The Confidence Trap: A History of Democracy in Crisis from World War I to the Present.

AuthorKnox, Allison G. S.
PositionBook review

Runciman, David. The Confidence Trap: A History of Democracy in Crisis from World War I to the Present. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2013. 397 pages, $14.95.

The Confidence Trap: A History of Democracy in Crisis from World War I to the Present is a fascinating discussion of democracy and society, particularly in the twentieth century. Runciman's argument is constructed from the notion that the very things that make democracies so successful are the same issues that make "democracies go wrong" (p. xv). Runciman takes the reader through an intellectual discussion of several periods of the twentieth century, highlighting the positive and negative attributes of a democracy when it comes to handling a multitude of political issues that include war, the environment, international political rivalries, and economy. Runciman principally approaches these dilemmas through the lens of the writings of Alexis de Tocqueville, making the book an intriguing historical review of the twentieth century--one especially notable for its political turbulence.

Runciman's book is constructed in a particularly interesting manner. Utilizing Tocqueville's arguments as a lens, Runciman examines political crises that occurred during several important years including 1918, 1933, 1947, 1962, 1974, 1989, and 2008 (p. xix). Of course, these years are recognizable as particular moments of tumult in international politics. Through his review of democracies, and their response to these crises, Runciman highlights a number of important themes in the social sciences--threads that touch on organizational theory, society's influence on the political system, and the cyclical nature of politics, showing that democracies react in both positive and negative ways when they are faced with particularly difficult challenges like war or economic blunders.

Drawing on Tocqueville's work offers an interesting intellectual approach in Runciman's book. Runciman builds on Tocqueville's assertion that, "[he] was afraid that confidence in democracy would prove to be a trap" (p. 11). Runciman also wrote that Tocqueville "discussed the dangers of the tyranny of the majority, which makes democracies impatient and vengeful" (p. 14). This discussion would be an interesting piece as Runciman examines the twentieth century and the various political crises that occurred.

Runciman also builds on the assertions of political scientists as he examines the various crises in the twentieth...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT