The Demon in Democracy: Totalitarian Temptations in Free Societies

The Demon in Democracy: Totalitarian Temptations in Free Societies



The Pequod Review:

As a Polish citizen born in 1949, Ryszard Legutko has lived under both communism and liberal democracy, which puts him in a unique position to appreciate the similarities and differences between the two systems. Legutko's book The Demon in Democracy argues that communism and democracy have much more in common than is generally appreciated: 

[L]iberal democracy, as it has developed in recent decades, shares a number of alarming features with communism. Both are utopian and look forward to “an end of history” where their systems will prevail as a permanent status quo. Both are historicist and insist that history is inevitably moving in their directions. Both therefore require that all social institutions — family, churches, private associations — must conform to liberal-democratic rules in their internal functioning. Because that is not so at present, both are devoted to social engineering to bring about this transformation. And because such engineering is naturally resisted, albeit slowly and in a confused way, both are engaged in a never-ending struggle against enemies of society (superstition, tradition, the past, intolerance, racism, xenophobia, bigotry, etc., etc.) In short, like Marxism before it, liberal democracy is becoming an all-encompassing ideology that, behind a veil of tolerance, brooks little or no disagreement.

Both communism and liberal democracy are regimes whose intent is to change reality for the better. They are — to use the current jargon — modernization projects. Both are nourished by the belief that the world cannot be tolerated as it is and that it should be changed: that the old should be replaced with the new. Both systems strongly and — so to speak — impatiently intrude into the social fabric and both justify their intrusion with the argument that it leads to the improvement of the state of affairs by “modernizing” it.

Legutko came to his views after noting how former communist officials rather easily transitioned into similar governmental positions after Poland became democratic. These broad views may not be entirely original (I was reminded not just of Chomsky, but even Thomas Sowell and Tocqueville) and they are undermined by Legutko's severe dogmatism, but this is an important perspective backed up by first-hand experience.