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The Confidence Trap: A History of Democracy in Crisis from World War I to the Present

The Confidence Trap: A History of Democracy in Crisis from World War I to the Present [Kindle Edition]

David Runciman
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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"[An] ingenious account of how free nations faced seven international crises from 1918 to 2008. . . . Runciman concludes that democracy will probably survive, having made a delightfully stimulating, if counterintuitive case, that the unnerving tendency of democracies to stumble into crises is matched by their knack for getting out of them."--Publishers Weekly

"[B]rilliantly and convincingly delivered. The big story of mature democracies in crisis is told with remarkable confidence and brio. Runciman writes lucidly and compellingly: this is a book that you cannot put down."--Georgios Varouxakis, Standpoint

"As a corrective to the doom-and-gloomsters, this book makes some telling points, and he is a clear and forceful writer. . . . What Runciman's focus on American democracy helps to do is to remind us that there is an international dimension to this subject that is closely connected to American self-perceptions."--Mark Mazower, Financial Times

"Runciman's writing, often brilliantly aphoristic, is full of insights, opinions, and phrasings that will challenge and delight scholars and general readers both."--Robert Nardini, Library Journal (Starred Review)

"Refreshingly free of received and rehearsed wisdoms, Runciman doesn't tiptoe around sacred cows and invites us to take part in that most adult way of thinking: to examine contradictory ideas in tandem and ponder what the dissonance amounts to. . . . [H]e argues lucidly, persuasively, even exhilaratingly at times. The nightly news will never appear exactly the same again."--Miriam Cosic, Australian

"[Runciman] is a trenchant commentator on current affairs and a historian of political thought who, in his books and his articles in the London Review of Books, has revealed himself to be a gifted explainer. . . . [H]e has a canny sense of how political power operates at its highest levels and in his exposition of political theory he is unfailingly clear and direct. Runciman's prose is conversational, if elegantly so--it is no surprise that he is a fluent lecturer--and characterised by a wry restraint."--Daniel Cohen, Los Angeles Review of Books

"[E]xcellent and interesting. . . . [A]dmirable and very well written . . ."--Chris Patten, Tablet

"Runciman is a good writer and brave pioneer. . . . The picture he sketches is agreeably bold."--John Keane, Sydney Morning Herald

Product Description

Why do democracies keep lurching from success to failure? The current financial crisis is just the latest example of how things continue to go wrong, just when it looked like they were going right. In this wide-ranging, original, and compelling book, David Runciman tells the story of modern democracy through the history of moments of crisis, from the First World War to the economic crash of 2008.

A global history with a special focus on the United States, The Confidence Trap examines how democracy survived threats ranging from the Great Depression to the Cuban missile crisis, and from Watergate to the collapse of Lehman Brothers. It also looks at the confusion and uncertainty created by unexpected victories, from the defeat of German autocracy in 1918 to the defeat of communism in 1989. Throughout, the book pays close attention to the politicians and thinkers who grappled with these crises: from Woodrow Wilson, Nehru, and Adenauer to Fukuyama and Obama.

The Confidence Trap shows that democracies are good at recovering from emergencies but bad at avoiding them. The lesson democracies tend to learn from their mistakes is that they can survive them--and that no crisis is as bad as it seems. Breeding complacency rather than wisdom, crises lead to the dangerous belief that democracies can muddle through anything--a confidence trap that may lead to a crisis that is just too big to escape, if it hasn't already. The most serious challenges confronting democracy today are debt, the war on terror, the rise of China, and climate change. If democracy is to survive them, it must figure out a way to break the confidence trap.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 568 KB
  • Print Length: 408 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0691148686
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (20 Feb 2014)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00I14UUTI
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #208,720 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
By docread
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The democratic process is messy and deeply conflicted. While on the surface it appears restless, short sighted,fickle and complacent in the long run it shows remarkable stability and resourcefulness. Democracies can muddle through serious crises because in contra distinction to dictatorships they have an immense capacity of experimenting and adapting until they stumble across the appropriate solutions whenever facing major conflicts or financial disasters.Western democracy has survived major challenges for over a century because ironically the system although chaotic is resilient enough not to get bogged down by its own failings.This is the crux of the author's thesis.It is inspired by Tocqueville, the 19th C French political philosopher who is said to have written the canonical book on Democracy observing it in action while visiting America.

