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Is Liberalism Even Worth Saving?: On Yascha Mounk


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At the n+1 website, Daniel Denvir and Thea Riofrancos provide a withering critique of The People vs. Democracy: Why Our Freedom is in Danger and How to Save It by Yascha Mounk, a new book that has received heaps of mainstream media attention. Mounk claims to provide a plan for saving liberalism, but as Denvir and Riofrancos point out, this plan ignores history and reinforces the rule of political elites. Here’s an excerpt:

It is one of many examples in which Mounk shows himself to be an unreliable guide to post-Trump American political landscape. He accuses “many members of #TheResistance” of being “so hostile to the Democratic party [sic] that they do not see it as a priority to help the opposition win back Congress in 2018 or take the White House in 2020.” This is an attempted shot at the left that misfires twice. The “Resistance” refers to precisely those liberals who, like Mounk, are profoundly wedded to the Democratic Party. Furthermore he fails to understand that the broad support on the left for Bernie Sanders (who is unmentioned in the book) was historically notable precisely because it marked an unusual engagement with the Democratic Party among people who often supported third party candidacies or avoided electoral politics altogether.

The lack of serious engagement with leftist movements is symptomatic: for Mounk, the people only appear as a demonic or feckless collectivity. Despite his avowed commitment to democracy, and his perfunctory nod to “grassroots opposition groups” in his conclusion, there is no substantive discussion of protest or social movements in the book. Labor unions are absent from his account of postwar affluence as they are apparently unnecessary for the transition to a more equal capitalism; the black freedom struggle is only mentioned so as to be downplayed in the discussions of civil rights—save for quotations of contemporary politicians quoting civil rights heroes. This is a vision of management more than a vision of politics, and it is already being eaten alive by the half-wild beast it’s meant to tame.

Image of Yascha Mounk via CNN.