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The People vs. Democracy: Why Our Freedom Is in Danger and How to Save It

4.12  ·  Rating details ·  649 ratings  ·  96 reviews
"We can no longer assume that liberal democracy is the wave of the future... This splendid book is an invaluable contribution to the debate about what ails democracy, and what can be done about it." --Michael J. Sandel, author of Justice

"Everyone worried about the state of contemporary politics should read this book." --Anne-Marie Slaughter, President of the New America
Hardcover, 400 pages
Published March 5th 2018 by Harvard University Press
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Kressel Housman
Jun 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
Yascha Mounk, the author of this book, is a political science professor at Harvard University, but I’ve become familiar with him from his podcast on Slate, “The Good Fight.” The fight he is talking about, both on the podcast and in this book, is for nothing less than saving democracy.

Professor Mounk argues that democracy is in crisis, and not just because of Donald Trump, but because of the rise of authoritarianism in Europe, which is where he was born and raised. He argues that if you interview
Soren Dayton
Apr 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is, so far, the best book that I have read on the global democratic crisis.

I say this for several reasons. First, it admits to the validity of the populist challenge. There has been a fundamental failure of a governing system to respond to the challenges and lives of voters.

Second, it notes that when liberal democracy weakens, there are two clear directions: illiberal democracy and liberal non-democracy. This analytic framework is useful, but it doesn't go far enough in connecting the
Judy Cummings
Mar 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Adding context to the news and current events of the day, this writer makes sense of it all. I could barely put this book down. Mounk offers a well-researched explanation of why government is the way it is today. He offers a historical perspective that spans the world. He tends to current events in the context of the history of populism and postulates that while liberal democracy has kept government relatively stable for a span of years, its reign may be at an end. We may be reaching a place of ...more
May 10, 2018 rated it it was ok
This will have to be the last Yascha Mounk book I read. Mounk has a knack for selecting timely subject matter for his books that address some of the hottest topics of the day, but with very little to say. Similar to the last book of his that I read, I find his arguments to be besides the point to the topic being addressed.

The People vs. Democracy is a study on the rise of populism & what Mounk sees as the breakdown of liberal democracy. Half of the book is used to spell out Mounk's premise
May 03, 2018 rated it did not like it
Shelves: junk
I have no idea what is the category to which this book belongs. It is not propaganda, because it is messy and unclear. It is not precisely academic writing as Mounk moves like popcorn late 20th century Eastern Germany, 19th century USA, cherry picking the pieces to argue what? Something about fear and things not being like Mounk privately remembers.
Oct 25, 2018 rated it liked it
This joins a growing list of books convincing us of the threat to democracy. I think the threat is real, but I didn't read anything in this book that was at all new. Perhaps just the inclusion of the judiciary was an interesting insight in this one. In the end, the solution is to build trust, work locally, and take power away from some of these large government institutions.
Nov 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book should be read by every democratic enthusiast or every person interested by the age of democratic crisis that we cross. Very well written, accessible and wise, Yascha Mounk, a Harvard teacher, underlines the problems democracies face nowadays. Social media, economic stagnation, and identity crisis in reaction to globalization.

Furthermore, he wisely distinguish on one hand the DEMOCRACY WITHOUT RIGHTS, where a populist elected by people applies an anti-freedom policy such as Poland,
Lynn Schlatter
Catchy title for a book, don't you think? I mean, why would the people be against democracy? Some of the answer comes from the definition of democracy, or in the case of this book, the definition of liberal democracy, which is not a left-leaning democracy, but rather one that consolidates the popular will (democracy) with the rights of all (liberalism).

Most of this book is spent describing what democracy without rights and rights without democracy look like, and why these “deconsolidated
Jun 21, 2018 rated it it was ok
Forgot how I came across author Mounk (article? interview?) but his book sounded intriguing, especially in light of current events. An examination of the ills facing liberal democracy and what can be done in order to save it. He looks at the United States, European countries and looks at the roles of various things like social media, money and more.

