Modern terrorism

Cartoon by Fares Garabet

After Sri Lanka: the best books to understand modern terrorism 

The Guardian: Terror is not a new phenomenon. The 19th-century invention of dynamite by a man who is better known for his peace prize – Alfred Nobel – and the adoption of that explosive material by young radicals, with visions of utopia burning in their eyes, meant that Victorian papers were filled with tales of civilians killed by bombs thrown into restaurants across Europe’s capitals. Suicide bombers also long predate Islamic State – who on Tuesday claimed responsibility for the attacks in Sri Lanka over the Easter weekend. The first suicide bombing was in 1881 (it killed the tsar of Russia), while the Chinese military invented the suicide belt when deploying their “Dare to Die Battalions” against the Russians and Japanese in the 1930s.

However, 40% of those killed by suicide bombs have died in the last five years. To put it another way, in 1976, no suicide bombs exploded anywhere in the world. In 2016, 40 years later, 469 strikes were launched in 28 countries. How did it come to this?

In the decade following the 11 September attacks, 1,742 books are estimated to have been written about that fateful New York day. But the sheer spread and number of Salafi-jihadist groups – who are responsible for more than 95% of modern day suicide bombings – has meant that many attempts to explain the rise of global terrorism have descended into exercises in book-keeping. You can’t go far wrong, though, with Jason Burke’s The New Threat from Islamic Militancy, a natural, albeit depressing, extension of his previous work The 9/11 Wars. Both books place the current globalisation of terror within wide political and social contexts.

Similarly, Black Flags: The Rise of Isis by Joby Warrick offers insight into a world marked by shifting sands of loyalties.

Modern terror is clearly underpinned by ideology, and this creates fertile ground for misinterpretation, cliche, racism and anti-immigrant sentiment. It leads to certain newspaper columnists aligning terrorism with Muslims, and such broad-brush, toxic writing has unquestionably contributed to racism and anti-immigrant sentiment. Shiraz Maher’s Salafi-Jihadism offers much needed nuance; it gives insight into the theological frameworks adopted by many proponents of terror today without falling into arcane arguments about Islamic law.

The belief held by Isis that the perfect Islamic world will only be ushered in after they suffer almost total defeat on the battlefield (a utopia heralded by the arrival of Christ, descending on Jerusalem) is well captured by William McCants in The ISIS Apocalypse. It charts a chilling millenarianism that frustrates conventional attempts to dismantle the group – because if death and defeat is part of your strategy, all conventions are turned on their heads.

Mia Bloom’s two recent books Bombshell and, with John Horgan, Small Arms investigate the roles of women and children in terrorism, specifically as victim-perpetrators in the case of the latter. In his powerful analysis of the US’s drone wars, Sudden Justice, Chris Woods shows how harmful counter-terrorism has been, while Julia Ebner astutely examines the rise of rightwing hate rhetoric alongside Salafi-jihadist violence in The Rage: The Vicious Circle of Islamist and Far-Right Extremism.

The seesaw of attack and counterattack that characterises any terror bombing is perhaps most potently captured in Karan Mahajan’s novel The Association of Small Bombs.The detonation of a bomb in Delhi is seen from multiple perspectives, including the victims’ and bomber’s, so as to explore the complex realities that led to such terror.

What all of these authors have in common is showing how the devil is in the detail. And that, in order to understand modern terrorism, we need to examine its multiple causes and, crucially, to ensure we do not inadvertently condone a different, but equally harmful, form of state-supported terror in our response. Because the way the West has responded to 9/11, and all the violence that has followed, clearly hasn’t made the world a more peaceful place.

Iain Overton’s The Price of Paradise: How the Suicide Bomber Shaped the Modern Age is published by Quercus.


Cartoon by Christo Komarnitski

The age of the elected despot is here

by Martin Wolf, chief economics commentator

Financial Times:  We live in the age of charismatic elected would-be despots. His — it is almost always a “he” — are the politics of fear and rage. It takes a certain sort of personality to be a master of such politics. In the right — that is, the wrong — circumstances, such leaders emerge naturally. That is not surprising after a violent revolution. What is far more so is that such leaders have been emerging in well-established democracies.

