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The Demon in Democracy: Totalitarian Temptations in Free Societies

3.87  ·  Rating details ·  313 ratings  ·  61 reviews
The book is written from a perspective of someone who after having lived for many years under communism and then for more than two decades under a liberal democracy has discovered that those two political systems have a lot in common, stem from the same historical roots in early modernity, and accept similar presuppositions about history, society, religion, politics, cultu ...more
Hardcover, 200 pages
Published March 24th 2016 by Encounter Books,USA (first published January 2012)
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Chris Fellows
Sep 09, 2016 rated it liked it
The temptation with this book is to go full Macaulay and write a ten thousand, fifteen thousand, twenty thousand word review that tells you much more about me and how clever I am than about the book. This temptation I will try to avoid. At least a bit. If you are reading this review I expect you are familiar with its thesis: Legutko has lived in Communist Poland and in Post-Communist Poland and has written this book about the worrying similarities he sees between the two. Everyone must think the ...more
Jul 01, 2018 rated it it was ok
Any thinking person who reads the news should at least be interested in the phenomenon of Reaction, which is lately showing some signs of life as the liberal order continues to falter. The argument of this book, which, notably, is written a Polish intellectual, is that liberal democracy shares in common many of the pernicious aspects of Soviet Communism. As a critique of liberalism it hits some poignant notes, including the tendency of liberalism to incentivize mediocrity, homogenize difference ...more
Douglas Wilson
Oct 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: culture-studies
This is a superb book. There are a few places here and there where I think he misses some American and some Protestant nuances, but in the main this is a must read.
Thomas Achord
Nov 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: politics
Excellent analytical comparison of the similarities between communism and liberal democracies. The two share many differences and yet share many things in common. A vision of history as inevitable and progressing, unfolding utopia stemming de facto from their visions, politics as permeating every aspect of society and the individual, pervasively enforced ideology, pragmatic religion as a political tool, uniformity through force, control of language and public discourse, punishment for disobedien ...more
Wesley Giesbrecht
Jul 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This book by Professor Ryszard Legutko is a thought provoking, eye opening, and soul penetrating tour de force. Having lived in both communist and liberal-democratic societies, he's able to subject both to a microscopic analysis to see how the two are much more similar than we would have imagined. While stressing that there are obvious differences between the two, he displays how both systems understand themselves to be the climatic end of history. Since both systems understood themselves to be ...more
David Shane
Oct 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A wide-ranging diagnosis of dysfunctions and hypocrisies in the mindset and institutions of the modern West, written by a philosopher who grew up under communism, lives under modern "liberal-democracy", and sees many parallels between the two systems. Especially appreciated the section on "ideology" myself and, more than anything, the point that ideology is stifling to thought and that the prevailing liberal-democratic anthropology is (and these are my words now), just kind of shallow and boring ...more
Aug 24, 2018 rated it liked it
Nothing new under the sun. The original title in Polish (can be translated as "The Triumph of the Common Man") would be better, expressing the main thesis of the book.
David Alexander
Apr 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book is one of the most up-to-date and nuanced critiques of modern democratic liberalism in its current stage of hardened dogmatism that I have come across. The book is helpful especially in illuminating the similarities and affinities and history between democratic liberalism and communism, and in correctly framing the formers growing coerciveness.
I read this book after a reading a review of it by Adrian Vermeule in the January 2017 edition of First Things. Vermuele hilights how Legutko s
Meghan Davis strader
Apr 03, 2018 rated it it was ok
I’m not really sure what to make of this book. The author comes from a unique perspective, and he’ll be explaining his positions: but then suddenly he’ll make huge leaps that don’t seem to have anything to do with what he was talking about. And then contradict himself 2 sentences later.
For instance, when discussing ideologies, he points to the communist proletariat as the “true worker”. But then connects that to a feminist sisterhood (his position being that women are just figments of the polit
Luke Rajlich
I read (half of) this book the gain a better understand of european populism. The leading polish political party is a right-wing populist party. I eventually stopped reading because it started to sound like whining more than anything else.

