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Twilight of Democracy

The Failure of Politics and the Parting of Friends
Narrated by: Anne Applebaum
Length: 5 hrs and 15 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (98 ratings)

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Summary

Brought to you by Penguin.

In the years just before and after the fall of the Berlin Wall, conservative politicians and intellectuals across Europe and America celebrated a great achievement, felt a common purpose and, very often, forged personal friendships. The euphoria quickly evaporated, the common purpose and centre ground gradually disappeared and eventually - as this audiobook compellingly relates - the relationships soured too.

Anne Applebaum traces a familiar history in an unfamiliar way, looking at the trajectories of individuals caught up in the public events of the last three decades. When politics become polarised, which side do you back? If you are a journalist, an intellectual, a civic leader, how do you deal with the re-emergence of authoritarian or nationalist ideas in your country? When your leaders appropriate history, or peddle conspiracies, or eviscerate the media and the judiciary, do you go along with it?

Twilight of Democracy is a new kind of political writing, an essay that mixes the personal and the political and brings a fresh understanding to the dynamics of public life in Europe and America, both now and in the past.

©2020 Anne Applebaum (P)2020 Penguin Audio

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Insightful and necessary

Applebaum threads the needle connecting a surge of anti-democratic forces around the globe, and helps explain their success. She also reminds us that in many ways, history is repeating itself. Required reading.

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Important and thought provoking

Well, that was depressing... For instance, considering the spread of misinformation during the Covid-crisis, we can exclude the hopeful scenario she mentioned near the end of the book.

We have a very different political view, but I still think she mostly manages to be neutral. Though sometimes she shows a lack of understanding, for instance: The left does not oppose the European free trade agreement because it's a successful Thatcher implementation.

But its an important book, which I hope many will read. It shows that we need to be vigilant to keep our democracy, and that it's already time to fight for it.

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The solemn atmosphere of forced patriotism

Economist journalist and historian Anne Applebaum has written a very personal account chronicling of her experiences of the rise of popularism and the impact it is having on the Western world. The book begins at a new years party in Poland at the dawn of the 21st century and charts the changes in the political viewpoints of some of the attendees over the next two decades in which we see the impact of a pre-disposition to authoritarianism which leads to people admiring demagogues and the erosion of democracy. As a previous colleague of Boris Johnson at the Spectator we hear first hand from Applebaum her analysis of how he, and Trump, have used "restorative nostalgia" to fuel nationalism to force through their personal agenda eg Brexit, and wall with Mexico. Applebaum considers how a nation is defined and how leaders use a "moral equivalent" argument to justify that meritocracy is the same of democracy and this encourages further authoritarianism.

There is, of course, nothing new with this tactic and we hear how, in 1890s France, the Dreyfus treason trial was used as a scapegoat for the failings of the state. Applebaum brings her analysis up to date with the 2020 Coronavirus pandemic that has lead to increased powers for the state that certain world leaders will find it hard to relinquish.

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Brief but poignant warning about the forces of illiberalism.

Anne Applebaum’s insightful analysis of the dark forces around the world advocating extremism and authoritarianism is both revealing and chilling.

The coherent narrative Anne describes is a testament to her - and her husband’s - inside knowledge of the key players pulling the strings, and her desire to sound a necessary alarm. This is certainly a “in-case-of-emergency-break-glass” narrative during a critical moment of political, social and economic upheaval.

If you are worried about the nature and growing discord of contemporary politics, then this book is a must read/listen. If you’re apathetic about the future of democracy, then you should stop everything and read this book with immediate urgency.

The fact that Ms Applebaum is the narrator of her own book adds to the credibility of the content. One of the most important books of our time; along with Timothy Snyder’s “On Tyranny” and “The Road to Unfreedom”.

The best thing about this book is the sense of optimism that Anne finishes with; and a belief that democracy is not dead yet, but requires a renaissance of engagement and civic effort to save it from itself. All is not lost, as long as we’re prepared to do the heavy lifting that’s required to improve what we have today.

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Clear, heart-felt and incisive observations

A great book - a personal, well-written, up-close analysis of the shift to populism and the extreme right (throughout Europe and beyond). Well observed and full of interesting details that highlight political and personal transformations of formerly optimistic and politically balanced individuals. How many more will mirror these transformations in future, both in Europe and beyond? From rational progressives & centrists to the illiberal extremes (both left and right) - and what will that society will look like, it's a worrying question that will linger long after reading this book.

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essential reading

I could have listened to more, but for a short book, it packs a lot in. if you want to make some sense of the political landscape across many western democracies playing out before us with the rise of nationalism, then this is one perspective that I suggest will help.