H-Diplo Roundtable XXII-22
Simon Reid-Henry. Empire of Democracy: The Remaking of the West since the Cold War, 1971-2017. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2019. ISBN: 9781451684964 (hardcover, $35.00); 9781451684971 (paperback, $20.00).
25 January 2021 | https://hdiplo.org/to/RT22-22
Editor: Diane Labrosse | Production Editor: George Fujii
Simon Reid-Henry’s Empire of Democracy: The Remaking of the West since the Cold War, 1971-2017 offers a sweeping narrative of the transformation of democracy and of political economy that has unfolded in Europe and North America over the past fifty years. The title is taken from Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, but while Reid-Henry shares Tocqueville’s admiration for democracy, or some forms thereof, he does not share his optimism about democracy’s progressive unfolding. Indeed, according to T.G. Otte, Reid-Henry has written “a sort of negative Whig history of our times.” In rich detail, Reid-Henry traces the multiple reinventions of democracy and imperial political economy. He explores how we arrived at a situation where most western democracies now suffer from a crisis of institutional capacity and moral legitimacy, where executive power has grown enormously, experts and technocrats rule, and populations are skeptical and increasingly populist, where neoliberal capitalism has replaced social democracy and faith in social progress has dwindled.
Unlike some who date the origins of current crisis to the Great Recession of 2007-2008 or to the unintended outcomes of the collapse of Communism in 1989, Reid-Henry joins a growing body of scholars who see the 1970s as the key decade of regime change and neoliberal ascendency. He begins his analysis in that troubled decade, then shifts to 1989 and its dramatic economic and political impacts and concludes with the dual crises of the early twenty-first century, 9/11 and the Great Recession of 2007-2008. To each of these he devotes nearly 200 pages. In each he reconstructs “a history of the political life of the western democracies,” (11) but also and often more so a history of political economy, of the changing forms and functioning of Euro American capitalism—or capitalisms. He attends equally to the ideas and ideologies that promoted neoliberalism and globalization and to the social changes and movements that both pushed changes in politics and the economy and responded to them.
Part 1, “Democracy Unbound” explores the multiple crises that began in the troubled years between 1968 and 1971 and led to the undermining of postwar prosperity and social policies and the destruction of the financial architecture of the Bretton Woods system. New criticisms of democracy emerged from the left and later from a new more radical right. Keynesianism and the social democratic compromise were replaced by neoliberal ideas and institutions that valued the market over the state, freedom over equality, and the individual over class. Financialization, deindustrialization, and globalization, which were supported enthusiastically by the right and tolerated by social democrats, reconfigured national economies and their global interconnections. This story of unravelling and reconfiguring is told with attention to transnational similarities and national particularities. It focuses on new economic ideologies, institutions and practices, on the shifting balance of power within democratic states that benefitted the executive and judiciary. Social Democracy was on the defensive, the working class was losing ground steadily, and new forms of right-wing activism took center stage. Europe and America had been remade, even before 1989.
Part 2, “Novus Ordo Seclorum?” for which 1989 serves as starting point, examines the less crisis- ridden but deeply transformative 1990s. It was not the end of history, as Francis Fukuyama had predicted. Globalization and financialization continued to dominate capitalism in the West, as Democratic, Social Democratic and Labour parties all came to embrace a neoliberal Third Way, even as that was costing them popular support. Former Communist central and eastern Europe transitioned to neoliberal capitalism via disruptive shock therapy; creating viable democracies proved more difficult, and nations in the West were evolving in less democratic ways. Power was increasingly in the hands of markets and corporations, rather than voters or labor. Good governance and efficiency became the new watchwords of politicians as they attacked welfare states and promoted this model of democracy abroad. Left-wing parties saw their base shrink and new forms of right-wing mobilization from Jean-Marie Le Pen, head of France’s National Front and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to U. S. Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and his Contract with America emerged prominently. Reid-Henry argues that the “reigning liberal democratic order had been transposed from a system of public demand management, orchestrated through the institutions of mass democracy, to one of private consumption management, orchestrated through the market” (449).
Part 3, rather puzzlingly entitled “Victory without Peace” centers on the complex crises set in motion by 9/11 and the 2007-8 economic crisis. It narrates the war on terror, the securitization of everyday life, primarily but not exclusively in the U.S., and the accelerated growth in executive power. Within nation states, “democracy lite”(565), in which the consumer was the key agent, not the citizen, and voluntarism and public-private partnerships supplanted political obligation came to the fore, while in the European Union the single market was not accompanied by supranational democratization. The Great Recession, for which working classes across the West paid, precipitated a crisis of democracy and of liberal values as much as a crisis of capitalism. It fueled the growth of a populist radical right and a mobilized radical left, neither of which trusted the democracies in which they lived. Democratic politics reinforced differences rather than reconciling them. This marked the culmination of processes that began in the 1970s. Whether this crisis of democracy will continue or we are entering a third postwar era is an open question, but Reid-Henry argues that only a change in ideas, rather than institutions and policies, will move his West in that direction.
As Marc-William Palen points out in his review, Empire of Democracy offers a wide-ranging synthesis of a growing body of work on neoliberalism, globalization, the end of the Cold War, and the geopolitical and economic crises of the first decades of the twenty-first century. John A. Thompson admires its “lucid, live style” and calls “this huge book… a huge achievement.” Otte expresses some concern that no archival sources were used and only English language secondary sources consulted, but nonetheless concludes that “this book offers much that is commendable and certainly this reviewer has found in it much food for thought.”
Empire of Democracy is both ambitious in chronology and narrower in geographic scope. Palen admires the book’s “innovative reconceptualization of longstanding chronological frameworks.” Michelle Paranzino commends Reid-Henry’s willingness to carry his interpretive narrative down to the present, something many historians shy away from. For some, the “West” of the title proved more problematic. The West, a term of conservative connotations, seems at odds with Reid-Henry’s admiration for more participatory and socially egalitarian forms of democracy. The West includes only the U.S., Britain, continental Europe, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. The book is a transnational history rather than a global one. Otte argues that not putting developments in the North Atlantic and Antipodes in global context was “a missed opportunity.” Paranzino wonders whether “the ‘West’ holds much value as a conceptual category anymore.” She suggests that if Reid-Henry had focused instead on the First World as defined by the U.S., the history of democracy would be more complex. While that broader category included many countries that were not initially democracies, many have subsequently become so, even as some European states have transitioned in an illiberal direction
Some of the reviewers raise concerns about the book’s definition of democracy. Reid-Henry does insist that democracy is “something that is constantly made and remade” (8) and he traces the transnational contours of this remaking well. Yet, Paranzino regrets that “virtually all liberal democracies are treated as interchangeable;” as a result the often significant policy differences among them are neither described nor explained. Thompson finds that there was “a somewhat disconcerting unsteadiness” about the meaning of the term democracy, a slippage between viewing it as political process and a social ideal.
Several reviewers raise concerns about empire. Palen finds empire to be “the least developed concept.” He urges attention to earlier theories of imperialism. J. A. Hobson, for example, saw capitalist interdependence as a means of bolstering democracy whereas the neoliberalism Reid-Henry analyzes has impeded democracy. It was “a repudiation of the very capitalistic theories that had underpinned the more liberal post-1945 economic order.” Hobson also argues that the rather rosy picture of liberal democracies prior to the 1970s, which Reid-Henry paints look considerably more blemished if their responses to movements of national liberation and decolonization are considered. Paranzino notes that empire is discussed with no attention to imperial subjects, and this despite the vast body of literature on the interdependence of metropole and periphery and the lasting legacy of colonialism and decolonization.
Otte and Paranzino fear that admirable teasing out of broad transnational trends leads to the neglect of how these developments differed in important ways in different countries. Otte notes that the causes of current discontent in virtually all western democracies have more varied and nationally specific causes than Reid-Henry suggests. Paranzino argues broad national similarities blur distinctive national chronologies. The culture wars in America, for example, date back to the 1960s, and the imperial presidency did not begin with George W. Bush.
Two reviewers raise questions of causality. Otte flags the “inevitabilist assumptions” that seem to underlie the book’s narrative of declension since 1970s. He urges attention to contingencies, especially to the character and actions of particular political leaders. Thompson identifies a lack of clarity about whether the rise of neoliberalism and the decline of social democracy were “driven by objective economic conditions.” Reid-Henry argues in places that prosperity was the underlying and necessary basis for the more social democratic forms of capitalism and democracy in the 1950 and 1960s; its disappearance made their decline inevitable or at least very likely. At other times, he suggests that changing social attitudes which stressed the individual over larger collectivities, the market over the state were of foremost importance.
Despite its rather daunting length (800+ pages) and the “many factual slips” that Otte finds “jarring,” all reviews find much to admire in Empire of Democracy and deem it to be of value especially to the general reader. Its publication seems especially timely, as recent economic, political, and medical crises have raised in acute form the question of how democracy and capitalism will evolve, in Reid-Henry’s ‘West’ and beyond.
Reid-Henry offers a lengthy and spirited response to the commentaries that elaborates on several of his arguments and conceptual choices. He defends his focus on the West, insisting that far from being a settled geography, it has been constantly reinvented. Many other works, he notes, look outward from Europe and America, while his concern was to look inward at the ongoing ways in which democracy and capitalism interacted and have been contested and reconfigured from within since the 1970s. He defends the book’s focus on liberalism and capitalism rather than the legacy of empire, arguing that they are central to understanding contemporary history. “There are,” he notes, “many sides to the struggle to decolonize knowledge and its institutional repositories.” He likewise rejects the suggestion that he should have attended more to national particularities, for he wanted to “break out of the sovereign territorial mold.” The question remains, however, how best to move the analysis among the scales of the national, transnational, and global and how much weight to give to each. He offers a cogent defense of 1971 as his starting point.
Addressing more methodological issues, Reid-Henry vigorously insists on the importance of ideas, but refuses to prioritize ideas over political-economic factors and says he seeks a middle ground that avoids “schematic formulations. He defends his refusal to define democracy as clearly as some critics wish, arguing that his aim is to unpack the tensions within democratic values and the contestation between democracy as a political process and a social ideal. In response to Otte’s critique that the narrative of declension seemed inevitabilist, Reid-Henry argues that political struggles, which feature so prominently in his narrative, are always contingent. Finally, Reid-Henry is disappointed that none of the commentators reflected on the fact that the book was “written by a geographer with a geographical set of intentions.” Fair enough. One wishes, however, that he had laid out in the book or in his response what the particular intentions and contributions of geographers were so as to promote a more fruitful dialogue between the two disciplines.
Simon Reid-Henry is Professor of Historical and Political Geography at Queen Mary University of London, Director of QMUL’s Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences, and an Associate of the Peace Research Institute Oslo. His previous books include of The Political Origins of Inequality: Why a More Equal World is better for us All (University of Chicago Press, 2015), The Cuban Cure: Reason and Resistance in Global Science (University of Chicago Press, 2010).
Mary Nolan is Professor of History emerita at NYU. She is the author of Visions of Modernity: American Business and the Modernization of Germany (Oxford University Press (1994) and The Transatlantic Century: Europe and America, 1890-2010 (Cambridge University Press, 2012), and co-editor of Routledge Handbook of the Global Sixties (Routledge, 2018). She is currently working on the gender politics of right radical populism in Europe and the United States.
T.G. Otte is Professor of Diplomatic History at the University of East Anglia. His latest book is Statesman of Europe: A Life of Sir Edward Grey (Allen Lane, 2020).
Marc-William Palen is Senior Lecturer in the History Department at the University of Exeter. He is editor of the Imperial & Global Forum and co-director of History & Policy's Global Economics and History Forum. His works include The “Conspiracy” of Free Trade: The Anglo-American Struggle over Empire and Economic Globalisation, 1846-1896 (Cambridge University Press, 2016). His current book project, under contract with Princeton University Press, explores the global intersections of capitalism, anti-imperialism, and peace activism from the mid-nineteenth century to today.
Michelle Paranzino (formerly Getchell) is an assistant professor in the Department of Strategy & Policy at the US Naval War College. She is the author of The Cuban Missile Crisis and the Cold War: A Short History with Documents (Cambridge/Indianapolis: Hackett, 2018) and is currently working on a book about the Reagan administration and the War on Drugs.
