The Devil in the Detail:
A Review of Ryszard Legutko’s The Demon in Democracy
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The Demon in Democracy: Totalitarian Temptations in Free Societies
New York: Encounter Books, 2016
Ryszard Legutko is a well-known Polish politician and is a member of the Prawo i Sprawiedliwość (Law and Justice Party). His book, Triumf Czlowieka Pospolitego, the title of which has been translated into German and English extremely loosely as The Devil in Democracy (the Polish title in fact means “The Triumph of the Common Man”), is a reckoning with the rising tide of liberal democracy in the Western world. It is not the first work of its kind and will certainly not be the last, but Legutko’s work stands out on three counts. Firstly, it is written not by an academic but by an active politician, one who is an outspoken critic of the values of the increasingly shrill liberal rulers of the European Union. Secondly, Legutko grew up in Communist Poland, not in a Western democracy, a biographical fact which strengthens the credibility of his comparison of liberal totalitarianism and Communism. Thirdly, the writer’s comparison of liberal democracy and Communism permits of no complacency of the kind which holds that “democracy is the worst political system except for all the others,” that Churchill quotation which is frequently hauled out to stymie a radical critique of democracy.
According to Wikipedia, Legutko was a co-editor of a Samizdat publication in Communist Poland. Therefore, from the beginning, this man was a fighter, not an armchair commentator or political philosopher, a man who has acted throughout his life on his convictions, and his convictions are pro-Polish, pro-European (but not pro-European Union), and Roman Catholic. Legutko was Poland’s Education Minister from 2007 to 2009 and is undoubtedly one of those who have spearheaded the resistance to the further integration and wildfire immigration which is the policy of the European Commission.
While the original Polish edition has no subtitle that I can see, there is an English subtitle: “Totalitarian Temptations in Free Societies,” while the German subtitle reads “Totalitarian Tendencies in Liberal Democracy,” which is a more accurate summary of Legutko’s essay. The important point here is that Legutko does not think that liberalism has been corrupted or led astray, but that it has become corrosive as a result of its morphing with egalitarianism into a new compound: liberal democracy. A key argument of this work is that it is the compound of democracy and liberalism which is inherently totalitarian, not democracy or liberalism alone. Liberal democracy, according to Legutko, is similar in most ways to Communism, has the same objectives, and like Communism, manipulates and changes its language to achieve its ends.
Legutko’s work is a sober, very embittered, humorless invective, originating I suspect in disappointed love. Like millions of others in Eastern Europe, he had honestly believed that the fall of Communism in the Soviet zone would usher in a time of freedom and a restoration of national pride and independence for Poland. In a very short time indeed, he realized that one foreign master of Poland had been replaced by another. Communism had left the people of Eastern Europe alienated and poor. The West was regarded as some kind of promised land where people would be free to express their opinions, in which the European Union was an alliance of free nations, a community of equal partners and friends. The former nations of the Eastern bloc unthinkingly signed up for the community of plenty without reading or understanding the small print of the terms of membership. The largesse of the European Union comes at a high cost. In a very short period of time, this man, who had firsthand experience of Communism, was to learn that the European Union employed different means to achieve the same ends: the subservience of the people and the destruction of national identity in service to an ever more intrusive and insolent ideology. Legutko reacts with all the bitterness, and indeed hatred, of the newly-married bride who discovers that her spouse always was and always would be a philanderer.
The principle target of Legutko’s wrath is neither liberalism nor democracy, but liberal democracy, a political double act whose full corrosiveness is first realized when the merger of the two elements of liberalism and democracy is complete. Legutko distinguishes clearly between liberalism and democracy: liberalism he regards as the philosophy of the freedom of the individual and democracy as a principle of government. This is how he describes the process of assimilation of democracy and liberalism:
The starting point of liberalism and also its ultimate perspective is a hypothetical situation in which relatively independent parties cooperate with one another through a system of contracts. The democratization of society transforms liberalism into a doctrine in which the parties are no longer individuals, but groups and the institutions of the democratic state. (p. 75)
According to Legutko, under the influence of democracy, the focus of liberalism shifts from ideas and effort towards the demand for the recognition of an increasingly long list of rights. The state gradually loses its original republican character to become primarily the upholder and enforcer of an expanding list of fundamental rights. As it does so, it narrows the area of permissible, that is to say morally legitimate, debate, whereby certain subjects (for example differences in racial intelligence) are placed outside the boundaries of legitimate debate and investigation. With each established right, the field of discourse is narrowed further. Liberalism, the system which bases values on a contractual basis (even Thomas Hobbes in this sense was a liberal, in that his Leviathan was founded on a Social Contract, as was John Locke’s legitimate government outlined in his Second Treatise of Government).
