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The Age of Insecurity

Can Democracy Save Itself?

Power to the populist: Trump at a rally in Florida, December 2017. CARLO ALLEGRI / REUTERS

Over the past decade, many marginally democratic countries have become increasingly authoritarian. And authoritarian, xenophobic populist movements have grown strong enough to threaten democracy’s long-term health in several rich, established democracies, including France, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States. How worried should we be about the outlook for democracy?

The good news is that ever since representative democracy first emerged, it has been spreading, pushed forward by the forces of modernization. The pattern has been one of advances followed by setbacks, but the net result has been an increasing number of democracies, from a bare handful in the nineteenth century to about 90 today. The bad news is that the world is experiencing the most severe democratic setback since the rise of fascism in the 1930s.

The immediate cause of rising support for authoritarian, xenophobic populist movements is a reaction against immigration (and, in

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