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The New Despotism

The New Despotism

John Keane

ISBN 9780674660069

Publication date: 05/12/2020

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An Australian Book Review Best Book of the Year

A disturbing in-depth exposé of the antidemocratic practices of despotic governments now sweeping the world.

One day they’ll be like us. That was once the West’s complacent and self-regarding assumption about countries emerging from poverty, imperial rule, or communism. But many have hardened into something very different from liberal democracy: what the eminent political thinker John Keane describes as a new form of despotism. And one day, he warns, we may be more like them.

Drawing on extensive travels, interviews, and a lifetime of thinking about democracy and its enemies, Keane shows how governments from Russia and China through Central Asia to the Middle East and Europe have mastered a formidable combination of political tools that threaten the established ideals and practices of power-sharing democracy. They mobilize the rhetoric of democracy and win public support for workable forms of government based on patronage, dark money, steady economic growth, sophisticated media controls, strangled judiciaries, dragnet surveillance, and selective violence against their opponents.

Casting doubt on such fashionable terms as dictatorship, autocracy, fascism, and authoritarianism, Keane makes a case for retrieving and refurbishing the old term “despotism” to make sense of how these regimes function and endure. He shows how they cooperate regionally and globally and draw strength from each other’s resources while breeding global anxieties and threatening the values and institutions of democracy. Like Montesquieu in the eighteenth century, Keane stresses the willing complicity of comfortable citizens in all these trends. And, like Montesquieu, he worries that the practices of despotism are closer to home than we care to admit.

Praise

  • Keane insists that only by dissecting the new despotism’s supple, but no less shady, political techniques can we understand how it renders its subjects compliant and seemingly grateful…Rich and insightful…stands out as a major contribution to contemporary debates about democracy’s prospects. He paints an unnerving portrait of a possible global future in which democracy, in any defensible sense of the term, has been demoted and marginalized.

    —William E. Scheuerman, Boston Review

Author

  • John Keane is Professor of Politics at the University of Sydney and at the Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin (WZB). He is renowned globally for his creative thinking about democracy. Among his best-known books are When Trees Fall, Monkeys Scatter; Power and Humility: The Future of Monitory Democracy; and the highly acclaimed full-scale history The Life and Death of Democracy.

Book Details

  • 320 pages
  • 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press

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