The gist of the book is that liberal democracy is a good thing as a system of government but that the system of government has been quietly hijacked into a political ideology. My assessment of the book is that it is a long winded complaint about how liberal de
Jan 16, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm not sure what to make of this book. The author's analysis of several of the downsides and negative tendencies of liberal democracy seem largely correct to me. His wealth of knowledge of the western canon of thought that he uses to derive examples and arguments from is impressive as well. However, the comparison he makes with communism seems forced and unnecessarily provocative, while some of the points he advocates for seem plainly inconsistent. Overall, a decent book with a not too common, ...more
Aron Kerpel-Fronius
This could have been a very interesting, needed, well-argued book, challenging the supposedly dominant liberal democratic ideology of the western world which they are trying to impose on their own societies and on countries such as Poland or Hungary. Instead, Legutko brings poor arguments, or rather a bunch of unsupported claims and statements, resulting in a highly emotionally charged and not very coherent piece. Nonetheless, I did not regret the time I spent on it.
Tom Golding
Jul 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
An interesting, articulate, and courageous discussion!
Sam Strickland
Legutko makes several disparaging comparisons between Communism and Liberal Democracy as ideologies. Among his most delightful, yet depressing, phrases are “anthropological minimalism” and constant references to “The Liberal-Democratic Man” (yes, I know it’s a translation). I find the comparisons he makes convincing enough. Still, the critique of a political idea merely because it directs and guides daily actions or places limits on speech continues to strike me as coming from a false, and perha ...more
Frederick Frankel
A very influential book when it came out a few years ago. The writer grew up in Poland when it was a soviet satellite, and has now lived in post-communist Poland for several decades. He writes about his surprise when he realized that the mass culture of the West, as well as its educational system, bore an uncanny resemblance to the communist system he fought against.

Like other dissidents, he fought to preserve the unique culture of Poland, including its history and its attachment to the Catholic
Aug 01, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: politics
I got an idea after reading this remarkable book. If I had the means, I want to open a bar by the name TYWGSC "The young woman's guide to socialism and conservatism." The bar will be divided into two. There'll be a conspicuous boundary between the the "Ideologues" and the "Conservatives" I would put up a beeg library either side. Reasonably priced booze and food in Bangalore, keep the proletariat/Bourgeoise checking in facebook. The two sections will be "Conservative" and "The Ideologues". Where ...more
Charles J
Jan 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
There is a scene in Thomas Mann’s "Buddenbrooks," in which a character comes across a book of philosophy (Schopenhauer) and realizes in a soaring epiphany that it contains the answers to all of life’s questions. For me, this book served much the same purpose—it explained to me why certain things are the way they are in the modern world. Although, sadly, it did not explain “all of life’s questions,” such as what is contained in Area 51. (I will also gloss over that the character in Mann’s novel q ...more
Alex Stroshine
Oct 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Ryszard Legutko's "The Demon in Democracy: Totalitarian Temptations in Free Societies" is a brilliant book, written by an astute Polish politician and thinker who lived under both communism and liberal-democracy. Legutko analyzes liberal-democracy's affects on our understanding of history, utopia, politics, ideology, and religion. Legutko's basic argument is that the very objectives that communism set out to achieve are being accomplished more subtly by liberal-democracy as they are based on sha ...more
Apr 11, 2019 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: eastern-europe
(This is not a review of the book! Just a convenient place to jot down notes from hearing the author speak *about* his book, along with my own reactions and ill-formed political ramblings. Please ignore, or take with a big grain of salt.)

I still have not read the book, but went to a lecture by the author tonight. The audience members asked most of the burning questions I had.

