RUPTURE: The Crisis of Liberal Democracy.

AuthorMcMillan, Stuart

RUPTURE: The Crisis of Liberal Democracy

Author: Manuel Castells

Translated by: Rosie Marteau

Published by: Polity Press, Cambridge, 2019, 136pp, A$89.95 (hb), $28.95 (pb).

If anyone still doubts that liberal democracy is under threat, the outpouring of articles and books dealing with that very subject should persuade them otherwise. Manuel Castells, a political sociologist, in adding to the literature, has looked at the election and presidency of Donald Trump, Brexit and the disunity within the European Union and deftly found within them evidence of separate but related paths which lead to an abandonment of the principles of liberal democracy.

His argument, summarised, is that a majority of people in Western democracies now believe that those who hold positions of political power do not represent them and that when a crisis occurs race, nationalism, identification with a social group, religion and an assertion of national identity come to the fore. The two major crises he cites are the 2008 financial disaster and the migration of Middle East and African people to Europe. He sees the 'masses' reacting against a globalisation supported by a cosmopolitan elite. The financial disaster was followed by the rescues of some financial institutions and in some societies by austerity and the cutting of social services.

Similar points have been made before. It is the mass of detail and the insights he gives that make the book worth reading. Of the Trump phenomenon he writes, not in a restrained way:

How could a rude and vulgar billionaire be elected to the most powerful Presidency in the world, a property speculator mired in dirty deals, ignorant of international politics, dismissive about the conservation of the planet, a radical nationalist who is openly sexist, xenophobic and racist? Well, precisely because he is those things. Millions of people recognised themselves in his discourse and his persona, transcending political parties, people whose voices have been silenced by the 'political correctness' of the cosmopolitan elite that had come to monopolize the country's politics, culture and economy. Not wanting to be accused of thinking the United States is full of racists, he then leaps to the defence of Americans who had elected a black president for two terms. The quotation illustrates one aspect of Castells's writing. He does not mince words. Yet it would be a mistake to label him as someone who rants or even as someone who is solely a...

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