POLITICS AS THEATRE?
The triumph of liberal democracy in the aftermath of the Cold War has soured with the strains of the Great Recession. The wisdom of allowing the populace a say in national affairs is openly questioned by liberal opinion-makers, as electorates have relished the iconoclasm of outsider candidates or cast protest votes against the status quo. Meanwhile non-accountable bodies—security and intelligence forces, central banks and ratings agencies, media and info-tech oligarchs—have relentlessly extended their powers. Undermined by economic problems, the Western powers have also committed themselves to apparently permanent military intervention in the Middle East in the name of democracy itself, while struggling to manage the refugees fleeing their expanding war zone. Nor has liberal democracy much of a record in handling environmental problems, which have only worsened since its victory. China, the world’s second-largest economy, disdains liberal-democratic institutions altogether. In a longer-run perspective, how should these travails be assessed?
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What Is Trump?
The pitfalls of bad historical analogizing laid bare in ubiquitous attempts to pin a ‘fascist’ label on the 45th president. Instead, Riley argues, Trump is better grasped as an incoherent amalgam of Weberian forms of rule—ramshackle patrimonialism, weak charisma—operating like a foreign body inserted into America’s capitalist-bureaucratic state.
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Property Leading the People?
Dylan Riley on Neil Davidson, How Revolutionary Were the Bourgeois Revolutions? Genealogy and idiosyncratic extension of the Marxian concept.
Dylan Riley on Ira Katznelson, Fear Itself. Historical reframing of the New Deal for the age of Obama.
Dylan Riley on Sheri Berman, The Primacy of Politics and Ashley Lavelle, The Death of Social Democracy. Conflicting assessments of Bernstein’s legatees and the future of a reformist left.
Tony Judt: A Cooler Look
Few Anglophone intellectuals have received such posthumous acclaim as the Director of the Remarque Institute, leading contributor to the New York Review of Books, and late champion of social-democracy. Regularly compared to George Orwell, if not Isaiah Berlin, does any careful examination of his oeuvre sustain such panegyrics?
Reviving its classical definition, ‘rule of the propertyless’, Luciano Canfora recasts the story of democracy in Europe as one of successive defeats, with lessons from Louis Napoleon on the use of suffrage as legitimation for oligarchic rule. Dylan Riley assesses a remarkable historical polemic from the Italian philologist.
Dylan Riley on Michael Mann, The Dark Side of Democracy. A bold theoretical construction of causal relations between democratization and genocide, tested through detailed historical studies.
Enigmas of Fascism
Dylan Riley on Michael Mann, Fascists and Robert Paxton, Anatomy of Fascism. Alternative versions of the rise of a paramilitary Right in interwar Europe: were fascist movements ideologically coherent or inchoate, revolutionary or counter-revolutionary?