Anne Applebaum and the Crisis of Centrist Politics

Anne Applebaum’s new book, Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Allure of Authoritarianism, opened two decades ago with a boisterous New Year’s Eve party that she and her husband held on their renovated country estate in Poland to celebrate the triumphant end of the 20th century. Applebaum is an Eastern European historian on communism, the author of Red famine and the Pulitzer Prize Gulag: A story;; Her husband Radosław Sikorski is a center-right politician who has served as Poland’s foreign and defense minister at various times. Unsurprisingly, the guest list featured center-right intellectuals, journalists, and politicians from the three countries this power couple calls home – the United States, the United Kingdom, and Poland. But as we soon learn, in the 20 years since then, many of the guests have wandered from right to right. “I would cross the street now to avoid some of the people who were at my New Year’s Eve party,” writes Applebaum. “Not only would they refuse to go into my house, they would be embarrassed to admit they’d ever been there. In fact, about half of the people who were at that party wouldn’t speak to the other half anymore. ”

Readers unfamiliar with Polish politics may not recognize names like Ania Bielecka, the godmother of one of Applebaum’s children, who recently got close to Jarosław Kaczyński, leader of the far-right Polish ruling party Law and Justice. or Anita Gargas, another of Applebaum’s guests, who is now spreading conspiracy theories in the right-wing paper Gazeta Polska;; or Rafal Ziemkiewicz, who is now spreading anti-Semitic rhetoric on Polish state television. But Anglo-American audiences are likely to recognize some of the other people who were once their center-right comrades – formerly embarrassed conspirator Dinesh D’Souza and prime-time Fox News’ hater Laura Ingraham National review Editor-in-Chief John O’Sullivan and current UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson. (O’Sullivan now spends most of his time in Hungary, where he runs a think tank, the Danube Institute, which is supported by the far-right ruling party.)

For Applebaum, the question arises as to how her colleagues – all of whom at the turn of the century supported the “pro-European, constitutional, market-friendly” consensus that dominated not only the center-right, but also most of the left-liberal politicians after the fall of communism have reactionaries To confess conspiracy theories, anti-Semitism and xenophobia and to show a slavish loyalty to demagogues like Donald Trump and Viktor Orbán. Dawn of Democracy is their attempt at an answer; In other words, it is Applebaum’s endeavor to explain why so many of her once close friends turned out to be fascists.

In so far as the book offers intimate portraits of intellectuals who ultimately campaigned for the empowerment of the far right, it is a valuable document. Get inspiration from Julien Benda The betrayal of the intellectualsApplebaum makes it clear that she does not want to explain what makes today’s populist strongholds or what makes ordinary voters support them, but specifically why some in her orbit – all highly educated, urbane, cosmopolitan journalists, academics, and political activists – do this have done joined their cause. Her main argument is convincing up to a point: her ex-friends are motivated less by ideological conviction or material suffering than by humiliation and resentment. In particular, they are driven by the feeling that their natural talents have been inadequately recognized and rewarded according to the supposedly meritocratic rules of a liberal elite, which has dismissed them as mediocrity. They are the losers of the cultural hegemony of liberalism – they claim – and have found a way to win in the illiberal politics of the far right.

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