The People vs. Democracy
Why Our Freedom Is in Danger & How to Save It
Less than a third of young Americans say it’s important to them to live in a democracy. Why? Because the system is a mess: opaque administrations, frustrating political candidates, policies that don’t reflect the people. Atlantic contributing editor, and author of the book on the subject—The People vs. Democracy—Yascha Mounk conducts engaging, hopeful and incredibly informative talks, explaining exactly how we got here, what we can do to fix it, and how the pandemic might actually be helping.
“A gifted raconteur and aphorist.”— The New York Times
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 Johns Hopkins professor 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 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.
His forthcoming book, The Great Experiment: How to Make Diverse Democracies Work, will draw on history and comparative politics to offer an unflinching analysis of why it is so hard to build fair, diverse democracies. It’s not an easy task to undo centuries of inequality, but, ultimately, The Great Experiment is optimistic: if we embrace the right principles and policies, we can build a truly common life.
Writing regularly for The Atlantic, 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 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, explores how our conservative embrace of ‘personal responsibility’ has actually prevented us from empowering individuals—and achieving greater equity. His first book, Stranger in My Own Country: A Jewish Family in Modern Germany, “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,” according to The New York Times. It was also translated into German.
Mounk is an Associate Professor of the Practice of International Affairs at Johns Hopkins University and a Senior Fellow at the Agora Institute. Mounk formerly lectured on Political Theory at Harvard University’s Government Department. He received his BA in History from Trinity College, Cambridge and his PhD in Government from Harvard University.
“Yascha’s talk was the highlight of our First Amendment of the 21st Century Conference. It generated an enormous amount of dialogue among the attendees. Thank you. I'll be following your work with renewed interest.”The Pittsburgh Foundation
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.