We now see elected “strongmen” — actual and would-be — everywhere. Leading examples are Vladimir Putin in Russia, Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey, Narendra Modi in India, Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela, Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel, Matteo Salvini in Italy and Donald Trump in the US. These leaders differ in degrees of sophistication. The countries in which they operate also differ. Some are economically developed, while others are not. Some are longstanding democracies; others, again, are not.

Yet these men are all characters in a story powerfully told by the independent US watchdog Freedom House. Freedom in the World 2019, published in February, reported a 13th consecutive year of decline in the global health of democracy. This decline occurred in all regions of the world, notably in the democracies that emerged after the cold war. Above all, it occurred in western democracies, with the US — the most influential upholder of democratic values — leading the way.

What sort of man is such a leader? In The Republic, the first work of western political philosophy, Plato (an anti-democrat) describes him as a “protector”. With a mob at his back, he feels no compunction about his promises or actions. What, asks Plato, will be his destiny? “Must he not either perish at the hands of his enemies, or from being a man become a wolf — that is, a tyrant?”

This idea of supposed protector as would-be despot is telling. But such a man does not present himself as a protector of everybody. He presents himself as a protector of the “real people” against foreigners, minorities and treasonous elites. This is a moral, not a political claim. His is also the politics of paranoia. If anything goes wrong, it is necessarily the fault of the “deep state”, or some other enemy within or without. Princeton professor Jan-Werner Müller calls this type of politician a “populist” in his superb book, What is Populism?

To be successful, a populist demagogue has to project belief in himself as a man of destiny. Self-obsession and even megalomania help; they may well be essential. In a compelling book, Disordered Minds, the Irish writer Ian Hughes suggests such men are narcissists or psychopaths. To a non-expert eye, they do appear deranged. How else can one sell the idea that “I alone am the people’s salvation” to oneself?

If such a leader wishes to subvert democracy, it is, alas, not that hard to do, as Harvard’s Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt argue in How Democracies Die. First, capture the referees (the judiciary, tax authorities, intelligence agencies and law enforcement). Second, sideline or eliminate political opponents and, above all, the media. Third, subvert the electoral rules. Supporting these assaults will be a fierce insistence on the illegitimacy of the opposition and the “fakeness” of information that does not align with whatever the leader finds useful to state.

People will want to trust such a leader whenever they desperately wish to believe that someone powerful is on their side in an unjust world. That is what happens when trust in the institutions and norms of a complex democracy falters. When faith in sober policymaking disappears, the charismatic figure emerges as the oldest kind of leader of all: the tribal chieftain. When things become this elementary, the difference between developing and so-called advanced democracies can well melt away. True, the latter have stronger institutions and norms and a more educated electorate. In normal circumstances, that may be enough to resist. Some argue it will remain enough. Yet, we are human. Humans adore charismatic despots; they always have.

In developing countries, the election of would-be autocrats frequently follows the spectacular failures of predecessors (as in Brazil), or deep national humiliation (as in Russia) — or both.

How, then, can we understand the story in the US, where, as a report by special counsel Robert Mueller shows, the behaviour of the president would, in an earlier era, have been unacceptable? Why was Mr Trump ever elected? Why is he still trusted by so many?

The answer has two parts. One is the strength of the fear and anger. This is partly due to longstanding economic failures, partly to the financial crisis and partly to cultural changes. The other answer is the willingness of parts of the elite to exploit such emotions, to achieve huge tax cuts and eliminate regulation. I have called this approach “pluto-populism”. It can also be seen as the strategy of racial division used by the old elites of the US South, but modernised and applied to nation as a whole.

The US is much the most important case, because it has been the world’s principal defender of liberal democracy. But not so very dissimilar currents of feeling exist in other high-income countries. De-institutionalised rule by elected strongmen might be even worse than institutionalised rule by an appointed leader, such as China’s Xi Jinping. The politics of fear and rage bend towards tyranny. Institutions alone will not contain this threat. Only a politics built partly on hope can do so. As Abraham Lincoln suggested, a democratic republic will only endure if touched by “the better angels of our nature”.

