In This Review

Anti-Pluralism: The Populist Threat to Liberal Democracy
Anti-Pluralism: The Populist Threat to Liberal Democracy
By William A. Galston
Yale University Press, 2018, 176 pp.

In this thoughtful collection of essays, Galston surveys the problems facing the liberal democratic world. The triumphalism that flourished after the Cold War was misplaced, but so, too, in Galston’s view, is today’s pessimism. The populism and polarized politics unsettling Western democracies reflect deep shifts in modern industrial society, including growing divisions between urban and rural populations, failed policies on immigration, and stagnant middle-class incomes. But Galston argues that these problems can be addressed through an enlightened reform agenda oriented toward shared prosperity: worker education, progressive tax reform, the expansion of social insurance, and investment in infrastructure. Liberal democracy, he points out, requires balancing competing principles—the market and democracy, freedom and equality, action and constraint—and so it is doomed to disappoint many citizens. And because modernity constantly generates new challenges, liberal democracy will always struggle to keep up. But Galston provides a reminder that the system’s great virtue, compared with its authoritarian, theocratic, and socialist rivals, is its ability for self-reflection and correction. Galston is betting that the democratic spirit is still alive.