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Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism

3.97  ·  Rating details ·  5,954 ratings  ·  858 reviews
The Pulitzer Prize-winning author, professor, and historian offers an expert guide to understanding the appeal of the strongman as a leader and an explanation for why authoritarianism is back with a menacing twenty-first century twist.

Across the world today, from the Americas to Europe and beyond, liberal democracy is under siege while populism and nationalism are on the r
Hardcover, 224 pages
Published July 21st 2020 by Signal Books
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Kimba Tichenor
Journalist and sometime historian, Ann Applebaum offers in this monograph her assessment of contemporary polarized politics in Europe and the United States. Like many from both sides of the political spectrum, she sees in the current state of affairs a dangerous drift towards authoritarianism. What makes this narrative different from many out there is that the author was once friends with many of those in Europe and the United States that now espouse an anti-democratic, stringently nationalist, ...more
Will Byrnes
“The post-1989 liberal movement—this was the exception,” Strathis Kalyvas said. Unity is an anomaly. Polarization is normal. Skepticism about liberal democracy is also normal. And the appeal of authoritarianism is eternal
Given the right conditions, any society can turn against democracy. Indeed, if history is anything to go by, all of our societies eventually will.
Anne Applebaum, erstwhile Thatcherite, long-time conservative, spouse to the former for
Aug 24, 2020 rated it it was ok
Big on names, short on analysis, and written by someone with an immense ego who uses the book as a platform to brag about who she knows. However, knowing famous people doesn't necessarily mean you have any real insight.

I read Twilight of Democracy thinking it would give me more understanding about what is happening in the world, why people are turning more and more towards authoritarianism. My knowledge of international politics is woefully lacking so I did learn a little about the current polit
Bruce Katz
Jun 16, 2020 rated it really liked it
4.5 This is a disturbing book. It's meant to be disturbing. Many books have been written over the past few years (let's pick 2016 as a randomly chosen starting point) examining the dark shifts taking place in the world's democratic countries."How Democracies Die," for one, and "The Retreat of Western Liberalism," for another. Applebaum's book covers similar ground but she brings something new and important to the subject.

Applebaum is a highly regarded author and reporter. I'm most familiar with
Jul 29, 2020 rated it did not like it
Shelves: politics
This was ridiculous.

After spending exhaustive detail on name dropping and burnishing her conservative bona fides, the author can't, for the life of her, figure out why folks blame right wing folks for being fascists.

She blames the Weather Underground (whose agenda did NOT become the DNC platform), Emma Goldman, college kids who don't want their parents paying for bigoted and sexist professors as the exact equals of conservatives who have taken over Hungary, Poland, the UK, and the US.

Five pages
Oct 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
I have decided to embark on a mission to read a number of books on subjects that will be of great importance to the upcoming 2020 US Presidential Election. Many of these will focus on actors intricately involved in the process, in hopes that I can understand them better and, perhaps, educate others with the power to cast a ballot. I am, as always, open to serious recommendations from anyone who has a book I might like to include in the process.

This is Book #17 in my 2020 US Election Preparation
I finished this book the Monday before the US election, but I felt too anxious to write a review. Once the results came in, I was riding high on Biden's victory and didn't want to leave that state of euphoria to deal with the frightening issues that face the world. That said, Anne Applebaum's book "Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism hits these issues head-on. It focuses on the rise of the authoritarian impulse in Europe and the US and provides frightening in-depth case ...more
Jun 04, 2020 marked it as to-read
Anne Applebaum
History Will Judge the Complicit

For tormented intellectuals, collaboration also offered a kind of relief, almost a sense of peace: It meant that they were no longer constantly at war with the state, no longer in turmoil. Once the intellectual has accepted that there is no other way, Miłosz wrote, “he eats with relish, his movements take on vigor, his color returns. He sits down and writes a ‘positive’ article, marveling at the ease with which he writes it.” Miłosz is one of the few
Oct 02, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Democracies are complex and citizens are loud and often chaotic. Independent thinking and the optimism of working towards the ideals of a complex and rich culture are not for everyone, obviously. “Unity is an anomaly. Polarization is normal. The lure of authoritarianism is eternal” a Greek friend told the author.

Anne Appelbaum explores, through her own experiences and that of her many friends, how this lure to authoritarianism has brought us here at this point in time, but where to next? Only ti
Brad Lyerla
Sep 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Applebaum's thesis in TWILIGHT OF DEMOCRACY is that authoritarianism is on the rise across the globe. Authoritarian tyrants in the 21st century have all followed the same pattern. Most of her monograph is a description of the authoritarian playbook as it has played out in Europe and the UK in recent decades. Applebaum demonstrates that, in the U.S., Trump has moved well down that same path following the same playbook.