Martin Wolf is chief economics commentator at the Financial Times, London. He was awarded the CBE (Commander of the British Empire) in 2000 “for services to financial journalism”.

Pete Buttigieg surging

Cartoon by Phil Hands

New poll shows Pete Buttigieg surging into top tier in New Hampshire with Biden and Sanders

CNN: Support for Pete Buttigieg jumped 14 points in a new Granite State Poll from the University of New Hampshire, launching him into the first-in-the-nation primary state's top tier of candidates.

The poll, conducted by the University of New Hampshire's The Survey Center, shows the young mayor of South Bend, Indiana, joining Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and former Vice President Joe Biden at the top of the increasingly large Democratic presidential pack. Sanders and Biden have generally been dominating the field in national and state polling since the cycle began.

Sanders has been top of the list since last year in New Hampshire in the University of New Hampshire's polling, helped by its close proximity to his home state of Vermont, with three-in-ten likely Democratic primary voters saying they'll vote for him. While Biden usually dominates national surveys, he comes in second in New Hampshire, with 18%.

Buttigieg rounds out the top tier of candidates with 15%.

It's another strong showing in a recent poll for Buttigieg, who has gone from being a mostly unknown Midwestern mayor to one of the spring's hottest names in the Democratic presidential race. Polls from the last two months show the Hoosier is consistently finishing in third in early state polls behind Sanders and Biden.

Following the three top candidates in the University of New Hampshire survey are Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts (5%); Kamala Harris of California (4%); Cory Booker of New Jersey (3%); former Rep. Beto O'Rourke of Texas (3%); Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota (2%); businessman Andrew Yang (2%); and Rep. Tim Ryan (2%). The rest of the field tested at 1% or less.

Expect those numbers to change quite a bit in the coming months of polling: Only 9% of likely Democratic voters in New Hampshire said they've definitely decided who to vote for in the primary, and another 14% said they were leaning toward a candidate. Three-quarters said they still hadn't decided.

When asked what candidates they want to support as an open-ended question (instead of a list of options), Buttigieg and Biden were much closer (11% and 12%, respectively), while Sanders still dominated, meaning that most people named Sanders as their candidate instead of choosing him from a list.

But the list is more similar to being in a voting booth than an open-ended question, which is more reflective of name recognition. A jump in the open-ended question rankings may mean a jump in name recognition for the South Bend mayor more than it means that other candidates have seen a decrease in their support >>>

Terrorism has no...

Cartoon by Emad Hajjaj

The Sri Lanka attacks are a sad reminder that the world is not free from terrorism

The Independent: The bombing of churches and hotels in Sri Lanka has left a new black mark on an island which might have thought terrorism was a thing of the past.

So far the death toll from the multiple attacks stands at over 200, though it seems reasonable to suppose that number will rise. Some foreign nationals are among the dead, including five Britons, but the vast majority of victims are local people. The murderous assaults were plainly well planned, and timed to coincide with Easter services. The carnage they have inflicted is unutterably grim.

The Sri Lankan government has concluded that suicide bombers were responsible for most if not all the blasts, while seven people have been arrested. No group has yet claimed liability for the attacks: the motive might be domestic, but the authorities will also be considering whether those who planned such destruction were driven by a broader, international outlook.

It is a decade since the defeat of the Tamil Tigers brought Sri Lanka’s bloody civil war to a brutal conclusion. Violence in recent years has been sporadic, perpetrated predominantly by the Sinhalese Buddhist majority against Muslim targets including mosques and businesses. Just over a year ago the authorities were moved to impose a state of emergency after a number of such attacks, said to have been carried out in revenge for the beating of a Buddhist man by a group of Muslim men.

So, sectarian tensions on the island have not disappeared. It is notable, however, that the targets on this occasion had connections either to the tourism industry or to Christian places of worship. That might point to the kind of extremism born of ideology that pays little heed to national borders.