John A. Thompson gained his BA and Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge where he is now Emeritus Reader in American History and an Emeritus Fellow of St Catharine’s College. His principal research interests have been American liberalism and U.S. debate about foreign policy. His publications include Reformers and War: American Progressive Publicists and the First World War (Cambridge University Press, 1987), Woodrow Wilson (Longman, 2002), and numerous articles and book chapters. His most recent book, A Sense of Power: The Roots of America’s Global Role (Cornell University Press, 2015), was the subject of an H-Diplo/ISSF Roundtable in 2016, https://issforum.org/roundtables/8-15-sense-of-power
‘Aetas horribilis?’: Whig History in Reverse
Anniversaries are invariably occasions for reflection. The autumn of 2019, marking the thirtieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, was such an occasion, as was testified by a series of commemorative events in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe and by a spate of publications across much of the Western world.
It has become something of a hackneyed cliché to note that the glad, confident prognostications of 1989 of a never-ending present have remained unfulfilled. Events since then have confounded the ‘great expectations’ of those heady days. History not only did not end, it has revived and accelerated, and in often unexpected ways. Political forces, long dormant and indeed considered dead, have resurfaced. In different guises and to varying degrees, ethnic nationalism, illiberalism, and xenophobia have become features of Western politics again, and the future of both capitalism and democracy in their current forms has been called into question. The twin-events of 2016, Britain’s Brexit referendum and Donald Trump’s election as president, narrow outcomes though they were, have plunged the commentariat, and public intellectuals in the Anglo-Saxon world more especially, into anxious soul-searching. Something has ‘gone wrong’ in Western politics, it is regularly suggested; 2016 is presented as the ‘annus horribilis’ of contemporary history.
One structural ‘culprit’ that has frequently been cited in the scholarly literature is the growth of neoliberal politics in the aftermath of the end of the Cold War until the global financial crisis of 2008/9. Simon Reid-Henry’s Empire of Democracy follows in this groove, but it also deepens it by tracing the origins of neoliberal politics in the West back to the 1970s. The essence of his argument is that at the root of the problems since 1989 is the ideological programme of Western leaders to anchor the newly emerging democracies of Eastern Europe in free market economies – the so-called ‘Washington consensus’. This faith in the power of markets, which are by preference unfettered, to do good originated in the methods chosen in the late 1960s and early 1970s to overcome the multiple crises that were then besetting Western European and North American societies. Inflation and stagnant growth – the phenomenon of ‘stagflation’ popularized by Mancur Olson – as well as currency volatility and declining productivity seemed to threaten the post-1945 consensus of growing prosperity and stable democratic governance. In their attempts to solve these problems, Western leaders opened their hitherto tightly regulated economies to market forces.
This undoubtedly increased prosperity, but over time it also transformed the social contract between governments, capital, and labour that had defined the major democracies since the end of the Second World War. By 1989/91 a new consensus view had become firmly entrenched in Western capitals, one that prioritized market solutions to economic or societal problems. The corollary to this was the shrinking of the state and with it the capacity of governments to act. When the Soviet empire and the command economies of its Eastern European satellites collapsed, Western capitalism seemed to be working well, amply competent to sustain both prosperity and democracy.
This, however, was a delusion, for – in Reid-Henry’s view - dangerous tendencies were gathering pace already. Before too long, a sense of disconnection between ordinary citizens and the system of democratic governance gained ground. It was caused by a rapidly rising incomes inequality, especially but not exclusively in the United States, and a free market consensus that seemed to rule out genuine change. This palpable sense of disenfranchisement was heightened further by the growth of largely unaccountable quasi-governmental agencies. In the early 2000s mass immigration compounded matters further, and in the aftermath of the 9/11 atrocities it reinforced concerns about Islamist terror and interminable and unwinnable wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. In parallel, the financial sectors had been allowed to expand beyond all limits, while the state shed itself of regulatory instruments needed to protect the rampant casino capitalism of the early 2000s from itself and, if it ran in trouble, to rescue it. The result was the 2008-9 near-meltdown of the international financial markets. Although the subsequent, (mostly) coordinated efforts by Western governments prevented the worst, albeit belatedly, the rescued system is far from stable. Significant structural risks remain, as the then Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, warned in a tour d’horizon in the summer of 2019.
It not only made it harder to achieve price and financial stability but it is also encouraging protectionist and populist policies which are exacerbating the situation. This combination reduces the rate of global potential growth, increases its downside skew, and bolsters the likelihood of an extreme downside event…Past instances of very low rates have tended to coincide with high risk events such as wars, financial crises, and breaks in the monetary regime.
Empire of Democracy is broad in its scope, and there is much to be admired in this book. It certainly does not lack for ambition. And yet it also has curious limitations. One of them is its heavy reliance on only English-language sources (mainly secondary; no archival materials have been used). Another, at least to this reviewer’s mind, is the near-exclusive focus on Western developments and concerns. Whilst it is perfectly legitimate to prioritise these, not to place them within the wider context of global developments seems a missed opportunity.
Finally, the narrative seems to be underpinned by implicit, ‘inevitabilist’ assumptions. Once certain decisions had been made in the 1970s, Western policy (whatever exactly that means) was running along a fixed track that led to the decisions after 1989 to force a neoliberal economic reform regime on the former Warsaw Pact countries in Eastern Europe and so on to the malaise of the early twenty first-century world. It is a sort of negative Whig history of our times. Historians will, perhaps, always be tempted by ex post facto rationalizations, but it does blind them to possible alternatives and to the contingencies of any given historical situation. No doubt, political leaders are prone to present their preferred policies as without alternative. From Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s ‘There is no alternative’ to German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s equally insistent ‘alternativlos,’ this has been the refrain modern politics. But the reality of decision-making is often more complicated than such statements or the simple mapping of neoliberal ideological belief systems onto high politics here suggests. It is in this context that the absence of archival sources is telling.
International politics remain permeated with contingency. What if Erich Honecker in East Germany or Gustáv Husák in Czechoslovakia had opted for a ‘Chinese solution’ when dealing with the growing opposition movements in their countries, as some of their hardliners demanded? There were, after all, the precedents of 1953 and 1968. European politics might well have followed a different course. Similarly, the decision to apply an economic ‘shock therapy’ to the ailing Soviet-style economies of Eastern Europe was not simply a case of Western governments and the myriad of economic advisers that descended on that blighted half of the continent forcing their solutions on reluctant East Europeans. Leszek Balcerowicz and Václav Klaus, then finance ministers of Poland and Czechoslovakia respectively, or Yegor Gaidar, deputy prime minister of the Russian federation, embraced such a programme because they saw in the break with state capitalism in favour of radical free market reforms in Chile a role model that promised prosperity and – the dictator Augusto Pinochet after all fell in 1988 - democracy. There is no mention of the Chilean experiment here, but it gives a sense of the wider context that ought to be considered.
Equally, the global financial crisis of 2008/9 did not end in a repeat of the worldwide depression of 1929 because political and banking leaders were determined to avoid such an outcome – Ben Bernanke, Chairman of the Federal Reserve, for instance, was a student of the economic and financial crisis of the early 1930s. State intervention on an unprecedented scale helped to prevent a meltdown. The extent to which central bankers and finance ministers coordinated their efforts in 2008-10 offer scope for more detailed discussion than is presented here.
The advanced economies of the West might have had a lucky escape at that time, but in the wake of the crisis the tools for any further intervention are much diminished, hence Carney’s warnings in 2019. The close link between politics and banking, moreover, played a central role in the rise of the ‘Tea Party’ and the 2016 presidential election in the United States, giving both of them the notion of a remote ‘establishment’ as the perfect foil for their populist campaigns. But the rise of nativist populism in the United States and the Brexit vote in Great Britain followed where Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi had led, for here was another improbable politician who – in his own terms – successfully filled the political and ideological vacuum that opened in Italy in the 1990s.
There is no space to develop some of these themes further in a review essay. It will suffice here to observe that the reasons for the current discontent in many of the developed industrial economies are more varied and variegated, and specific to individual countries, than the grand narrative advanced in Empire of Democracy might suggest. No doubt, traditional power balances and international alignments are changing. No doubt also, the years around 2016 mark a caesura in the developments since 1989/90. Whether they signify the end of an epoch, let alone whether it was a ‘horrible age,’ historians still lack distance and perspective to tell. And they should resist the temptation of Whig history in reverse.
This book offers much that is commendable, and certainly this reviewer has found in it much food for thought. Some of the narrative, however, could usefully have been condensed, and some of the extraneous details stripped away. But it is the many factual slips, which flourish like wildflowers in this 800-page tome, which strike a jarring note. Though slight on their own, in total they suggest a certain carelessness. To name but a few and at random: Ian Macleod was not Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1965. Mikhail Gorbachev was born in Southern Russia, not in the Ukraine, and he was not ‘Soviet premier’ but Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet and – briefly – President of the Soviet Union. The English-language acronym for West Germany was FRG (Federal Republic of Germany), not FDR. The Social Democrats there were no longer in government in the mid-1980s; the date of the German general election in 1990 was 2 December; Joschka Fischer was not a member of the Kohl government, and Kohl left office in 1998, not in 1997. The Dutch diplomat and Social Democrat politician Jan Pronk held a number of ministerial portfolios but was never prime minister; and it was the Danes who voted against the Maastricht treaty in a referendum, not the Dutch – they voted, in 2005, against the proposed European Constitution Treaty. Peter Sutherland was an Irish, not a British, EU-commissioner; and Ralf Dahrendorf was a Liberal German politician and university professor, not a member of the British House of Lords, when he made the comments about German politics quoted here. To call the Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs (FPÖ) ‘formerly liberal’ is rather to misunderstand the origins of the party as a rallying point for former Nazis and other right-wingers. The founder and leader of the Lega Nord in Italy was Umberto Bossi (not Ossi). One could go on.
The decades that followed the Second World War witnessed in the capitalist West a democratic system in flux. As Simon Reid-Henry puts it in Empire of Democracy (2019), amid the “onrush of the Cold War,” liberalism’s defense of individualism became “the glue that could best hold capitalism and democracy together going forward” and counterbalance the growth of the national welfare state (31). This restructuring of the relationship between capitalism and democracy was occurring across much of the West during the 1950s and 1960s. Rumblings of dissent against the new state of things, however, grew from within among labor, civil rights workers, and anti-war activists, and from without—for Western Europe in particular—stemming from the unrest associated with “the gradual unwinding of colonialism” (37).
According to Reid-Henry, the student uprisings of 1968 marked the beginning of the end of the new post-war status quo. What happened between 1968 and 1974 therefore was far more important than the years that immediately followed 1945, let alone between 1989 or 1991, which are portrayed as a “denouement” rather than a beginning (6). The origins of the post-Cold War order thus are not to be found among those supranational governing mechanisms created at Bretton Woods in 1944, but within a new finance-oriented globalization regime and a resurgent rightwing political movement that began taking shape upon the Bretton Woods system’s collapse in the early 1970s. Reid-Henry provocatively shows that the West’s relationship between capitalism and democracy would never be the same again.
The growing scholarship on ‘neoliberal globalization’ has, of course, been emphasizing how the late 1960s and early 1970s witnessed a break from the liberal market integration project that had begun taking shape in the mid-1940s. And thanks to a wide array of innovative scholarship, we now have a much better understanding of the connections between the demise of the fixed monetary regime of Bretton Woods, neoliberalism, deregulation, human rights, stagflation, decolonization, and mounting demands from the non-aligned world for a ‘new international economic order.’ But what is new here is Reid-Henry’s wide-ranging synthesis of these studies and his emphasis upon how this confluence of forces influenced the democratic transformation of the West. Out of the economic turmoil of the early 1970s arose a “new style of capitalism” (73) that embraced economic uncertainty and that pitted capital against labor in a long struggle that capital won. A new political alignment between investors and businesses to uphold what they considered the most important achievement of postwar democracy—political stability (and the profits wrought from it)—augured poorly for labor rights agitation. What arose out of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression was not “the reregulation of capitalism, as had eventually stanched the crisis of the interwar period, but through the reimagination of the place of the market in the liberal democratic state . . . the great strength of Keynesianism—popular consent to economic outcomes—was revealed to have also been its Achilles heel” (84). The post-war welfare state retreated before the advancement of global finance and floating exchange rates, giving way to a neoliberal reformation that sought to peel back the welfare state while at the same time to use the state to protect the free market from the “challenge posed by democracy to the market” (92). By the 1980s, “the brave new world of international finance” was proclaiming “its global status loudly” and with brazen disregard for avoiding risk (219). Governments began caring more about getting support from business lobbies, corporate leaders, and financiers than they did about winning votes. This new political economy existed first and foremost to safeguard capitalism, not democracy. And the quick post-Cold-War successes of the first Gulf War (1990-1991) also “restored militarism to the heart of American national identity” (286). This unipolar moment, alongside integrative projects like NAFTA and the European Union, ushered in “an historic resurgence of laissez-faire international capitalism” (315) and fiscal conservatism that had its roots in the 1970s.
