In The Retreat of Western Liberalism, Edward Luce explores the fundamental tensions at the heart of liberal democracy.

When the Berlin Wall fell in November 1989, Edward Luce and his college friends drove to Berlin from Oxford to take part in the massive party that ushered in the end of communism. The communist world had been under strain at least since the imposition of martial law in Poland in 1981; the process accelerated rapidly when first Poland and then Hungary began to experiment with power-sharing arrangements. But the fall of the wall was the only event offering an excuse for a college-age kid to celebrate the sea change in history. Luce took advantage of the opportunity in the belief that a post-communist world would be much better than the one it replaced. His college tutors tolerantly accepted the reason for his absence upon his return.

Alas, things did not turn out as planned, leaving Luce to look back wistfully on what should have been a once-in-a-lifetime chance to toast the end of history. In the decades since, liberal democracy has faced challenges both from without and within, many of which Luce has witnessed up close. As a journalist, he met with the great and terrible both before and after they became famous. His early encounter with Rodrigo Duterte, for example, serves as a chilling reminder that authoritarian leaders learn by doing, and build on their experience; such well-honed skill should not be underestimated.

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Erik Jones is Professor of European Studies and Director of European and Eurasian Studies at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), Johns Hopkins University; Senior Research Fellow at Nuffield College, Oxford; and a Contributing Editor to Survival.

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Survival: Global Politics and Strategy

December 2017–January 2018

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