Book Review of “Twilight of Democracy: The Failure of Politics and the Parting of Friends”

Twilight of Democracy: The Failure of Politics and the Parting of Friends by Anne Applebaum

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I can appreciate this Applebaum’s perspective, but a few things bother me. She centres herself as the unchangeable middle who is free from movement, ideological grift, or opportunism. I want to break down some of what she said here.

Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism: “Authoritarianism appeals, simply, to those who cannot tolerate complexity: There is nothing inherently “left-wing” or “right-wing” about this instinct at all. It is anti-pluralist. It is suspicious of people with different ideas. It is allergic to fierce debates.”

But that’s precisely what she does:

Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism: “This, of course, is the argument that anti-American extremists, the groups on the far-right and far-left fringes of society, have always made. American ideals are false, American institutions are fraudulent, American behavior abroad is evil, and the language of the American project—equality, opportunity, justice—is nothing but empty slogans. The real reality, in this conspiratorial view, is that of secretive businessmen, or perhaps ‘deep state’ bureaucrats, who manipulate the voters into going along with their plans, using the cheesy language of Thomas Jefferson as a cover story.”

She asks for complexity but can’t find it within herself to look for it herself. She can’t frame her argument without flowering it with words like “anti-American extremists” or groups as “fringes” or contaminating her statement by saying that the view is “conspiratorial.”

Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism: “Whatever it takes to overthrow these evil schemers is justified. In Prairie Fire, the Weather Underground inveighed against ‘the Justice Department and White House–CIA types.'”

Um, FRED HAMPTON? The FBI murdered him. This isn’t a conspiracy; you can find it on something as tame as the History Channel. Herbert Hoover targeted civil rights leaders, American involvement since WW2 in overthrowing Central and South American governments isn’t a conspiracy, it’s documented historical fact.

Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism: “This form of moral equivalence—the belief that democracy is no different, at base, from autocracy—is a familiar argument, and one long used by authoritarians. Back in 1986, Jeane Kirkpatrick, a scholar, intellectual, and Reagan’s UN ambassador, wrote of the danger both to the United States and to its allies from the rhetoric of moral equivalence that was coming, at that time, from the Soviet Union.”

Again, she can’t just quote Kirkpatrick; she uses the flowering of the language to influence the reader. It suggests that Kirkpatrick is put out as an expert that can be relied on and centres Kirkpatrick much as she does herself. This is the same Kirkpatrick that downplayed the rape and murder of four nuns in El Salvador (saying “the nuns were not just nuns, they were political activists”) and supported murderous dictators in Central and South America. Kirkpatrick popularised the term “moral equivalence” to not look at the USA’s history because if you do, it’s a trail of genocide, slavery, and imperialism and that continues to engage in it to this day.

Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism: “Guns, weapons, even nuclear warheads were dangerous to democracies, but not nearly as dangerous as this particular form of cynicism: ‘To destroy a society,’ she wrote, ‘it is first necessary to delegitimize its basic institutions.’ If you believe that America institutions are no different from their opposite, then there is no reason to defend them. The same is true of transatlantic institutions.”

I told my partner I was writing this, and she said, “the scientific method also applies to humanities; history, sociology and political science.” In Kirkpatrick/Applebaum’s view, you have to accept that American institutions are different without any analysis.

She also wrote: Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism “Buchanan’s pessimism derives partially from his sense of white decline but also, like some of those diametrically opposed to him on the left, from his dislike of American foreign policy. Over the years he has evolved away from ordinary isolationism and toward what seems to be a belief that America’s role in the world is pernicious, if not evil.”


Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism AA: “In 2002, he told a television audience, using language that could have equally come from Noam Chomsky or a similar left-wing critic of America, that ‘9/11 was a direct consequence of the United States meddling in an area of the world where we do not belong and where we are not wanted.”

She quotes this but does not engage with the criticisms of Buchanan or Chomsky in any meaningful way, and she dismisses them without any counter-argument. Chomsky/Buchanan is absolutely spot on in their analysis of why 9/11 happened. Bin Laden himself: “There is America, full of fear from its north to its south, from its west to its east. Thank God for that. What America is tasting now is something insignificant compared to what we have tasted for scores of years. Our nation [the Islamic world] has been tasting this humiliation and this degradation for more than 80 years. Its sons are killed, its blood is shed, its sanctuaries are attacked, and no one hears and no one heeds.”

Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism: “And this is what Trump has proven: beneath the surface of the American consensus, the belief in our founding fathers and the faith in our ideals, there lies another America—Buchanan’s America, Trump’s America—one that sees no important distinction between democracy and dictatorship. This America feels no attachment to other democracies; this America is not ‘exceptional.'”

“This America has no special democratic spirit of the kind Jefferson described. The unity of this America is created by white skin, a certain idea of Christianity, and an attachment to land that will be surrounded and defended by a wall. This America’s ethnic nationalism resembles the old-fashioned ethnic nationalism of older European nations. This America’s cultural despair resembles their cultural despair.”

America has been at war in some form or fashion since its founding, minus about 30 odd years. The “Founding Fathers” were slave-owning misogynists. The “spirit of Jefferson” isn’t democratic at all (he was a rapist, after all). The “spirit” she’s talking about is almost a religion, and it’s on what MAGA is built. That’s just it, she can point to Trump and say why he’s terrible, but she can’t or won’t do the deep dive into the important questions “why” questions like why he exists, why he’s popular, why people follow him and his horrible ideas.

The reality is that people have been suffering in some form or fashion because of the neoliberal politics that’s been dominating since the 1970s. Wages have been stagnant while income inequality rises. The stagnation results from those policies, and Trump is built on top of Ronald Reagan’s legacy.

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