The crisis of democracy remains front-and-center throughout the book, but what about empire? Even though the title of the book places empire at the forefront, this is the least developed concept within it. And yet imperial theory informs this very decoupling of capitalism from democracy that Reid-Henry explores. Indeed, this decoupling becomes even more significant if the frame of reference is expanded to include ‘classical’ capitalist theories of imperialism. Going back a century and more, capitalism – or ‘industrialism’ as British political philosopher Herbert Spencer preferred – had been closely associated with democracy. From the mid-nineteenth century capitalist radicalism of British free trader and peace activist Richard Cobden to the early-twentieth-century radicalism of British ‘new Liberal’ critics of empire like J. A. Hobson and Norman Angell—free-market capitalism and democracy were not just corollaries; they were mutually reinforcing. Free markets, in undermining the influence of aristocratic landed elites and monopolies, meant greater democracy and an end to empires. The British imperial theorist J. A. Hobson perhaps most famously laid out the connection in Imperialism: A Study (1902)—that the great threat to capitalism and democracy at the turn of the century was the militant growth and influence of financial monopoly: a parasitic symbiosis of Wall Street, aristocratic elites, and big business. Of course, the big difference between ‘new Liberals’ like Hobson and Reid-Henry’s ‘neoliberals’ was that Hobson came to see economic interdependence as a way towards furthering democracy, whereas the capitalist transformation that Reid-Henry depicts showed democracy to be an impediment to interdependence. In other words, imperial theory highlights how what began taking shape in the early 1970s was not just a break from two decades of postwar politics; it was also a repudiation of the very capitalistic theories that had underpinned the more liberal post-1945 economic order.
Had Reid-Henry not placed empire in the background, he might also have avoided the tendency in the book to downplay the important role that decolonizing states played in holding an uncomfortable mirror up to the Western liberal democracies over the preceding decades. For example, Empire of Democracy vividly conveys the importance of violent divisions that were ripping apart Western democracies from within, all culminating in the late 1970s, as well as the violent ways that these divisions were put down by democratic governments. But was this really a break from what came before? That postwar liberal democracies were capable of brutal policies of counterterrorism had already been well established in the 1940s and 1950s, an era filled with such examples of repression as the Western powers sought to halt democratic movements within their colonies. As Martin Thomas and Andrew Thompson put it, “Labour Ministers with impeccable Fabian ethics and British colonial officials genuinely enthused by ideas of self-government locked up those who asked for it too soon. Left-wing politicians in liberated France, their reputations built on careers in the Resistance, ordered mass arrests, detentions without trial, even the systematic use of torture to extract information.” In other words, the crisis of capitalist democracy had been on display across the decolonizing world long before it became manifest in the former imperial metropoles in the 1970s in the wake of the Vietnam War. Nor were the imperial dimensions of U.S. democracy promotion in the 1990s capitalized upon as much as they could have been, and the subsequent section on the War on Terror entitled “American Empire?” never quite answers its own question.
These ruminations about empire, of course, are not meant to detract from the book’s timely argument, sweeping narrative synthesis, and innovative reconceptualization of longstanding chronological frameworks to show how nineteenth-century French political theorist Alexis de Tocqueville’s ‘empire of democracy’ was transformed into the handmaiden of a new form of global capitalism. The book also concludes with a glimmer of hope, along with insightful speculations about the rise of Brexit and the anti-democratic presidency of Donald Trump, both of which succeeded on platforms emphasizing “anti-immigration, economic nationalism, and patriotic aggrandizement” (728). Reid-Henry observes how, after 2016, “it was almost as if the Western democracies had been brought back full circle to the 1970s . . . . Of course, it was not the 1970s again, much less the 1930s” (736). The current crisis now gives us time for further reflection and speculation. Since Empire of Democracy was published, the expanding coronavirus pandemic is causing stock markets to seize, freedom of movement to freeze, and global supply chains to break down. More and more people are turning to the strong state for succour and economic self-sufficiency for a cure, a movement that has more elements of the the 1930s than the 1970s, let alone the 1950s or 1990s. Neoliberal globalization is reeling, maybe even on its last legs, begging the questions – where goeth globalization? Where goeth democracy?
Perhaps partly as a push back against the academic trend toward social, cultural, and gender history, ‘applied history,’ which seeks to illuminate contemporary policy issues through the study of historical precedents, and so-called ‘big history,’ an interdisciplinary and macro-level attempt to discern patterns across cultures and eras, are now in vogue. This book thus arrives at a propitious time; it is nothing if not sweeping in scope and purpose. Simon Reid-Henry sets out an ambitious goal for himself – to explore the twists and travails of the western liberal democracies (which he defines as the transatlantic world, including Canada and Australia) over the past half century. This is an important task and Reid-Henry tackles it with skill and verve. There are a number of interpretive issues, however, that may limit the value of this volume for academic historians.
First and perhaps most substantive is the spatial and temporal frame in which the narrative is constructed. Why is 1971 the starting point of the book? Why not 1968, which, as Reid-Henry demonstrates, was a watershed year by any meaningful indicator? The imposition of this start date neglects the deeper historical roots of many of the phenomena under examination here. For instance, he waxes eloquent about the “new style of capitalism” (72) that emerged in the 1970s, but the quotation from renowned Keynesian economist John Kenneth Galbraith he offers to epitomize this “new” style is from 1958, suggesting perhaps that it wasn’t quite so new after all. Readers might be surprised to learn that the culture wars in the United States “began” (117) in the 1970s, rather than in fact propelling Ronald Reagan to California’s governorship in 1964 and Richard Nixon to the White House in 1968. His treatment of California’s Proposition 13 further neglects Reagan’s gubernatorial years, when many of what Reid-Henry considers “post-Prop 13” trends originated (184). Latin Americanists will undoubtedly be interested to know that civil society “emerged” (224) in Latin America in the 1980s. We are told that George W. Bush’s lawyers overturned posse comitatus (517), which restricted the use of the military in domestic law enforcement, yet it had already been undermined by Reagan’s War on Drugs. Indeed, Reid-Henry’s portrayal of Bush’s expansion of presidential powers as some kind of departure ignores the much deeper roots of the “imperial presidency.” Painting with such a broad brush glosses over many important details and nuances.
Moreover, given the ways in which global interdependency has been accelerating since the end of the Second World War, does “the West” hold much value as a conceptual category anymore? Reid-Henry never explicitly makes a case for the analytical value of his definition and deployment of the term. It is an inaccurate label in terms of physical geography (Australia is in the eastern hemisphere), nor does it capture the way U.S. Cold Warriors conceptualized the so-called ‘First World,’ as they would have certainly included the Western Hemisphere nations that had signed onto the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (Rio Treaty). Though most of the countries that joined the security pact were not governed by liberal democratic regimes in 1948, when the treaty was ratified, many have since transitioned from dictatorship to illiberal democracy, with some further transitioning from illiberal to liberal democracy. An analysis of this sort would require more definitional rigor but would also reveal that the prospects for democracy elsewhere have been brighter than perhaps in the West. Reid-Henry’s approach, however, obscures or otherwise ignores key global developments, including the third wave of democratization in the 1980s and perhaps most consequentially, the rise of China.
This points to an associated problem with the book’s framing, which relates to the under-theorization of the key terms employed in the title and throughout. Though it seems pretty clear that Reid-Henry was inspired by the incredibly sharp observations and insightful comparisons of Alexis de Tocqueville’s monumental work, Democracy in America, it is not at all clear what the eponymous Empire of Democracy actually is. Is he referring to the United States or to the entire Western world (as he defines it)? If it is the former, then the focus on Britain, continental Europe, Australia, and Canada muddies the waters. If it is the latter, readers need to understand how and why this empire was constructed and how it was both similar to and different from other empires in world history. It is not clear that the periodization of 1971-2017 fits either perspective. Furthermore, given the explosion of scholarship on the interdependency of metropole and periphery, does it make sense to consider the “empire” – any empire – apart from its subjects? Reid-Henry hints at a link between European integration and decolonization (178) but unfortunately fails to examine it.
Though he claims that a focus on the Western liberal democracies can “provide clarity over how our values and our institutions interact” (8), this is not an analysis that is sustained throughout the volume. Reid-Henry makes occasional references to, for instance, the different political climate of a country like Sweden from the United States, but he eschews direct comparisons of the values and institutions of the various liberal democracies under examination here. At no point are readers made to understand that different policy outcomes have resulted from different values, different institutions, and different interactions between them. Rather, liberal democracies are treated as virtually interchangeable. This is truly a shame, as scholars are in dire need of a rigorous analysis of these differences. They will not find it here. Furthermore, short shrift is given to the various ways in which popular leaders can shape both values and institutions, for better or for worse.
All this, however, should not detract from the book’s value for a general audience. Given that it was published with a trade press and not an academic press, it seems likely that this was the audience Reid-Henry was hoping to reach. The book covers much ground and illuminates many patterns across the western world. It is beautifully written and the author has a keen eye for witty quotations and insightful anecdotes. More importantly, it fills a wide chronological gap that is unlikely to completely disappear anytime soon. Academic historians are often reluctant to carry their narratives through to the present day, fearing this may erode the scholarly value of their work. Reid-Henry, on the other hand, was inspired by the contemporary crisis of democracy and this book is his attempt to make historical sense of it. It is a worthy and admirable endeavor, and one is given to hope that others will follow where he has led.
This massive book’s subject is itself massive. In 865 pages, Simon Reid-Henry provides a history of the West from the early 1970s to 2017. Reid-Henry is British, and the geographical conception of “the West” he works with might be seen as reflecting a London-based perspective, with the United Kingdom and the United States occupying center stage and the rest of the English-speaking world along with the countries of Western Europe filling out the picture. Political events form the stem of the narrative but these are placed in the context of economic and social developments and the movement of ideas. Based on extraordinarily wide reading (as the 72 pages of footnotes attest), the book provides a comprehensive and deeply informed account of a substantial slice of history. Its lucid, lively style makes it an easy read, despite its daunting length. Altogether, this huge book is a huge achievement of which the author may be properly proud.
Simply as a narrative, the work has many valuable qualities. In the first place, it pulls together a great deal of precise and detailed information. There are statistics here on matters ranging from the growth of government spending as a proportion of GDP in Western Europe between 1950 and 1973 (32) to the exponential growth of US arms sales in the 1970s (167) and the number of asylum applications by country in 2015. (712-713). All these statistics give a welcome precision to specific points and some will surprise many. One learns, for example, that the sale of council houses in the UK raised more revenue in the 1980s than all the privatizations of industries combined. (783). The growth of international finance receives particular attention although (as is often the case with statistics) some of the figures are not easy to reconcile with each other (notably those on the growth of international bank lending between the 1970s and early 1990s on pages 103 and 313). Beyond this, reconstruction of the sequence of events shows how one thing led to another, such as the connection between the huge costs to the United States of the “war on terror” and the financial crisis of 2007-2009. (553-559). And the “resolutely transnational” approach (9) brings out both the extent to which all these countries were subject to common trends and also significant national differences, – as with the much more rigorous way in which monetarism was implemented by the UK and the U.S. in the 1980s than it was by Germany. (95). Brief but vivid pen-portraits bring to life many of the numerous individuals who figure in the story.