She wonders if liberal democracies have the means and will power to oppose and
Jason Furman
Dec 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Although ostensibly about the Twilight of Democracy, the strength of Anne Applebaum's book is that it focuses on one slice of this question and develops it in a compelling and personal way: why do "clercs" (intellectuals or others who should know better) drift over to the becoming propagandists for authoritarian/populist/ultranationalist parties? The book begins with a party Anne hosted in Poland for the turn of the millennium and how twenty years later half of the guests are not speaking to the ...more
B. Rule
Applebaum's concise appraisal of the current political situation of the West is equal parts interesting practical application of others' theories of authoritarianism (i.e., Timothy Snyder, Karen Stenner, Hannah Arendt, etc.), and self-aggrandizing preening and score-settling with ex-friends. It's that personal connection that gives the book its greatest punch. Applebaum was friends with many of the current figures on the international right who have embraced authoritarian ideas, and she is able ...more
Jun 11, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: adult-nonfiction
The interesting thing to me in reading this book was the fact that the author has traveled in well-connected circles and knows intimately the political characters of whom she speaks. She bookends her account with two parties at her home in Poland, one at the New Year's Eve celebration in 1999, the second in the summer of 2019. Half of the people who attended the first party are no longer speaking to those who attended the second. Thus are the divisions of our times, not only in the USA. There ar ...more
Aug 01, 2020 rated it it was ok
Shelves: politics, audiobook
77th book for 2020.

Not much meat. Lots of name dropping about fascists that Applebaum was apparently friends with at some point, but who don't go to her parties anymore. There is some interesting-ish analysis of the rise of rightwing populist movements, but nothing that hasn't be written about 100x already in the last few years.

Jul 21, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoy reading Anne Applebaum’s books, especially her books on the Gulag and on Communism in Eastern Europe. This book is short, relative to her other books. My sense is that this began as an article or monograph and then expanded to its current size. The focus of the book is on the rise of autocracy across Europe and the United States. Applebaum’s intent is to examine how democracies can be subverted and follow a political trajectory away from democracy and towards autocracy. This involves a s ...more
J-P Williams
Aug 02, 2020 rated it it was ok
Written by a neo-con and the way facts are cherrypicked. Her preening reminiscences about the Thatcher/Raegan era are a big red flag. She views and presents that period as being a paragon of democracy - which is simply incongruous to reality.
It's well written but repeatedly ignores key events and whitewashes a lot of history to push forward a twisted neo-conservative alternative. This makes for some depressing reading, but a perfect example of why we are where we are right now with people just
Aug 09, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Summary: An extended essay considering the shift to authoritarian leaders in Europe and the United States, analyzing both why such leaders are attractive, and the strategies they used to gain power.

Anne Applebaum's book might be subtitled, "The Tale of Two Parties." It is bookended with a party in 1999, and one in 2019. Many on the guest list of the first would not be on the second, or even on speaking terms with the author. Applebaum is a center-right neo-conservative, married to Radek Sikorski
Dec 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Anne Applebaum is an American journalist who has lived in Poland for the last 30 years. She's married with a Polish politician and they have two sons. She won the Pulitzer for her book, Gulag: A History.

She brilliantly knits together the nationalistic, fascist movements across generations, countries, and political parties, and she shows how they can fuel one another. She also shows how easily those who feel disenfranchised by meritocracies can quickly turn to discriminatory practices and even vi
Jan 01, 2021 rated it did not like it
At a certain point you can only know and have been friends with so many white supremacists before it becomes an indictment on your character and you don’t get to be bewildered by their views. I am so fucking tired of “traditional conservatives” who promoted policies that furthered inequities acting like Republicans (or conservatives writ-large/globally) suddenly being shocked by the rise of out-and-out white supremacy from their ranks. The alt-right is not a deviation from conservatism, it is th ...more
Once upon a time, Anne Applebaum threw wonderful cocktail parties in her home in Poland filled with elite political figures, journalists, diplomats, etc who all generally subscribed to ideals of liberal democracy. Flash forward 20 years later and many of those friends, barely on speaking terms, are now espousing talking points from the handbook of far right populism - fear of immigrants, muslims, lgbtq persons, etc.

