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Democracy in Retreat: The Revolt of the Middle Class and the Worldwide Decline of Representative Government [Hardcover]

Joshua Kurlantzick

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Book Description

Feb. 4 2013 Council on Foreign Relations Books
Since the end of the Cold War, the assumption among most political theorists has been that as nations develop economically, they will also become more democratic—especially if a vibrant middle class takes root. This assumption underlies the expansion of the European Union and much of American foreign policy, bolstered by such examples as South Korea, the Philippines, Taiwan, and even to some extent Russia. Where democratization has failed or retreated, aberrant conditions take the blame: Islamism, authoritarian Chinese influence, or perhaps the rise of local autocrats.
But what if the failures of democracy are not exceptions? In this thought-provoking study of democratization, Joshua Kurlantzick proposes that the spate of retreating democracies, one after another over the past two decades, is not just a series of exceptions. Instead, it reflects a new and disturbing trend: democracy in worldwide decline. The author investigates the state of democracy in a variety of countries, why the middle class has turned against democracy in some cases, and whether the decline in global democratization is reversible.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (Feb. 4 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300175388
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300175387
  • Product Dimensions: 24.1 x 16.4 x 2.6 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 612 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #380,061 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


“Think democracy’s the up-and-coming thing in the developing world? This book may shatter more than few illusions of free markets and polities.”—Kirkus Reviews 
(Kirkus Reviews)

"Any member of Congress who refuses to compromise on the budget sequester. . . should be given this mandatory assignment: Read Democracy in Retreat: The Revolt of the Middle Class and the Worldwide Decline of Representative Government."—Trudy Rubin, Philadelphia Inquirer 
(Trudy Rubin Philadelphia Inquirer)

A Wall Street Journal Best Book of 2013
(Wall Street Journal)

A Business Week Best Book of 2013
(Business Week)

Book Description

This thought-provoking book addresses a set of new and disturbing trends: democracies around the world are losing ground, middle class support of democracy has waned, and autocracies are on the rise.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.2 out of 5 stars  6 reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Disappointment in Democracy April 26 2014
By Gridley - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Democracy In Retreat:The Revolt of the Middle Class and the Worldwide Decline of Representative Government, by Joshua Kurlantzick

This is more of a treatise than a piece of literary nonfiction, and as with most such pieces of writing, the overlong title virtually tells the story. The author has done an admirable job of collecting data and anecdotes to support his thesis here, which is one of high hopes dashed.

The U.S., he writes, has been the primary nation actively trying to export democracy, and perhaps too over zealous in doing so. His concern isn’t our misadventures in Vietnam, South America and more recently, Iraq. Instead, it’s our more peaceful efforts to create democracies around the world. However, there has been all too much emphasis on the various electoral processes in doing so, and too little emphasis on policies, including the educational, to support permanent democratic reform. As a result, many democracies of the twentieth century have failed,returning to oligarchies, dictatorships, or other, more repressive forms of representative government.

The poor, of course, have borne the primary disappointments here, but in many countries, the middle classes have become disenchanted with the democratic process. In all too many cases, upsetting the status quo has shrunken and disturbed the middle classes, which were both part of the ladder of societal ascendance and a buffer between poor and risk, disenfranchised and powerful. Much of the frustration here has been that more repressive societies, such as China, seem to achieve economic success while many democratic countries founder economically due to the decision-making inefficiencies of most democratic states.

To this reader, the author spends too much time citing one case history after another and too little trying to map our way of his quagmire. Still he does a service in tacitly insisting that perhaps democracy is a product of social evolution - little more than a mere accident in the establishment of the U.S.

My rating: 15 of 20 stars
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Look at Democracy in Retreat Dec 18 2013
By Eric - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Joshua Kurlantzick offers a fascinating look at the state of democracy throughout the world and offers some interesting perspectives on why he believes it is in retreat. Pointing to a very unlikely culprit, Kurlantzick goes into great detail and offers a very unique grasp on almost every region of the world with case studies to back up his claims. Malawi, Thailand, Ukraine, and Venezuela, among others, become interesting venues where the author exposes the current crises faced by each country and how these specific crises can impact the state of democracy. With all the unrest now in Thailand and Ukraine that we are now witnessing Kurlantzick's book becomes even more interesting. A very good read and extremely informative.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The book I wanted to write April 24 2013
By D. Cross - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is an excellent and far-reaching evaluation of newly democratizing countries, and the problems they encounter. Ultimately I think the question is, is "Western-style democracy" right for everywhere? And the answer has to be, only if conditions are the same everywhere, which they aren't. Very accessibly written and compelling argument.
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars Aug. 26 2014
By Change Agent - Published on
Certainly covers an important issue; not sure the author dug deep enough.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars great book Aug. 30 2013
By I. E. Victoria - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Very timely book on foreign affairs. Reads somewhat like a research paper. I recommend to anyone interested in the health of modern Democracies.

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