However, this work is by no means simply a narrative. It is an interpretation of history, and one that is shaped by a political point of view. The historical scope of the book reflects this interpretation, (as Reid-Henry points out, this true of all periodizations). (9). Thus, the early 1970s are seen as marking the beginning of a “regime change” in the West. (5). The regime that was ending had been created in the years following World War II when not only Western Europe but also (if to a lesser extent) the United States had established welfare states that involved a large public sector, Keynesian economics, high rates of direct taxation, and a recognized role for trade unions in a “consensus” model of democracy. All this produced “considerably greater convergence of political culture among and between the Western democracies than had existed even half a century before” (30-35). In terms of the Tocquevillian phrase that provides the book’s title, this was the first “empire of democracy.” Like others, Reid-Henry sees this period as a “Golden Age” (34, 641-642).
The consensus on which this regime rested was challenged in the 1960s by a radicalism that raised cultural issues involving the recognition of rights that, as Reid-Henry shrewdly observes, were less susceptible to compromise than earlier ones over the redistribution of resources (51). But a more powerful source of change were the economic problems of the early 1970s – the collapse of the Bretton Woods system and the rise in the oil price initiated by OPEC (Oil Producing and Exporting Countries). The consequent “stagflation” and labor unrest led western governments to lose faith in Keynesianism and adopt what Reid-Henry describes as a regime of “political minimalism that reduced state capacity and amplified market freedoms,” and elsewhere as “societies governed at a distance” (738, 466). By the end of the decade there was a backlash against labor militancy and a weakening of the political support for the post-war order. Social democratic parties suffered electorally and some, notably the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), moved to the right themselves. The 1980s saw a much more drastic unwinding of the welfare state, not only by the Reagan administration in the United States and the Thatcher government in the UK but also in Australia, New Zealand and most of continental Europe (after French President François Mitterrand’s U-turn in 1983). The trend since the 1940s toward greater economic equality in western societies started moving in the other direction in the 1970s (157).
The narrative of internal developments in different countries is set in the context of international events. Just as the consensual political support for high public spending in the postwar years (even in the United States) had owed much to the perceived Communist threat, so its decline coincided with the era of détente. As international affairs became less dominated by the superpower rivalry, new institutions such as the G7 (founded 1975) and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) promoting human rights came on stage. Reid-Henry sees this as a counterpart to the contemporary privileging of freedom over equality at home: “human rights were the perfect cipher internationally for an era of political minimalism nationally” (188). On the other hand, the emergence of “eurocommunism” when the Communist parties of Italy, Spain and eventually France broke with Moscow was “one of the most promising experiments of democratic socialism all century” (170). The renewal of the Cold War after 1979 extinguished that hope in the West but led a few years later, Reid-Henry suggests, to “the final battle for social democracy” taking place in Russia over what, following Archie Brown and William Taubman, he sees as Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev’s “effort to adopt Western-style social democracy as the new political system of the Soviet Union” (265).
Reid-Henry takes issue with the view that Gorbachev’s failure and the collapse of the Soviet Union resulted from the evident practical superiority of the capitalist version of democracy that was by then dominant in the West and its consequent attraction for the peoples of Eastern Europe. After detailing the scale of the Soviet bloc’s hard currency debts by the late 1980s, he suggests that “the fall of communism in the East was born of the same moment of crisis as the West had been living through since the 1970s (238-239). While he draws attention to the role of the 1975 Helsinki Accords in de-legitimizing repression in the name of socialism, Reid-Henry nevertheless stresses the variety of ways in which regime change came about in different eastern bloc countries and that the protest movements “were ad hoc constellations that represented no single social group, nor did they have a clear political platform beyond the desire just to live more normal unencumbered lives” (237-238). It was only afterwards, he argues, that the institutions of a market economy, most significantly independent central banks, were seen as desirable by successor governments wrestling with the “huge challenge” of building a new system. This made it possible for the transition to be portrayed as “a ‘glorious victory’ for liberalism and Western democracy” in a manner that not only strengthened the ideological hold of “the new neoliberal consensus in the West” but also inspired millennial hopes of a “new world order” in which freedom and democracy would spread across the globe, underpinned by America’s newly “unipolar” power. “We know how to secure a more just and prosperous life for man on Earth,” that improbable visionary George H.W. Bush declared. It was “through free markets, free speech, free elections, and the exercise of free will unhampered by the state” (240, 268-77).
Reid-Henry views this second “empire of democracy” less favourably than the earlier version. In contrast to America’s fruitful provision of security to Western Europe after World War II, the “more liberal-interventionist” foreign policy that emerged following the Cold War had a mixed record of success (276) More central to Reid-Henry’s concern, however, is the form of economic globalization promoted by trade treaties such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the de-regulation of financial markets and the ascendancy of the “Washington consensus” in such institutions as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, and the newly-formed World Trade Organization (WTO). In the United States and the United Kingdom (and also Germany), this process was now carried forward not by free market crusaders such as President Ronald Reagan and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher but by leaders of progressive parties whose “third way” also involved changes in the welfare system designed to incentivize the search for paid employment. The economic boom in the later 1990s appeared to vindicate this approach but Reid-Henry is keen to emphasize the extent to which this prosperity rested upon an explosion of private debt. (388-389, 595-596) The decade also saw the emergence of the European Union out of the European Community, its vast expansion of membership and the creation of ancillary institutions like the European Court of Justice and the Schengen area. In narrating these developments, Reid-Henry deftly sketches the various immediate interests that propelled them, but again the main thrust of his account is the way in which the impulse to build a political entity large enough to check the power of international capital that had been a motive for social democrats like the former European Commission President Jacques Delors earlier gave ground to “a market model” in which the terms of the single market outlawed restrictions on the movement of capital while the fiscally conservative Growth and Stability pact was insisted on by Germany as a condition for agreeing to a single currency (238, 253-61, 408-18).
In the final section of the book, we enter the twenty-first century and the story is dominated by the succession of crises and setbacks that the new millennium brought for the “empire of democracy.” These began with the 9/11 attacks in 2001 but, Reid-Henry makes clear, it was not the attacks themselves but the response of the George W. Bush administration that caused the real damage – not only the vastly expensive wars in Iraq and Afghanistan but also the illegal detentions and torture of non-citizens and the restrictions on civil liberties within the United States itself as the security state extended its prerogatives and powers. The next major crisis was the financial crash of 2008 and Reid-Henry provides a full and detailed account of the causes of this and the response to it of various governments. (The extent to which he draws here upon Adam Tooze’s brilliant analysis is a good example of the excellent use throughout the book of existing studies.) Reid-Henry’s main focus remains, however, upon the political implications and consequences of these events. He sees both crises as having required some rebuilding of the state capacity that had been eroded during the heyday of neo-liberalism, but as also creating public alienation from governments and hostility toward the ‘elites’ who were seen as controlling them for their own advantage. Manifested first in the American Tea Party movement, this populist sentiment later found expression in the trans-national Occupy demonstrations of 2011, and the rise of anti-immigrant right-wing parties across Europe, culminating in 2016 in the Brexit referendum in the UK and the election of Donald Trump as president in the United States. Notwithstanding their often anti-liberal character, Reid-Henry finds something positive in these developments, seeing them as a “clear-cut recovery of political voice”: “they did not represent a spurning of democracy so much as a quite dramatic re-enchantment of politics – albeit that this had not taken the form that the Western liberal elite wanted to see” (720).
This bald summary of the book’s argumentative thread does not do justice to the richness of the detail or the several insightful observations embedded in it. A notable example is the highlighting of the way United States policymakers disregarded the extent to which there was popular support after the end of the Cold War for a withdrawal from international involvement – the sentiment articulated by the publicist Patrick Buchanan in his initially successful run for the Republican nomination in 1992. Interestingly, Reid-Henry sees this as “perhaps the first indication of a growing gap between politicians of all political stripes and the publics they were mandated to represent” (302). Also shrewd is the observation that the conception and fashioning of the “Global War on Terrorism” owed much not only to the Cold War experience of men like Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld but also to some nostalgia for it. (511-513). Given all this, the occasional error in a work of this scope and range is a trivial matter (Iain Macleod was not Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1965 nor John Gielgud “young” in 1971, 66, 54).
Less trivial, perhaps, is a certain lack of clarity about two basic issues. One is the explanation for the retreat of social democracy and the ascendancy of neo-liberalism that is the central theme of the book, and in particular how far this development was driven by objective economic factors. In places, Reid-Henry suggests that this was the case. Thus, he sees the political support for the post-war consensus as dependent on a prosperity based on a growth in productivity which stalled in the 1970s (30-1, 70-1). Consequently what the left “wanted to offer … was no longer affordable” (216). In these circumstances, “governments sensed there was more to be gained and less to be lost by cooperating more closely with big business” and by loosening financial regulation (84). This led to a situation in which “it was both difficult and costly to defend domestic economic policies – however democratically agreed – from ever-greater volumes of international financial transactions and the market pressures they created” (106, also 216, 331-4). Yet Reid-Henry seems to place equal explanatory weight on changes in social attitudes as freedom came to be valued above equality, and in the political balance as the organised working-class declined. He never explicitly attempts to assess the comparative causal importance of these factors or their inter-relationship. Nevertheless, the broad scope of his account does provide material that throws light on both the extent and the limits of economic determinism. Thus, with respect to the tightening up of welfare provisions in the 1990s, Reid-Henry points out that these were a response to such objective and trans-national factors as aging populations, the entry of many more women into the labor forces, and changing patterns of employment but also that there remained fundamental national differences in the methods and principles by which benefits were distributed. (441-9).
The other basic issue on which there is a somewhat disconcerting unsteadiness is the meaning of the term “democracy” itself. At times, Reid-Henry seems to see it as simply governance in accordance with the will of the people, the question being “how public preferences are given meaningful institutional expression.” (740). Leaving aside the issue of divisions of opinion, such a characterization ignores the richer conceptualization of democracy as involving also social equality and a sense of community that Reid-Henry invokes elsewhere - notably by endorsing quotations from the Polish-American political scientist Adam Przeworski and the British thinker and historian R.H. Tawney (312, 684). Reid-Henry implicitly acknowledges that these two meanings of democracy can conflict when he observes that, by the time of Trump’s election, “the US was less democratic because this is what the people themselves had unthinkingly brought about for many years” (748). The tension between democracy as a social ideal and as a political process is by no means new in liberal and social democratic thought, but more explicit recognition of it would have given greater precision and clarity to much of Reid-Henry’s text.
These reservations aside, Empire of Democracy is a marvellously thorough and readable account and analysis of more than half a century of history. Those readers who are not deterred by the sheer size (and weight) of the book are bound to learn much from it, as well as to be stimulated (and possibly provoked) by its interpretative thrust. It also seems likely that the date of its completion and publication will seem increasingly opportune as there are many signs that the West (and indeed the world) may be about to enter a new era.
I am grateful to the four reviewers who have engaged with Empire of Democracy, and to Mary Nolan for her introduction. Empire of Democracy is a long book, which makes me all the more appreciative of their attention. The book attempts to provide a transnational account of the struggles and transformations of the liberal democratic west over the past half-century. It does not attempt the sort of macro-theoretical framing of a Marcel Gauchet, Heinrich August Winkler or, more concisely, a Paul Nolte: and its intended audience is different. Nor is it a history of the modern West, which would have to begin with the emergence of ‘the West’ as a political concept in the nineteenth century. But it does seek to understand democracy as itself a central actor in the history of western modernity over the past half century. In a context where attention tended to focus – for much of the period it studies – upon the barriers and threats to democracy from elsewhere, it set out to examine (and take seriously) the tensions confronting liberal democracy from within.
Where, too, a previous generation of acclaimed continental histories addressed themselves to a variously long or short ‘twentieth century,’ and took wars and revolutions as their pivot points, Empire of Democracy foregrounds the political-economic, cultural and intellectual developments that upended the postwar liberal democratic consensus beginning, in terms of their collective and transnational force, in the 1970s. It is not alone in choosing this caesura. Martin Conway’s recent and important history of postwar European democracy, Europe’s Democratic Age: 1945-1968, leaves off its narrative at the point where Empire of Democracy picks up. One of the things that Empire of Democracy has to grapple with, however, is that the story of European democracy thereafter is by now too heavily interleaved with other places for this to remain really a European history alone (if it ever could). It is no longer so exclusively a history of nation-states either.