In particular, one asked: Wouldn't your main concerns about liberal democracy (homogeneity of thought, & politicization of
Mike Fendrich
Jun 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
Is the decline of the American Republic, originally described as an experiment in limited self-government, an aberration to the founding principles or the logical conclusion to a form of government founded on enlightenment principles? Author Legutko, who lived through Communist rule and liberal democratic rule in Poland and has been deeply involved in the EU thinks the later. Although the means were different (fewer dead bodies on the liberal democracy side) the author makes the case that commun ...more
Michael Waugh
Feb 13, 2017 rated it liked it
I only bought this a couple of days ago, and I burned right through it. The topic has been growing on my mind lately. Are there flaws in liberal democracy? What kind of man is our current system producing? What kind of society is best for man? These questions and more are addressed by Legutko. While I only gave it three stars that should not be a deterrent to anyone who wants to read this; in fact, most people should. The reason I gave it three stars is because, as a polemic, it fails to engage ...more
Tadas Talaikis
"Demon in democracy", according to this book = what's against Christian religion dogmas. Actually, no real answer what's wrong with liberal democracy.

According to Oxford dictionary, liberal democracy, "A democratic system of government in which individual rights and freedoms are officially recognized and protected, and the exercise of political power is limited by the rule of law." I assume this individual freedom is limited by other individuals equal individual freedoms. So, when some group (re
Apr 05, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: politics
An intelligent and articulate description of the issues that many conservatives have with aspects of the current implementations of liberalism, which goes a long way to explain calamities such as Brexit, the election of Trump, and the Hungarian elections (and close calls elsewhere). A better explanation in any case than one can get from rabble-rousing politicians, the foam-flecked lips of talk show hosts, or click revenue driven news media.
For the same story from the other side of the aisle, I r
Jan 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
Elegantly written and thoughtfully argued. Exposes the flaws in democracy as it has evolved in recent western nations.
Joseph Hirsch
Aug 10, 2020 rated it really liked it
"To a mediocre man, an organic assimilation with the system [is] the easiest way to develop a conviction of being exceptional." This is one of the keen insights that comes near the end of "The Demon in Democracy," a book chockablock with such insights (and a couple of murkier passages).

We in the West seem to be of two minds regarding the phrase "political correctness." To address the two ends of the spectrum, in brief: progressives view the pejorative appellation as, like the term social justice
Jack M
Jan 03, 2020 rated it it was ok
For some reason I thought this would be a comparison of day to day Polish life in the communist era versus today's liberal democracy mass consumerism. Well it turned out to be an incredibly boring analysis of the theories of Hobbes, Locke, Marx and others which I'm not familiar nor very interested in. The one entertaining aspect, which from the few conservative authors that I've read seems to be common thread, is the sexual frustrations the crusty old bureaucrats experience. The chapter about re ...more
Sep 11, 2020 rated it really liked it
I got the privilege of reading this book for a book club last year, so the discussion may have biased me a little on this book and I’m not sure how much I agree with all of its points. But as a book questioning the sustainability of Enlightenment-era liberal democracies, it sparked a lot of valuable thoughts on my end. My only real nit-pickings with the book was a lack of clear definitions of what exactly the author meant by "liberalism" (modern progressivism or classical liberalism? He tended t ...more
Andrew Hill
I wanted to love this book, given its favorable press from thoughtful conservative reviewers. The author makes some compelling arguments for the similarities between communist and liberal democratic systems. Yet he fails to construct enough of the alternative to make many of his arguments compelling. Repeatedly throughout the book, he refers favorably to other ways of loving and thinking, but he never describes them sufficiently. Perhaps these alternatives are, for him, so self-evident as to rem ...more
Douglas Singer
May 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The title of this book deceived me into thinking that Legutko would spend most of his time decrying the similarities between Communism and modern day Liberal Democracy. Actually, Legutko accomplishes far more than this task. The book is such a broad survey of political trends in liberal democracy that it deserves a better title which hints at its large scope. I would recommend this book, and "The Closing of the American Mind" by Allan Bloom (which covers similar ground) to anyone needing a crash ...more
Michael Michailidis
The best of its kind

I have been asked to suggest a book that could function as “Traditionalism 101” but always failed to come up with an answer. Definitely the quasi-mystical teachings of Guénon were not it, and Roger Scruton’s works always came across as way too dry. So... this is it, a mandatory reading for Conservatives, anti-PC/SJW and Traditionalists. The fact that this author has experienced Communism first hand gives it an added credibility witch is perhaps lacking from American authors.
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