The present author has the ability to make you stop and ponder every few pages with his sharp analysis and pithy conclusions.Whether you agree or not with his main thesis you cannot dismiss some of his trenchant insights.He describes the paradoxical nature of democratic life, its constant squabbling and lack of decisiveness,its difficult predicament steering a course between unwarranted complacency and unhelpful impatience,its propensity to drift into impending disaster and somehow getting unstuck, the simultaneous impatient rage and shoulder shrugging fatalism democratic politicians display with their partisan politicking.Nevertheless when it comes to the crunch ,as he demonstrates through his analysis of the various crises, Democracies always come on top prevailing against autocracies.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent analysis 21 Jan 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Should be on every politicians bookshelf as a reference, and standard text for modern historians of all nationalities and religious persuasions.
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent!! Heartily recommended. 27 Dec 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is a marvellous book. It is a historical record of Democracy since the American
Revolution up to the present time. It draws on the writings of de Tocqueville, Kennard, Fukuyama
and other eminent writers/philosophers/economists and is eminently readable.
I would wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone interested in where democracy finds itself
now and its future.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 5.0 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars UNIQUE ANALYSIS 29 Oct 2013
By The Curmudgeon - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The quote on the front page of this book says it all - this book is like no other book you normally see these days.

Instead of concentrating on current issues, the author takes a longer and deeper view of democracy. He starts with the French aristocrat de Tocqueville who toured America in 1831 and initially found it chaotic on the surface but later realized it was stable underneath.

The author's main thesis is that the strengths of democracy lie in its flexibility and thus its ability to address challenges. It is a self-correcting system because voters can change governments which can then change policies. This is in contrast to autocracies which are normally committed to an unchanging policy. But this self-correcting mechanism has resulted in democracies muddling through as they lurch from one crisis to another.

The general democratic pattern is crisis, compromised solution, complacency, drift, new crisis, and new compromised solution. This contrasts with the more decisive autocracies. The Soviets for example decided to solve their economic problems once and for all by eliminating all capitalists. The Nazis decided to solve their economic problems once and for all by conquest to obtain more living space. Nevertheless, it is the modern democracies that have survived.

The confidence trap is that while this process has worked so far, there is a belief that the democracies will always muddle through no matter what problems have built up.

Runciman fails to take a longer view of autocracies which have often survived longer than modern democracies. Many regimes have survived three centuries and the first modern democracy has survived only 237 years since its founding in 1776. Ancient Rome for example lasted about 1012 years (509BC to 476AD) and the autocratic Roman Empire lasted 503 of those years. So modern democracies have a long way to go to match those numbers.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Muddling through our democratic problems 1 Feb 2014
By Dr. Wilson Trivino - Published on
David Runciman notes that “there are four fundamental challenges a system of government can face: war, public finance, environmental threat, and the existence of a plausible competitor. It is not clear that the established democracies are doing well in any of them”. In Runciman book, The Confidence Trap: A History of Democracy in Crisis from World War I to the Present is about how democracies deal with crisis and most solutions to the problems come from a moment of crisis.
This book is a fascinating because for all the moaning that our democracy is on decline, we simply do not know. Regardless of how bad things seem to be, it seems to work out. From this lens, he takes on seven crisis America has faced and how we have overcome them.
It seems we seem to get closer to the cliff, but we don’t really know how far the cliff is, so for the mean time, we will have to face obstacles and then muddle through them because in the end it all works out.
This book is ideal for anyone who is pessimistic about the future, is a good student of public policy or simply give you another prospective the next time you enter a heated political discussion.
5.0 out of 5 stars Democracy and disaster 25 May 2014
By John Richardson - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Americans today are confident that they live in the world's greatest democracy, that it works just fine, and that every problem will be overcome. Yet the average voter is often misinformed about the issues of the day and unable to recognize crises that loom in their near future. Up until now, America has been able to muddle through each crisis by being flexible when the crisis hits and allowing the politicians to make the necessary changes. But what if a crisis comes that is hard to muddle through. Climate change is such a crisis. It is already too late to stop the coming changes and, even in the early stages of the crisis, there is still little will to act. This book provides the perspective of the crises of the twentieth century to show how the successes in muddling through have led to a dangerous confidence that we will be able to deal with all future crises.
5.0 out of 5 stars JUST EXCELLENT 30 April 2014
By Bill McLean - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Readers will be quickly taken into this historical view and explanation of Democracies. Democracies are compared with other forms of government on the basis of weakness and strengths. I cannot help but agree with this author with regard to the trap. This is a controversy that deserves the attention of not only world leaders, but virtually everyone.
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If you're frustrated by disfunctional government in the U.S. today, this book may ease your anxieties. 16 Dec 2013
By John Cruz - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
It did mine.

It is much more than just an interesting and original perspective on how and and why democracies function in the 21-st Century.

The author presents an engaging historical account of democratic crises, focusing on the United States up through the current financial crisis of 2008, and makes the case that like other democracies, we have been good at recovering from crises but bad at avoiding them.

Political dysfunction and drift like confusion and uncertainty, he helps us to understand are all about how domocracies grapple with the big issues of the time. This is a timely and worthwile read!
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