...[an] insightful and harrowing new book ... this volume sometimes tries to cover too much in too little space, but it’s timely and informed, providing an important overview of the dynamics in an increasingly interconnected and fragmented planet ... Luce’s conclusions are pessimistic but not entirely devoid of hope. 'The West’s crisis is real, structural and likely to persist,' he writes. 'Nothing is inevitable. Some of what ails the West is within our power to fix.' Doing so means rejecting complacency about democracy and our system’s resilience, and 'understanding exactly how we got here.' Luce’s book is one good place to start.
Hardly a revelation, Mr. Luce’s book is instead a compendium of telling anecdotes that enrich our understanding of a long-term trend. In this sense, Mr. Luce offers a useful wake-up call to elites, urging them to focus on the very real struggles of America’s besieged middle class before we all lose the freedom and democracy we cherish. If he doesn’t have all the answers, at least he’s asking the right questions in this concise, accessible and valuable work.
The Retreat of Western Liberalism is really an extended essay, and it meanders a bit without getting too absorbed by any one issue. Luce writes in fluid prose, moving from a telling statistic to a striking quotation. Throughout, one is struck by his command of the material and the acuity of his prose — he is unsparing in his condemnation of the elites who didn’t see this coming, too absorbed in their own bubble, too confident of their smart strategies ... The West faces many problems, and Luce outlines them vividly. But it has enormous reserves of wealth, talent and energy with which to solve them. Luce adumbrates some solutions himself, in a thin last chapter, and they are familiar variants of the center-left agenda— smarter redistribution, better retraining, etc. The important point, however, is that good policies do work. Instead of viewing the entire West as being overwhelmed by a tsunami of right-wing populism, we might step back and study countries separately.