Note: I see Franklin’s comment that the United States was “A Republic – if you can keep it” almost daily, in one place or another. Everything about Masha Gessen’s book is in line with Dr. Franklin’s admonition, so I’m posting my GoodReads review here. – MCM
Surviving Autocracy by Masha Gessen
The title comes from the author’s essay, Autocracy: Rules for Survival, a miracle of quick insight that appeared in the New York Review of Books on November 10, 2016. I find this companionable book to be more analysis than agenda, more about seeing autocracy than surviving it.
The author is lighting candles rather than cursing darkness, illuminating facets of events that we’ve all seen, revealing the deeper damage we might overlook.
The comforting idea that stupidity has its limits is rejected: intelligence has never been a job requirement for autocrats.
While clarifying that cognitive dissonance and mental weariness is natural now, the author also dismisses my preferred option to “stop paying attention, disengage, and retreat to one’s private sphere” as giving the victory to autocracy.
The phenomenon of “the audience of one” is explained: in a representative democracy, politicians speak to their voters, while in an autocracy, politicians speak to the autocrat. We see both almost daily. This carries a comforting corollary: “As long as the Democrats are performing for the audience of their voters rather than for [the current President], there is hope of reversing the autocratic attempt….”
I appreciated the clarified trinity of autocratic appeals (racism, misogyny and xenophobia), and the alternate goals of dignity, equality and solidarity.