Putting the current crisis of democracy into historical perspective, Death by a Thousand Cuts chronicles how would-be despots, dictators, and outright tyrants have finessed the techniques of killing democracies earlier in history, in the 20th Century, and how today’s autocrats increasingly continue to do so in the 21st. It shows how autocratic government becomes a kleptocracy, sustained only to enrich the ruler and his immediate family. But the book also addresses the problems of being a dictator and considers if dictatorships are successful in delivering public policies, and finally, how autocracies break down.
We tend to think of democratic breakdowns as dramatic events, such as General Pinochet’s violent coup in Chile, or Generalissimo Franco’s overthrow of the Spanish Republic. But this is not how democracies tend to die – only five percent of democracies end like this. Most often, popular government is brought down gradually; almost imperceptibly. Based in part on Professor Qvortrup’s BBC Programme Death by a Thousand Cuts (Radio-4, 2019), the book shows how complacency is the greatest danger for the survival of government by the people. Recently democratically elected politicians have used crises as a pretext for dismantling democracy. They follow a pattern we have seen in all democracies since the dawn of civilisation. The methods used by Octavian in the dying days of the Roman Republic were almost identical to those used by Hungarian strongman Viktor Orbán in 2020. And, sadly, there are no signs that the current malaise will go away.
Death by a Thousand Cuts adds substance to a much-discussed topic: the threat to democracy. It provides evidence and historical context like no other book on the market. Written in an accessible style with vignettes as well as new empirical data, the books promises to be the defining book on the topic. This book will help readers who are concerned about the longevity of democracy understand when and why democracy is in danger of collapsing, and alert them to the warning signs of its demise.