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Assault on Democracy
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Book description

The interwar years saw the greatest reversal of political liberalization and democratization in modern history. Why and how did dictatorship proliferate throughout Europe and Latin America in the 1920s and 1930s? Blending perspectives from history, comparative politics, and cognitive psychology, Kurt Weyland argues that the Russian Revolution sparked powerful elite groupings that, fearing communism, aimed to suppress imitation attempts inspired by Lenin's success. Fears of Communism fueled doubts about the defensive capacity of liberal democracy, strengthened the ideological right, and prompted the rise of fascism in many countries. Yet, as fascist movements spread, their extremity and violence also sparked conservative backlash that often blocked their seizure of power. Weyland teases out the differences across countries, tracing how the resulting conflicts led to the imposition of fascist totalitarianism in Italy and Germany and the installation of conservative authoritarianism in Eastern and Southern Europe and Latin America.

Reviews

‘With this landmark volume, Kurt Weyland advances a new interpretation of the ‘authoritarian wave' of the 1920s and 1930s that places front and center national political elites and their response to the dramatic international events of the time. By combining theories in behavioral psychology with an impressive breadth of historical knowledge, Assault on Democracy challenges established views on these pivotal decades for the history of democracy. Weyland's agenda-setting study will influence scholarly debates on democratization and political development for many years to come.'

Giovanni Capoccia - University of Oxford

‘This is a provocative new contribution to an old debate: the breakdown of democracies in Europe in the interwar years. Acknowledging the multiple problem loads these democracies faced, Weyland relies on cognitive mechanisms to explain the fierce backlash both against the specter of Communist revolution and against Fascist countermobilization on the part of authoritarian elites. An insightful and stimulating contribution.'

Evelyne Huber - University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

‘A massive wave of autocracy spread across the world a century ago, culminating in the destruction of World War II. What caused this illiberal cascade, and what does it tell us about modern challenges to democracy? In this brilliant and timely work, Kurt Weyland shows how an intense fear of radical politics drove the spread of interwar dictators. The anxieties produced by threats of both leftwing and rightwing radicalism, while often irrational and self-serving, became a powerful force for justifying autocratic rule. Combining an elegant theoretical framework with careful historical detail, this book is essential reading for anyone interested in the long-term evolution of democracy.'

Seva Gunitsky - University of Toronto

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