has nearly as many definitions as there are political thinkers. The case is made that, today, the political system is effectively insulated from the popular will. It is becoming apparent that liberalism and democracy don’t go together as naturally as most scholars have assumed. So as clashes with individual rights and the popular will increase, liberal democracy is splitting into its component parts. Therefore, this “consolidated” democracy of countries like France and the U.S. may now be under greater threat than recognized. The author spends an entire chapter discussing the deconsolidating of democracy. Today, we are seeing more countries stepping away from democracy than taking steps toward it. What the author has uncovered is quite shocking: more and more people are giving less importance to living in a democracy.
In the second section entitled “Origins,” Mounk discusses whether the past stability of democracy was due to conditions that are no longer present. This discussion delves into the change in media, living standards, and the nature of a mono-ethnic nation. The next several chapters are devoted to explaining these items in detail. A wealth of interesting information is present here, and I will leave it to you to read the book, so you can absorb this information. But the author concludes that we need to meet these challenges, “for the fate of liberal democracy may depend on it.”
In section three, we are provided with some remedies for saving democracy. Here the discussion turns to dealing with nationalism, fixing the economy, and renewing civic faith. So, for the better part a century, liberal democracy has been the dominant political system in most of the world. Let’s hope that era is not drawing to a close.