The Reactionary Spirit

How America's Most Insidious Political Tradition Swept the World

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By Zack Beauchamp

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With keen and original insight, Vox journalist Zack Beauchamp traces how a reactionary antidemocratic ethos born and bred in America has come to infect democracies around the world

There is a fundamental contradiction at the heart of American politics that has endured since our nation’s birth. The defining ideals of democracy and liberty for everyone have always existed uneasily alongside realities of slavery, widespread disenfranchisement, and other grave impediments to true democracy. How has this paradox survived for so long in the face of America’s foundational claim of liberty and justice for all?
In The Reactionary Spirit, Zack Beauchamp explains that this tension is in fact an example of a phenomenon intrinsic to the project of democracy, what he calls the reactionary spirit: as strides towards true democracy are made, there is always a faction that reacts by seeking to undermine them and thereby resist change. The adoption of democratic rhetoric cleverly belies authoritarian ends—a development that is increasingly prevalent today, both at home and abroad.
Brilliantly combining political history and reportage, Beauchamp reveals how the United States was the birthplace of this strange and harrowing authoritarian style, and why we’re now seeing its evolution in diverse nations including Hungary, Israel, and India. These countries in turn provide blueprints for the reactionary spirit domestically, as with Florida governor Ron DeSantis taking pages from Hungarian president Viktor Orbán’s anti-LGBT legislative playbook.
The Reactionary Spirit paints a vivid, alarming picture that illuminates not only what’s happening to democracy globally, but also what we must do to protect it—while we still can.
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On Sale
Jul 16, 2024
Page Count
272 pages

Zack Beauchamp

About the Author

Zack Beauchamp is a senior correspondent at Vox, where he covers challenges to democracy in the United States and abroad, right-wing populism, and the world of ideas. He has received funding awards from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting to report on democratic decline in Israel and Hungary in the field, and was the longtime host of Worldly, Vox’s weekly podcast on foreign policy and international affairs. He has appeared on a wide range of television and radio networks, including MSNBC, CNN, Fox News, BBC, CBC, ABC (Australia), and Al Jazeera.
Before coming to Vox, he edited TP Ideas, a section of ThinkProgress devoted to the ideas shaping our political world. He has an MSc from the London School of Economics in International Relations and grew up in Washington, DC, where he currently lives with his wife, two children, and (rescue) dogs.

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