How did our politics go so badly wrong? Why did the wave of enthusiasm for liberal democracy, so widely shared in the 1980s and 90s, come to an end? How did we come to be so divided and angry?
Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Anne Applebaum came to Intelligence Squared to discuss the themes of her new book, Twilight of Democracy. She charted the anger and despair that fuelled Brexit and the rise of Donald Trump, the surge of nationalist parties across Europe and the election of autocratic and paranoid governments in Poland and Hungary – as well as the anger at a meritocratic system that, by definition, always leaves some people out. She examined the intellectual roots of what she calls the ‘seductions of autocracy’ and showed how, given the right conditions, any society can turn against democracy.
In conversation with political commentator Jonathan Freedland, she talked not just about the politicians but the dissatisfied intellectuals, spin doctors and journalists who exploited social media and spread conspiracy theories to help sow deep divisions through families, groups of friends and countries. Some of these intellectuals and journalists were Applebaum’s friends at the turn of the millennium when optimism was at its peak. Here, she discussed the changes of the last two decades that seem to mark the end of an era and the beginning of a very different one.
Speakers are subject to change.