The Revenge of Power | Moisés Naím

Summary of: The Revenge of Power: The Global Assault on Democracy and How to Defeat It
By: Moisés Naím


In ‘The Revenge of Power: The Global Assault on Democracy and How to Defeat It,’ Moisés Naím explores the rise of populism and the tactics employed by modern autocrats like Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, and Hugo Chavez. Drawing on historical examples and contemporary case studies, Naím brings to light the methods these leaders use to gain and consolidate power, undermine democratic checks and balances, and manipulate the rule of law. From embracing malevolent narratives to the powerful use of media and celebrity, today’s autocrats employ a range of tactics to subvert democratic norms for their own gain. Dive into this insightful summary to uncover how these modern-day dictators operate, and what can be done to safeguard democracy in an increasingly dangerous global landscape.

The Rise of Populist Autocrats

In his book, scholar Moisés Naím uncovers how authoritarian leaders present themselves as heroes of the people. Naím strongly argues that democracies can only withstand the threat of autocracy by actively opposing each step it takes. This eye-opening and thought-provoking study sheds light on the growing trend of populism and its potential dangers to democratic societies worldwide.

The New Threat to Free Societies

Demagogues are a new type of autocrat who feign democracy while dismantling its institutions and suppressing dissent. In “The End of Power,” Naím argues that figures such as Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, as well as leaders in Hungary, Venezuela and the Philippines, share a willingness to lie and ignore democratic norms. Once in power, they subvert democracy’s bedrock: checks and balances. Democracies must protect their institutions to prevent the consolidation of autocratic power. The new threat to free societies is a wave of authoritarianism that upholds democratic principles only as a facade.

Autocratic Strategies for Absolute Power

The rise of 3P autocrats depends on their ability to bypass political checks on their power. They use fear-mongering to paint the establishment as corrupted, depict immigrants as malevolent and glorify military force. They undermine experts and academics while promoting ignorance, attack the media and use identity politics to demonize the “Other.” Trump, Putin, and Morales represent autocratic leaders who have used different tactics to stay in power, from ignoring constitutional limits to manipulating the legal system. Pseudolaw is a form of legalism that uses the outward appearance of the rule of law to enable antidemocratic actions. Naím gives examples of this strategy employed by autocrats such as Trump, who ordered parcel rates be increased for Amazon, and Orban, who forced the Central European University out of Hungary. This book shows how autocrats seek absolute power by attacking democratic institutions and freedoms, and how they must be prevented from achieving their goals.

The Dark Side of Populism

The autocratic populist, as explained by Naím, manipulates the rule of law and separation of powers while creating a fan base that undyingly supports them. History shows that cultlike leaders leverage their charisma to gain power, and modern autocrats incorporate celebrity-like strategies to gain public support. Trump understood this and used it to his advantage during his presidential campaign by hiring paid actors to wear his merchandise. The spread of populism is perilous, and Trump’s era punctured Americans’ complacency about it.

Berlusconi: From Media Mogul to Prime Minister

The book details the political rise of media mogul, Berlusconi, who translated his business success to the political arena by running for prime minister in 1994. In his campaign, Berlusconi simplified complex political issues and made fun of judges while becoming a dominant figure on Italy’s airwaves. His unique approach paved the way for other modern-day leaders, including Trump, to follow suit. Despite encountering legal problems, Berlusconi’s influence endures as a pioneer in modern-day politics.

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