With democracy comes the levelling principle, a principle not inherently liberal, that each individual is worth as much as each other individual. This levelling principle, which in Europe looks back to the French Revolution and the Terror, introduces the notion of natural human rights and the protection of minorities. Where democracy is alone the guiding principle of society, there is still room in an egalitarian society for tradition and a community spirit and loyalty. Where liberalism alone is the guiding principle of society, justice remains truly blind, is disinterested, and does not favor group pressure in the name of abstract rights. It is, Legutko insists, the fatal creation of a compound of the two, liberal democracy, which unites the most corrosive aspect of democracy and liberalism, and out of this emerges the totalitarian drive, stifling the qualities of liberalism and democracy (individual freedom and social identity, respectively). Legutko believes that liberal democracy is a totalitarian force very similar to Communism, where totalitarian, as the writer is careful to define, refers to a system which aspires to a total control of society in all its multifarious aspects: economic, social, private, biological, personal, educational. There is no escape from the all-seeing eye of the benevolent liberal democratic state.
What is likely to shock many readers is the fact that this thesis is written by someone who knows very well what Communism was and cannot be lightly accused of hyperbole. Liberal democracy, insists Legutko, is not a lesser evil, and in one sense it is a greater evil, for the simple reason that it has proved more successful. Even since 2012, when this book was first published in Polish, events have accelerated to add credence to Legutko’s argument, which sadly is more persuasive today in 2017 than it would have been in 2012. This has been demonstrated by the vindictive and hysterical reactions to Britain’s vote to leave the European Union and more dramatically still in the campaign to discredit, undermine, and eventually emasculate the Viségrad Four (Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic) for their rejection of mass African and Middle Eastern immigration into Europe.
The EU uses two tools to destroy its internal opponents. One is personal – defamation via the largely pro-EU media of the Western European nations – and the second, national, is blackmail. The feeble economies of countries which were milked for forty years by the Soviet Union and its satellite regimes have allowed themselves to become fatally dependent on EU subsidies. Hungary will be receiving twenty-five billion euros from the EU development fund in the period from 2014 to 2020. It is not difficult for the EU to restrain countries in such a state of indebtedness, and this restraint, according to Legutko, will only increase and is set to break the backs of all the European sovereign nation-states.
At the level of the freedom of opinion, the right of free speech is definitely shrinking. Recently, the eighty-eight-year-old Ursula Haverbeck was imprisoned for denying that Jews were gassed at Auschwitz. A member of the moderately Right-wing German Alternative für Deutschland party lost his case in court against the termination of his rental contract. His contract was ended by his landlady because he had failed to reveal that he was the member of a political party (the third biggest in the German state), which made him liable to attack. The landlady cancelled his contract and won in court, which declared that it was deceptive of the tenant not to have warned her that he could be the target of Left-wing attacks. In Britain, a politician on the popular BBC Question Time show felt it necessary to state that he thought it “wrong” that any student in Britain should be disadvantaged in examinations for being in favor of Brexit, a statement which can only have been made because such disadvantaging has been reported. In the United States, those who took part in demonstrations against the removal of national monuments were photographed and their pictures went viral with the intention – in at least one case successful – of urging employers to fire participating employees. Every year the European Union turns up the volume of humanist invective with its insistence on “European values” – values as defined, of course, by the Union’s elite leaders: egalitarianism, social justice, democracy, human rights, anti-racism, and tolerance. Those who do not accept those given values as a premise of debate are excluded and may expect in the future to be deprived of bank accounts, livelihoods, and even their rented homes.
Legutko considers that, like Communism, the European Union abuses words in the pursuit of its ends. In the name of European values, it promotes massive immigration aimed at destroying European identity. In the name of environmental protection, it enforces regulations which are ecologically deleterious. Legutko might have mentioned some examples of EU “newspeak,” and his failure to do so highlights a weakness of his book. He should have had no trouble in doing so. This reviewer has done so himself with, sadly, no difficulty. The case of environmental protection is especially grievous. The European Union claims to serve the cause of sustainability and enjoys a reputation, even among some of its opponents, of making environmental protection a priority. It is the case that compared to nations like Canada, India, the United States, and, worst of all, China, the record of the Union may seem good, but appearances are deceptive. It pursues a policy of widely promoting agribusiness and introduces measures ostensibly intended to protect the environment, but which effectively achieve the opposite.