The response of the Sri Lankan authorities has been quick. The country may not have enjoyed political stability in the last few years – indeed, it was beset by a constitutional crisis only last autumn – but security agencies have acted swiftly in the face of today’s tragedy. A curfew remains in place, with warnings that further attacks cannot be ruled out.

Shutting down access to social media services is less than ideal – but understandable as a means of preventing the circulation of wild rumours. Nevertheless, in a country which has seen its fair share of repression it is to be hoped that civic rights will be restored as soon as reasonably possible.

One thing is certainly clear from recent events, and that is that the world is not free of terrorism. Any thought that the fall of the Isis caliphate in Syria might have that effect was always likely to be facile – partly because the extreme beliefs which gave rise to that particular group are not confined to it; but also because there are plenty of other extreme views which can (and do) manifest themselves in violence.

We have seen that in recent days in Northern Ireland, where the emergence of the New IRA – and the murder of Lyra McKee – is a bleak reminder of historic woes. We have seen it too on the British mainland, where Brexit – and the factors which led us here in the first place – have fuelled the ire of many on the political right.

The attacks on Muslim worshippers in New Zealand last month were a shocking demonstration of where far-right extremism can lead – as if we didn’t already know. Islamist terror remains a threat too, while the example of Myanmar is proof that sectarian violence is not confined only to the Abrahamic religions.

Whoever turns out to be responsible for the Easter attacks in Sri Lanka, it is crucial that extremism in all its forms be challenged and rooted out. Tit for tat violence on this scale should be avoided at all costs. And in the meantime, the world yet again mourns victims of terror who had done no wrong.


Cartoon by The New Yorker

Life is not a bucket list

Altoona Mirror: Many people draft a so-called “bucket list” or a list of things they wish to accomplish before they die.

The interesting thing about a bucket list is not so much what is in it but how the list changes with age. If you are a senior citizen and just working on your bucket list, chances are it is pretty well suited for your age and condition. However, if you made your list while still in your 20s and are still working on it now as a senior citizen, my guess is things have changed quite a bit.

It is not uncommon at age 24 to want to jump out of an airplane, be a stunt driver in an auto daredevil show, climb a mountain or get shot out of a cannon in a circus. At 78, things like that seldom remain a high priority and have been replaced with a desire to simply get out of bed in the morning and be able to stand up straight without finding a new pain somewhere in your body.

I can remember as a young man dancing until the sun came up on New Year’s Eve. Today, if I don’t fall asleep by 10 p.m. in my family room watching TV, I consider it a pretty racy evening.

I remember when in my early 30s thinking about actually running for President of the United States. Not only did I fail to accomplish that goal, but I have come to realize that today I seem to be the only person who is not running for president. In self-defense, I wanted to run for office to hopefully bring some common sense to the position, but today the focus of those seeking that office seems to be on outlawing common sense, so I think I missed my chance.

Having a bucket list is fine but don’t make the mistake of focusing so hard on what you might want to do that you don’t see the things right in front of you that you can do.

Personally, I don’t have a list tucked away. I try to take advantage of opportunities as they present themselves. I am not a group person and much prefer to share my experiences alone or with my wife. I remember very well when I led her through what seemed like a burnt forest and mounds of lava, up the side of a mountain where we were able to peer through the fissure cracks in the hard-crusted ground to see the fire and feel the heat at the base of a volcano. I promised myself I would return during an eruption, but while that opportunity never presented itself, I treasure the time I did have in the presence of that earthly beast.

Being a hunter and an outdoors person, I love pure unspoiled nature and had the exciting opportunity to be all alone and get within 6 yards of a mature bull elk in the Idaho wilderness. I can’t imagine a greater thrill.

My wife and I skied down the mountains of Utah in fresh crisp snows as the sun painted the western sky a mixture bright reds, pinks and blues. What could be more serene or beautiful?

While spending time in unknown waters on a fishing trip, we went over a waterfall in a canoe and survived, (not on my bucket list and not highly recommended, but etched in our memories all the same).

