Historian Anne Applebaum on the ‘Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism’
August 24, 2020
In the United States as well as around the globe, democratic institutions have begun to deteriorate, while authoritarian movements continue to gain traction. Anne Applebaum, journalist and Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, argues that this trend should come as no surprise given the “seductive lure of authoritarianism.” In her new book, Twilight of Democracy, Applebaum focuses on the surrogates who enable autocracy.
What role do writers, academics, journalists, and other members of the cultural elite play in the ascent of nationalist rule? To what extent are these figures propelled by ideology versus their own financial or political gain? And what patterns emerge when we observe weakening democracies across the world from the U.S. to Poland? This conversation was moderated by Washington Post columnist and military historian Max Boot.
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Anne Applebaum is a staff writer for The Atlantic and a Pulitzer-prize winning historian. She is also a Senior Fellow of International Affairs and Agora Fellow in Residence at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, where she co-directs LSE Arena, a program on disinformation and 21st century propaganda.
A Washington Post columnist for fifteen years and a former member of the editorial board, she has also worked as the Foreign and Deputy Editor of the Spectator magazine in London, as the Political Editor of the Evening Standard, and as a columnist at Slate and at several British newspapers, including the Daily and Sunday Telegraphs. From 1988-1991 she covered the collapse of communism as the Warsaw correspondent of the Economist magazine and the Independent newspaper.
Max Boot is a historian, best selling author and foreign policy analyst who has been called one of the “world’s leading authorities on armed conflict” by the International Institute for Strategic Studies. He is the Jeane J. Kirkpatrick senior fellow for national security studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, a columnist for The Washington Post and a global affairs analyst for CNN. Max Boot’s latest work of history, "The Road Not Taken: Edward Lansdale and the American Tragedy in Vietnam" (Norton/Liveright, 2018), was a New York Times bestseller and a finalist for the 2019 Pulitzer Prize in biography. It was praised as an “epic and elegant biography” (Wall Street Journal), “judicious and absorbing” (New York Times) and “a superb scholarly achievement” (Foreign Policy). Max Boot was the author of another book released by Norton/Liveright in 2018 — "The Corrosion of Conservatism: Why I Left the Right" — which was described as a “devastating dissection of conservatism’s degeneracy in America” by Andrew Sullivan in New York Magazine and as “soul-searching” and “refreshing” by the New York Times.
Boot is also the author of three previous books that were all widely acclaimed: the New York Times bestseller "Invisible Armies: An Epic History of Guerrilla Warfare from Ancient Times to the Present" (W.W. Norton & Co./Liveright, 2013), which the Wall Street Journal said “is destined to be the classic account of what may be the oldest as well as the hardest form of war”; "War Made New: Technology, Warfare, and the Course of History, 1500 to Today" (Gotham Books, 2006), which was hailed as a “magisterial survey of technology and war” by the New York Times; and "The Savage Wars of Peace: Small Wars and the Rise of American Power" (Basic Books, 2002), which won the 2003 General Wallace M. Greene Jr. Award from the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation as the best nonfiction book pertaining to Marine Corps history and has been placed on Army, Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy professional reading lists. Boot was a senior foreign policy adviser to John McCain’s presidential campaign in 2007-2008, Mitt Romney’s campaign in 2011–2012, and Marco Rubio’s campaign in 2015-2016. He served as an adviser to U.S. commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has lectured on behalf of the U.S. State Department and at many military institutions, including the Army, Navy and Air War Colleges, the Australian Defense College, the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare School, West Point and the Naval Academy. In 2018, Boot was named one of America’s “Great Immigrants” by the Carnegie Corporation and one of the 50 most influential Jewish Americans by the Forward newspaper. In 2007, he won the Eric Breindel Award for Excellence in Opinion Journalism, given annually to a writer who exhibits "love of country and its democratic institutions" and "bears witness to the evils of totalitarianism." In 2004, he was named by the World Affairs Councils of America as one of “the 500 most influential people in the United States in the field of foreign policy.” Before joining the Council on Foreign Relations in 2002, Boot spent eight years as a writer and editor at the Wall Street Journal, the last five as op-ed editor. From 1992 to 1994 he was an editor and writer at the Christian Science Monitor. In more recent years, Boot has been a columnist for Foreign Policy, a contributing editor to the Los Angeles Times, a member of the USA Today board of contributors and a regular contributor to many other publications, including the New York Times and Wall Street Journal. He serves on the boards of Intelligence Squared US and the Renew Democracy Initiative. Boot holds a bachelor’s degree in history, with high honors, from the University of California at Berkeley (1991) and a master’s degree in history from Yale University (1992). He was born in Moscow, grew up in Los Angeles and now lives in the New York area.
Anne's newest book Twilight of Democracy explains, with electrifying clarity, why some of her contemporaries have abandoned liberal democratic ideals in favor of strongman cults, nationalist movements, or one-party states.
Across the world today, from the U.S. to Europe and beyond, liberal democracy is under siege while different forms of authoritarianism are on the rise. In Twilight of Democracy, prize-winning historian Anne Applebaum argues that we should not be surprised by this change: There is an inherent appeal to political systems with radically simple beliefs, especially when they benefit the loyal to the exclusion of everyone else.
Purchase Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism online on Bookshop.
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