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Twilight of Democracy, Anne Applebaum

"Given the right conditions, any society can turn against democracy. Indeed, if history is anything to go by, all of our societies eventually will."


"By contrast, the new right does not want to conserve or to preserve what exists at all. In continental Europe, the new right scorns Christian Democracy, which used its political base in the church to found and create the EU after the nightmare of the Second World War. In the United States and the United Kingdom, the new right has broken with the old-fashioned, Burkean small-c conservatism that is suspicious of rapid change in all its forms. Although they hate the phrase, the new right is more Bolshevik than Burkean: these are men and women who want to overthrow, bypass, or undermind existing institutions, to destroy what exists."

p. 19

"This form of soft dictatorship does not require mass violence to stay in power. Instead, it relies upon a cadre of elites to run the bureaucracy, the state media, the courts, and, in some places, state companies. These modern-day clercs understand their role, which is to defend the leaders, however dishonest their statements, however great their corruption, and however disastrous their impact on ordinary people and institutions. In exchange, they know that they will be rewarded and advanced."

p. 25

"You can call this sort of things by many names: nepotism, state capture, corruption. But if you so choose, you can also describe it in positive terms: it represents the end of the hateful notions of meritocracy, political competition, and the free market, principles that, by definition, have never benefited the less successful. A rigged and uncompetitive system sounds bad if you want to live in a society run by the talented. But if that isn't your primary interest, what's wrong with it?"

p. 27

"They do not espouse a full-blown ideology, and thus they don't require violence or terror police. They want their clercs to defend them, but they do not force them to proclaim that black is white, that war is peace, and that state farms have achieved 1,000 percent of their planned production. Most of them don't deploy propaganda that conflicts with everyday reality. And yet all of them depend, if not on a Big Lie, then on what the historian Timothy Snyder once told me should be called the Medium-Size Lie. To put it differently, all of them encourage their followers to engage, at least part of the time, with an alternative reality. Sometimes that alternative reality has developed organically; more often, it's been carefully formulated, with the help of modern marketing techniques, audience segmentation, and social media campaigns."

p. 38

"The emotional appeal of a conspiracy theory is in its simplicity. It explains away complex phenomena, accounts for chance and accidents, offers the believer the satisfying sense of having special, privileged access to the truth. For those who become the one-party state's gatekeepers, the repetition of these conspiracy theories also brings another reward: power."

p. 45

"Radically different from the reflective nostalgics are what Boym calls the restorative nostalgics, not all of whom recognize themselves as nostalgics at all. Restorative nostalgics don't just look at old photographs and piece together family stories. They are mythmakers and architects, builders of monuments and founders of nationalist political projects. They do not merely want to contemplate or learn from the past. They want, as Boym puts it, to "rebuild the lost home and patch up the memory gaps." Many of them don't recognize their own fications about the past for what they are: "They believe their project is about truth." They are not interested in a nuanced past, in a world in which great leaders were flawed men, in which famous military victories had lethal side effects. They don't acknowledge that the past might have had its drawbacks. They want the cartoon version of history, and more importantly, they want to live in it, right now. They don't want to act out roles from the past because it amuses them: they want to behave as they think their ancestors did, without irony."

p. 74

"One of many intriguing aspects of Karen Stenner's research on authoritarian predispositions is that it hints at how and why political revolutions might take place in this new and different twenty-first-century world. Over a crackly video link between Australia and Poland, she reminded me that the "authoritarian predisposition" she has identified is not exactly the same thing as closed-mindedness. It is better described as simple-mindedness: people are often attracted to authoritarian ideas because they are bothered by complexity. They dislike divisiveness. They prefer unity. A sudden onslaught of diversity--diversity of opinions, diversity of experiences--therefore makes them angry. They seek solutions in new political language that makes them feel safer and more secure."

p. 106

"The jangling, dissonant sound of modern politics; the anger on cable television and the evening news; the fast pace of social media; the headlines that clash with one another when we scroll through them: the dullness, by contrast, of the bureaucracy and the courts; all of this has unnerved that part of the population that prefers unity and homogeneity. Democracy itself has always been loud and raucous, but when its rules are followed, it eventually creates consensus. The modern debate does not. Instead, it inspires in some people the desire to forcibly silence the rest."

p. 117

"All of these debates, whether in 1890s France of 1990s Poland, have at their core the questions that lie at the center of this book: How is a nation defined? Who gets to define it? Who are we? For a long time, we have imagined that such questions were settled--but why should they ever be?"

p. 178

"He had lived through wars and revolutions, had been under illusions and then been disillusioned, had written as both an anti-Communist and antifascist. He had seen the excesses of two different kinds of extremist politics, Still, he thought the struggle was worth continuing. Not because there was a nirvana to be obtained, and not because there was a perfect society to be built, but because apathy was so deadening, so mind-numbing, so soul-destroying."

p. 187

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