Energy efficiency ordinances in the EU which, over time, are set to replace national standards have been at times the regulator and at times the impetus to thermally insulating buildings. The material needed is mostly fiberglass. This procedure deprives birds of a nesting habitat and has led to a great increase in mold. In the case of at least one fire in England, it has turned what should have been a containable accident into a disaster involving many scores of deaths.
A similar ordinance was that applied in the form of a European-wide car scrapping program. The official intention was to take polluting cars out of circulation. The real intention of destroying roadworthy cars and replacing them with more “environmentally friendly” new models at the taxpayers’ expense was to boost the car industry. The similarity with Communism is the gap between official intent – guaranteeing democratic representation, say, or protecting the environment – and the experienced reality, which exposes the image and the propaganda as hypocritical, fraudulent window dressing.
More examples abound. It is interesting to note that the US and the EU act in tandem with respect to many of these plans. The ideology of the EU, according to Legutko, is the liberal democracy compound, and all other values or loyalties must either be made subservient to it or be extirpated:
The EU is guardian of all ideas of supranational liberal democracy and in doing so itself displays all the symptoms which these sick ideas produce. Its institutions and dealings have reached such a level of dogmatic inflexibility, that any movement striving for the restoration of liberty and reason will inevitably clash with it. (p. 85)
Culture in the EU, as in the former Communist states, is in the hands of the system. The liberal democratic artists, notes Legutko, nurtured and backed by the foundations, academies, and councils acting in the name of liberal democracy, are keen to preach, but unwilling to learn. They are supported by the lexis of liberal democratic ideology. The system claims to encourage radicalism in the arts, but the arts are in the hands of friends of the system. Legutko stresses the importance of lexical indicators in maintaining control. Just as Communism used words such as “progressive,” “proletariat,” and “counter-revolutionary” to define a field of debate and either grant attention or withdraw it, so liberal democracy has its ideologically loaded lexis indicating approval or opprobrium: “democratic,” “fair,” “offensive,” “respect,” and the ever-lengthening list of “phobias,” the possession of which condemns an aspirant politician or artist to exclusion from the charmed circle of those who are on the right side of history. Under both systems, decisions are made in the name of the dominant ideology. Those who do not accept the dominant ideology are at first dismissed from public discourse. Later, they may be regarded as sick. The ultimate message of the totalitarian system is to assimilate or die. There should be no hiding place.
There is a major difference between liberal democracy and Communism which Legutko hints at but which in my opinion he should have looked at more closely. Whereas in Communist mythology, Lenin sprang in full armor out of the skull of late capitalist society, ready for combat, liberal democracy, which has no individual hero, is indeed mistrustful of heroes and introduces change gradually, surreptitiously, and with deft and silent changes to language and symbols. Legutko provides instances where stress is shifted: enjoyment replaces happiness as a prime aim of non-material being, sexuality is used to subvert the individual, and politics is advertised as important at a theoretical level but not at all encouraged in terms of involvement, other than in terms of a career.
Legutko refers to the French-Swiss political thinker Benjamin Constant here, who distinguished between what he called the “liberty of the ancients,” whose hallmark is local and participatory democracy, and what he called the “liberty of the moderns,” whose hallmark is the rule of law and freedom from interference. This distinction between passive and active democracy is very important. If the passive majority of people only accept democracy as the rule of law, they have effectively abandoned the right of the citizen to participate as an individual in decision-making. The last remnant of that right, enshrined in the right to vote, is already under scrutiny from liberal democrats, who look to voting – just as Communism did – not as an expression of popular will but as a confirmation of acquiescence to the ideology of the system. Perhaps it is from Constant, who argued that participatory democracy was impracticable in mass society, that liberal democrats draw their argument against grassroots democracy: “it cannot work for deciding big issues.”
Liberal democratic movements are adept at transforming other movements and keeping the shell of a name or tradition in order to misguide until it is too late, by which time the name or tradition will have been transformed in its essence. Once the transformation is completed, the renaming follows as the final stage of the imposition of the new ideology. Again, Legutko fails to provide examples, and this reviewer is compelled to do so himself. In the post-war years, the German Free Democratic Party (FPD) was a strongly nationalist party which has, in time, shifted to an extremely internationalist one. The party central office was called Thomas Dehler House, after a fervent post-war champion of German unity. It was finally renamed Dietrich Genscher House on March 31, 2017, to reflect the new party which the FDP had silently become: Dietrich Genscher was a dedicated internationalist and long-time Foreign Minister of the Federal Republic. Liberal democracy achieves the same ends as Communism with greater subtlety. A Communist system would have changed the name of the House immediately after it had come to power. Liberal democracy, notes Legutko, is more patient than Communism. It first undermines the values which gave birth to the offending symbols, names, and statues, and only when the population is sufficiently softened up and the elite sufficiently homogeneous in terms of liberal democratic ideology are names and language changed, and symbols and monuments removed. The difference is one of degree and method, not of substance.
