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Is American Democracy Built to Last?

Yascha Mounk’s recent book, The Durability of Western Cultures, calls into question long-held ideas regarding the stability of Western societies ‘Yascha Mounk never expected an apparently benign comment to spark such a sensation when he appeared on a German television programmed to discuss the growth of authoritarianism in Western democracies.

“We’re about to embark on a historically unprecedented experiment: transforming a monoethnic and monocultural democracy into a multiethnic democracy,” Mounk added.

“I think it’ll work,” he said, his voice expressing some skepticism. “But, of course, it also produces a slew of problems.”

Mounk became an instant target of extremists on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean as a result of his observation. One far-right German website shouted, “Who agreed to this experiment?” Mounk’s Jewish heritage was attacked by The Daily Stormer, an American neo-Nazi website, with an analogy to Auschwitz.

Mounk’s new book, “The Great Experiment: Why Diverse Democracies Fall Apart and How They Can Survive,” is based on that experience, and it warns that countries like the United States are not as stable or immune to violent conflict as they look.

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“The history of various societies is bleak,” argues Mounk. He worries that, given the stormy history of the world’s democracies, they have “worryingly little experience” with truly inclusive governance. He claims that politicians such as Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen, and Viktor Orban are simply the forerunners of a backlash against ethnic and religious variety that might bring democracy to an end.

Mounk, a public intellectual and political scientist at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, is perfectly qualified to write this book. He describes himself as a “Jew with an unplaceable accent” — a self-deprecating nod to his lifelong experience of feeling like a cultural outsider wherever he goes. He was born in Munich to the descendants of Polish Holocaust survivors, educated at the Universities of Cambridge and Harvard, and naturalized as an American citizen.

It’s Right There in The Title of Your Book. So, Explain Us Why Different Democracies Are Falling Apart

It’s tempting to believe that establishing a diverse democracy shouldn’t be difficult. I mean, how difficult is it to be tolerant? Is it really so difficult not to despise your neighbor for nonsensical reasons? But the more I thought about and examined the subject, the clearer it seemed that this is a really difficult task.

Editors’ Choice The Los Angeles Riots Happened 30 Years Ago. I’m still trying to figure out what they’re saying. What We Learned From the NFL Draft in 2022 Are These Tweens the Next Global Tennis Stars? Human psychology is one of the reasons for this. We have a deep-seated desire to form groups and then discriminate against others who do not fit in.

We know from history that ethnic, religious, racial, and sometimes national distinctions were at the root of many of humanity’s most heinous atrocities and conflicts. From the Holocaust to Rwanda, examples can be found in almost every century of recorded history.

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As a small-D democrat, I’d like to believe that democratic institutions can assist in resolving those problems, and they can in certain respects. However, democracy makes managing diversity more difficult in one essential way.

Is American Democracy Built to Last?

Majorities are usually sought in democracy. So, if I’m used to being in the majority, but now you have more children than I do, or more immigrants are arriving who look like you rather than me, there’s a legitimate concern that I’ll lose some of my authority. This may be seen in the demographic panic that is fueling many on the extreme right in the United States and other democracies today.

You’re Concerned About the State of American Democracy. Please Explain Why?

I joke that I’m a democracy hipster since I began arguing that democracy was in jeopardy in 2014 and 2015, long before it was fashionable. In many nations around the world, I saw the emergence of authoritarian populist candidates and parties. They were on the verge of gaining power if they hadn’t already.

The anti-pluralism, or notion that they alone represent the people, is the most harmful aspect of them. As a result, they want to consolidate power and refuse to recognize electoral failures.

In that sense, there’s nothing particularly shocking about Trump’s behavior in government, or his refusal to accept his defeat as real. It’s an impossibility for him to believe that the majority of his countrymen would vote for President Biden.

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When Trump originally won the election in 2016, I don’t think he realized how much control he had over various organizations. If he is re-elected in 2024, he will be far more eager from the start to centralize power in his own hands. A second Trump administration would be far more dangerous than the first.


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