I have to say, I thought this was just a lot of words telling me quite a bit of what I already knew, that would have been better set as a magazine or
Rob Mentzer
An unfortunate thing about this book is that the “why our freedom is in danger” part is thorough, wide-ranging and convincing while the “and how to save it” part feels a bit dashed-off and wildly inadequate. Maybe that is just 2018. This book is useful in helping find the through-lines that connect Trump and European populist movements. Nothing is sui generis and nothing comes out of nowhere.
Jul 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is one of the best analysis of the populist threat to democracy that I have read. The writing is clear and accessible. It is obvious Mounk’s goal is to reach a wide audience and enlist them in a cause he cares passionately about... saving liberal democracy before it is too late!!
Aug 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Of the dozens of books I have read on the crisis of democracy amidst the resurgence of nationalist populism across the West, The People vs. Democracy excels in discussing causes and possible alternative futures.
It reminds us that “democracy” can actually take many forms other than the one with which we are acquainted in the United States. One of these – direct rule by the majority – is the form students of classical politics feared and denounced until modern time. Nor did America’s Founders want
Todd Martin
Oct 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
Liberal democracy has served as the governing principle in the US during an era of unprecedented peace, freedom and prosperity. The spread of democracy throughout the world since WWII was hailed as a leading indicator of human progress. In fact, in The End of History and the Last Man Francis Fukuyama argued that the advent of Western liberal democracy represents the pinnacle, and end point, of human governance (because of its fundamental superiority over all other systems). Yet here we are only ...more
Jul 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
Liked the first half of the book a lot, where he defines populism and discusses its history and manifestations in different places and times. Also really thought his discussion of “liberal democracies” was good, especially the conflicts that arise when the majority of voters oppose protections for minorities.

The latter half of the book, where he proposes strategies and fixes, seemed a lot weaker.
Aug 31, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, politics
A thorough and readable analysis of the threats on liberal democracy. Yascha Mounk explores the tensions between liberalism and democracy (how you can have illiberal democracies and non-democratic liberalism), the social and economic factors that gives rise to populism, and more. Though the focus is on the U.S., the book reflects on worldwide trends, using examples from around the world, and offers optimistic and pessimistic readings of the future. Mounk also provides some interesting analysis ...more
Robb Bridson
May 31, 2018 rated it liked it
This book has a lot of interesting facts, figures, and insights, and overall is a pretty compelling read. On the other hand, it does have a lot of annoying centrist hand-wringing, and some of the remedies offered, while noble in intent, range from wishful thinking to kind of terrible.

One thing that sets this book apart from most "The End of the End of History" narratives is the international scope.
This is both a good thing for providing different insights and a bad thing because it is obvious
Mar 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The People Versus Democracy by Yascha Mounk is an eye-opener, mostly on the two necessary-but-not-so-complimentary elements of « liberal democracy ». Over the past 30 years, Western countries have given priority to the « liberal » component. For example, in Canada, we have defined people’s rights through a constitutional Charter, delegated more and more decisions to economists and the Bank of Canada, and even renounced government intervention that interferes with the business of transnational ...more
Apr 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
Mounk has accomplished what few political science writers have been able to pull off. He's taken a mountain of research concerning the decades long shift from liberal democracy to populist authoritarianism in many parts of the world and written a treatise that brings together all of the elements, past and present, that have created this trend while also making it easily consumed by the reader.

The author posits that the liberal democracy that has thrived for several centuries, particularly in
Aug 25, 2019 rated it liked it
The first two parts are quite good, excellent even. The problem is, they are followed by the part three, as big of a departure from the quality and comprehensive point of view as I could imagine. Among other things, the author found it necessary to mix in micro-aggressions, unconscious bias cures, strangely deep analysis of cultural appropriation, with special highlight on dreadlocks, elements of what I imagine would be a handbook for managing fight against populism (for moderates?), and even ...more
Oct 31, 2019 rated it really liked it
While not perfect, and lacking in some chapters, Yascha does a great job of exploring his hypothesis.
Luis Frauca remacha
Jun 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is, first and foremost, a serious warning of how democracies can slip into semi-autocratic or even dictatorial regimes. This is happening in many of the so-called established democratic systems, and no country can be inmune to this phenomena.....

The redefinition of ethnic boundaries within the old political nation states in Europe is a good example of this trend. And one that threatens the most basic tenets of democracy, namely the idea of guaranteeing the same rights to all citizens,
Jason Furman
Jun 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Yascha Mounk’s “The People vs. Democracy” is an outstanding analysis of the roots of our current political situation. It is a rare book that combines the best of the fox and hedgehog approach to organizing knowledge. The Fox is an animating thesis that Democracy (i.e., popular choice) and Liberalism (i.e., protections for minorities, freedom of expression, other rights) are two different concepts that only happen to have gone together but that either of them can also override the other. At the ...more
Till Noever
Apr 12, 2018 rated it liked it
Some incisive analysis and presentation of disturbing facts that I was unaware of.

