Twilight of Democracy by Anne Applebaum 📚

Book Cover of Twilight of Democracy by Anne Applebaum

Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism is a 2020 book by Anne Applebaum.

Anne Applebaum is an American journalist who lives in Poland and is married to Radisłow Sikorski (in 2024 the Polish Foreign Minister). She started off writing in the UK for The Economist and for The Spectator.

She is from the centre-right with the emphasis on right but a liberal and believer in democracy and the rule of law. In the book she sketches out the outlines of a rift in politics not between left and right but between pro and anti-democratic political forces.

This book charts the rise of populism perhaps better described as authoritarianism in Europe and the USA. She is the perfect person for this role as she was there so to speak. With her journalistic connections and later with her husbands too she was often a witness to the events first hand, a confidant of someone who took part in it, or there in the room.

Indeed this point is beautifully put over at the beginning of the book where she tells about a new years party she put on celebrating the dawn of the millennium with the elite of the Polish right at the time.

At that moment, when Poland was on the cusp of joining the west, it felt as if we were all on the same team. We agreed about democracy, about the road to prosperity, about the way things were going.

Now some of them would cross the street to avoid each other. Friends have become enemies and people who previously espoused democratic values have in practise reneged on them when their own careers could be furthered or their beliefs challenged or when the meritocracy worked against them.

Applebaum knows the players well and quickly and succinctly summarises the tragectory of Poland under the Party Law & Justice (Pis).

She then turns over a nest of bugs in Hungary, UK and Spain before turning to the USA.

She identifies key people or clercs who have betrayed the task of journalists or politicicans - to portray the truth - for their own ends.

Some key clercs profiled in the book are Rafael Bardají (Spain), Ania Bielecka(Poland), Simon Heffer (United Kingdom), Laura Ingraham(United States), and Mária Schmidt (Hungary).

AA also looks at why people might support authoritarianism and introduces (to me anyway) the idea of soft dictatorship and of the medium-sized lie.

The case of Dreyfus in 19thC France is also brought up as a kind of mirror of the political rift today, and indeed it seems to contain many of the same axels, anti-semitism & nationalism being just a couple of them.

I have read some reviews of the book that notes Annes friendship with many of these people and perhaps imply her at least partial guilt in not calling out these people earlier. Of this I couldn’t say but at least she is vocal and specific now.

The book is fairly short and succinct and a great starting point for anyone wishing for an overview of the first 20 years of Western political health from someone who was there. She gives good insight into these events up to 2020 when the book was published. ★★★★📚