ISBN: 978-0-674-97682-5

Tore Wig

University of Oslo

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That wealthy democracies do not break down to become dictatorships is the closest thing to a 'law' in democracy research. Yasha Mounk challenges this notion, pointing to recent political developments that threaten the solidity of rich, Western democracies. The book focuses on two worrying and potentially self-reinforcing trends: For many years, Western countries have been moving in the direction of 'undemocratic liberalism', i.e. regimes where international courts and organizations such as the European Union thwart the will of popular majorities to protect minority rights and markets. Mounk claims that this has given rise to a move towards 'illiberal democracy', where authoritarian populists (such as Orbán in Hungary) are attacking institutions characteristic of liberal democracy, such as the courts and the free press. These two processes unfold against what Mounk claims is a background of waning support for democracy, particularly among younger generations, drawing on survey evidence from a handful of countries (such as the United States). The pessimistic core thesis of the book is that authoritarian populists are poised to take advantage of these trends; towards undemocratic liberalism, increasing immigration, and eroding support for democracy, to mount a real authoritarian challenge to democracies we have come to see as 'consolidated'. Mounk’s analysis is undoubtedly too pessimistic. Waning support for democracy among the young is evident in some salient countries but is not part of a global trend. While democracy is threatened in some countries, it is advancing in others. Nevertheless, The People vs. Democracy presents an important challenge to the rosy optimism about democracy's future that has been dominant since the end of the Cold War. Its warning should be heeded by democracy scholars and policymakers alike.