Applebaum attempts to uncover some history and meaning in the vast political pol
Jan 15, 2021 rated it it was amazing
A surprisingly personal, gripping, and deeply disturbing book. Applebaum is deeply connected to many intellectuals and politicians on the 'right,' and does not hesitate to call out by name those who have been instrumental in the rise of a new anti-democratic authoritarianism in Hungary, Spain, Britain, and the United States. Attraction to authoritarianism, she cautions us, is not a phenomenon limited to a particular geography, time period, or economic class. It may, in fact, be a normal and pere ...more
Aug 25, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Democracy is always, according to the author, on the verge of destruction.

There are people who cannot deal with the complexities of life. They seek unity, and homogeneity in thought. They fight vehemently against those that do not believe in the same things.

Look at the disenfranchised white American male. Trump tells them about law breaking immigrants from Mexico, Muslims who wish to kill them and trade partnerships that are destroying American jobs.

Fox News either gives the president talking p
Martin Henson
There is no doubt that Anne Applebaum can write - this long essay on the rise of contemporary authoritarianism is informed by Applebaum's close involvement with important players in several countries, including Poland, Hungary, the UK, and the US. This turns out to be both a strength and a weakness of the book.

Like Charles Dickens' Our Mutual Friend, Twilight of Democracy is bookended by parties that capture evolving social and political dynamics. In Our Mutual Friend it is changing attitudes t
Oct 29, 2020 rated it really liked it
If you're looking for answers to why extremist politicians seem to be on the rise, Twilight of Democracy is a fair place to start. In personal and refreshing magazine-expose style, journalist and historian Anne Applebaum covers increased authoritarian tendencies of PiS in Poland, Fidesz in Hungary, VOX in Spain, the Brexit campaign in the UK, and finally Trump's GOP takeover in the US, some more successfully than others.

Applebaum's central thesis that democracy is fragile and continuously pulled
Anthony Ruta
Jan 15, 2021 rated it did not like it
A Very Disappointing Read.

I thought this book was going to be about democracy and how it has lost it's grip on the world. I was looking forward to some deep analysis of the trends of the governments in these recent times in a neutral political perspective. Instead she decided to write -more like an article for the magazine - about how her political view was the only view that was anti-authoritarian accompanied with lots of name dropping.
Her analysis is so shallow and she doesn't really say much
Aug 15, 2020 rated it liked it
This was a long essay that should not have been turned into a book in my opinion because you get the whole argument in the article and the book does not add all that much.
Oct 19, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism, Anne Applebaum presents her reflections on ”soft dictatorship [which] does not require mass violence to stay in power. Instead, it relies upon a cadre of elites to run the bureaucracy, the state media, the courts, and, in some places, state companies. These modern day clercs understand their role, which is to defend the leaders, however dishonest their statement, however great their corruption, and however disastrous their impact ...more
Oct 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Arendt observed the attraction of authoritarianism to people who feel resentful or unsuccessful back in the 1940s, when she wrote that the worst kind of one-party state “invariably replaces all first-rate talents, regardless of their sympathies, with those crackpots and fools whose lack of intelligence and creativity is still the best guarantee of their loyalty.”

Although they hate the phrase, the new right is more Bolshevik than Burkean: these are men and women who want to overthrow, bypass, or
Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance
Oct 12, 2020 rated it really liked it
Anne Applebaum draws on her years of reporting in Poland and England and continental Europe as well as the United States to explain the appeal of authoritarianism to people in a democracy. Her approach is chilling; she begins with her long experience in Poland, and later England, and I was horrified to watch the spread of authoritarianism in those countries, knowing all the time what has been happening here as well in the United States, unable to feel the little thrill of self-satisfaction that ...more
Jul 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing
An excellent book trying to provide an analysis of the current rise of the populist nationalist and authoritarian rhetoric around the world, but especially in The former Soviet block and the States.
I gave 5 stars for the mere attempt of analysis of the situation we are in as I think that deeper and more thorough one is only possible after we passed this. This book made me think and try to be more attentive to the political mood around me.
The only drawback is the so called cultural bubble that
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Journalist and Pulitzer Prize-winning author who has written extensively about communism and the development of civil society in Central and Eastern Europe. Since 2006, she is a columnist and member of the editorial board of the Washington Post.
She is married to Radosław Sikorski, the former Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs (2007-2014). They have two children, Alexander and Tadeusz.

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“People have always had different opinions. Now they have different facts.” 9 likes
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