Legutko notes the importance of language in changing the terms of political debate. He could have mentioned in this context the naming of places, too. Copywriters, editors, and reporters have great power to decide on the use of language, for they can change words at will. For example, within a very short space of time, the British word “film” was replaced with the American word “movie” in the world of journalism, and almost overnight the entire British population began to say “movie” instead of “film.” Lately, there has been the decision to call “actresses” “actors,” a decision made by a handful of people and with obvious ideological intent. In recent years, Western nations have become extremely sensitive to the demands of foreign states as to the spelling or pronunciation of city or country names. Bombay is now known as Mumbai, a change made in deference to the wishes of Hindu nationalists. Peking is now referred to as Beijing. The ruling military junta changed the name of Burma to Myanmar in 1989, and Rangoon to Yangon, at a time when the same junta was widely condemned for corruption, environmental ruination, torture, and violence.
The Ukrainian nationalists insist that the Ukraine be called just Ukraine in English; apparently the expression “the Ukraine” is offensive to them. The Western media are swift to oblige. The use of the old words is subsequently regarded as an indication of cultural, political, and social backwardness. Even apparently value-neutral language is pulled along the path of progress on the way to a new liberal democratic reality. If history is destroyed, memory is destroyed, and he who has lost his memory is dependent on the language and wishes of those who control language and history. This is the totalitarian dream.
As part of the same process, there has been the surreptitious supplanting of imperial weights and measures with the metric system in Britain. None of these changes was the matter of serious public debate. The lack of debate is at least as significant as the event itself. The ultimate enemy of totalitarianism is awareness. Immigration, the changing of language, and the changing of the ethnic balance of a population – all this and more in a totalitarian system must not be carried out with genuine popular approval in the first instance, since approval in that case implies the existence of a right to withdraw approval. In the first stage, change is therefore effected in a climate of unawareness. Legutko “credits” liberal democracy with being more successful than Communism in undermining the human spirit in such a climate. Under Communism, everyone knew that the system’s propaganda was hocus-pocus, whereas under liberal democracy, millions believe that they are living in the best of possible systems.
Liberal democracy only allows fair public debate on subjects it considers to be legitimate, and the number of subjects is being constantly reduced. Legitimate topics not only do not include racial differences or what happened in Auschwitz, but also do not include the naming of foreign cities and nations, or the imperial system of weights and measures!
Legutko notes two kinds of lexical indicator. As already mentioned, there are the words which indicate illegitimate, anti-democratic tendencies or allegiance. The reverse side of this is the use of expressions or words which indicate virtue and desirability, and when used, signify the user’s right to participate in legitimate debate. Language is a key in the exercise of authority and the establishment of legitimacy.
Despite the respect which the writer should be owed for his experience of life under Communism, that enables him to write with an authority this reviewer does not have, I nevertheless believe that Legutko pays liberal democracy too much of a compliment when he describes its totalitarian efficacy. Liberal democracy, as the writer himself implicitly acknowledges by referring to its process of shifting the meaning of language, changing words used in public debate, and narrowing the scope of what it deems to be “legitimate” discussion and difference of opinion, does not suddenly impose a rule of law in the manner of a Communist dictatorship. The process of subversion is not a sudden one, it is a matter of evolution. Evolution is not a certain thing, but can take one course or another, depending on exterior factors working on the evolving element. Although Legutko acknowledges that liberal democracy is slower to reach total power than Communism, he underplays the significance of that fact.
Furthermore, the fact that liberal democracy is a combination of two elements arguably constitutes a weakness. There are “pure” democratic and “pure” liberal trends acting against the liberal democratic momentum. The ideology is vulnerable to splitting along its democratic/liberal fault line. Left-wing discontent with the EU project, especially the single currency, and fiscal austerity is surely an indication of democratic elements straining against the liberal democratic composite. It is also disheartening that the writer does not take cheer from the fact that previous totalitarian systems have fallen.
