The political history of the twentieth century can be viewed asthe history of democracy’s struggle against its externalenemies: fascism and communism. This struggle ended with the fallof the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet regime. Somepeople think that democracy now faces new enemies: Islamicfundamentalism, religious extremism and internationalterrorism and that this is the struggle that will define ourtimes. Todorov disagrees: the biggest threat to democracy today isdemocracy itself. Its enemies are within: what the ancient Greekscalled 'hubris'.
Todorov argues that certain democratic values have beendistorted and pushed to an extreme that serves the interests ofdominant states and powerful individuals. In the name of‘democracy’ and ‘human rights’, the UnitedStates and some European countries have embarked on a crusade toenlighten some foreign populations through the use of force. Yetthis mission to ‘help’ others has led to Abu Ghraib andGuantanamo, to large-scale destruction and loss of life and to amoral crisis of growing proportions. The defence of freedom, ifunlimited, can lead to the tyranny of individuals.
Drawing on recent history as well as his own experience ofgrowing up in a totalitarian regime, Todorov returns to examplesborrowed from the Western canon: from a dispute between Augustineand Pelagius to the fierce debates among Enlightenmentthinkers to explore the origin of these perversions ofdemocracy. He argues compellingly that the real democratic ideal isto be found in the delicate, ever-changing balance betweencompeting principles, popular sovereignty, freedom and progress.When one of these elements breaks free and turns into anover-riding principle, it becomes dangerous: populism,ultra-liberalism and messianism, the inner enemies ofdemocracy.