This vision of progress juxtaposes oddly with the first part of the book, which describes how previous attempts at diverse democracy all apparently devolved into petty and violent wreckage ... For the many social scientists who have been studying diversity and democracy for decades, the claim that we are undertaking a 'disorienting transformation' that is 'without precedent' may seem odd ... In such a widening gyre, Mounk’s calm mix of storytelling, political theory and social psychology exegesis, peppered with some charming insights, has a comforting seriousness...Yet for a book that is supposedly about 'diverse democracies,' the actual institutions of democracy — elections, political parties and above all, power — are surprisingly peripheral ... In his more noble theorizing, Mounk grasps the key point that our best hope involves getting past the simplistic majority-minority dichotomy that dominates so much of the discourse. We should embrace complexity and avoid essentialism. But the big question remains: How?
The Great Experiment promises to show us 'how to make diverse democracies work', but contains very few actual policy proposals. For the most part it’s a mishmash of general principles, political truisms and syrupy platitudes, delivered in a register somewhere between a TED talk and an undergraduate dissertation. Mounk draws on social psychology to tell us what we already know ... These underwhelming insights are interspersed with snippets of recent world history...to remind us of what is at stake. Mounk also delves further into the past, sometimes to bizarre effect ... This brings us to the central paradox at the heart of The Great Experiment. Mounk is broadly in favour of diversity and has no quarrel with it; he knows that, notwithstanding the gains made by populist politicians in many western nations in recent years, the status quo is not under imminent threat and, despite some friction here and there, the social fabric is bearing up. But in order to position his book as an urgent and relevant intervention, he has to play up the scale of demographic change and its potential impact on social cohesion in the longer run ... In fairness, he does make some good observations along the way. He stresses the importance of protecting members of tight-knit religious communities from coercion within their group, and advocates cultivating a progressive civic patriotism in order to undercut the appeal of ethnic nationalism ... The defining feature of The Great Experiment is its vagueness ... Who is this book for? Why does it exist? A first-year politics student or Blue Labour thinktanker might conceivably find some use for it, but it has little to offer the informed reader.
... [an] academic treatise that may actually have influence in the arena of practical politics ... passionate and personal ... accessible ... Mounk comes to a more inspiring and unexpected conclusion: He makes the case for optimism.
Mounk is right that the stakes are high and that the future of this project is uncertain. It’s unfortunate, then, that The Great Experiment offers so little meaningful guidance or new insight. Pious and relentlessly superficial, this is a book motivated by feelings more than facts, grounded in single anecdotes, and positioned against a blurry sense of the discourse rather than specific claims or critics or events. This doesn’t make for a very persuasive intellectual intervention, though it’s a killer psychological one. Mounk flatters his liberal readers that it’s now unfashionable and even brave to believe publicly in multicultural democracy—and that by expressing their distaste for cancel culture or 'woke' politics, they have become diverse democracy’s most gallant defenders. But is it? And are they? ... Between poisonous white supremacy on the one hand and downbeat talk about historical and structural racism on the other, Mounk thinks we need a more positive, optimistic take on what diverse democracy can achieve, a reminder of our purpose and destination. Most of the book is spent describing (and redescribing and redescribing) this democratic North Star. Presented as an edgy and even daring recommitment, it is banal to the extreme ... Mounk’s road map to this future state is underwhelming ... The fatal flaw of Mounk’s book, as well as the source of its fundamental unseriousness, is that it relies on an ungenerous and false depiction of what left-wing politicians, activists, and intellectuals hope the future will look like...invites readers to smugly believe that leftists actively desire an unpleasant and misanthropic future in which progress and solidarity have become well-nigh impossible, sacrificed to the satisfaction of woke righteousness and cancel culture...This vision does indeed sound dystopian, so severe and unappealing that you might fairly wonder if it were invented for the sake of argument ... It’s hard not to think that Mounk has written a book that is shaped a little too much by Twitter; that he is reacting to his online sense of which voices 'dominate the discourse' rather than engaging with a real debate ... More seriously, however, there’s an unhelpful slippage at the heart of Mounk’s depiction of the woke left. The raison d’être of this book is to respond courageously to pessimism about democracy’s future and resist a diversity discourse that denies the potential for any progress. But Mounk has actually manufactured that pessimism for himself, by conflating the left’s criticism of past and present with its alleged fatalism about the future ... The dangerous moment is when that spine-straightening impulse slips beyond sanctimony into the conviction that only you are interested in building a better world; that others want something deliberately darker. Because Mounk’s view is righteous and pugilistic and also utterly blasé, it will feed the impression among liberals that only they still want nice things; that the left has given up, not only on the means with which they are familiar, but on the end itself—a flourishing, peaceful, and cooperative multicultural democracy. This is not true. But if liberals like Mounk behave as though it were, it will indeed be difficult to make our diverse democracies endure.
Hopeful ... Writing with insight, nuance, and sympathy to all sides, Mounk stakes out moderate positions—for instance, he argues that borders secure from illegal crossings can reconcile citizens to large-scale migration—that will please neither of the extremes in the culture wars over demographic change. This perceptive account stakes out a firm middle ground.