5 Democracy Books from 2021 You Must Read
Over the past year, I have read a lot of books and most had a connection to democracy in some way. Along the way I read a lot of classics and also caught up on a few titles from 2020 I had missed. But I always try to keep up with the latest books as they get published. So far I have read 38 titles published in 2021. I’m a very selective reader so most of the books were excellent. I was fortunate to talk to most of the authors on the Democracy Paradox podcast.
I did not want to make a list of the best books of the year. That just sounds too definitive. It doesn’t leave room for revision. At the same time, I do want to suggest a few titles to read from 2021. These are the 5 democracy books from 2021 that stood out to me for different reasons. Typically, they provided some idea or insight that I found new or approached an idea from a different direction. So, check out these 5 democracy books from 2021 or at least listen to the podcasts. I hope you’ll find their ideas as engaging as I did.
Assault on Democracy
Kurt Weyland offers a political analysis of the interwar period in Assault on Democracy. But unlike most accounts he strongly differentiates between Fascism and Authoritarianism. The distinction is not entirely new. Juan Linz drew a distinction between totalitarianism and authoritarianism in his earlier typologies. However, Weyland takes this insight a step further. He argues authoritarians brought an end to democracy throughout much of Europe out of a fear of a fascist or communist takeover.
Like most accounts of the interwar period today, Weyland draws a parallel to the current era. However, the lesson he draws is unique from most. He believes the rise of authoritarianism was often an overreaction to totalitarianism impulses in their own countries. He argues the cases of Italy, Germany, and Russia were outliers. The lesson for Weyland is to remain committed to democracy and weather the storm of populism and illiberalism. For some it is a controversial conclusion. Nonetheless, his analysis of the interwar period will still enlighten most readers.
Conservative Party-Building in Latin America
James Loxton extends a theory on the importance of conservative parties for democratic stability through case studies in Latin America. Many readers will find obvious parallels to Daniel Ziblatt’s book Conservative Parties and the Birth of Democracy. The basic idea predates both of them. It argues democratic governance requires an outlet for conservative sentiments. Without a viable conservative party, conservatives look for other avenues like military coups to succeed politically.
Nonetheless, Loxton does more than extend previous scholarship. He has broken new ground through his research on authoritarian inheritance and authoritarian legacies. Again, he is not the only scholar focused on this subject, but he is among the most influential. Moreover, his book is highly accessible for scholars with limited familiarity in Latin American politics. He describes conservative party politics in Chile, Argentina, Guatemala, and El Salvador. His account of Chile will help many readers to better understand the political changes underway in the country today.
Democracy By Petition
Daniel Carpenter offers possibly the most original work on democracy in 2021. His latest book explains how the institution of the petition influenced the development of democracy in North America. Most of us know very little about the role of the petition in early American history. So, his historical account alone provides value for most readers. But the book does much more than just offer a history. Theorists will find they rethink what they think they understand about institutions. Indeed, Carpenter shows how quickly political institutions evolve and can even fade into the background. Democracy by Petition is almost a retelling of American history. At the same time, it offers lessons that transcend the American experience, because it allows us to think about democracy and democratization as something far more diverse than the package of the Western Consensus.
Daniel Carpenter, Democracy by Petition: Popular Politics in Transformation, 1790–1870
Christophe Jaffrelot brings India to life in his latest work on Indian politics. He helps explain the reasons for the success of Hindu Nationalism while providing a narrative of its development. Jaffrelot also gives important context for the rise of Narendra Modi as well even though the book examines much more than simply Modi. Overall, this is a book about charismatic politics, nationalism, and the dynamics in India that made a transformation possible. It’s also a sad story, because Jaffrelot explains what scholars mean when they refer to the decline of Indian democracy. Most serious scholars of Indian Democracy have already read this book. But many others interested in India or democracy throughout the world should also read this book.
Christophe Jaffrelot, Modi’s India: Hindu Nationalism and the Rise of Ethnic Democracy
The Emergence and Revival of Charismatic Movements
Caitlin Andrews-Lee is an exciting new voice among scholars of Latin America. Her latest book focuses on charismatic movements in Argentina and Venezuela. It offers historical accounts of Peronism and Chavismo, but draws the reader into a broader reflection on charismatic leaders and their movements. It’s an important analysis because so many leaders in democratic and authoritarian nations rely on charismatic authority. Her ideas break dramatically with Weber to argue charismatic movements become cyclical. In other words, once a charismatic tradition begins, new charismatic leaders will arise during moments of crisis. So, her book is not simply about Latin America. Her insight has implications for Americans in the wake of the Trump Presidency or Indians under Modi. It’s not clear whether her conclusions are correct. But they offer an important perspective for anyone who wants to understand democracy, populism, and politics in our current age.