Twilight of Democracy:
The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism
Pulitzer Prize winning historian, Atlantic staff writer, and Senior Fellow of International Affairs and Agora Fellow in Residence at the Johns Hopkins school of Advanced International Studies Anne Applebaum was a Washington Post columnist for fifteen years, was and editor and wrote for London's Spectator magazine, was the Political Editor for the Evening Standard, and wrote for several other London newspapers and magazines. She has also written three books on the Soviet Union and written a Polish cookbook and a travelogue of Eastern Europe. She has lived in Leningrad, Warsaw and London as well as the United states and these experiences inform her book Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism. Her marriage to a Polish politician gives Applebaum access to circles of people inside the political elites and she builds on these connections in her writing and journalism career. Applebaum argues that liberal democracy is not impossible to reverse and builds her story around the people involved and how the groups they belong to splinter and solidify and how supporters of liberal democracy erode into authroitarians. The book begins with a New Year's Eve party, December 1999 populated by a diverse array of friends, politicians, writers, and low level diplomats from London and Warsaw and conviviality fills the air. She uses the party as a backdrop to give a human side to the decay of democracy and its evolution into authoritarianism. Over the course of the book the party attendees' conviviality shatters and the group splinters into ideological camps that no longer speak to each other. The illiberal one-party state is a mechanism for holding onto power and is not an ideology. Applebaum describes the mechanisms that a person who believes that they deserves to rule uses to gain an hold onto power. Resentment, rage and envy play significant roles in the rise of the demagogue and the decline of liberal democracy. Her first hand knowledge of the decline of liberal democracy in Poland and Hungary, her experiences with Brexit and more recently with the rise of Trump inform her discussion of the rise of authoritarianism. She digs up good information on how authoritarian groups coordinate their messaging. The American Alt-right and the European far right use the same messages. Demagogues talk about emotive issues and paint themselves as defenders of Western Civilization and protectors from evil outsiders. They draw on cartoon versions of history and use social media to create feelings of unity. The new authoritarians replace ideology with identity. Applebaum notes how Trump is becoming a model for those on the fringes who lust for power. She sees the liberal democracy's vulnerability rising form the loss of a common feeling of how we define a nation and who gets to define it and who are we. This is an interesting and very readable book. It describes how the elites drift into decay and are seduced by the demagogue but it does not pay enough attention to disparities of power and wealth. She illuminates the decay by drawing on her personal experience which adds to the book's readability. Her solutions are not compelling but she casts a bright light on the problems.