What patterns emerge when democracies weaken across the globe? Why and when does authoritarianism become an attractive alternative in many countries? Journalist and historian Anne Applebaum discussed these questions in a recent event produced by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law, the John Brademas Center of NYU, and NYU Votes.
In a conversation with Washington Post columnist Max Boot, Applebaum discussed her new book, Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism, which explores how authoritarian movements gain traction. One contributing factor, Applebaum said, is that the “cacophony” of democracy can be stressful for certain groups in comparison to authoritarian regimes, where there is less debate and less uncertainty of outcomes. Applebaum identified Poland and the United States as examples of weakening democracies and discussed the role that social media can play both as a tool to empower and organize people, and as a tool to increase extremism and sow division.
“One of the things I hope to achieve with the book is…a kind of clarion call, you know, a reminder to people: don’t be complacent,” Applebaum said. “Democracies do fail.”
Applebaum: “Many European democracies that we think of as fairly stable, they’re quite recent.… Spain and Greece, you know, became democracies in the 1970s, which is not so long ago.…Politics is really cyclical rather than progressive, [meaning] that it doesn’t go in one direction, it can go in many directions, and that there’s no law that says once you’ve had a democracy for X numbers of years, you’ll always have one.”
Applebaum: “The Trump administration has shown how much of what we thought was kind of baked in, many of the rules that we thought held, weren’t really rules, or they weren’t really laws. They were sort of norms…accepted ways in which things are done. For example, the norm that a president publishes his tax information and his financial information so that we can see whether he’s influenced by his personal interests. You know, Trump broke that norm and has appeared to pay no price for it.”
Applebaum: “I don’t think democracy in America is over. I think in a lot of ways it’s very lively. But it’s proved to be weaker in some ways than we thought it was.”
Watch the full discussion below:
Posted September 18, 2020