• Discussion of How Democracies Die

    Panera Bread

    For our January/February book discussion we will read _How Democracies Die: What History Reveals About Our Future_ by Steven Livitsky and Daniel Ziblatt. From Amazon reviews: Recent political events have raised a question that many of us never thought we’d be asking: Is our democracy in danger? Harvard professors Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt have spent more than twenty years studying the breakdown of democracies in Europe and Latin America, and they believe the answer is yes. Democracy no longer ends with a bang—in a revolution or military coup—but with a whimper: the slow, steady weakening of critical institutions, such as the judiciary and the press, and the gradual erosion of long-standing political norms. The good news is that there are several exit ramps on the road to authoritarianism. The bad news is that we have already passed the first one. Drawing on decades of research and a wide range of historical and global examples, from 1930s Europe to contemporary Hungary, Turkey, and Venezuela, to the American South during Jim Crow, Levitsky and Ziblatt show how democracies die—and how ours can be saved. This book is not an anti-Trump or even anti-right screed, nor is it pro-left per se. It is pro-democracy. Trump himself is duly criticized, and so are members of both parties as far as they depart from democratic norms. For example, in arguing that failure to recognize one's political opponents as legitimate contributes to the breakdown of democracy, it challenges both the Never-Trump crowd and birthers. It is quite dispassionate and free of fear-mongering and catastrophizing, allowing readers space to think for themselves.

  • Discussion of The Future is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia

    For our March discussion, the Human Rights Book Discussion group has decided to read a book describing the current human rights situation in Russia, and we have chosen The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia by award-winning journalist and Vladimir Putin biographer, Masha Gessen. From reviews on Amazon: The Future is History is a beautifully-written, sensitively-argued and cleverly-structured journey through Russia's failure to establish democracy after the fall of the Soviet Union. Gessen builds her story around the lives of a half-dozen people whose fortunes wax and wane as the country opens up, then closes down once more. Each of her subjects came of age with unprecedented expectations, some as the children and grandchildren of the very architects of the new Russia, each with newfound aspirations of their own--as entrepreneurs, activists, thinkers, and writers, sexual and social beings. Gessen charts their paths against the machinations of the regime that would crush them all, and against the war it waged on understanding itself, which ensured the unobstructed reemergence of the old Soviet order in the form of today's terrifying and seemingly unstoppable mafia state. Gessen's understanding of the events and forces that have wracked Russia over the past few generations is unparalleled. Powerful and urgent, The Future Is History is a cautionary tale for our time, and for all time. Note that this book is a bit longer than most of the other books we’ve read, so make sure to give yourselves plenty of time to obtain and read the book prior to the discussion.