Cody Ford is a junior majoring in Politics & International Relations, as well as Finance

(This post offers the first student analysis of Twilight of Democracy. Click to learn more about the segment and the series, From the Field.)


While reading through Anne Applebaum’s Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism, you hear of all the elbow-rubbing Applebaum has done with the political elite and academics – some of whom she “would now cross the street to avoid” because of the anti-democratic language they would spew online (17). Throughout her book, Applebaum makes it clear that democracy is not some machine that can go on forever, rather it can only go on for as long as the users care for it and keep it running. Applebaum presents amazing evidence to show how her theory is mostly true in Europe, however, when she comes to trying to use the same points on the United States, I often found that she was unable to do so with that same strength.

In recent years, there has been an increase in the number of academic works relating to the wave of authoritative and populist regimes sweeping across the globe, sometimes smothering out longstanding flames of democracy; however, of these works, nothing can compare to Applebaum’s personal experience and academic expertise of the issue. Applebaum is a principled American conservative and academic, a well-respected journalist with a career based in the UK, and also happens to be married to a former high-ranking Polish government official. Given her professional experience in the field with touches of her personal experience, it is without a doubt that Applebaum is a perfect fit for this kind of academic writing with a dash of personal undertones. Throughout her book, she has plenty to say about the widely accepted social forces that allow authoritative regimes to prosper – fear of immigrant populations, the continued growth of the power held by social media platforms, and the various inter-cultural and inter-religious value wars.  But she also suggests that there was another factor the caused democracy to fade into the shadows, particularly in eastern Europe: the split amongst conservative groups following the end of the Cold War. Applebaum presents us with a rather alarming fact, that “one-third of the population of any country has an authoritarian predisposition”, as an American who believes in the democratic institutions of our country, how worried should I be by this metric, if at all (15)? Overall, Applebaum provides a strong argument about the teetering between democracy and authoritative regimes in Europe. However, there were a few issues that I found throughout her work.

One concern that I had with Applebaum’s analysis on the issue of rising authoritative regimes is the lack of attention given to the role of religion in helping prop up authoritative regimes around the globe. Take for example Vladimir Putin’s use of the Russian Orthodox Church. Putin often invokes the church into a more powerful place in Russian politics, using it to defend traditional morality, justify Russian expansion and discredit the west. Or, how about the blatant authoritative doctrine used by the Israeli state to justify its reign of terror over Gaza? We can even see this process play out right here at home, with American Evangelicals strengthening the often brutal and authoritarian language used by former President Donald Trump.

The only other issue I had with Applebaum’s work related to either her no longer living in America, and thus having a disconnection from the daily happenings in the American political community, or simply to poor editing. Take for example her quote, “Franklin Graham, the son of evangelist Billy Graham and the president of Liberty University” (101). Ask any American with even the slightest knowledge of Christian higher education and they could tell you Liberty University was founded and run by Jerry Falwell until handed over to his son. Applebaum also seems to place a lot of emphasis on Patrick Buchanan and Laura Ingraham, who she describes as symbols of the rise of authoritarianism in the United States while neglecting to take a deep dive into the presidency of Donald Trump and the authoritative whispers of his administration.

Overall, Anne Applebaum provides her readers with a highly and well-thought-out analysis of the current state of democracy around the globe. From her attention to the widely accepted social showing that are tell-tell signs of democratic backsliding, to the not so often thought of division that the end of the Cold War brought among European conservatives. Although some weaknesses exist in her argument as it applies to the United States, overall Applebaum shows that as global citizens we must all be doing our part to keep the democratic machine running well.


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