Last month, The New Republic published an issue dedicated to the contemporary crisis of democracy at home and abroad. With articles ranging from a deep look into how Viktor Orbán has transformed Hungary into an autocracy to interviews with top commentators about what would happen if Donald Trump were to be reelected in 2024, the issue really ran the gamut of this (all too grim) waterfront.
On May 18, for a TNR Live event (video below), editor Michael Tomasky spoke with three of the issue’s contributors for their perspectives on the perilous state of democracy in the world today: David Rieff, a longtime TNR contributor and policy analyst; Barbara F. Walter, a political scientist at University of California, San Diego, and author of the acclaimed book How Civil Wars Start; and Ruth Ben-Ghiat, a historian at New York University, author of the acclaimed book Strongmen: Mussolini to the Present, and frequent recent guest on MSNBC.
In his comments, Rieff discussed the erosion of democracy across the globe and whether a democratic resurgence is viable today. Despite Russia’s war in Ukraine, he sees China as a far larger threat to democracy than Vladimir Putin. Walter classifies the United States as an “anocracy,” falling somewhere between a democracy and autocracy—a society in which imagining a civil war is no longer far-fetched. And Ben-Ghiat spoke about the mystical bonds between strongmen and their followers, and chillingly described January 6 as a “leader-cult rescue operation.”