In Twilight of Democracy, Anne Applebaum charts the fracturing of the Transatlantic right. The book is part-memoir, part-polemic. Over the past 20 years, the conservative movement has split into two factions, Applebaum contends: traditional neoliberals, who believe in free-markets, democratic institutions, and the rule of law, and populists, who thrive on division, confusion, and nationalist paranoia.

Applebaum – a journalist and academic based, variously, in Poland, Britain, and the US – belongs firmly to the first faction. A veteran contributor to the Spectator, Sunday Times, and Washington Post, she has enjoyed ringside access to rightwing elites for decades. Until recently, she was on good terms with Boris Johnson, a man she now describes as an “all-consuming” narcissist with a “penchant for fabrication.” (“Nobody serious wants to leave the EU,” she quotes the future prime minister as saying in 2014. “Business doesn’t want it. The City doesn’t want it. It won’t happen.”) In 2008, she broke with the Republican Party after John McCain added Sarah Palin – “a proto-Trump” – to his presidential ticket. McCain “never spoke to me again,” she writes. In Poland, Applebaum and her husband, the politician Radek Sikorski, have become targets of anti-Semitic propaganda linked to the country’s ruling Law and Justice Party. “Whether I like it or not, I am part of this story,” she laments.

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Modern Scottish nationalism was born in the pages of the New Left Review, sometime in the mid-1960s.

That’s the bold claim at the heart of Ben Jackson’s excellent new book, which traces the intellectual origins of contemporary nationalist politics through the work of writers like Tom Nairn, Neal Ascherson, George Kerevan, Isobel Lindsay, and my own late dad, Stephen Maxwell. 

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Compared to the sweeping liberal romanticism of Barack Obama and the raw political cynicism of Bill Clinton, Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. is a void. There is simply nothing there. The figure that emerges from Yesterday’s Man — Branko Marcetic’s biting profile of the former senator and vice president, and now presumptive Democratic presidential nominee — doesn’t have a transformative national vision or an eye-catching policy platform or even a particularly interesting personal backstory to sell. At some point in the early 1970s, Biden decided that American elections were won and lost in the dead centre of the ideological spectrum — and that is precisely where he has stayed for the full span of his 50-year political career.

As Marcetic — a staff writer at Jacobin magazine — argues, being a centrist in American politics doesn’t make you a moderate. It just means that you’re prepared to strike legislative compromises with the hard-right, or with uniquely predatory forms of capital, in order to burnish your institutional credentials. Biden has done this time and time again in the US Senate, to the extent that ‘working across the aisle’ in a ‘bipartisan fashion’ is all that meaningfully exists of the 77-year-old’s political identity.

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Climate change has traditionally been a cause for the left. In recent years, the right has begun to take it seriously, too. “Borders are the environment’s greatest ally,” Jordan Bardella, a spokesman for France’s ultra-conservative National Rally party, remarked last year. “It is through them that we will save the planet.”

In his new book, Climate Change And The Nation State, the journalist Anatol Lieven develops a response to the environmental crisis that draws on both the radical social democracy of Bernie Sanders’ Green New Deal and the burgeoning ‘eco-nationalism’ of European populists.

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Last year, following an exhaustive 22-month investigation, Special Counsel Robert Mueller concluded that Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election had been “sweeping and systematic.” In her new book, Blowout, the American journalist and MSNBC anchor Rachel Maddow argues that oil was the key motivating factor behind Moscow’s 2016 strategy.

According to Maddow, Vladimir Putin wanted someone in the White House who would lift the economic sanctions imposed on Russia by the West following the Kremlin’s illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014. Those sanctions scuppered a deal agreed two years earlier between Putin and the US energy giant ExxonMobil that would’ve opened up Russia’s Arctic territories to new oil and gas exploration projects. Hillary Clinton, a long-time foreign policy hawk and critic of the Putin regime, was never going to reverse Washington’s adversarial stance towards Russia; Donald Trump, a combustive reality TV star with a notorious weak spot for flattery, just might.

