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The Inner Enemies of Democracy



The Inner Enemies of Democracy

Tzvetan Todorov

ISBN: 978-0-745-68578-6 June 2015 Polity 200 Pages

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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

Notes 189

Index 197

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.