The best things in my life have involved other people. People I have met by accident and sometimes for only a moment who had some impact on my attitude, my thoughts, my values or my life. People who often opened a door for me to a different view of life through their actions or words. There were not many, maybe less than a dozen over a lifetime, but each valuable in their own right. What a waste it would have been if I had been so busy planning what I wanted to do next that I missed their interaction.

In order to “give back,” I try to keep my eyes open for people I can help, provide support for or inspire to do better for themselves and others, hopefully making the world a better place.

Life itself is the greatest bucket list. Life happens every day; opportunities abound if you only open your eyes to see them.

Adventure is around every corner. It can be skin diving among the fish off the coast of South America or it can be eating a hoagie and wetting a fishing line at Canoe Creek State Park. Adventure, beauty and memories are all around us wherever we are. We all make the mistake of being so busy living we forget to be alive.

John Kasun writes from his home in Duncansville where he is constantly on the lookout for an erupting volcano while he keeps his eyes peeled for an unexpected waterfall. 

The art of revolution

Cartoon by Patrick Chappatte

The art of revolution: What went right in Sudan and Algeria

by Marwan Bishara, Al Jazeera senior political analyst

The Daily Trust: Sudan and Algeria can easily evoke memories of the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions of 2010 and 2011. Like their neighbours, Sudanese and Algerian protesters managed to overthrow their autocratic leaders after decades of rule, in a matter of months, and without a single shot fired.

Marching, chanting, resisting and daring, the people of Sudan and Algeria pressed on with their calls for freedom and democracy until they were able to disarm the old guard – politicians and generals alike – and force them to acquiesce to their initial demands.

It may still be too early to judge, but so far it looks like these latecomers have learned important lessons from Arab as well as other revolutions. In fact, Sudan and Algeria may well be able to deter the counter-revolution and avert the dangers of civil war. The signs are hopeful.

So far, revolutionaries in Sudan and Algeria are still firmly on the path of non-violence, a la Tunisia and Egypt.

Peaceful protest has proven the least costly and the most constructive among all possible strategies and scenarios, not only to confront repression, but also to pave the way for democracy. Indeed, non-violent revolutions are most capable of splitting the regime’s rank and file and straining its legitimacy.

If history is any guide, violent revolts tend to coalesce and galvanise a dictatorship’s base, making it harder to bring down. They also produce alternative leadership that is no less violent than the repressive regimes they aim to overthrow.

But for civil disobedience, boycott, demonstrations and other forms of non-violent strategies to work, they require popular mobilisation. In Algeria and Sudan, people of different ethnic and religious backgrounds, young and old, women and men, secular and religious came together in their demand for freedom and better living.

Such inclusion of different elements of society prevents the regime from taking advantage of any potential splits or feelings of alienation, as has happened in both Syria and Egypt, in order to discredit the revolution and justify repression against its supporters.

Condemning or alienating those middle- and low-ranking bureaucrats or government employees, including teachers and policemen, is counterproductive and harmful; attracting and incorporating them in the revolution can contribute to its potential success.

A greater popular mobilisation behind the revolution ensures greater participation in the ensuing democratic process, which guarantees its long-term consolidation.

That may take time, lots of time. A revolution is a thrilling, liberating rush of social and political adrenaline, but even with broad support, its long-term success depends on consistency and perseverance. The pressure can’t ease just because the despot is gone. What must come next is a slow, tedious, and deliberate process of organisation, negotiation and reconciliation.

Without it, any revolution ends in the dustbins of history.

For, if people return home to business-as-usual after the fall of an autocrat, they allow the old regime to reconstitute itself in one form or another.

Changing an autocrat might be hard; changing the system behind him is even harder. The important question for all revolutions is not who but what comes after.

The Algerian and Sudanese people seem well aware of that. They celebrated the bloodless ouster of Bouteflika and al-Bashir, but they did so knowing well that this was only the beginning of a very long and fraught process.

The swift introduction of substitute leaders from within the old system in both countries underlined the need for more comprehensive thinking about the way forward.

In both Algeria and Sudan, the protesters know they need to get the military on their side and on their terms, like in Tunisia, in order to avoid an Egypt-like scenario.

