In a Frozen Crouch

Colin Kidd

  • How Democracy Ends by David Runciman
    Profile, 249 pp, £14.99, May, ISBN 978 1 78125 974 0
  • Edge of Chaos: Why Democracy Is Failing to Deliver Economic Growth – And How to Fix It by Dambisa Moyo
    Little, Brown, 296 pp, £20.00, April, ISBN 978 1 4087 1089 0
  • How Democracies Die by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt
    Viking, 311 pp, £16.99, January, ISBN 978 0 241 31798 3
  • Anti-Pluralism: The Populist Threat to Liberal Democracy by William Galston
    Yale, 158 pp, £25.00, June, ISBN 978 0 300 22892 2

A historian ought to know better, I suppose. But for the last decade – ever since I passed a long queue of anxious depositors outside a branch of Northern Rock in September 2007 – the idea that we might be living through our own version of the 1930s has proved irresistible. The run on Northern Rock augured a financial collapse on the scale of 1929, and has been followed by the re-emergence in the West of protectionist posturing, authoritarian politics, demagoguery and nativism, as well as the bullying land-grabs in the Crimea and eastern Ukraine. But such anxieties aren’t new. Book titles such as How Democracy Ends and How Democracies Die echo Jean-François Revel’s gloomy Comment les démocraties finissent, published in 1983. Revel, a shrill conservative, thought Western democracy was doomed, its very openness, pluralism and tolerance of criticism rendering it vulnerable to a less scrupulous communist enemy. Everywhere he looked, Revel saw signs of democratic paralysis and impotence: in détente, in the spread of peace movements and anti-nuclear campaigns, in the widespread assumption that to be anti-communist was to be reactionary and an enemy of progress.

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[*] Ella George wrote about the establishment of Erdoğan’s ascendancy in the LRB of 24 May.