Under liberal democracy, the decree follows at the end of a revolutionary shift; under Communism, the decree initiates that shift. Although the oxygen of freedom of expression is certainly thin and getting thinner, it still exists. It was sufficient for Legutko to publish his book, not as Samisdat but freely distributed on Amazon, and presumably he is free to profit from its sales. Similarly, this reviewer is able to write a public review of his book without fearing a visit from the police. This is not to say that this cannot happen in the future. Indeed, it may well happen, for there is strong evidence that liberal democracy is moving fast towards ever greater restrictions on free speech. The danger is that Legutko has anticipated a likely future, but to the extent that he gives the impression that that future is already the present, he may be crying wolf, so that people will believe there is nothing worth fighting for, believing that the worst is not to come but has already taken place. Legutko is a fighter by nature. It is a great shame that he did not take the opportunity presented by writing a book to encourage his readers to become fighters, too.
A major failing of this book is therefore its negativity – the writer’s bitter account, which is lightened by no humor (this is a laborious read with no chance to laugh at anything) and not supported by examples, and which makes no proposals whatsoever for readers who might want to combat the illness it diagnoses. The writer provides no solutions at all, not even the address of his own political party, in which he is a very active and prominent member (perhaps the Polish edition did this). What does Legutko himself wish for? Here we come to another weakness of the book. It is entirely clear what the writer is against, but not what he is for. What is his ideology – or failing ideology, a word he holds in very low esteem – and what is his guiding light?
He makes frequent references to the Catholic Church, noting that the decisive role which it played in opposing Communism was the inspiration behind the dissident movement in Poland, that movement which arguably heralded the beginning of the end of the Soviet Union and its satellites. But it seems that Legutko regards the Catholic Church as an upholder of tradition and identity and as a bulwark against Communism rather than a source of actual, living faith. The reader will learn from this book that the writer is a Roman Catholic, a traditionalist Roman Catholic indeed, extremely skeptical of Vatican II (I wanted to check the author’s comments on Vatican II but that would take time, since another failing of this book is that it is without an index), but I recall no mention in the book of the raison d’être of all religion: I do not recall that Legutko has anything to say about God. The book concludes on a deep note of despair, despite the writer’s own well-known political activism. Only a few days ago, as leader of the Polish delegation, Ryszard Legutko stormed out of a meeting in which liberal democrat apologist Guy Verhofstadt had threatened financial sanctions on Poland in the case that the Polish government “continues to breach the rule of law and European values.” This was an insult too far for Legutko. Clearly, our author is more of a fighter than a perusal of his book might suggest. I have seldom seen a stronger case of hiding your lamp under a bushel than the one shown in Legutko’s book. The author has plenty to boast about, but instead of providing encouragement and inspiration to others with an account of his activities, his book is an outpouring of bitterness and pessimism.
His pessimism is also irrational in respect of the writer’s declared Roman Catholic faith. This faith, which believes firmly in the Second Coming, the resurrection of the dead, and life everlasting should give the Roman Catholic Legutko little cause for pessimism. At the end of the book, Legutko concedes that it is impossible to predict the future, but that the overall scenario is gloomy, if not ghastly:
Liberal democrats are probably right in this respect, when they want to make us believe that the world has reached its end . . . New rights will be invented so as to make us still more equal, the feminist ideology will take ever absurder directions and people, so proud of their intellectual independence, will swallow and accept. Literature will concentrate even more intensively on nothing; rhetoric, in order to disguise an enveloping uniformity, will keep getting wilder . . . This chapter will be the fulfilment of what Communism had planned, but to the great regret of its supporters, not achieved, the merging of people with the system and the system with the people.
Surely he cannot get more pessimistic than that? Oh, but he can:
Possibly history will reach completion and dissolution in this final stage. The proliferation and spread of modernism is not just a stage which will be succeeded by another, it constitutes the fundamental truth about people of the modern age. After adventures, failures and resurrections, after following will o’whisps and falling into temptation, now mankind will have finally recognized himself for what he really is. If this hypothesis is correct, there will be no further fundamental changes in history except bad ones. For some people it may serve as a consolation to know that man will have finally learnt to live in permanent harmony with his own nature. For others it would be the confirmation of the deep rooted mediocrity of mankind. (pp. 187-189)
Those despairing words are the conclusion of the book. It sounds like the end of a gothic Romantic poem: “Old man! ’tis not so difficult to die!”
