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A highly engaging yet contrarian account of the spread of illiberal and anti-democratic sentiment throughout our culture that places responsibility on the citizens themselves.
Over the past two decades, citizens of democracies across the world have become angrier and angrier with each other--and with their governments. People who claim to value freedom, tolerance, and the rule of law have increasingly embraced illiberal politicians and platforms. These citizens justify their rejection of democratic norms and traditions as a protest against a cast of elite villains, including globalists, militarists, journalists, bureaucrats, intellectuals, and of course, politicians. The only people these voters do not blame for the parlous state of their own democracies is themselves. Is this just a passing moment in history, or a tide that threatens to wash away the democratic experiments of the past three centuries?
In Our Own Worst Enemy
, Tom Nichols challenges the current depictions of the rise of illiberal and anti-democratic movements in the United States and elsewhere as the result of the deprivations of globalization or the malign decisions of an undifferentiated elite. Rather, he places the blame for the rise of illiberalism on a different source: the people themselves. Nichols traces the illiberalism of the 21st century to the growth of unchecked narcissism, rising standards of living, global peace, and a resistance to change--all of which have been enabled by a hyper-connected internet culture of resentment. The grievances of ordinary citizens, legitimate or otherwise, are then exploited by political entrepreneurs who thrive on the creation of rage rather than on the encouragement of civic virtue and democratic cooperation. Is there any way out of this predicament? While it will be difficult, Nichols argues that first and foremost, we need to revitalize civic culture, which we can only do by resurrecting the virtues of stoicism, compromise, and cooperation. We also need to recognize how good we actually had it in the immediate pre-COVID era-the period when the trend toward illiberalism took off and accelerated.
Trenchant, contrarian, and highly engaging, Our Own Worst Enemy
reframes the debate about how democracies have ended up in this dire state of affairs.