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.
An original and incisive analysis of the rise of demagogue-style leaders across large parts of the world today. New-style despotism, the author shows, is distinctive to our age--less openly violent than that of the past, but more insidious, posing a threat not just in less-developed parts of the world but to the established democracies.--Anthony Giddens, Member of the House of Lords, United Kingdom, and Fellow of King's College, Cambridge
John Keane is right to see his book as Machiavelli's Prince for our times. His thesis that 'despotisms are top-down pyramids of power that defy political gravity by nurturing the willing subservience and docility of their subjects' is a caution for all times.--Patricia Springborg, Centre for British Studies, Humboldt University, Berlin
In his new book, John Keane, one of the world's prominent political theorists, forcefully argues that what we witness today is not simply a crisis of democracy or the return of authoritarianism but the emergence of a new type of despotism that is more effective, more subtle, and less crazy than the despotic regimes we know--and because of this, more dangerous.--Ivan Krastev, Permanent Fellow, Institute for Human Sciences (IWM), Vienna
In these dark times for democracy, the books of John Keane bring new light, refreshing perspectives, and what we need most: hope.--Enrique Krauze, author of Mexico: Biography of Power and Redeemers: Ideas and Power in Latin America