Tunisia’s experience also teaches that protests must go on until a new transparent system of accountability is in place. This means knowing not only whom you oppose, but also what you want both in the short and long term. It’s rather easy to be against corrupt repressive leaders, but much harder to articulate and implement a vision for a better future.

This brings us to the old chicken-and-egg riddle: What comes first, democracy or democrats? For how is it possible to nurture democracy without democrats, or democrats without democracy?

The simple answer is: They come in tandem. It takes experience and courage to foster them.

Democracy is no panacea. It is a lot of work and results can be mixed, sometimes undemocratic, even after decades and centuries of democratic rule. Just look at the rise of fascist anti-democratic right-wing parties in a number of leading democracies.

And in the Arab world, liberal democracy, the truest form of democracy, may indeed be seen as a controversial idea or a foreign import by traditional and conservative portions of society.

All of this means that there is a need for open debate, for trial and error, which takes time – lots of time. And that is why priority needs to be given to a gradual transition over immediate elections – something the revolutionaries of both Sudan and Algeria seem to insist on.

They demand a transition into civilian, not military rule – one that prepares the political and legal frameworks to hold free and fair elections.

Rushing to the polls immediately is certain to privilege older, more organised parties and fracture the newly formed groups driving the revolution, as they compete for power. Egypt is a good example of how the ancien regime can exploit post-election tensions between liberal secularist and conservative Islamists to mount a coup d’etat against an elected president.

This does not mean open-ended transition that drags on endlessly >>>

We --- ---

Cartoon by Jimmy Margulies

Pelosi, Schumer call for Mueller to testify

CNN: Washington (CNN)House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, outraged over the Trump administration's rollout of special counsel Robert Mueller's report, called on Thursday for Mueller to publicly testify before Congress.

"Attorney General (Bill) Barr's regrettably partisan handling of the Mueller report, including his slanted March 24th summary letter, his irresponsible testimony before Congress last week, and his indefensible plan to spin the report in a press conference later this morning — hours before he allows the public or Congress to see it — have resulted in a crisis of confidence in his independence and impartiality," Pelosi and Schumer said in a statement Thursday morning.

Democrats have slammed what they say are orchestrated attempts by the Trump administration to control the narrative surrounding the report's release.

Barr is expected Thursday to release a redacted version of Mueller's report detailing the findings of the special counsel investigation. But before the report is first released to Congress, the attorney general will hold a press conference, and President Donald Trump has suggested he may hold a press conference of his own.

The New York Times reported on Wednesday that there had been numerous conversations between the White House and the Justice Department ahead of the release of the Mueller report.

Five House Democratic committee chairs demanded that Barr cancel his press conference scheduled for 9:30 a.m. ET Thursday, calling it "unnecessary and inappropriate," and objected to the Justice Department reportedly briefing the White House on Mueller's work.

"With the Special Counsel's fact-gathering work concluded, it is now Congress' responsibility to assess the findings and evidence and proceed accordingly," the lawmakers said in a joint statement Wednesday >>>


Cartoon by Joel Pett

A Good Democracy Is Hard to Find

Foreign Policy: Democracy’s global travails continue to mount. What looked as recently as a decade ago to be real democratic progress in countries as diverse as Brazil, Hungary, South Africa, and Turkey has been either reversed by illiberal strongmen or unsettled by revelations of systemic corruption. Some of the most stirring recent political openings, such as those in Egypt and Myanmar, have slammed shut. The United States and several long-standing democracies in western Europe are struggling with serious democratic challenges, especially the rise of illiberal populist forces. And the two most significant nondemocratic powers, China and Russia, are strutting on the global stage.

Faced with this dispiriting state of affairs, worried observers fret over three basic questions: Why is this democratic recession happening? How bad is it? And where is it heading?

This is the backdrop for the political scientist Sheri Berman’s substantial new history of democracy in Europe. Synthesizing several decades of scholarship, Berman throws long and deep, aiming both to illuminate the causes and significance of Europe’s current democratic woes and to set realistic expectations about democracy’s chances in the many countries that have tried in recent decades to slip authoritarianism’s grip. Readers will come away from Berman’s account with useful insights on the vital question of why democracy sometimes succeeds but often does not. But it does not explicitly grapple with a further crucial question: As events push Western democracy into uncharted waters, how much can democracy’s past reveal about its future?


