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The New Despotism


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John Keane is Professor of Politics at the University of Sydney and at the Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin (WZB). He is renowned globally for his creative thinking about democracy. Among his best-known books are When Trees Fall, Monkeys Scatter; Power and Humility: The Future of Monitory Democracy; and the highly acclaimed full-scale history The Life and Death of Democracy.


Keane insists that only by dissecting the new despotism's supple, but no less shady, political techniques can we understand how it renders its subjects compliant and seemingly grateful...Rich and insightful...stands out as a major contribution to contemporary debates about democracy's prospects. He paints an unnerving portrait of a possible global future in which democracy, in any defensible sense of the term, has been demoted and marginalized. -- William E. Scheuerman * Boston Review *
A brilliant re-interpretation of tyranny...There's scarcely a reader anywhere in the Western world who won't read Keane's description of this new form of tyranny without a cold chill of recognition and perhaps the fear that all this insight comes too late to help...Stands out at once as a vital book for the times. -- Steve Donoghue * Open Letters Review *
Keane...has long been one of the world's most erudite, original, astute, and passionate students of democratic politics. With this latest offering he injects one hell of a scary book into an already frenzied world...Keane's core message is clear: we democrats may abhor these new despotisms, but we cannot afford to underestimate them...Demand[s] us to stop and take a good look at what is going on around us. -- Paul 't Hart * Inside Story *
If you ever held the assumption that despotic regimes are old-fashioned, technologically 'backwards' countries, where old men rule over poor and uneducated people, you are in for a ride...This book will undoubtedly shift the analytical lens through which we view despotic regimes...The new despotism is less prone to implosions reminiscent of the Soviet Union or breakdowns as witnessed in Latin America. If it is that durable, it constitutes an attractive alternative to liberal democracy. This means that the self-regard, the feeling of invincibility and the arguable complacency of such democracies are misplaced. You have been warned. -- Gergana Dimova * LSE Review of Books *
[A] dire and sweeping assessment...Despotism, [Keane] warns, could be the future of democracy if people don't wake up and confront the threat. -- Colin Woodward * Washington Monthly *
Important because it brings an acute understanding of democracy to focus on its potential fate...[Keane] makes a strong case in The New Despotism for the urgent need to understand this global trend...Offers not just a lively argument with numerous examples, and a rich assembly of sources through detailed endnotes, but also a writing style that commands attention. -- Glyn Davis * Australian Book Review *
This new political world is brilliantly described...His definition of the changing contours of democracy is so startling...Keane teases out the way despots-although they call themselves leaders-subvert democracy to seize power and then subvert the structures of the state to hold it. They rule not as ruthless autocrats but rather by co-opting 'the people' to buttress and strengthen their power. -- Nicholas Stuart * Canberra Times *
An original and incisive analysis of the rise of demagogue-style leaders across large parts of the world today. New-style despotism, the author shows, is distinctive to our age-less openly violent than that of the past, but more insidious, posing a threat not just in less-developed parts of the world but to the established democracies. -- Anthony Giddens, Member of the House of Lords, United Kingdom, and Fellow of King's College, Cambridge
Keane's short book The New Despotism-drily filleting the new threats to liberal democracy-is essential. * Australian Book Review *
In these dark times for democracy, the books of John Keane bring new light, refreshing perspectives, and what we need most: hope. -- Enrique Krauze, author of Mexico: Biography of Power and Redeemers: Ideas and Power in Latin America
John Keane is right to see his book as Machiavelli's Prince for our times. His thesis that 'despotisms are top-down pyramids of power that defy political gravity by nurturing the willing subservience and docility of their subjects' is a caution for all times. -- Patricia Springborg, Centre for British Studies, Humboldt University, Berlin
In his new book, John Keane, one of the world's prominent political theorists, forcefully argues that what we witness today is not simply a crisis of democracy or the return of authoritarianism but the emergence of a new type of despotism that is more effective, more subtle, and less crazy than the despotic regimes we know-and because of this, more dangerous. -- Ivan Krastev, Permanent Fellow, Institute for Human Sciences (IWM), Vienna
Keane's key point is that today's despotic states aren't some kind of hybrid regime on the way to democracy, or in transition or fragile. They are a new type of political rule that's here to stay and may even live on after the collapse of Western democracies. -- Ditte Maria Brasso Sorensen * Dagbladet Information *
Explores how populist leaders across the globe are holding sway on their 'subjects,' and offers ideas for challenging the new despots...A seminal analysis of the aberrations of democracy and the rise of what he calls 'the new despotism.'...Drawing on his sustained engagement with democratic institutions, Keane delineates the contours of contemporary changes in a compelling manner...The linchpin of this novel form of despotism, Keane maintains, is voluntary servitude. -- Badrinath Rao * The Wire *

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