Europe’s democracies are in trouble. To understand why, look to the past

Henry Farrell interviews Sheri Berman over at the Washington Post:

H.F. — Why is it difficult to construct well-functioning liberal democracy?

S.B. — Another theme of “Democracy and Dictatorship” is that liberal democracy is so rare and difficult because it requires not only transforming political institutions, but also overcoming the anti-democratic and illiberal economic and social legacies of the old order. And this often requires violence, even war, to achieve.

This was true, for example, of the modern era’s first political revolution — the French — which did away with the political and legal infrastructure of the ancien régime in France. “Democracy and Dictatorship” then analyzes how the First World War permanently eliminated the old order’s political infrastructure — monarchical dictatorships and continental empires — from the rest of Europe, but it took fascism, national socialism and the Second World War to eradicate most of its remaining social and economic legacies.

This was particularly clear and particularly consequential in Germany. The Nazi regime finally pushed aside conservative Junker elites and established civilian control over the military. The regime also broke down the rigid status hierarchies that had long defined German society. The war’s aftermath then forced ethnic Germans from their traditional homelands in Eastern and Central Europe, eliminating a long-standing cause of conflict from the region, and making borders and peoples coincide across it more than they ever had before. Germany and Austria, in particular, became the home of essentially all of Europe’s Germans after 1945, finally fulfilling the goal proclaimed by German nationalists in 1848.

More here.