The People vs. Democracy
Why Our Freedom Is in Danger & How to Save It
Today, around the world, support for democracy is waning. And Yascha Mounk provides startling explanations for why people (and especially young people) are losing faith in the liberal democratic tradition—and throwing their support behind populist alternatives. From The New York Times to The Atlantic—and in his book The People vs. Democracy (2018)—he offers practical strategies for keeping democracy alive.
“Mounk, a lecturer in political theory at Harvard, was sounding the alarm on this populist turn more than a year before Trump’s victory.”— The Chronicle of Higher Education
Liberal democracies across the globe are in serious decline, while far-right groups and authoritarian leaders—populists—are on the rise. Keynote speaker Yascha Mounk is a Harvard Lecturer and go-to authority on why democracy is in perilous danger (or the forces behind “democratic deconsolidation”—his own term). His third book, titled The People vs. Democracy: Why Democracy Is in Danger & How to Save It, due next year, offers a critically important rationale for this seismic change, weaving together historical, economic, and cultural analysis. While offering a grim diagnosis, Mounk is also hopeful—in engaging talks, he offers practical methods for everyday citizens to combat this trend, and rediscover why our rights, freedoms, and protections are worth fighting for.
Writing regularly for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Foreign Affairs, CNN, The Nation, and Die Zeit—and appearing on radio and television in over ten countries—Mounk also writes “The Good Fight” column: articles on populism, resistance, activism, and the changing face of democracy for Slate magazine. He’s also the host of a new podcast, also called “The Good Fight,” which interviews political luminaries such as George Packer, Mark Blythe, Brian Klaas, and more.
Mounk’s second book, The Age of Responsibility: Luck, Choice, and the Welfare State, was published by Harvard University Press in 2017. It explores how our conservative embrace of ‘personal responsibility’ has actually prevented us from empowering individuals—and achieving greater equity. His first, Stranger in My Own Country: A Jewish Family in Modern Germany, was published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. To The New York Times, it was a book that “started as a memoir of his experiences growing up as a Jew in Germany, but became a broader investigation of how contemporary European nations were struggling to construct new, multicultural national identities.” It was reviewed in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, and the Times Literary Supplement, among many other publications, and was translated, fittingly, into German.
Mounk lectures on Political Theory at Harvard University’s Government Department, and is a Fellow in the Political Reform Program at New America. He received his BA in History from Trinity College, Cambridge and his PhD in Government from Harvard University.
To Yascha Mounk, we are facing a global crisis. Support for liberal democracy has fallen markedly across Western Europe and North America—and this development is especially stark in the U.S., and especially amongst its youth. Mounk’s research is unsettling. Two-thirds of Americans born in the 1930s and 40s state that living in a democracy is absolutely paramount. But less than one third of Americans born in the 80s or 90s would agree. Twenty years ago, 1 in 15 Americans desired military rule. Today, this number is 1 in 6. And yet, the alternatives to liberal democracy are grim. Populist, authoritarian parties erode the checks and balances of the rule of law, the judiciary system and free press. They discard the rights of citizens and push more people out of the sphere of politics. And they ride waves of racial animosity, promising violence, or imprisonment, for those who resist.
In this timely, necessary talk, Mounk outlines how these forces arise—and, vitally, what we can do to combat them. It’s an interconnected story of economics, ethnicity, and technology: of lost jobs, insecurity, increasing automation, and a flattened standard of living; of mono-ethnic societies transforming into diverse, multi-ethnic states; of the erosion of civic education and the fraught truth of social media. For corporations, colleges, associations, as much as for average, concerned citizens, Mounk provides actionable steps to stand up to the forces of populism: from getting involved in civic life to campaigning for meaningful candidates, from donating to anti-authoritarian movements to organizing in your community. Ultimately, it’s about realizing that democracy is fragile—and impermanent. And that if we continue to take it for granted—if we don’t stand up for it now—it will no longer exist.