Empire of Democracy thus opens on the international turmoil of the 1970s, amidst the upheavals of détente, globalisation, and domestic social transformations, and it focuses – though not exclusively – upon the postwar transatlantic political economic order. It argues that the institutional and intellectual frameworks lain down in response to the crises of the long 1970s (new social movements, upheavals in family and class structures, the emergence of popular credit, or new national strategies of inflation targeting) collectively underpinned a new form of liberal democracy. This new form cleaved more closely to the value of freedom than to equality, thereby breaking with the postwar socio-economic model, with its underlying (and usually unwritten) politics of consensus. The changes that took place at this moment also helped to address the dual national and international challenges to society that collided during the era, from the widely experienced shift away from industrial manufacturing that impacted regions from Detroit to Milan, to energy crises, new environmental anxieties and more, albeit with noticeable variation between countries, and among social, Christian, and liberal democratic systems. This all marked a transformation but implied no necessity about what was to come next. Liberal democracy, which had surged in the postwar decades to an extent barely imaginable only shortly before, now stumbled and changed direction. The book goes on to examine the social and political struggles – some of them bringing new political scales to the fore, some relating to political culture and the bases of democratic legitimacy, and some relating to specific technological, institutional and intellectual developments – that subsequently helped to define this post-70s liberal democratic era through to the present.
In their response to the way in which I present this argument, the four reviewers perhaps most directly raise the matter of the spatial and temporal framing of the book’s narrative. Why 1971, in other words? And in what way an “empire” of democracy? Perhaps I can most simply respond that the periodisation and geography chosen set out to fill a need, as I saw it, for a better understanding of the relationship between capitalism, liberalism and democracy. As Steven Klein notes, “Although much is made of the recent crisis of democracy, less remarked upon is its steady erosion over the preceding 40 years, as a global system of legal and regulatory structures were constructed to reassert the global rights of capital-owners against democratic majorities.” But all such choices as to how to frame that picture require justification, and since I am a geographer, let me begin with the spatial: for I am also asked to define, more precisely, what I mean by “the West”. The brief answer is that for ‘critical geographers’ such works of definition are themselves the things that need problematising. On the matter of “the West,” as I write on page 8, my aim in the book:
“is not to deny the considerable divergence that exists between national histories—readers should in fact come away with a far better sense of how different societies have variously responded to the overarching challenges of the time. Nor is it to reify the notion of “the West,” which like other catch-all geographical descriptors (“Europe” or “the American century,” say) is a partial and a vested claim before it is a settled fact. That the West is the relevant locus for this particular history of democracy is less because of its presumed certainties than it is for the manner of its constant reinvention.”
In other words, my intention is not to elaborate on the West as a settled geography, much less to partake in further efforts to define such a thing, but to unpack in what ways this ‘west’ remains in actual fact democratic in light of those “constant reinventions.”
Hence where several of the commentaries express a desire to have heard more about the world outside the book’s recognisably western frame, my own sense is that plenty has been going on closer to home that we are in danger of then missing out. Eastern Europe was rightly a part of Europe throughout the Cold War, for example, but it was not properly a part of the West again until after 1989: at which point it also became central to a new series of challenges that confronted western leaders and society alike, be they in the ongoing problematic of EU borders and accession, or as a lesson – hardly new, but forgotten nonetheless – on the dangers that unregulated markets pose to democracy. In contrast, Southern Europe entered the 1970s under fascist and militarist dictatorships, and yet the incorporation of these countries into the European Economic Community (EEC) in the 1980s proved radically different to the experience of the East in the decade to follow. In other words, these two elements of the “third wave” of democracy, to borrow Samuel Huntington’s terminology, were never part of a single democratic metanarrative in the manner he sought to sketch; they were moments of tension and constitutive force within the model of democracy that he took as his implicit yardstick for other places. It is these unexpected twists and turns that my narrative tries to uncover.
As mentioned, and as some of the reviewers note, I do so by interrogating how the three cardinal points of the book – liberalism, democracy, and capitalism – intersect and how the relations between them are variously reconfigured up to the present. One of the things I try to foreground, for example, is the power of ideas, and how certain ideas – shifting public discourses around taxes and inequality, or more expert understandings of central banking – gain institutional expression, such that they become part of the structures of democratic society. To understand the role of the European Central Bank (ECB) in Europe’s so-called ‘sovereign debt crisis’ that followed on from the financial crisis of 2007-2008, say, we need to know not just about the bank’s formal role within the project of European monetary union: we need to know about the social and political commitments (namely a de-prioritisation of social policy and dislike of the idea of debt mutualisation) that the lawyers, economists and politicians who devised it brought to the ECB’s formation. Only then do we fully grasp how “stability and growth” came to mean austerity and discipline in the latter context. The current clash of thinking between deficit hawks and Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) would be a contemporaneous example of the same.
This matter of how the institutional bases of liberal democratic regimes may be reconfigured is key to the story I am trying to tell. Historians in particular will be familiar with the idea that historical experience itself interleaves with our understanding of democracy. In this regard, as Richard Bourke has observed, the history of democracy should be thought of as a history of “reinvention”: and the notion that this reinvention may be something that takes place over a shorter time-frame than the longue durée of Bourke’s account, from antiquity to the modern day – indeed the hope that attentiveness to this possibility may at the very least tell us something about what contemporary democracy actually “is” (at least in its liberal capitalist form) – is really the underlying premise of my book. It is why the book goes to great lengths (alas, literally) to say something about the larger social structures different actors have been grappling with this past half century: whether as members of a diplomatic ‘inner circle’ (about which, more later), as workers who chose to go on strike, as refugees left stranded on the beach, or as the mid-level bureaucrats and practitioners whose work allows us to “grasp the political thought that mattered politically,” in Jan-Werner Müller’s resonant phrase.
It is also in relation to this analytical trope of reinvention that the reference to “empire” in the book’s title is to be understood. Since nation states and continents are not the only unit of analysis in my account (and again one thinks of the many fine histories “of” Europe and America that work off predominantly these two framings) something needs to hold together the extension of the book’s consideration of democracy across the different geographies and institutional terrains it covers. Here the title citation from Tocqueville directs our attention to the manner in which democracy is incorporated (and contested within) the values and institutional architecture of political society. And yet, of course, whatever ‘emancipatory’ dynamics are given content and force by the historical convergence of liberalism, capitalism and democracy, so too are certain inherent exclusions and structurally uneven relationships of power: not least a new form of ‘imperial’ political economy.
The book thus turns to the 1970s as a ‘switching point’ of sorts, from the overhang of a more overt imperial and post-colonial political economy based upon territorial acquisition to a political economy based more upon the “exorbitant privilege” of financial hegemony; a shift from a territorial-based liberal order to a property-based liberal order taking shape at the intersection of globalisation and the late Cold War alike. When we think of the place of the U.S. ‘in the world’ in the 1970s for example, attention often rightly focuses on the “anti-Communist” struggle in Vietnam (for all that was equally entwined in a post-colonial civil war that had itself intensified as a result of U.S. intervention). Yet at the same time, there was another set of ‘anti-colonial’ struggles taking shape – the actions of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and the New International Economic Order (NIEO) among them – and these were playing out in a rather different way in relation to other resonant geographies of the time: not least in the Middle East. Moreover, the fact that the U.S. lost in Vietnam while, through the work of individuals like Secretary of the Treasury William E. Simon, it ‘won’ (not unproblematically of course) in the Middle East is a formative moment in the entwinement of geopolitics with the international economy that has preoccupied post-Cold War ‘foreign affairs’ thinkers and been a pivotal focus of foreign policy-making ever since. Nor is it unrelated to the reprise of those more overt forms of U.S. imperialism that I chart in the years since 2001 via the ‘war on terror.’ In the memory of an entire generation, the Cold War is today a dim and distant past. But certain actors, in the U.S. in particular, remain confined still within its patterns of thought: and the persistence of the logic of Cold War liberalism in the United States would be one example of this. The neoconservative reimagination of Cold War binaries (‘either you are with us or with the terrorists’) in more culturally-labelled forms is another. And of course that reimagination has been aided by advanced military technology too: “narrowing the political and moral distance that must be traveled before military actions are approved” (490), as I note in the book, turning the war on terror into an “everywhere war” in the process. The domestic legacy of the global war on terror is not separate to the social upheavals the US is experiencing today either.
In such ways do history and geography intersect. But the 1970s are important in other ways, and here we might turn to the matter of periodisation more explicitly. The open question for some of the reviewers, it seems, is the assumed prominence of the year 1971, which does indeed appear on the cover. But as I warn the reader in the opening pages, 1971 should not be accorded any undue singularity: what the opening chapters of the book in fact chart is a more generalised and intense moment of transformation in liberal democratic societies: one that was visibly at play in the late 1960s and early 1970s and that stands out for the matter of its transnational and interlocking nature. Replacing 1971 with an alternative anchoring year, such as 1968, as one of my reviewers proposes, would create more problems than it solves. 1968 is a freighted historical marker, such that starting this book’s narrative in that year would have implied a stronger rupture of a more specifically socio-cultural nature than I wish to suggest took place. It would also – back to the geography again – have (re)centred the story that Empire of Democracy is telling upon the dominant and well-trodden national narratives of the U.S., UK, France, and Germany in particular. As against this, and in the manner that Gerd Rainer Horn’s attention to the ‘southern’ 1968 shows is possible, recentring the narrative of those events by including also the (more labourist) experiences of countries such as Spain and Italy, suggests that there is more to be gained by resisting standard linkages between periodisation and geography. To put it simply: the discovery of Ekofisk in the North Sea in 1969 mattered a good deal more both to Norwegians and to Norwegian democracy than events at the Sorbonne the year before.
Global dynamics and the book’s temporal framing alike thus have a critical role to play in the narrative of Empire of Democracy. And here again it may be helpful to clarify the reference I make to Tocqueville at the start and end of the book: not least Tocqueville’s own complicities with the colonial enterprise. As brilliantly shown by scholars such as Jennifer Pitts, Tocqueville in many ways embodies the long entwining of liberalism and capitalism with imperialism and the anti-democratic forms that some forms of liberalism are prepared to take in defense of certain liberties (especially those of property). This conflation of liberalism and capitalism with anti-democratic forms continues today, and is something I try to trace out in the period covered by the book, from the growing influence of free-market ‘law and economics’ courses in the U.S., or the conflicts between multiculturalism and security that struck at the heart of the European social model post-9/11. As Pitts has shown, Tocqueville’s own later imperialism was a function of his liberalism: the desire to secure a stable republican society at home in France driving his imperial ambitions abroad. Compare this to some of the tensions between liberalism and democracy in the high-capitalist present. A common trope in liberal discourse today, for example, is the claim that recovering some (imagined) majoritarian unity in the name of maintaining ‘universal’ freedoms may require re-imagining democracy in less egalitarian terms. Popular sovereignty is in these ways divided: an ‘imperial’ moment enters upon the scene of democracy itself.
Against this erosion of democracy, for which I find in the book the forces of the left and the right responsible in different and unequal ways, Empire of Democracy seeks ultimately to illuminate the myriad processes by which democracy may be transformed across different sectors and areas of practice – and not always for the better. But this is not simply a work of critique; my hope is also to highlight where inflection points for a future democratic recovery may lie, drawing on a wealth of brilliant scholarship, from a wide range of disciplines, while adding, I hope, a sense of the larger whole. This is the perspective that geography can bring to the insights of historical and other forms of disciplinary knowledge. As Neil MacGregor has simply and yet eloquently put it, one of the most important questions we can ask – especially in times such as ours – is “what does the world look like if you are someone else?” That is precisely the greater purpose which I hope Empire of Democracy will spur some of its readers into contemplating. And it leaves me to query of my reviewers, in turn, quite why the fact that this book is written by a geographer, with a geographical set of intentions, goes unreflected in their comments.
