When they go low, we go high

This book, by Philip Collins, is far more important and illuminating than it at first appears to be. The blurb talks about the speeches, and Mr Collins’ analysis of them, as if that was what makes this book worth reading. There are many fine speeches in this book, and the analysis is very erudite and interesting – but, it is the way that these speeches and analyses are woven into a meta-narrative about Democracy that are the true worth of this book. And the message is very telling, and very needed now.
Populism vs Democracy, is the thing, and the theme, of the book. It is taken as self-evident that Democracy is the best political system available to us, and that Populism inevitably leads to tyranny – self-evident because history shows us that this is the case, repeatedly. It is a happy coincident that this book came to me in the middle of the Brexit crisis, and it is also pleasing that the book begins to answer the tough question that Brexit forces on those of us who deeply know that leaving the EU is a poor choice, and who can’t quite believe that 52% of our fellow electorate opted for it: that is, why did they? Democracy is a fragile construct, that appears to stagger from one contested crisis to the next; such a problematic system always in trouble, with such disagreement a permanent feature of it. Surely there is something better out there? This is where populists enter, promising the Earth, promising to sweep away the elites and make the country work for the People, with themselves as the People’s prophet; the answers are always so obvious and so easy – vote for me!
But, of course, this is way off the truth. Reality is messy (Politics is about compromise), and Democracy is the only system that has ever worked; delivered sustained prosperity and development – but it is slow. And how is it sustained in the face of these drawbacks? Mr Collins’ answer is through well crafted and superbly delivered speeches; and active advocacy for Democracy, and not through complacency. Arguably that has been the main problem for the Liberal Western Democracies – complacency around the worth and value of Democracy. Mr Collins is not complacent about Democracy, nor were many of those whose speeches he presents and evaluates in this book – powerful advocates for the democratic system.
I’m slightly disappointed that the book’s title wasn’t clearer about the contents: Democracy For Ever, would have been better; regardless, this is an important reminder that the liberal democracies have work to do.


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