Since the 1980s, “when Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan were the faces of the Conservative Movement, [it was] a movement that was anti-Communist, that emphasized the rule of law, of free markets, and democracy. What changed?” This question is at the heart of this episode, in which EconTalk host Russ Roberts welcomes author Anne Applebaum to talk about her newest book, The Twilight of Democracy.

Since that time, both the United States and the United Kingdom have seen a split between a Burkean center-right and a more radical right. Applebaum recalls a New Year’s Eve party in 1999, noting how many of its jovial guests would no longer even speak to one another as illustrative of this split. Politics, says Applebaum, has become increasingly, and perhaps dangerously, personal.



1- What reasons does Applebaum cite for the disappearance of community and civic organizations and institutions in recent decades? What role has the Internet played in this trend? Do you think the advent of the digital age’s new technologies is net positive or negative?


2- How does Applebaum describe the “authoritarian personality?” To what extent do you find this plausible, and why? How might such a description describe recent events, from Portland, Oregon to Belarus?


3- How does Applebaum distinguish between nationalism and populism? Which do you think poses the greater danger? What does she mean when she says we need a more sophisticated way of understanding what divides people?


4- Applebaum says of the Internet, “We know what an authoritarian internet looks like. It’s fully controlled. But, we haven’t really had the conversation about what we want our internet to look like, and how it can have rules that foster free speech without fostering extremism.” What might such an Internet actually look like? To what extent would it be effective in stifling the allure of authoritarianism?


5- Roberts claims he is more worried about the authoritarian Left, while Applebaum is more worried  about the authoritarian Right. With whom do you agree, and why? And, as Roberts asks his guest at the end of the conversation, where should we go from here? Should we be more optimistic or pessimistic?