The consequences of the relative silence about geography becomes apparent in the first of the four responses, by historian Michelle D. Paranzino. The “contemporary policy issues” Paranzino portrays the book as having been driven by – how to explain the upheavals of a post-2016 political context, in other words – are hardly issues one could have foreseen when I began this book in 2011. I do seek to demonstrate that the liberal democratic form may be experiencing an episodic reshuffling of the deck (as John A. Thompson and T.G. Otte, for example, variously note in their reviews); but my theory of change in the book is one focused upon how the “political form” of liberal democratic society was consolidated and sedimented trans-nationally during a substantial and eventful period for the western liberal democracies since the 1970s. This account focuses on explaining the underlying tensions within these new democratic arrangements, across as much as within countries. Moreover I hope that the book manages to capture something of the social and historical experience of these developments, whether among discourses of anxiety and ‘malaise,’ of unipolar glee, or perhaps more notably of late, of discontent and ennui. (As Pierre Rosanvallon notes, democracy not only “has” but “is” a history). Seen in this light, such upheavals as the likes of Brexit in Europe and Donald Trump’s 2016 election as president in the U.S., emerge within the book’s over-arching narrative, as indeed they emerged during the writing of the book itself.
In further querying “the spatial and temporal frame in which the narrative is constructed” Paranzino also points to the (inevitable) fact that national experiences will deviate from any larger, transnational narrative. The patterns and trend lines I seek to identify in the book are necessarily contingent, of course, and one reason I resist an overtly theoretical framing is to avoid giving the impression that there are any iron laws at play here. More useful, surely, is to note where tensions exist and to see these as constitutive of social and political outcomes: in the manner of “uneven and combined” development, for example. But there is a deeper problem with Paranzino’s comment. A large part of what I try to do in Empire of Democracy is precisely to break out of the sovereign territorial mould. As I note on page 9: “this is not a story we can tell from within the confines of any one nation alone, nor, in modern times, can we limit our narrative to just the scale of the nation state itself.”
In parts of the academy this is pushing against an open door, as recent and innovative scholarship in matters of global intellectual history, critical IR, and transatlantic studies reveal. Regional and Area Studies have also begun, in parts, developing an innovative, post-sovereign research agenda. Writing from within the sovereign frame, however, Paranzino states: “it is not at all clear what the eponymous Empire of Democracy actually is. Is [Reid-Henry] referring to the United States or to the entire Western world (as he defines it)?” The answer is, of course, neither. The proper subject of the work is the expansion and internal crises of ‘liberal democracy’ itself, hitched as it always has been to ‘capitalism,’ but where the post-war attributes of equalitarianism have, since around the 1970s and across multiple countries, been watered down by a more fundamental set of intellectual, social, and institutional commitments to the value of liberty. Liberalism and democracy, those two “hostile twins” as Norberto Bobbio once put it, work best when they balance each other out, as for much of the post-war era before the 1970s they did.
My second respondent, Marc-William Palen, is sympathetic to the synthetic ambitions of the study (and the inherent difficulties of undertaking it). He considers Empire of Democracy to add to recent historical scholarship by means of its “wide-ranging synthesis of these studies and [Reid-Henry’s] emphasis upon how this confluence of forces influenced the democratic transformation of the West” [my emphasis]. While accepting my periodisation in pursuit of this goal in broad terms, however, he also questions, via a nuanced critique, the limits that focusing on the post-1970s era poses to the task. Palen makes the useful point that the crisis of capitalist liberal democracy I locate as beginning to have taken a meaningful and influential shape in and around the early 1970s began not just earlier but also further away, before it was realised in the former colonial metropoles of the liberal democratic world. He references John A. Hobson’s Imperialism: A Study, from 1902, as one example of a prior and more theoretical engagement with Empire of Democracy’s proper subject: the “decoupling” of capitalism from democracy, as he puts it. Imperial theory, Palen points out, demonstrates the class configurations that informed the merger of capitalism and democracy in the first place; in effect pre-empting Empire of Democracy’s narrative of a slow-burning democratic crisis since the ‘Golden Age.’ Of course, a narrative that repeats or endures is not necessarily one we should consider ourselves finished with; and far from exploring the decoupling of capitalism and democracy, it is their ongoing entwinement that most interests me. Hobson’s argument that capitalist imperatives, allied to class self-interest, spur ostensibly ‘democratic’ societies to great injustices is thus indeed a reminder that much changes in order that some things stay the same.
I do agree with Palen’s more specific point here, however: that imperial history demonstrates how “the crisis of capitalist democracy had been on display across the decolonizing world long before it became manifest in the former imperial metropoles in the 1970s in the wake of the Vietnam War.” And without doubt there are ways in which I could have expanded on this in the book. Here I would note that in Empire of Democracy I am partly directing my attention elsewhere. An important direction of travel for historical scholarship in recent decades has been one of looking “out” into a wider ‘global’ world; my own scholarly career having begun with questions of colonialism and its legacy of global “uneven development,” I was in this book most concerned to focus on the view looking “in” and that has undoubtedly coloured the framing of my narrative.
As already noted, what I wanted to highlight in particular are some of the more novel and creative re-associations of capitalism and democracy that emerged in the years since Hobson was writing. As a contemporaneous figure such as Ralph Miliband argued, in his overlooked 1982 book Capitalist Democracy in Britain: “[t]he term capitalist democracy is … intended to denote a permanent and fundamental contradiction or tension, in a capitalist society such as Britain, between the promise of popular power, enshrined in universal suffrage, and the curbing or denial of that promise in practice.” And as Miliband also argues, the way to uncover this is not always to focus on the overt markers – the imperial “dynamics” of Hobson, or, for that matter, Vladimir Lenin. Rather, one should focus on building up a picture of those “habits, traditions, and constraints which make for inertia and acceptance rather than for pressure and conflict.”
These, at any rate, are some of the things I do try to foreground in Empire of Democracy, via a more comparative reckoning than would have interested Miliband of the ways in which liberal capitalist democracies have re-secured consent for themselves during the post-70s era. And so, to answer Palen’s criticism directly, the particular periodisation I chose was the one that I hoped was most conducive to doing this. As Palen notes, there is a wealth of recent scholarship that has sketched out the history of neoliberalism (adding to an account perhaps first most coherently fleshed out by geographer David Harvey in the 1990s and 2000s). Yet, in a way that Harvey’s account of the “imperative” of capital glosses over, Empire of Democracy seeks more concretely to trace the effects of that neoliberal surge upon democracy itself. In so doing, it is not my intention to suggest that there is no continuity with what comes before: far from it. And I would not want every process I write about to be construed as somehow “starting” in or around the early 1970s. There is at least as much continuity as change across the early 1970s, including the violence that liberal democracies have long shown themselves capable of enacting upon their own citizens and the citizens of other nations alike.
It is this same matter of what exactly comes before and after the 1970s, and how they may be linked, that John Thompson’s response takes up. Thompson’s work on US foreign policy, spanning many decades, is illuminating and insightful. It warrants noting, too, that Thompson has made his own practical contributions to democratic renewal in the period the book examines, as a co-sponsor of the 1974 motion to repeal the statute preventing women from becoming members of St Catherine’s College in Cambridge, enabling the first women to matriculate there in 1979. To have him describe the book as a “comprehensive and deeply informed account of a substantial slice of history” and a “huge achievement” is a compliment I value greatly. Thompson also supplies some constructive criticisms, centring on what he describes as my attempt to set domestic political developments within the wider context of an international political economic structure.
Here Thompson suggests that I take the post-70s constellation of liberal democracy to be a less favourable affair than the previous, post-45 constellation. In some ways this is true. Yet the book I do not believe is in any way nostalgic for what came before – as I point out, the Golden Age was only ever golden for some (4). Moreover, such stability and economic growth, as it was rightly famed for, now looks more and more like an unusually (perhaps unrepeatably) benign period for the western capitalist democracies. And to continue the dialogue with Palen momentarily, that stability was further premised upon the legacy of colonial relations and the application of force upon the “third world” in the context of what Odd Arne Westad refers to as “the global Cold War”. Was what came after the 1970s really therefore worse than what came before? Thompson’s is a good and an open question.
But perhaps as importantly, whatever the problems (and achievements for that matter) of the post-70s form of liberal democratic politics, we need to understand them in the context of a then globalising international political and economic order, with its own shift away from an order of states to a more variegated “multilateral” and “non-governmental” order of the sort captured by legal scholars such as Ruti Teitel, Karen Alter and Martti Koskenniemi, or indeed the emergence of the institutional infrastructure of the post-Werner Plan European Union, as captured by economic historians such as Emmanuel Mourlon-Druol or by politics and international relations scholars such as Andrew Moravcsik. This confluence of historical with geographical developments constitutes the novel and the radicalising element that my narrative, starting when and where it does, sought to illuminate.
Thompson draws attention to two further issues with the work. First, in trying to explain the shifting relationship between social democracy and neoliberalism, Thompson asks, do I not oscillate somewhat between political economic push factors on the one hand (the matter of what social democrats, in times of economic constraint, could any longer afford to make realistic promises about in their stump speeches, for example) and changing social attitudes on the other (the cultural shifts within an increasingly unprotected working class, which was exposed now to the currents of globalisation)? It is true that I do not provide the struggle between these two counterpart languages of liberal democratic governance with any sort of formal accounting, or seek to extract the “comparative causal importance” of each. And by all means I see value in trying to do so.
What I try to do is to outline the historical struggle between social democracy and neoliberalism during these years in a way that subsequent and more finely grained comparative work may take forward. It would have been a futile task to have sought such tightness of framing as, for example, Gøsta Esping-Andersen achieves in Three Worlds of Welfare Capitalism while also doing justice to a narrative framework of countries not chosen as archetypes (and that must perforce be nuanced enough to tackle the very different national experiences of, for example, the U.S., Hungary, and Australia). What I strove for instead was a middle ground in between these two extremes. Alternative approaches addressing some of these countries exist, of course, such as that adopted by Yascha Mounk in his account of “illiberal democracies” on the one hand and “undemocratic liberalism” on the other. But schematic formulations of this sort were something I sought to avoid.
This brings me to Thompson’s second point, which relates to an “unsteadiness,” as he sees it, in my treatment of the term democracy itself. Perhaps it is helpful to note that the book was inspired in part by an earlier discovery of a collection of essays brought together by Ian Shapiro and Casiano Hacker-Cordón in two volumes (Democracy’s Value and Democracy’s Edges) in 1999. In addition to containing a wonderful set of texts by scholars like Iris Marion Young, Adam Przeworski and Philip Pettit, the opening sentence of the first book – “Democracy is a flawed hegemon” – in many ways captures what it is that drives the narrative in Empire of Democracy. For how did this come to pass? On this matter I agree with Thompson that there is always a “tension between democracy as a social ideal and as a political process.” Miliband would likely agree with us on this point as well. My more particular hope, however, is that by bringing into focus the complex and dynamic struggle over values that is missing in the litmus testing of Freedom House indices, this tension begins to be unpacked. If what I produced in any ways resembles the “marvellously thorough” account that Thompson describes then I shall not have wasted the years of its preparation.
T.G. Otte suggests that the “essence” of my argument is “that at the root of the problems since 1989 is the ideological programme of Western leaders to anchor the newly emerging democracies of Eastern Europe in free market economies – the so-called ‘Washington consensus’.” It is true that the book seeks to bring the history of post-Communism alongside, and I would add also ‘into’ the ongoing history of the Western nations. But Canberra was never concerned with the post-Communist legacy in the way that Whitehall and the Beltway were and to say that this is the core of my argument is reductive. The narrative starts two decades earlier and covers technology, architecture, intellectual styles, cultural événements, and a host of everyday things that lie far from the hard edges of a more traditional Cold-War geographical imagining. It addresses migration too, for example, which Otte characterises as the ‘growing’ phenomenon of “mass immigration.”
In fact, the problem with respect to immigration – to take this example, and the European case – has been less its “mass” element and more the racial and class tensions set in motion by the migration stops introduced at the end of the postwar era of economic growth: Switzerland (1970), Sweden (1972), Germany (1973), the Benelux, and France (1974). In other words, it was less the growth curve and more the political construction of migration (and migrants) which mattered socially and politically. Post-Maastricht this political framing meant more intra-European movement, tighter external borders and therefore greater irregular migration too, compensated now by a rise in asylum cases (the latter being distinct from immigration and increasingly related to what the western powers themselves were doing in the world). The geography of these flows matters too: both where migrants were coming from and the communities and countries that they came to, which from the 1980s was increasingly Southern European countries. More recently European countries have been encouraging the migration of fee-paying foreign students as cash cows for their privatised higher education offerings, while post-2015 they haggled over how few refugees it was acceptable to remove from the privations of camps on islands such as Lesbos. By then, the financial crisis had anyway reduced the demand and supply of migration, in some countries and sectors more than others, even in numeric terms (with, significantly, an impact on remittances going the other way).