The "Why our freedom is in danger" was covered well and, I think, convincingly.

The "How to save it" was just a lot of woolly "I think we should do this, because that would save the world" kind of stuff; almost all of it unrealizable, mainly because people are what they are (easily manipulated) and because the situation in the so-called 'liberal democracies' has deteriorated too far to allow it to be realized.

Bruce Katz
Jul 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: politics
Yascha Mounk is a very smart person. I've read many of his articles and listened to him on podcasts (most notably "The Ezra Klein Show"). So I viewed it as imperative that I read his book. I wasn't disappointed. He covers a lot of ground in "The People vs Democracy." The first half of the book presents a wide-ranging and clear-eyed overview of how and why liberal democracy evolved over the 20th century and what lies behind the the dispiriting changes democracies around the world have undergone ...more
Ailith Twinning
Oct 24, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2018
This just became one huge damn rant about why this book misses the point.

TL;DR - This book misses the damn point.
Kirk Wilkins
Nov 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Democracy is languishing, if not downright deteriorating, around the world. In recent years a number of authoritarian strongmen have emerged and consolidated power in nations as diverse as the Philippines and Turkey. From Poland to Brazil, from the United States to India, we have seen the willingness to abide by and respect the rule of law, human and civil rights, and liberal democratic values diminish, with the gradual erosion of systems of checks and balances. For anyone concerned about the ...more
Bogdan Micu
May 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Brilliant diagnostic of the social forces that have generated "a huge reservoir of antisystem energy" that now threatens the liberal democracy : economic stagnation coupled with growing inequality and reduced inter-generational income mobility, ethnic and cultural heterogeneity in a time when identity is increasingly formed around ascribed characteristics, and the many-to-many communication model of social media that allowed even the most extreme views to find an audience.

Also very useful is the
Nick Parkinson
Jul 21, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Mounk’s greatest strength is also his work’s greatest downfall. That strength is clarity.

The text’s inset promises “Plain English” and boy does it deliver. The work is structured with a precision that hides meticulous planning. We begin with three contextual chapters in which liberal democracy is defined. Mounk then argues that liberal democracy is deconsolidating: we haven’t, he says, reached Fukuyama’s “End of History”. Mounk should be applauded on the simplicity of his definitions in these
Charlie N
Apr 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The People vs. Democracy is one of the most perceptive analyses of the rise of populist governments in the West that I have encountered. The book is clearly argued and gracefully written. It is comprised of three parts: a description of the current plight of liberal democracy; an account of the origins of this predicament; and an outline of what we might do to preserve liberal democracy for ourselves and our children.

It’s important to note that Mounk uses the term “liberal” not in the sense of “
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“it makes little sense to ask corporations that create a lot of jobs for a proportionally higher contribution than corporations who create very few jobs.” 0 likes
“21. Even the best books on politics and public policy tend to have the same flaw: The bulk of the book consists of a subtle, in-depth analysis of deeply worrying trends. Then, the conclusion suggests glib, hurried suggestions for what to do about them. This is no coincidence: It’s much easier to diagnose problems than to solve them. A deep understanding of a problem does not necessarily point the way toward a sensible solution. And even when a proposed solution looks to be right on the merits, it is often obvious that it would never be adopted. All these problems apply to my topic as much as they would to most others. And that is why I want to offer the reader a simple deal before I launch into my own account of the potential remedies to democracy’s crisis: Finding solutions to the deep challenges I’ve outlined in the book is incredibly hard. I have taken the task seriously, and identified some promising ways of approaching the problem. I genuinely think—and fervently hope—that thinking about the challenge in the way I outline here, and even adopting some of the concrete policies I mention, would maximize our chances of rejuvenating our democracies, and keeping authoritarian populists in check. But I will not pretend that these suggestions are magic bullets. Nor can I promise that adopting them would ultimately be enough to save liberal democracy. They may well turn out not to be enough; but if we are serious about saving liberal democracy, they are the best we can do.” 0 likes
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