In This Review

Democracy Against Liberalism: Its Rise and Fall
Democracy Against Liberalism: Its Rise and Fall
By Aviezer Tucker
Polity, 2020, 200 pp.

Amid a flood of books that seek to explain the rise of populist and authoritarian challenges to liberal democracy, Tucker usefully reminds the reader that liberalism and democracy can exist quite independent of each other. Their coupling in the modern era is a bit of a historical quirk. He argues that regime types vary across three binaries: democracy versus authoritarianism, liberalism versus illiberalism, and technocracy versus populism. Revolutionary dictatorships, such as fascist and communist regimes, often start out as populist authoritarian movements that grow technocratic over time. The East Asian tigers, such as South Korea and Taiwan, began as authoritarian liberal technocracies and only later moved toward democracy. Tucker is particularly interested in illiberal democracies, where populist movements rise through elections and harness state power to undermine democratic checks and balances. Tucker finds these tendencies now in Brazil, Hungary, India, and Poland and in the outlook of right-wing parties in Israel, the United States, and western Europe. He argues that a revolt of middle classes against perceived economic and cultural elites lies behind the surge of illiberal democracy. The book offers some good news: illiberal populist regimes tend to be unstable, and when liberal political rule returns, leaders have opportunities to safeguard against future upheaval by redistributing wealth, rebuilding the social safety net, and expanding educational opportunity.