The Confidence Trap: A History of Democracy in Crisis from World War I to the Present

David Runciman. Princeton Univ., $29.95 (432p) ISBN 978-0-691-14868-7
Winston Churchill famously stated that “democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms,” and Runciman, professor of politics at Cambridge University (The Politics of Good Intentions), illustrates his agreement in this ingenious account of how free nations faced seven international crises from 1918 to 2008. Observers extolled the democracy’s victory in WWI but despaired when the Treaty of Versailles seemed to refute the Allies’ claim to moral leadership. By 1933, the depression and rise of fascism and communism convinced many that democracy was in a fatal crisis. Almost miraculously it triumphed again in WWII, but so did communism, and thinkers like Walter Lippmann, George Kennan, and Joseph Schumpeter worried, for varying reasons, that free nations could not compete. The astonishing collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 seemed to foretell a world indefinitely safe for democracy, a sentiment that evaporated in the face of terrorism, competition from prospering but undemocratic China and Russia, and financial meltdown in the West. Runciman concludes that democracy will probably survive, having made a delightfully stimulating, if counterintuitive case, that the unnerving tendency of democracies to stumble into crises is matched by their knack for getting out of them. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 09/16/2013
Release date: 10/01/2013
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