With the rise of authoritarianism in many parts of the world, the need for a renewed commitment to free and open democracy has never been clearer. In “Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism,” Anne Applebaum dissects the shift of declining liberal democracies and rising authoritarianism and argues that before reestablishing the commitment to democratic values globally, we need to reaffirm it back here in the United States.

On Wednesday, Dec. 9, Applebaum joined McCain Institute Executive Director Ambassador Mark Green to discuss her newest book and the importance of maintaining the modern democracy in the face of nationalism and autocracy. This was the fifth installment of the virtual series, which examines America’s challenges and authors’ insights on how to meet them.

Watch or listen to the entire event below. You can also tune into the audio-only podcast version of the event via iTunes or Soundcloud.

Episode Highlights

What Illiberalism Looks Like

“I think all of us grew up on the idea, I don’t know, from watching movies, you know, that there’s such thing as democracy, and then there’s a coup d’etat lead by, I don’t know, a colonel and a tank and then, you know, they come over and they shoot up the Presidential Palace and then we have dictatorship. And that somehow, you know, you have one or you have the other and there’s nothing in between. One of the things that’s become really clear over the last decade is that there are some forms of politics that are in between. So, we have seen, for example, what it looks like in Hungary to have a Prime Minister, who once he took power, began to subtly, and sometimes unsubtly, alter the political system to make it very difficult for him to lose another election. And we saw the same thing in Poland, very similar, a little bit clumsier actually.”

Why Authoritarian States Have Elections

“One of the effects of, I mean it’s probably the long tail of 1989, one of the effects of the collapse of communism and the democratic revolutions that followed in so many places, was that it somehow seemed unacceptable to just say you were a dictator. And, the forms and the, kind of, language of democracy has been used in many places, even sort of farcically, but it does get used as a way of supporting dictatorships. I mean actually, the most interesting example of this is of course Russia, which has elections, it has media, it has a public conversation, you know, it has candidates, you know, but of course, it really is rigged, and Putin can’t lose. But Putin nevertheless feels the need to have these forums and have this language, as a kind of, a way of legitimizing himself and legitimizing his power. And, you’re right, that the lip service that’s paid to democracy and democratic ideals is an illustration, I think still, of the power of those ideals. People do care about those things and they do, people do want to live in a state where they play some role and they do want to have some say in how they’re ruled, and I think, even most of the world’s dictators now understand that and they look to somehow incorporate that or use that as a way of maintaining their status.”

Why Is Anne Optimistic?

“So I am, although many people disagree with this, I am very optimistic about young people and the generation of people in their 20s who are just entering, you know, the world and the job market and public life now. It seems to me that we now have– that there are a lot of people now who are interested in public service and who want to, who understand that there are deep problems and want to be committed to solving them. I only say this because I hear from them a lot, people write to me, you know for advice, or I’ve had students in classes that I’ve taught and I feel that there’s a lot of talent and energy and interest in fixing public life in a way that I don’t even think my generation had. We had this idea that there was nothing really in particular that we needed to do for democracy, it was just gonna happen and you just needed to vote every few years. And I have this feeling that there are a lot of creative and entrepreneurial younger people around now, more so than there were in the past. And I also have a lot of faith in the kind of civil society sector, in you know the new and energized democracy groups in the United States- I’m part of some of them, some are public some are not- who have really dedicated themselves to thinking about the problems and fixing them. There’s a lot of talent and philanthropic energy going into these problems and that makes me really optimistic.”