The world is in turmoil. From India to Turkey and from Poland to the United States, authoritarian populists have seized power. As a result, Yascha Mounk shows, democracy itself may hang in the balance.
Using his own original research and on-the-ground reporting from countries around the world, Mounk makes clear in THE PEOPLE VS. DEMOCRACY what exactly is at risk if the current trends in America and Western Europe continue. Astounding numbers of people in all age, economic, and social groups are more open to military rule, media controls, and other hallmarks of authoritarianism than ever before.
“Under these radically changed circumstances, it would be foolhardy to assume that the stability of democracy is sure to persist,” Mounk writes in his introduction. “The first big assumption of the postwar era—the idea that rich countries in which the government had repeatedly changed hands through free and fair elections would forever remain democratic—has all along stood on shaky ground.”
Mounk shows that the two core components of liberal democracy—individual rights and the popular will—are increasingly at war with each other. As the role of money in politics soared and important issues were taken out of public contestation, a system of “rights without democracy” took hold. Populists who rail against this say they want to return power to the people. But in practice they create something just as bad: a system of “democracy without rights.”
The consequence, Mounk writes, is that trust in politics is dwindling. Citizens are falling out of love with their political system. Democracy is wilting away. Drawing on vivid stories and original research, Mounk identifies three key drivers of voters’ discontent: stagnating living standards, fears of multiethnic democracy, and the rise of social media. To reverse the trend, politicians need to enact radical reforms that benefit the many, not the few.
Yascha Mounk is a Lecturer on Government at Harvard University and a Senior Fellow at New America.
A columnist at Slate and the host of The Good Fight podcast, he is a leading expert on the rise of populism and the crisis of liberal democracy.