Bringing greater clarity to the way that social and political power has been institutionalised anew within liberal democratic societies was task enough for me in this book, and doubtless over-ambitious to boot. But Otte feels that I should have done more, noting “the near-exclusive focus on Western developments and concerns.” He continues: “Whilst it is perfectly legitimate to prioritise these, not to place them within the wider context of global developments seems a missed opportunity.” But globality is about more than contextualising one place in light of somewhere else: it is about, for example, how the credit-fuelled militarism of the war on terror post-9/11 not only reached around the globe but reconstituted, via prior historical framings, a ‘colonial present’ in countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq: and how the war was partly mobilised on this basis. It is about how Australian business associations learned the tricks of their union-busting trade from American counterparts. As the narrative progresses, China slowly makes its presence felt in the background. But this is not a study in ‘global history’ and it would have looked very different if it was.
Otte goes on to criticise the book’s “inevitabilist” assumptions, overlooking where I describe various developments, monetarism post-Maastricht, for example, as “radically open” still (344). He raises the legitimate issue of my reference to predominantly English language sources. A more finely grained narrative would indeed have required much more by way of primary sources in original languages. I can only note that my reading was not confined to English, for all that I have referenced sources intelligible and accessible to the wider audience I was addressing. Finally, Otte opens and closes his commentary with the assertion that the account I offer in Empire of Democracy boils down to “a sort of negative Whig history of our times.” Otte offers an education – some of it in Latin – on the things he thinks might correct for the book’s “curious limitations” in this respect: the fact that, for example, “the global financial crisis of 2008-2009 did not end in a repeat of the worldwide depression of 1929 because political and banking leaders were determined to avoid such an outcome – Ben Bernanke, Chairman of the Federal Reserve, for instance, was a student of the economic and financial crisis of the early 1930s”. In fact this is a point I myself make on page 597, although I focus less on white male good sense and the ‘lessons’ of history and more on the fact that such men were equally committed to saving the neoliberal system that gave us the financial crisis in the first place. The book is about political struggle, in other words, and there is never anything inevitable about where that may take us.
I write this response in the midst of an extraordinary year; a moment when the interconnections of society, uneven yet persistent, are brought home to us once again. Perhaps it is this that prompts me to return, in closing, to a point I raise above. None of us writes history under conditions of our own choosing. But to a large extent we do write from within disciplines of our choosing. And I find the lack of engagement with the geographical background I bring to the writing of this book surprising. There are disciplinary hierarchies within the humanities and social sciences, and the holders of some intellectual passports, it seems, are granted greater freedom of movement than others. To evaluate an 880-page book by a geographer without reference to the debates, concerns, or even writings of other geographers, is perhaps no less an omission than my own ‘oversight’ of not referring to original language primary sources for each of the 29 countries (to take just those with multiple entries in the index) included in the book. Any and all errors are regrettable. But to dismiss the book’s self-evidently synthetic ambitions on the grounds that the author did not conduct a finely grained archival programme of work, as Otte does, misrepresents its intended purpose and obscures the fact that archival sources do not underpin a great many other, similar works by historians – some of which I am directed to as examples of good practice.
In “The Inner Circle” – a fine overview of the narrower terrain of diplomatic history – Otte warns that “History is always vulnerable to attempts to exploit it for the needs of the present,” and this concern seems to inform his overall interpretation of the book. As an example of such distortions he points in that essay to the kinds of historically-informed political activism “that targets suspected relics of colonialism in contemporary politics and society.” The streets, one could infer, are not the appropriate place for historical commentary. And yet, as the current wave of disputes over the history we embed in our landscapes via statues have demonstrated, there is indeed a proper role for historically-informed critique that is political precisely because it addresses what history shows us is often neither ‘suspected’ nor just ‘a relic’ of the past: above all in the legacies of colonialism and other forms of liberal violence today. There are many ways of “occlud[ing] the relations of past and present,” as the geographer Gerry Kearns puts it in an essay on the ‘Rhodes Must Fall’ movement. Curating the knowledge and power of elites is one of them. Kearns goes on to make a related and a broader point here, reminding us that “[r]edress for racism is difficult under the current conditions of Western capitalism.” He is right. And for this reason, finally, I do not find my emphasis on liberalism and capitalism as keys to understanding the contemporary history of democracy to be an ‘avoidance’ of the legacy of empire. There are many sides to the struggle of decolonising our knowledge and its institutional repositories. Re-imagining the history of democracy is one of those.
 Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, ed. Eduardo Nolla, tr. James Schleifer (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2012).
 Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man (New York: Free Press, 1992).
 See the, as ever, thoughtful observations by Geert Mak in his recent Grote Verwachtingen in Europa, 1999-2019 (Amsterdam: Atlas Contact, 2019). Suffice it to say that Francis Fukuyama’s (in)famous 1990 essay did not, in fact, argue that history had come to an end with the collapse of the Soviet empire and the ideology that had supported it, see F. Fukuyama, ‘The End of History’, The National Interest xvi (Summer 1989): 3-18, and id., The End of History and the Last Man (New York: Avon, 1992).
 See inter alios B. Emmott, The Fate of the West: The Battle to Save the World’s Most Successful Political Idea (London: Profile, 2017); J. Zielonka, Counter-Revolution: Liberal Europe in Retreat (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018). For discussions of the future of the Western economic model, see P. Collier, The Future of Capitalism: Facing the New Anxieties (London: Penguin, 2018). Tellingly, the Financial Times newspaper ran a series of articles on the ‘Future of Capitalism’, see amongst many M. Wolf, ‘Why rigged capitalism is damaging liberal democracy’, Financial Times, 18 September 2019, and the paper’s leading article, ‘How to build a more responsible corporate capitalism’, ibid., 13 Octember 2019.
 The list is endless, but see D. Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005); J. Piel, ‘Le virage néolibéral planétaire depuis 25 ans : la nouveauté proclamée ou le dernier avatar du capitalisme toujours tel qu’en lui-même?’, Nuevo Mundo/Mundos Nuevos (11 June 2007), http://journals.openedition.org/nuevomundo/6183, accessed 8 Jan. 2020; P. Ther, Die neue Ordnung auf dem alten Kontinent: Eine Geschichte des neoliberalen Europa (Berlin: Suhrkamp Verlag, 2014).
 J. Williamson, ‘A Short History of the Washington Consensus’ (Sept. 2004), https://www.piie.com/publications/papers/williamson0904-2.pdf which also lists the ‘decalogue’ of reforms considered imperative; for a succinct summary of the ‘financialization’ of modern economies see J. Kocka, Capitalism: A Short History (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2016), 114-124.
 M. Olson, The Rise and Decline of Nations: Economic Growth, Stagflation, and Social Rigidities (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1982).
 See the observations the then chairman of the Euro-Group of finance ministers, J. Dijsselbloem, De Eurocrisis: Het verhaal von binnenuit (Amsterdam: Prometheus, 2018), 247-274.
 M. Carney, ‘The Growing Challenges for Monetary Policy in the current International Monetary and Financial System’, speech at Jackson Hole Symposium, 23 August 2019, 5, https://www.bankofengland.co.uk/-/media/boe/files/speech/2019/the-growing-challenges-for-monetary-policy-speech-by-mark-carney.pdf .
 It is no coincidence that the far-right populist party in Germany chose for its name Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), or that, during the Brexit referendum in Britain, ‘Take Back Control’ proved to be such a powerful election slogan.
 For a masterly recent account, the search for a viable post-Cold War order, see K. Spohr, Post Wall, Post Square: Rebuilding the World after 1989 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2019).
 The success of the Chilean reforms and those in Eastern Europe have rightly been queried. The shock effect was greater than the therapeutic one, see T. Gale Moore, ‘Privatization in the Former Soviet Empire’, E.P. Lazear (ed.), Economic Transition in Eastern Europe and Russia: Realities of Reform (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1995), 176-178.
 For this see A. Tooze, Crashed: How a Decade of Financial Crises Changed the World (London: Penguin, 2018); see also B.S. Bernanke, ‘The Macroeconomics of the Great Depression: A Comparative Approach’, id., Essays on the Great Depression (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004), 5-38.
 For an account of the economic, political and social conditions that allowed for the rise of the crooner-turned-media entrepreneur and politician Berlusconi see G. Orsina, Il berlusconismo nella storia d’Italia (Venezia: Marsilio, 2013).
 The party was formed in 1955 after an organisational intermezzo in the shape of the Verband der Unabhängigen (VdU), the victorious allied powers having previously allowed only three parties in Austria, the Social Democrat SPÖ, the Christian Democrat ÖVP and the Communist KPÖ, see L. Höbelt, Von der Vierten Partei zur Dritten Kraft: Die Geschichte des VdU (Graz: Stocker, 1999), and (ed.), Aufstieg und Fall des VdU: Briefe und Protokolle aus privaten Nachlässen, 1948–1955 (Wien: Böhlau, 2015).
 See, for instance, Adom Getachew, Worldmaking after Empire: The Rise and Fall of Self-Determination (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2019); Christopher R. W. Dietrich, Oil Revolution: Anticolonial Elites, Sovereign Rights, and the Economic Culture of Decolonization (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017); Samuel Moyn, Not Enough: Human Rights in an Unequal World (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2018); Quinn Slobodian, Globalists: The End of Empire and the Birth of Neoliberalism (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2018); Daniel Sargent, A Superpower Transformed: The Remaking of American Foreign Relations in the 1970s (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015).
 Whether one drives or outweighs the other remains a point of ongoing IR debates between respective subscribers of democratic and capitalist peace theory. On Spencer, Angell, Schumpeter, and Hobson’s association of free-market capitalism with democracy, see P. J. Cain, “Capitalism, Aristocracy and Empire: Some ‘Classical’ Theories of Imperialism Revisited,” Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History 35:1 (2007): 25-47.
 J. A. Hobson, Imperialism: A Study (New York: J. Pott & Co., 1902).
 Martin Thomas and Andrew Thompson, “Empire and Globalisation: From ‘High Imperialism’ to Decolonisation,” International History Review 36:1 (2014), 157.
 Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America (New York: G. Dearborn, 1838).
 Jeremi Suri, The Impossible Presidency: The Rise and Fall of America’s Highest Office (New York: Basic Books, 2017).
 Peter H. Smith and Melissa R. Ziegler, “Liberal and Illiberal Democracy in Latin America,” Latin American Politics and Society 50:1 (Spring 2008), 31-57.
 Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, translated by Henry Reeve (London: Saunders and Otley, 1835).
 Archie Brown, “Did Gorbachev as Secretary Become a Social Democrat?,” Europe-Asia Studies, 65:2 (2013): 198-220; William Taubman, Gorbachev: His Life and Times (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2017).
 George H. W. Bush, Inaugural Address, 20 January 1989.
 Adam Tooze, Crashed: How a Decade of Financial Crises Changed the World (New York: Penguin Random House, 2018).
 Marcel Gauchet, L'avènement de la démocratie (Vols I-IV) (Paris: Éditions Gallimard, 2007-2017); Heinrich August Winkler, Geschichte des Westens (Vols I-IV) (Munich: C.H. Beck, 2009-2015); Paul Nolte, Was ist Demokratie; Geschichte und Gegenwart (Munich: C.H. Beck, 2012). Nolte is perhaps more of an optimist as well (see his Chapter 9 in particular).
 See the published work and forthcoming book by my colleague Giorgios Varouxakis, “The Godfather of ‘Occidentality’ August Comte and the Idea of ‘the West’,” Modern Intellectual History, 16:2 (August 2019): 411-411.
 Martin Conway, Western Europe’s Democratic Age: 1945-1968 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2020).
 To be sure, the twentieth-century historiographical markers of states, markets, and society have hardly gone away. But they have, as much of the following response is taken up with explaining, been reconfigured. On a similar point see Adam Tooze, “Cruelly Absent Grandeur? Democracy’s Twenty-First Century Histories,” Geschichte und Gesellschaft 44:3 (Juli–September 2018): 466-490.
 See Steven Klein, “Socialism and Freedom: Karl Polanyi’s Early Writings,” Los Angeles Review of Books, 25 January 2019.
