Yascha Mounk’s book The People vs. Democracy is informative, but unconvincing. His arguments that present day democracies are posing a danger to the freedoms of the people sound hollow when examined carefully.
Yascha’s arguments don’t sound logical also for the reason that he doesn’t hide his antipathy for nationalism and of course his dislike, bordering on hatred for popular leaders like Trump. He is unwilling to accept that they too are the products of same democracy that has produced a Barack Obama. In Yascha’s view Americans were liberal when they voted for Obama eight years ago and suddenly turned illiberal four years ago to vote for Trump.
“There is nothing natural about the idea of the nation”, he argues less convincingly, adding, “Nationalism is like a half-wild, half-domesticated animal”.
His arguments against democracy too are mostly prompted by his dislike for strong leaders that have emerged in different parts of the world. They are all ‘populist’, not popular, in Yascha’s view. He then goes on to enlist dangers from populism and how these leaders are demonstrating undemocratic and authoritarian tendencies. Trump, of course, is Yascha’s whipping boy.
While the thrust of the book about democracies posing a danger to freedoms of the people may sound an overstatement, certain points Yascha raises call for deliberation. There is no dispute about democracies turning illiberal, an argument made by Fareed Zakaria more than a decade ago. And also some rulers offering specific freedoms as a substitute for democratic popular will, which Yascha calls as liberal un-democracies.
Yascha was right that there is no single universally acceptable definition for democracy. But it is also equally true that the alternative to democracies is dictatorship and authoritarianism.
Interestingly, Yascha Mounk too concludes his book on a pessimistic note stating that its is impossible to predict what the ultimate fate of our political system will be’. He also suggests that perhaps, like the Stoics, it is better to become indifferent to everything around you.
I am sure democracies from India to America have proved time and again that there is no need of any such pessimism about the future of our politics. With many defects too, they always proved that the people are and continue to be the masters.
Not an essential read but you can attempt if you want to gauge the frustration of some scholars at the rise of strong leaders in the world.