Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism

Doubleday. Jul. 2020. 224p. ISBN 9780385545808. $25. POL SCI
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.
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