Democracy Books This Week
I’d like to believe every war is an avoidable war. So, the new book from Kevin Rudd is quite appealing. He believes conflict between the United States and China is not simply possible but necessary. It’s an important read as the world inches closer to outright conflict with Russia. Other titles touch on other countries central to the War in Ukraine. Dimitar Bechev provides an important study of Turkey under Erdoğan, while Joanna Rak and Roman Bäcker offer a study of post-communist democracies. Two other titles focus on reforms to strengthen American democracy. Indeed, one focuses on a radically simple idea: civic duty voting.
Make sure to listen to this week’s podcast featuring Anja Mihr on Central Asia. It’s an overlooked part of the world with important geopolitical implications for the current crisis. You can also support the podcast by making a monthly contribution at Patreon to access bonus interviews and other content.
The Avoidable War
It’s difficult to imagine a conflict with China, while the world’s attention remains fixed on Ukraine. Indeed, some scholars argue the West’s reaction to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a distraction from China. This is a fundamental misunderstanding of international relations. Over the past month, the United States has consolidated its military alliances. Germany is one of many American allies increasing its investments into defense. At the same time, China will continue to strengthen its economic position and strengthen ties with many countries as Russian power wanes.
The Russian Invasion of Ukraine has dramatically changed the dynamics of geopolitics, however it has not shifted the central fault line away from China and the United States. Kevin Rudd is right to warn against conflict between the two preeminent superpowers. As the world prepares for war materially and emotionally, leaders must look for opportunities to avoid unforced errors. Foreign affairs has once again become a game of high stakes.
Kevin Rudd, The Avoidable War: The Dangers of a Catastrophic Conflict between the US and Xi Jinping’s China
Turkey Under Erdogan
Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is similar to Vladimir Putin. He is a populist who turned a fragile democracy into an authoritarian regime. But unlike Putin Turkey remains an American ally. As the world order transforms before our eyes, intelligent observers will watch how Turkey responds. Does it draw itself closer to the West or gravitate toward Russia and China? It’s history makes it unlikely to draw too close to Russia, but Erdoğan’s relationship with the West has always been strained. Bechev offers a detailed account of Erdoğan’s governance of Turkey. Moreover, Bechev remains optimistic about Turkey. It has a checkered democratic history, but a democratic history nonetheless. Moreover, the country has continued to return to its democratic traditions and values after periodic flirtations with authoritarianism.
Dimitar Bechev, Turkey Under Erdogan: How a Country Turned from Democracy and the West
Democracy is more than elections. At the same time no other institution better represents the notion of democracy. And yet, barely more than two-thirds of American citizens exercised their right to vote in the 2020 election. Far fewer Americans participate in midterm elections and even less in Municipal or other off-cycle elections. E. J. Dionne and Miles Rapoport believe higher voter turnout is necessary to revitalize democracy. They look to examples in other countries such as Australia where around 90% of citizens participate in elections. Australia delivers consistently high levels of voter participation through what is known as civic duty voting. In other words, they require citizens to vote. Surprisingly, Australians appear to enjoy their elections more than Americans. They make a strong case for multiple benefits from civic duty voting, but their main argument is simple. It provides for a more democratic democracy.
E. J. Dionne and Miles Rapoport, 100% Democracy: The Case for Universal Voting
It has only been a little more than a year, but the Trump Presidency feel like a lifetime ago. The Republican Party continues to waver between Trump and the former establishment, but political dynamics have already changed during Biden’s Presidency. The election of Glenn Youngkin in Virginia signaled in conservative rhetoric. Moreover, the War in Ukraine has reduced polarization between the two parties. At the same time, Donald Trump showed Americans the limits and deficiencies of American institutions. Norman Eisen leads a group of scholars to consider necessary reforms the Trump Presidency exposed. Some involve ethics, while others focus on the rule of law. But at the heart of the book is a desire to reinvigorate American democracy.
Norman Eisen, Overcoming Trumpery: How to Restore Ethics, the Rule of Law, and Democracy
Neo-militant Democracies in Post-communist Member States of the European Union
After the fall of the Iron Curtain, the European Union and NATO welcomed many countries into their fold with a communist past. Each of these countries took great pride in their commitments to democracy. Indeed, the writers in this volume refer to them as neo-militant democracies. Still, in recent years democracy has suffered setbacks in many of these countries namely Poland and Hungary. The chapters consider the different approaches from the former communist countries in Eastern Europe and the Baltic states one by one. It’s a helpful book for anyone looking to better understand the American allies geographically closest to Russia and Ukraine.
Joanna Rak and Roman Bäcker (eds.), Neo-militant Democracies in Post-communist Member States of the European Union