Threat To Democracy: The Appeal Of Authoritarianism In An Age Of Uncertainty, by Fathali M. Moghaddam
This book exists on at least two levels. Unfortunately, the dominant or most obvious level of the book makes it hard for many readers to understand the author’s genuine if largely unconscious insights about political uncertainty and elites. This book is an example of the sad truth that those who are blinded by their political partisanship find their ability to recognize reality and to convey it successfully to the reader all too easily hindered. In this case, the author’s serious, if not terminal, case of Trump Derangement Syndrome (TDS) has prevented the author from recognizing the fact that the inner ring to which the author claims to belong and certainly offers her support is no more worthy and perhaps a good deal less worthy than the competition she sees from populism of the sort that led to Brexit and the election of Trump. The author’s own experience in Iran of the double-sided nature of promises of increased liberalism could have informed her that there are threats to freedom from both the right and the left, and had the author been more critical of her chosen sources of truth (The NYT and WaPo, for example), she could see America’s current political competition as a clash of rival elites who both make appeals to freedom and who both have within them potentially authoritarian tendencies, but sadly the author simply cannot consciously recognize that based on her political commitments.
This book is about 150 pages or so and it is divided into four sections and ten chapters. The author begins with a preface and introduction in which she discusses her own frustrated hopes about regime change based on her experiences in Iran, which apparently only led her to see dangers to the right and not to the left when it came to authoritarianism, a fatal mistake that undercuts her political insights. After that she writes two chapters about political patterns (1) and reversals to dictatorship (2) that have occurred throughout history (I). After that comes four chapters on freedom and dictatorship (II), including chapters on understanding the immortal dictator (3), attached versus detached conceptions of freedom (4), sacred groups, alienation, and belonging (5), and political plasticity and dictatorship (6), in which the author is unable to recognize how these influence her as much as anyone else. There are two chapters where the author talks about globalization and dictatorship (III), including a supposed trilemma that influences dictatorship where globalization is occurring (but why?) (7), as well as the dictator-follower nexus (8). The last two chapters then deal with the author’s idea of future trends and solutions (IV), including continuing dangers to democracy (9), and some suggested ways to defeat dictatorship (10), after which there is an afterword, references, index, and notes about the author.
In the main, this book is simply frustrating to read. On the one hand, the author appears to realize that societies cannot exist without elites, but at the same time she does not appear to draw the full realist understanding that could result from this. If we must have elites of some kind, and I think that we indeed must, regardless of how egalitarian our society is or how easily we can understand elites and fit them into our idea of the way things are and should be, what matters is whether our elites serve ordinary people or whether they only serve themselves. The author should be able to recognize that the elites she supports in her political rhetoric do not in fact serve the larger people, being hostile to the freedom of expression as well as of religion and seeking to line their own bank accounts and net worth with various corrupt crony capitalism and insider trading and the establishment of corrupt bureaucracies that make it harder for anyone else to do business or to compete with their own corrupt dealings. And the author claims not to like bureaucracies, even as she hates those who have sought to fight against them, showing us that she simply lacks understanding in realizing who the threats to her own well-being and security are because she has hitched herself to one of competing elites and not the one she claims to want as a fan of increased democracy.