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The Retreat of Western Liberalism

4.05  ·  Rating details ·  2,515 ratings  ·  281 reviews
In his widely acclaimed book Time to Start Thinking, Financial Times chief US columnist and commentator Edward Luce charted the course of America's relative decline, proving to be a prescient voice on our current social and political turmoil.

In The Retreat of Western Liberalism, Luce makes a larger statement about the weakening of western hegemony and the crisis of liberal
Hardcover, 226 pages
Published June 6th 2017 by Atlantic Monthly Press
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Description: Luce makes a larger statement about the weakening of Western hegemony and the crisis of liberal democracy - of which Donald Trump and his European counterparts are not the cause, but a terrifying symptom. Luce argues that we are on a menacing trajectory brought about bgy ignorance of what it took to build the West , arrogance towards society's losers, and complacency about our system's durability - attitudes that have been emerging since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Nearly three deca
Brad Lyerla
Jul 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
Edward Luce’s THE RETREAT OF WESTERN LIBERALISM was written in the aftermath of Hillary Clinton’s surprising loss in November 2016. But the preface to this fascinating little book begins with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. That was a heady time. Many believed that western-style commercial democracy had prevailed and our future as a species ever after would be enlightened and democratic. Francis Fukuyama was predicting the end of history. The supremacy of Western thought was a given and now ...more
Athan Tolis
Jun 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: politics
Edward Luce is a tremendous journalist. Not only does he work very hard, not only has he earned access to some of the sharpest minds in business and politics, he also commands the mightiest pen at the Financial Times, bar none.

And that’s why I bought his previous book, “Time to Start Thinking.” I did not much enjoy it, though. In fact I thought it a waste of my reading time, about which more later. But long after the average sensible reader would have dismissed “Time to Start Thinking,” he might
Jan 31, 2018 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Adults.
This was a well-written, if arch, and occasionally paternalistic/condescending anti-Trump volume. I'd still recommend reading it since the author does seem to hit upon some valuable insights - tying various disciplines together and drawing upon history for parallels to the current alarming political situation. However, it's people like Luce that created a monster like Trump in the first place. Neoliberalism didn't lead to the greatest good for the greatest number of people. It led to extreme inc ...more
Feb 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The Retreat of Western Liberalism by Edward Luce, is an interesting book examining the recent reverses in traditional Liberal Democracy experienced globally. Luce focuses on the political philosophy of this trend, and examines global ideas, situations and data, from the US and UK, to Hungary, Turkey, China, India and so on. Luce's book is fascinating in that it looks at the big ideas behind this step toward autocracy, and covers a wide arrange of topics, from Western Exceptionalism, to internati ...more
Aug 02, 2017 rated it it was ok
Sadly I was expecting a lot more from this book. Edward Luce proves himself far better at looking behind than looking forward, which means the first part is excellent but the subsequent three are a disaster. He suffers from the typical liberal blind spots which result in a complete misreading of Trump's populism and the driving principles of the resurgent nationalist movements. That he sees Trump as a greater threat to American democracy than the Marxist attack on its culture and academic instit ...more
Jul 08, 2017 rated it did not like it
This book is littered with confused, overly reductive arguments, and peppered with lots and lots of illiberalism. And it's not really saying anything very new or original. I think we've all realized by this point that Western liberalism is on the wane. I was in India when Modi came to power, and in the US when Donald Trump did. We also know that the inequality has proliferated in the past few decades, creating grotesque forms of disparity between and within countries. Middle- and working-classes ...more
Mikey B.
Page 186 (my book)

There is a line between convincing people of the merits of a case and suggesting they are moral outcasts if they fail to see it. Liberal America crossed that line long before Obama took office.

This book is depressing. Maybe because it talked a lot about the current leader of the United States and his constant affronts to democratic values. The title could just as easily have been “The Collapse of Western Civilization”.

