Our Own Worst Enemy by Thomas Nichols
Our Own Worst Enemy by Thomas Nichols – The Assault from within on Modern Democracy. I read another book by him, The Death of Expertise, and I enjoyed it very much. I liked this book and I recommend it. It is thought provoking and interesting, so well worth reading, especially as it’s not long and the style is nice, the arguments flow beautifully and it’s lovely to read.
Nichols talks about the depictions of the rise of illiberal and anti-democratic movements in the United States and around the world. Instead of blaming the deprivations on the elites and globalization, he places the blame with people. He thinks narcissism, rising standards of living, global peace, and a resistance to change are the reasons illiberal movements grow. I think he has a very good point with these, the standards of living are higher and people complain more because they want more.
One example I liked in his book is how “wants” changed into “needs”, but no-one actually needs 3 TVs. I loved that example and I agree with it. People are complaining how hard their live is in the west, where there is welfare, healthcare, freedom. While not perfect, it doesn’t mean that overall, our lives aren’t better than those of our grand-parents or great-grandparents. We can buy friezed chopped onions and garlic while our great-grandparents didn’t even have a fridge because it didn’t exist.
I think the book would have been better, and would have received 5 stars instead of 4, if he would have talked a bit more about the horseshoe theory (far-right and far-left are more similar than dissimilar) and if he would have challenged his own assumptions more. He missed the point with Ukraine and Zelensky. The book was published in 2021, so before russia’s full-scale invasion, but it showed he didn’t understand completely why Ukrainians voted for Zelensky. That’s just a short paragraph in a 200+ pages book, but I think is relevant because it highlights he was not immune to the issues he saw in others.
Also, Brexit is similarly presented, through the eyes of someone who is rather despicable (I’m not mentioning his name). Sure, some who voted for Brexit were racists and bamboozled by populist rhetoric, but some who voted against Brexit were bamboozled by another kind of populist rhetoric, that they somehow were better, anti-racist (theoretically should be anti-xenophobic). I know people who voted against Brexit but can’t name 3 cities in Romania or Bulgaria, which are part of the union they so ardently wanted to be a part of. I was told that they supported remain because they wanted free flow of Romanian migrants to do jobs Brits don’t want to (picking fruits). As a Romanian I was blown over by such generosity of spirit, of course.
Overall this is a great book, well worth reading. He makes very interesting points. I fully agree with him on the topic of personal responsibility. He also talks about social media and media as it used to be. His views on what politicians can and can’t do are spot-on as well. It’s an interesting read.
Our Own Worst Enemy by Thomas Nichols
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My rating: 4/5 Stars
Would I recommend it: yes
Published by: Oxford University Press
Year it was published: 2021
About the author: Tom Nichols got his PhD from Georgetown, an MA from Columbia University, and the Certificate of the Harriman Institute for Advanced Study of the Soviet Union (today just called “the Harriman Institute”) at Columbia. He is a professor at the Naval War College and at the Harvard Extension School, as well as a Senior Associate of the Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs in New York City and a Fellow of the International History Institute at Boston University. Previously he was a Fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC.
He taught international relations and Russian affairs for many years at Dartmouth College and Georgetown University. In Washington, he was personal staff for defense and security affairs in the United States Senate to the late Senator John Heinz of Pennsylvania.
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