 Samuel P. Huntington, The Third Wave: Democratization in the Late Twentieth Century (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1991).
 See also Article 125 of the more recent Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (2007), available at: https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=celex%3A12012E%2FTXT
 See Kelton, S. The Deficit Myth: Modern Monetary Theory and How to Build a Better Economy (London: John Murray, 2020).
 See the “Inventing Democracy” colloquium description at: https://www.wiko-berlin.de/en/fellows/academic-year/2014/bourke-richard.
 Jan-Werner Müller, Contesting Democracy: Political ideas in twentieth century Europe (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011.
 Barry Eichengreen, Exorbitant Privilege: The Rise and Fall of the Dollar and the Future of the International Monetary Regime (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010). See also Quinn Slobodian Globalists: The End of Empire and the Birth of Neoliberalism (Cambridge: Harvard University Press).
 See, for example, Christopher R.W. Dietrich, “Mossadegh Madness: Oil and Sovereignty in the Anticolonial Community,” Humanity: An International Journal of Human Rights, Humanitarianism, and Development 6:1 (2015): 63-78, and Adom Getachew, Worldmaking After Empire: The Rise and Fall of Self-Determination (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2019).
 See here the forthcoming essay by Daniel Steinmetz-Jenkins and Michael Brenes, “The Many Afterlives of Cold War Liberalism” (author’s copy); for a recent account of how the imperial dynamics of US counter-insurgency impact back upon democracy at home (with implications for the street politics of today) see Stuart Schrader, Badges Without Borders: How Global Counterinsurgency Transformed American Policing (Oakland: University of California Press, 2019). The politics of race and “law and order” in Minneapolis, scene of so much violence this year, is something I discus in Chapter One in the context of the white backlash of the 1960s, and the embedding of structural racism within police and local government at large. See too, here, the following helpful thread, drawing on some of his own and other scholar’s work, by Michael Brenes: https://twitter.com/mbrenes1/status/1266610264142733313. On the everywhere war, see Derek Gregory, “The Everywhere War,” The Geographical Journal 177:3 (September 2011): 238-250. As Gregory writes: “Much of the discussion of 9/11 has debated its historical significance, but it is equally important to explore the geographical dimensions of the wars that have been conducted in its shadows … Vulnerabilities are differentially distributed but widely dispersed, and in consequence late modern war is being changed by the slippery spaces through which it is conducted” (238).
 Gerd Rainer Horn, The Spirit Of ’68: Rebellion in Western Europe and North America, 1956-1976 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007). As indeed does Daniel Gordon’s reframing of events in relation to migrant rights struggles recentre the narrative within France: Daniel A. Gordon, Immigrants & Intellectuals: May ’68 and the rise of anti-racism in France (Pontypool: The Merlin Press, 2012).
 This being said, a book such as Emile Chabal’s A Divided Republic: Nation, State and Citizenship in Contemporary France (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015) also widens out its interpretation, within the French context, by shifting attention to the 1970s as the real moment of “fracture” (to borrow Daniel Rodgers’ term).
 Jennifer Pitts, A Turn to Empire: The Rise of Imperial Liberalism in Britain and France (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009), 9.
 Cited in Stephen Erlanger, “British Museum’s Director Follows a Fascination to Germany,” The New York Times, 16 October 2015. The value of a more conscious intellectual empathy is well underscored in Elin Shafak, How to Stay Sane in an Age of Division (London: Profile Books, 2020): “stories bring us together,” as she puts it, “untold stories keep us apart.”
 Claude Lefort, The Political Forms of Modern Society: Bureaucracy, Democracy, Totalitarianism (Boston: MIT Press, 1986). Lefort is – the “philosopher of 1989” as Andrew Arato observed because his concept of democracy enables us to imagine “how one can begin democratically where there is no democracy” and, we might add, reimagined from within. See Andrew Arato, “Lefort: the philosopher of 1989,” Constellations 19:1 (2012): 23-29, at 27. Lefort’s was a lived, embedded, and historical mode of enquiry, with a focus on the experiential as much as the physical structures of liberal democratic politics: one that foregrounds what it means to live in the context of the dissolution of the “markers of certainty that characterised the ancien regime,” as Bernard Flynn puts it, and a task in which, he goes on, “there is not, on the one hand, “experience” and, on the other, theories or philosophies “about experience”; rather, there is an intertwining of the quintessential experience of an epoch with the texts of those authors who are most sensitive to the novel dimensions of the experiences of a given time and place.” See Bernard Flynn, The Philosophy of Claude Lefort: Interpreting the Political (Evanstan, Illinois: Northwestern University Press, 2005), xix. This is one reason that the realm of ideas – intellectuals, yes, but also reigning discourses – is foregrounded in Empire of Democracy.
 On this related framing of “the political” and its relation to our historical grasp of democracy, see Pierre Rosanvallon’s Inaugural Lecture at the Collège de France, Histoire moderne et contemporain du politique, where he writes of the political as both “a field” and “a project” – the latter in particular, representing the ways in which a society – always more than just a “a population” – struggles over “the explicit or implicit rules of what they can share and accomplish in common,” (in Samuel Moyn, ed., Pierre Rosanvallon. Democracy Past and Future (New York: Columbia University Press, 2006), at 32. See also the unredacted version at the Collège de France: https://www.college-de-france.fr/site/pierre-rosanvallon/inaugural-lecture-2002-03-28.htm. Interestingly, Rosanvallon positions his work in this lecture partly in relation to the prior history of “economic and political geography” at the Collège.
 Pierre Rosanvallon, “Democratic Universalism as a Historical Problem,” Constellations 16:4 (December 2009): 539-549, at 547.
 See, for example, work by such scholars such as David Harvey, Neil Smith, and Ray Kiely – parts of which bring nature into the field of analysis far more successfully than I was able to do in Empire of Democracy. David Harvey, “The Geography of Capitalist Accumulation: A Reconstruction of the Marxian Theory,” Antipode 7:2 (1975): 9-21; Neil Smith, Uneven Development: Nature, Capital and the Production of Space (London: Verso, 2010); Ray Kiely, “Spatial Hierarchy and/or Contemporary Geopolitics: What Can and Can’t Uneven and Combined Development Explain?” Cambridge Review of International Affairs, 25:2 (2012): 231-248. Each of these works points us to the global scale dynamics of capitalist accumulation and its manifestation in and through liberal democratic forms.
 I am thinking, for example, of work such as Samuel Moyn and Andrew Sartori (eds) Global Intellectual History (New York: Columbia University Press, 2013) and Paul Nolte (ed) Transatlantic Democracy in the Twentieth Century: Transfer and Transformation (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2016).
 On the “diffracting” of geographical concepts in this way, see Deen Sharp, “Difference as practice: Diffracting geography and the area studies turn,” Progress in Human Geography 43:5 (2018): 835-852.
 Norberto Bobbio, Liberalism and Democracy (London: Verso, 2006), 90.
 Certain of the other reasons for my choosing to push 1989 into the background by virtue of this same periodisation I return to in discussing the comments of Otte below.
 J.A. Hobson, Imperialism: A Study (New York: James Pott & Co, 1902).
 For an account that considers these imperial entwinements in terms of scientific knowledge, for example, see inter alia: Simon Reid-Henry, The Cuban Cure: Reason and Resistance in Global Science (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010); SM Reid-Henry, “The contested spaces of Cuban development: Post-socialism, post-colonialism and the geography of transition,” Geoforum 38:3 (2007): 445-455; and SM Reid-Henry, “Humanitarianism as Liberal Diagnostic: the geography of humanitarian reason and the political rationalities of the liberal will-to-care,” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 39:3 (2013): 418-431.
 Ralph Miliband, Capitalist Democracy in Britain (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982), 1.
 Something that contemporaneous critiques of Miliband’s work, such as by Bob Jessop, explicitly asked for. See his review of Miliband’s work for Marxism Today (April 1983).
 David Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005). Though see also work from outside the Anglo-American academy – such as by Norwegian intellectual historian Ola Morris, which reframes the current crop of neoliberal critiques in light of neoliberalism’s initial, interwar emergence as a critique of liberalism, and an attack on social liberalism in particular. See Ola Morris Innset, Reinventing Liberalism: Early Neoliberalism in Context, 1920-1947, Doctoral Dissertation, European University Institute, Florence.
 See, for example, his nuanced take on the rise of American globalism, in John Thompson, A Sense of Power: The Roots of America’s Global Role (Cornell: Cornell University Press, 2015)
 Mark Mazower, Dark Continent: Europe’s Twentieth Century, new ed. (London: Penguin, 1999), Chapter 9.
 Odd Arne Westad, The Global Cold War (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005).
 Ruti Teitel, Humanity’s Law (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011); Karen Alter, The New Terrain of International Law: Courts, Politics, Rights (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014), Martti Koskenniemi, The Politics of International Law (Oxford: Hart Publishing, 2011). Emmanuel Mourlon-Druol, A Europe Made of Money: The Emergence of the European Monetary System (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2012). Andrew Moravcsik, The Choice for Europe: Social Purpose and State Power from Messina to Maastricht (London: Routledge, 1999).
 Gøsta Esping-Andersen, The Three Worlds of Welfare Capitalism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990)
 Yascha Mounk, The People vs. Democracy (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2018).
 Ian Shapiro and Casiano Hacker-Cordón, eds., Democracy’s Value (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999) and Democracy’s Edges (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999). The quote is from the preface (np). Equally, works such as Jacques Rancière’s Hatred of Democracy (London: Verso, 2006), Peter Mair’s Ruling The Void: The hollowing of western democracy (London: Verso, 2013), and Colin Crouch’s Post-Democracy (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2004) were useful guides.
 See for example: Christof Van Mol and Helga de Valk, “Migration and Immigrants in Europe: A Historical and Demographic Perspective,” in B. Garcés-Mascareñas and R. Penninx, eds., Integration Processes and Policies in Europe. IMISCOE Research Series (Springer, 2016), https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-21674-4_3. See also the OECD Working Paper, “International Migration and the Economic Crisis: Understanding the Links and Shaping Policy Responses” (IMO 2009), https://www.oecd.org/els/mig/46292981.pdf
 See Chris Tilly, “The Impact of the Economic Crisis on International Migration: A Review,” Work, Employment and Society 25:4 (2011): 675-692, at 680. See also Anne Herm and Michel Poulain, “Economic Crisis and International Migration. What the EU Data Reveal?” Revue Européene des Migrations Internationales,” 28:4 (2012): 145-169.
 A case in point: Chapter 15 of Adam Tooze’s Crashed, a brilliant rendering of the global financial crisis, and which Otte cites, contains not a single foreign language source in its 87 footnotes, fully 48 of which are also newspaper or Op Ed pieces. This is no critique of Tooze’s book. Tony Judt’s equally outstanding Postwar contains no notes section in the book at all and is hardly free of the occasional political aside. I do not expect my work to be considered alongside these eminent historians. But judgment is being cast here on the basis of standards that do not in fact exist.
 T.G. Otte, “The Inner Circle: What is Diplomatic History? (And Why We Should Study it): An Inaugural Lecture,” History: The Journal of the Historical Association, 105: 364 (January 2020): 5-27, at 26.
 See Simon Reid-Henry, “Genealogies of Liberal Violence: Human Rights, State Violence and the Police,” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 33:4 (2015): 626-641. Certainly, the importance to democracy of how we organise the economy was not lost on Polanyi. As he wrote in 1935: “Basically, there are two solutions: the extension of the democratic principle from politics to economics, or the abolition of the democratic “political sphere” altogether.” See Karl Polanyi, “The Essence of Fascism,” in John Lewis, Karl Polanyi and Donald K. Kitchin, eds., Christianity and the Social Revolution (London: Victor Gollancz, 1937): 359-394, at 392. In some ways my book tries to explore the many struggles that play out between these two solutions in the post-70s era: how both human rights and property rights regimes alike are tightened, for example. As Polanyi continues in an under-cited part of the above quotation: “neither the one nor the other [of these two solutions] has yet been realised.”
 Gerry Kearns, “Topple The Racists: Decolonising the Space and the Institutional Memory of the University,” Geography 105:3 (Autumn 2020): 116-125, at 119.