The author foresees a coming military confrontation between
Apr 26, 2018 rated it liked it
This book was like a very long, very engaging Facebook post that consolidates a lot of the general news and trends that most of us are already concerned with today. In sum, it is about Donald Trump, Brexit, the Thucydides trap, AI, the future of work, electoral populism and a number of other topics that you are probably thinking about if you still read the news. Luce provides a nice run-down of why these issues are important to our future, but nothing he says is likely to come as a surprise to a ...more
Andrej Karpathy
Jul 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book offers a pessimistic view on the future of liberal democracy, and interprets its recent spread not as an unstoppable or monotonic trend of history, but as a fragile system, open to an attack from both within (e.g., election of Donald Trump), and outside (e.g., Russia, China). The West is not a natural outcome of a linear progress of history and it might not represent mankind’s enlightenment on morality and virtue. As the book puts it, “We are on a menacing trajectory brought about by i ...more
Dan Graser
Sep 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is a very smart, lucid, and independent-minded look at the issues plaguing what we consider to be "liberal democracy," today and some of the skewed points of view that its beneficiaries have about its upkeep and promotion. It seems almost funny now that after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Francis Fukuyama had this to say in his End of History essay:
"What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War...but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind's ideological
Bruce Katz
Sep 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: current-events
Insightful, clear-headed, very readable and -- to my mind -- right in all the particulars. A slim volume with a very large and critically important message. The trend we've seen in technology (AI, automation, social media), politics (growing polarization), economics, etc., are coming together into what might easily become a perfect storm if we don't address them.

His key point: For nearly a century, we've believed that Western liberal democracy is the form of government most people want and that
Jun 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: trump, politics, usa, europe
32nd book for 2017.

In this short book, Luce, who once played truant at Oxford so he could party in Berlin at the fall of the Wall, gives a insightful and depressing account of how Western liberal democracies are an endangered species that may not survive the coming decades.

There are no simple answers here, but Luce knows which threads to pull for maximum effect. The rise of Trump and what it means for America (and the World) are examined in detail. Technological advances in automation, and subs
Nov 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I’d give this book ten stars if I could. This is a brilliant, lucid analysis of the building crisis in Western democracy that I think we’re all starting to feel in one way or another. Mercifully, it’s written by a Brit; it’s impossible to read an American’s opinions about American politics without investing those opinions with a ton of imagined baggage and backstory. Luce, however, paints our system with a steady and even-handed brush that feels emotionally removed from the fray. It’s been fun – ...more
Nov 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
Here is yet another book about what is happening to Western civilization. This one is mainly based on economics, which makes it even more depressing. It is one thing to challenge the intellectual rot in our universities, but trying to change an economy that is threatening to disenfranchise most of our citizens is a much more formidable task. Several things are happening at once. First, the economic growth we take as our birthright is over in the West because the economy, and the power that goes ...more
May 08, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Luce is at his best when examining the tension in democracy between the 'tyranny of the majority' and a 'natural aristocracy of the talents':

'The story of liberal democracy is thus a continual tension between the neat democratic folk theory and the more complex liberal idea. Nowadays they have turned into opposing forces. Here, then, is the crux of the West’s crisis: our societies are split between the will of the people and the rule of the experts –the tyranny of the majority versus the club o
Linda  Branham Greenwell
A very disturbing look at what is happening today. He puts the pieces together about how we got to "where we are today". I can;t say I like where we are, but it helps me to understand where we are and why. I also understand why the future prospects of "where we are going" are not very optimistic.
I'm 71 years old and have had a lot of that deep-seated mentality that America will always be "for the people." Or at least I did until I read this book. I believe our "institutions" that are supposed to
Aug 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
There was a lot in here, but I felt like the book could have used some more cautious thinking and editing. It felt a bit all over the place--first china, then identity politics, then Trump. I agree generally with the idea, but I would have liked a more rigorous and careful thesis. He sort of pulls from here and there and it would have made a thought-provoking article, but there's not enough original thinking here for a whole book. ...more
Dec 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
A good review of how we got to where we are. A nice expose of philosophy, political science, and history in regard to liberal democracy and perhaps its successor, illiberal democracy. Luce lays it all out in a sobering and organized manner. He is sounding the alarm. One chapter even has a scenario in which Trump goes to war with China with Putin as the peace broker. Luce plays no favorites and calls out the elites who have misread the public and abused the middle and working class. Greed and a l ...more
Philip Girvan
Nov 19, 2017 rated it did not like it
Book is complete rubbish. Luce was blindsided by Brexit and Trump and is freaking out.

