Books for Our Times: “Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism,” by Anne Applebaum

Carla Seaquist
6 min readOct 14, 2020

Second in an ongoing series, Books for Our Times

We live in troubled and turbulent times: The great experiment in self-governance — democracy — appears to be faltering, the liberal world order appears in retreat, and authoritarian reign appears on the rise. To make sense of the chaos, what better voice to hear than one that is measured and real, deeply read and experienced, someone who “walks point” into the trouble and turbulence and comes back to report, in a personal and not oracular tone, “Here’s what I think is going on.”

That is the voice Anne Applebaum uses in her new book, “Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism,” a short book (only 189 pages) that is big on the contours of our times. While the title “Twilight of Democracy” might strike one as Wagnerian, Applebaum’s treatment is provisional and, in the end, hopeful that — if we stick together and keep thinking clearly — we can make our way through the dark to a better place.

This is the voice that first drew me to Applebaum, with her columns in The Washington Post, where she wrote for 17 years; she shifted this year to The Atlantic as a contributing writer, writing at length. In fact her voice is so free of polemic yet liberal-seeming that I assumed she was center-left, as I am, and did not know, until this book, that she identifies as center-right: Married to a Polish public figure and living in Poland, to be anticommunist, as she explains it, is to be of the right, not the left. Being of the right, and also forthright, she assesses in this book her former ideological comrades as they journeyed, self-blinded, into authoritarian thinking. (She did the same recently for The Atlantic in a brilliant essay on Republican complicity.)

That journey, and the ensuing parting of ways, is vividly traced in her book’s opening, in which she describes a party she and her husband Radek hosted at the turn of the millennium, New Year’s Eve 1999. While the guests — journalists (like herself), government officials (like her husband), diplomats, hailing not only from Poland but from around the world — were nominally conservative, “at that moment in history, you might also have called most of us liberals,” not only…

--

--

Carla Seaquist

Our times examined via politics, culture, morality. Author, "Can America Save Itself from Decline?" (Vol. II). Playwright. Fmr. HuffPost. www.carlaseaquist.com.