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The late Alasdair Gray is widely believed to be the author of the unofficial slogan of Scottish nationalism: ‘Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation.’ In fact, the line was paraphrased from the Canadian poet Dennis Lee, who wrote in his 1972 poem Civil Elegies: ‘And best of all is finding a place to be / in the early days of a better civilization.’ To be fair, Gray never tried to disguise where the expression had come from. ‘I have always attributed it to [Lee],’ he once said. ‘But people started quoting it as if I had invented it’.

In The Literary Politics Of Scottish Devolution: Voice, Class, Nation, Scott Hames — a lecturer in English Studies at Stirling University — examines how Scottish cultural luminaries like Gray have shaped our national political discourse, both consciously and unconsciously, over the past half century.

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Last year, reacting to the Trump administration’s practice of putting kids in cages on the US – Mexico border, advocates of immigration reform in America adopted a new slogan: “The cruelty is the point.” Those words kept coming back to me as I was reading The Windrush Betrayal: Exposing The Hostile Environment, Amelia Gentleman’s bracing new account of the immigration scandal that rocked Britain and shamed Theresa May’s government.

According to Gentleman — a Guardian journalist whose dogged investigative work broke the story in 2017 and 2018 — Windrush “wasn’t a mistake.” “It was the direct consequence of a harsh set of policies designed to bring down immigration numbers by ejecting people from Britain, and by making life intolerable for anyone without documents,” she writes. 

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In his new book, Clear Bright Future: A Radical Defence of the Human Being, Paul Mason, the former BBC journalist turned roving political commentator, presents a vision of humanity under siege. He identifies four distinct but related threats: the rapid advance of artificial intelligence, coupled with the vast, unaccountable tech monopolies that administer it; neoliberal economics and the adjoining “cult” of free-market competition; the rise of the authoritarian right, as embodied in the politics of Donald Trump and other populist strongmen; and academic post-modernism, which has steadily undermined public support for scientific inquiry and the legacy of the Enlightenment.

If you think this sounds like a lot to pack into 300 pages, you’d be right: it is. Mason shifts frenetically from one theme to the next, stringing together references from popular culture, political philosophy, tech science, and neurology, as well as drawing on his own experiences as a reporter in the US, Europe, and the Middle East. He has a habit of lunging into distracting tangents: an entire chapter on the worldview of Xi Jin Ping, the general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, for instance, could’ve been better summarised in a few short paragraphs. But for the most part, his bracing premise—that human freedom will either thrive as a result of the Fourth Industrial Revolution or be obliterated by it—survives his anarchic writing style.

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Last year, a poll by the research company Gallup revealed that 51 per cent of millennials in America had a “positive” view of socialism, while less than half—45 per cent, to be exact—viewed capitalism favourably. A slew of additional data suggests that American voters at large are ready to embrace far-reaching political change.

70 per cent support universal healthcare. 60 per cent back free college tuition. 46 per cent think the government should offer a job to unemployed citizens. And a majority want the minimum wage to be raised to at least $15 per hour.

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In the years leading up to the 2008 financial crash, an influential section of the American political class became convinced that a major economic crisis was on its way.

Serious Washington players like Robert Rubin, who served as head of Bill Clinton’s National Economic Council from 1993 to 1995, Peter Orszag, another heavyweight Clintonite economist, and Larry Summers, Clinton’s Treasury Secretary between 1999 and 2001, all raised the alarm.

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Gordon Brown’s first act after he became Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1997 was to grant the Bank of England operational independence.

The move was meant to signal a newfound pragmatism in Labour’s approach to the economy – no more reckless spending, no more excessive borrowing, no more outlandish leftwing demands for full employment. Instead, in stark contrast to the behaviour of previous Labour governments, the Blair-Brown administration would be a responsible steward of Britain’s national finances.

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