*Democracy or Authoritarianism*, Sebnem Gumuscu

5 Absolute Must Read Books About Democracy from 2023



Dec 28, By Justin Kempf

This list is different than most. What sets it apart is not simply that it focuses on books about democracy, but that it looks for ones that will challenge our assumptions and expectations. For those of us who have read extensively about democracy for years, this becomes very difficult. But quite a few scholars do find ways to approach different aspects of democracy in novel ways. They examine concepts in different settings that raise difficult questions that don't have easy answers.

Over the past few years I have found most of the best books on democracy have flown under the radar. This does not mean books about democracy are not popular or do not sell. Liz Cheney's Oath and Honor, Rachel Maddow's Prequel, Heather Cox Richardson's Democracy Awakening and Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt's Tyranny of the Minority were all New York Times Best Sellers this past year. Those are all amazing reads that I highly recommend. However, they did not make my top five (although Prequel came very close).

Like always my list is eclectic. I have included books focused on Central America, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East. Two of the books are historical. Three of the books are from first-time authors. But they all touch on questions about democracy in unconventional ways. For those wondering, the list is not ranked. But you'll find they appeal to different people for different reasons. Still, each one is remarkable in its own way.

Democracy or Authoritarianism

The Middle East is not known as a democratic region, however the Arab Spring allowed for some remarkable scholarship. Sebnem Gumuscu provides an important study of Islamist parties in this volume. Islamist parties have puzzled political observers for years, because they largely embrace elections even though they rarely embrace the liberal values that underpin democracy. However, Gumuscu finds Islamism covers a wide range of political parties and movements. Some like Ennahda in Tunisia embrace liberal values and a more expansive notion of democracy. However, some like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt adopt more majoritarian notions of democracy. They believe elections give them a mandate to put their policies into effect without the need for checks on their power.

Gumuscu argues the difference between the two approaches comes down to political leadership. Islamism is a conservative movement, but its political leadership largely determines whether their parties embrace democratic or authoritarian approaches to governance. But what stands out about her book are the implicit parallels to other political parties. The reader naturally draws connections from Islamist parties to other political parties in the United States or Europe. Islamist parties are not alone in having liberal and majoritarian factions within their membership.

For some this insight is not extraordinary. Political science has long debated about the extent political elites shape political debates. But Gumuscu gives these questions greater urgency through the context of Islamist parties. The Muslim Brotherhood brought down the entire political regime because they refused to compromise. Meanwhile, Ennahda made the necessary agreements to allow democracy to survive in Tunisia for ten years. Ultimately, Gumuscu forces us to consider the difference between mere participation in a democracy and actual contributions to democratic governance.