According to Luce, "[t]hings started to go wrong after 2000. The first great blow was in Russia, where Vladimir Putin replaced Boris Yeltsin as president and set about closing down the system of free and fair elections while retaining its trappings (78)".

Yes, that's right: prior to 2000, Russian elections were completely above board.

This kind of nonsense continues for the next hundred odd pages. He's a poor
Sep 02, 2017 rated it liked it
A brisk march through conventional wisdom. Luce's slim volume excels at interweaving information you're probably already aware of with quotes and thumbnail argments from authors of major books. ...more
Jim Razinha
Oct 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
Pay no attention to the one and two star reviews...those are from rightwing trolls that probably didn't actually read the book, or if they did, Luce's text sailed way over their heads. Lucidly assembled, well-researched, well-composed, Luce writes as the journalist he is, though at times percolates a little too academic. Published in 2017, Luce while doing well to capture the contemporary conditions and lay out his thesis, unfortunately used a great many at-the-time current names that he could h ...more
Oct 14, 2020 rated it really liked it
'The Retreat' is an alarming read about the growing inability of Western, especially American, governments to solve their own economic and ideological problems as well as meaningfully confront an increasingly strong and confident China.

America is in what threatens to be a terminal decline. Trump is destroying what remains of its international legitimacy. Its democracy grows less and less free. Its allies are responding to Trump's inconstancy by becoming less liberal and more self-concerned. Auth
Aug 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
'Take back control' was the chant of Brexiteers and Trump voters alike. It is the war cry of populist backlashes across the Western world.
There are two ways of deciphering that impulse. One is to dismiss it as the last reaction of the bigots, who wish to turn the clock back on two generations of hard-won rights for women and ethnic and sexual minorities. These are the people who cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them, as Obama said in 2008. Another is to listen to
Charlotta Liukas
Mar 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book had things to say and it's written with flair ...more
Jan 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: politics
Often I worry about books with titles like this. Sometimes, in the past, they have been dog-whistles for decline-of-the-west narratives.

This one isn't.

At the centre of it is the now stark class divide cleaving western societies. Unlike in times past when the poor served the rich, or at least lived in the villages with them, and so the rich could at least see the poor, now they are quarantined from each other. This divide is at the root of differing worldviews and understandings of the purpose of
Aug 24, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Luce is a proponent of Western Liberalism and in this book he presents a case that, if our democratic traditions are not in their death throes, they are at least gravely ill. He is not trying to change any one's mind nor is he presenting any remedies. More like he is gathering the family together to discuss if it is time to pull the plug. Very clearly written but I want some alternative scenarios, not just this millenarianism.

Karel Baloun
Sep 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
Devastatingly, profoundly depressing book — and it is perfectly timely. Luce is (mostly) right about globalizations impact on the Western middle class and how that led to the Trump/Brexit rebellion.

It’s important to remain sober, and not fall into blind unrealistic optimism, but I’m disappointed at the quality of the solutions in the last chapter. Luce raises our hopes that liberalism can be defended better, but then just leaves that exercise for the reader. And it is a hard one! He even points
Jul 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I would encourage everyone to read Edward Luce's 'The Retreat of Western Liberalism'. Its a sober, clear-eyed look at the state of world order and political condition. By Western Liberalism, Luce is talking about universal freedom of expression, universal voter suffrage, and a knowledgeable and engaged electorate. WARNING: This book won't make you feel better about the condition of western democracies, particularly the U.S. and Britain. Here's some main points I came away with:
1. Donald Trump, B
John Pabon
Aug 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Review #49 of my 52 week book challenge: The Retreat of Western Liberalism. ⁣

I picked up this book totally by accident. As with all my other accidental purchases, it actually turned out to be one of the year's best reads. ⁣

Often called the Chinese curse (although it's actually British, not Chinese) "may you live in interesting times" applies to us now more than any time in history. Shifts in the global balance of power, identity crises, the spectre of war and nuclear or environmental annihilat
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