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Book Cover for: Our Own Worst Enemy: The Assault from Within on Modern Democracy, Tom Nichols

Our Own Worst Enemy: The Assault from Within on Modern Democracy

Tom Nichols

Critic Reviews


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A contrarian yet highly engaging account of the spread of illiberal and anti-democratic sentiment throughout our culture that places responsibility on the citizens themselves.

Over the past three decades, citizens of democracies who claim to value freedom, tolerance, and the rule of law have increasingly embraced illiberal politicians and platforms. Democracy is in trouble--but who is really to blame?

In Our Own Worst Enemy, Tom Nichols challenges the current depictions of the rise of illiberal and anti-democratic movements in the United States and elsewhere as the result of the deprivations of globalization or the malign decisions of elites. Rather, he places the blame for the rise of illiberalism on the people themselves. Nichols traces the illiberalism of the 21st century to the growth of unchecked narcissism, rising standards of living, global peace, and a resistance to change. Ordinary citizens, laden with grievances, have joined forces with political entrepreneurs who thrive on the creation of rage rather than on the encouragement of civic virtue and democratic cooperation. While it will be difficult, Nichols argues that we need to defend democracy by resurrecting the virtues of altruism, compromise, stoicism, and cooperation--and by recognizing how good we've actually had it in the modern world.

Trenchant, contrarian, and highly engaging, Our Own Worst Enemy reframes the debate about how democracies have ended up in this dire state of affairs and what to do about it.

Book Details

  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publish Date: Feb 1st, 2023
  • Pages: 264
  • Language: English
  • Dimensions: 8.24in - 5.57in - 0.69in - 0.63lb
  • EAN: 9780197645505
  • Categories: Commentary & OpinionPolitical Ideologies - DemocracyComparative Politics

About the Author

Tom Nichols, Professor of National Security Affairs, US Naval War College

Tom Nichols is Professor Emeritus of National Security Affairs, US Naval War College, and a staff writer at The Atlantic. He is the author of The Death of Expertise (Oxford 2017), No Use: Nuclear Weapons and US National Security (2013), and Eve of Destruction: The Coming Age of Preventive War (2008). He is also an instructor at the Harvard Extension School and an adjunct professor at the US Air Force School of Strategic Force Studies. He is a former aide in the US Senate and has been a Fellow of the International Security Program at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

Critics’ reviews

Praise for this book

"While democracy does battle with other political ideologies--fascism, communism, socialism--its most difficult battle is always with itself, the inherent contradiction that is both its greatest strength and most glaring vulnerability. The challenges we face in the 21st century are of a different magnitude, but rooted in this central truth: Democracy takes work. Tom Nichols' outstanding book is where we begin." -- Ian Bremmer, President and Founder of Eurasia Group and GZERO Media"Maybe it's not imaginary conspiracies but rather our own failures--moral, intellectual, political--that are leading Americans to support incompetent, inarticulate and even authoritarian politicians. That's the thesis that Tom Nichols argues amusingly and persuasively in this book before concluding that reform must begin from within." -- Anne Applebaum, staff writer for The Atlantic, and author of Twilight of Democracy"Nichols has nailed the problem that ails our democracies -- and it is us: The narcissism, self-indulgence and nostalgia that come from a society in which the depth of our pockets are matched by the shallowness of our minds. Nichols neither gives into despair nor falls for simplistic solutions. He offers a wise, acute and unblinking measure of our failings--and the glimpse of a way out." -- Edward Luce, S national editor and columnist, Financial Times, and author of The Retreat of Western Liberalism"The eloquent jeremiad, that brilliant form of lamentation, is alive and well in the able hands of Tom Nichols. You don't have to agree with him on everything to appreciate his deep commitment to liberal democracy, his horror in the face of authoritarian demagoguery, and his call on democratic citizens to embrace knowledge and virtue. Nichols is that rarest of creatures, a happy scold who believes that deep down, even we terribly flawed human beings are capable of aspiring to higher purposes." -- E. J. Dionne Jr, author of Code Red: How Progressives and Moderates Can Unite to Save Our Country"Taking freedom and democracy for granted is a fatal mistake. Our Own Worst Enemy explains why even the greatest nation on Earth isn't immune to the destructive effects of cynicism and ignorance. It is both a history lesson and a sharp examination of painful recent events. The forces of illiberalism are on the rise, and it's not clear that liberal democracy is up to the challenge. This book makes the essential case that ignoring politics is a luxury the citizens of the free world can no longer afford. Being a successful chessplayer requires understanding yourself and your own decision-making process. As Tom Nichols demonstrates in Our Own Worst Enemy, it turns out that's also required to be a successful country. America has enough enemies without turning on itself." -- Garry Kasparov, Chairman of the Renew Democracy Initiative, author of Winter Is Coming: Why Vladimir Putin and the Enemies of the Free World Must Be Stopped, and the former world chess champion"There are few silver linings to the monstrous transformation of the American right: one has been discovering the stalwart minority of decent, intelligent, honest conservatives who fiercely and absolutely reject the party of Trump--such as Tom Nichols. Our Own Worst Enemy is his thoughtful and thought-provoking diagnosis of our urgent democratic crises, which provided me the important pleasure of enjoying, learning from, and arguing with it." -- Kurt Andersen, author of Evil Geniuses and Fantasyland"Nichols provides bleak but thought-provoking analysis... Our Own Worst Enemy is a blistering critique of twenty-first-century American politics."--Foreword Reviews
"A searing critique of contemporary political culture and the rise of illiberalism on both the right and the left."--Publishers Weekly"A strong argument for civic reengagement."--Kirkus

"Into this [political] morass parachutes Tom Nichols, with a meditation on the state of American democracy."--The Guardian