Berman starts her story in the seventeenth century and follows it through the defining events of modern European political history. She focuses on the large western European democracies—France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom—with two chapters on eastern Europe to round out the account. (The smaller countries of western Europe and those of northern Europe are largely absent.) The longitudinal sweep of her narrative is daunting. She tours the French Revolution, the revolutions of 1848, the battle over the Corn Laws, German and Italian unification, the rise and fall of fascism, the Spanish Civil War, the Marshall Plan, the postwar successes of western Europe, and the failures of communism. In doing so, she manages to convey the essential elements without getting lost in the details, analyzing political actors and their doings while keeping a constant eye on underlying economic and societal trends. Her analysis mostly persuades, although it rarely surprises, conforming as it does to conventional accounts.

Berman’s central argument is that countries usually achieve liberal democracy only after a long series of setbacks, conflicts, and failures. France offers a case in point. After the early glory of the French Revolution, the country followed an exceptionally bumpy path. A long slog of successive troubled republics consolidated into liberal democracy only after World War II. Germany had to endure its own punishing odyssey before solidifying as a remarkably stable and productive democracy. Berman accounts for the United Kingdom’s exceptionally smooth transition from aristocracy to democracy by pointing to the willingness of the country’s landowning elites to cede power peacefully, albeit slowly and grudgingly.

As Berman makes clear, the combination of free and fair elections, the rule of law, and widespread respect for democratic institutions that is today termed “liberal democracy” is a recent and rare achievement. From the late eighteenth century to the mid-twentieth century, European democratic strivings usually produced illiberal or electoral democracies, such as the short-lived Second French Republic (which lasted from 1848 to 1852), in which large numbers of citizens were disenfranchised or governments offered only weak protections for political and civil liberties. It was only in the second half of the twentieth century that liberal democracy became common. Berman pushes hard on this point and insists on the careful use of the term “liberal democracy,” emphasizing that it does not apply to the earlier phases of European democratic life. American analysts would do well to adopt this conceptual rigor, given their habit of blithely applying the same term, “democracy,” to the system of governance maintained by the United States today and to the one that the country maintained in the nineteenth century, which excluded women, African Americans, and other groups from full citizenship.

If liberal democracy is recent and exceptional, what makes it possible? Despite popular fascination with political leaders, the process that produces liberal democracy is not, in Berman’s view, principally the work of great men and women. It is more fundamentally the result of deep economic and societal transformations. In order for liberal democracy to emerge, countries have had to forge national unity and break up—or grow out of—strong concentrations of economic power. War often served as the handmaiden of national unity in Eurpe. Many of the necessary economic transformations were also violent, given the reluctance of landed elites to relinquish power >>>

THOMAS CAROTHERS is Senior Vice President for Studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Burning Heart

Cartoon by Joep Bertrams

Notre Dame fire: Macron pledges to rebuild devastated Paris cathedral 

The Guardian: A fire that devastated Notre Dame Cathedral in the heart of Paris was brought under control by firefighters in the early hours of Tuesday morning, though officials warned there were still residual fires to put out.

Thousands of Parisians watched in horror from behind police cordons as a ferocious blaze devastated Notre Dame Cathedral on Monday night, destroying its spire and a large part of the roof.

An investigation has been opened by the prosecutor’s office, but police said it began accidentally and may be linked to building work at the cathedral. The 850-year-old gothic masterpiece had been undergoing restoration work.

The French president, Emmanuel Macron, attended the scene and later gave a speech in which he vowed that the cathedral would be rebuilt, as fire crews said the landmark’s rectangular bell towers and structure of the building had been saved.

Macron said “the worst had been avoided” thanks to hundreds of brave firefighters who battled for hours and who would continue working through the night. One firefighter was severely injured but no other casualties were reported >>>

Entering the US of A