While we are on the subject of literature, my hope is that Ryszard Legutko wrote those words not as a final comment, but while struggling in the slough of despond.
Let John Bunyan, who I think was not unlike our writer in some respects, but far more eloquent and lyrical, describe that despair in his own immortal words:
This miry Slough is such a place as cannot be mended; it is the descent whither the scum and filth that attends conviction for sin doth continually run, and therefore is it called the Slough of Despond: for still as the sinner is awakened about his lost condition, there ariseth in his soul many fears, and doubts, and discouraging apprehensions, which all of them get together, and settle in this place; and this is the reason of the badness of this ground.
After all, Legutko is Christian. He tells us so himself. In Bunyan’s allegory, Christian is saved from the slough by the good office of Hope.
Apart from its pessimism and strident rejection of the world today – a deeply negative outlook contradicted, it seems to me, both by the promise inherent in the doctrine of the writer’s own professed religious faith and by his own political commitments and energy – the book has another weakness, ironically a weakness with which Karl Marx was also charged. Strident and definitive in denouncing the machinations of Communism and liberal democracy, Legutko is extremely vague about what kind of society, presumably free of ideology, he does wish for Europe (only Europe or the world? We are not told). There are approving references to tradition, reason, and identity, but these references are insubstantial. Swift to condemn, Legutko proposes nothing, either in general or in the particular, as an alternative to the totalitarian system he unmasks. There is a hint that he yearns for a restoration (return? renaissance?) of Christian values. Christian values! But did not the Christian Church employ language with exactly the same acute and ambitious Machiavellianism for which Legutko reproaches liberal democracy and Communism? We are told that words are used by Communist and liberal democratic systems to block or prevent debate and ostracize protest, but was not Christianity in its heyday itself past master at exactly this kind of legerdemain of language?
Both systems are accused of seeking to influence and ultimately dominate every aspect of human life from cradle to grave. But was this not the objective of the Roman Church, too? The ominous and dreaded warning “that sounds heretical to me” effected much the same crushing and ominous menace as “that sounds racist to me” does today. Both mean “if you go down that path you will be cast out of the company of true believers.” The Holy Church created an Index of Banned Books. This is an ever-recurring sin (to use another powerful and condemning word in the Christian lexis!) of the right to high-handedly condemn others with standards that it would unwillingly apply to itself. And where does Legutko stand with regard to free speech, anyway? Liberal democracy is becoming ever more restrictive about the free speech which it hypocritically claims to cherish, but if Legutko is himself in favor of limitless free speech, he does not say so. In the days of its extensive (dare one say totalitarian?) power, the Roman Catholic Church most assuredly was not. On this and many other subjects, the reader is made clear about the tactics of liberal democracy and Communism, but is not told how matters should stand if and when humanity were to be freed of totalitarian ideologies.
Because it is very difficult to know exactly of what Legutko is in favor, and along with the pessimistic final projection of the book, The Demon in Democracy is very depressing to read. It is bitter fare, written by an embittered man, offering no enjoyment and lauding none (the writer hardly discusses sex and sexuality, and when he does so, then disparagingly), and is hard to digest, but the negative aspects of this essay are compensated by the forthright defiance thrown at liberal democracy. The defiance is uncompromising. There is no “if only” and “where did things go wrong” about the critique. Legutko is convinced that the combination of liberalism and democracy can only be totalitarian and work towards a totalitarian social system. Therefore, Legutko believes that liberal democracy cannot be reformed or improved, it must be defeated. It is a radical challenge, and the entire book is a cry of defiance.
The analysis of liberal democratic trends and origins made in the book is brief, but can serve as a springboard, both intellectual and political. Many of Legutko’s casual references invite and will reward closer examination: for example, John Rawls, the author of A Theory of Justice, and the theorist responsible, as Legutko acutely suggests, for outlining the theoretical composite of liberal and democratic values, and the founding father of liberal democracy in the field of political philosophy. Likewise there is a reminder of Blaise Pascal’s notion of entertainment as a diversion from the earnestness of life; a mention of J. L. Talmon’s Origins of Totalitarian Democracy, which, thanks to Legutko, is now on this reviewer’s reading list; the citing of Ortega y Gasset and Tocqueville as two of democracy’s most trenchant critics; and a prompt to Legutko’s discerning readers to take these classical theorists down from dusty shelves. Legutko has turned the light on liberal democracy and identified it as totalitarian. How do we fight this ideology, and in the light of what faith of our own? These are questions Legutko’s book does not answer, but it does nudge the reader towards asking them.
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