The political history of the twentieth century can be viewed as the history of democracy’s struggle against its external enemies: fascism and communism. This struggle ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet regime. Some people think that democracy now faces new enemies: Islamic fundamentalism, religious extremism and international terrorism and that this is the struggle that will define our times. Todorov disagrees: the biggest threat to democracy today is democracy itself. Its enemies are within: what the ancient Greeks called 'hubris'.
Todorov argues that certain democratic values have been distorted and pushed to an extreme that serves the interests of dominant states and powerful individuals. In the name of ‘democracy’ and ‘human rights’, the United States and some European countries have embarked on a crusade to enlighten some foreign populations through the use of force. Yet this mission to ‘help’ others has led to Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, to large-scale destruction and loss of life and to a moral crisis of growing proportions. The defence of freedom, if unlimited, can lead to the tyranny of individuals.
Drawing on recent history as well as his own experience of growing up in a totalitarian regime, Todorov returns to examples borrowed from the Western canon: from a dispute between Augustine and Pelagius to the fierce debates among Enlightenment thinkers to explore the origin of these perversions of democracy. He argues compellingly that the real democratic ideal is to be found in the delicate, ever-changing balance between competing principles, popular sovereignty, freedom and progress. When one of these elements breaks free and turns into an over-riding principle, it becomes dangerous: populism, ultra-liberalism and messianism, the inner enemies of democracy.
1 Democracy and its Discontents 1
The paradoxes of freedom 1
External and internal enemies 4
Democracy threatened by its own hubris 7
2 An Ancient Controversy 12
The main characters 12
Pelagius: will and perfection 14
Augustine: the unconscious and original sin 19
The outcome of the debate 22
3 Political Messianism 29
The revolutionary moment 29
The first wave: revolutionary and colonial wars 33
The second wave: the Communist project 37
The third wave: imposing democracy by bombs 45
The Iraq war 48
The internal damage: torture 50
The war in Afghanistan 53
The temptations of pride and power 57
The war in Libya: the decision 59
The war in Libya: the implementation 62
Idealists and realists 67
Politics in the face of morality and justice 71
4 The Tyranny of Individuals 78
Protecting individuals 78
Explaining human behaviour 81
Communism and neoliberalism 87
The fundamentalist temptation 91
Neoliberalism’s blind spots 97
Freedom and attachment 101
5 The Effects of Neoliberalism 104
Blame it on science? 104
The law retreats 109
Loss of meaning 113
Management techniques 116
The power of the media 125
Freedom of public speech 128
The limits of freedom 134
6 Populism and Xenophobia 139
The rise of populism 139
Populist discourse 142
National identity 147
Down with multiculturalism: the German case 150
Britain and France 153
The debate about headscarves 156
One debate can hide another 162
Relations with foreigners 166
Living together better 168
7 The Future of Democracy 173
Democracy, dream and reality 173
The enemy within us 179
Towards renewal? 184
One of the great intellectuals of our time.
Stanley Hoffmann, Harvard University
This is a voice to be listened to attentively, for our shared planetary home's and all its residents' sake.
Zygmunt Bauman, University of Leeds
Now, of all times, there is a need for cool heads, such as Todorov, who approaches the limits of free speech with admirable dexterity.
The New York Review of Books
A coherent, relevant work in which intelligence and sincere humanism do battle Ð a world away from the slippery moralizing of intellectual fence-sitters.
Le Nouvel Observateur
Todorov’s work is that of a sage, a man who has read the great texts, who has lived through two political regimes, and who dares to express an idea that may seem at odds with his fervent defence of freedom and democracy: freedom for its own sake, freedom that forgets its duties and responsibilities, is self-destructive. What he writes is never ordinary, but always tolerant and life affirming.