Historian and journalist Anne Applebaum discussed her new book Feb. 23

About 400 attendees tuned in for the Feb. 23 discussion, “Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Allure of Authoritarianism,” with historian and journalist Anne Applebaum.

Applebaum’s recent book on the topic examines the attraction of autocratic forms of government, especially to intellectuals, all across the Western world.

The conversation was moderated by Tamar Gendler, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Vincent J. Scully Professor of Philosophy and Professor of Psychology and Cognitive Sciences at Yale.

Applebaum kicked off the discussion by sharing why she decided to write a first-person narrative to explore this topic, unlike her past published work.

“I realized that I was living through a moment of historical change that was taking place among people around me. I had a role in the story. So, the book grew out of that observation.”

In recent years, Applebaum says she observed a growing shift toward the radical right and polarization among those in her social circle in Poland, which she attributes to a sense of disappointment with the state of affairs in one’s own country. It’s a trend she has seen play other elsewhere, including in the U.S. and the U.K.

One factor Applebaum points to is the “revolutionary change in the nature of information,” including how we receive information through social media, text messages, advertisements and other sources through our smart phones.

“Information comes in new ways. People are overwhelmed by information,” she said, “How do you sort your way through it? How do you know who’s telling you the truth or not?”

Applebaum also pointed to a decline in trust of one’s political opponents—which leads to a lack of trust in political leaders—as well as an erosion of the standards of civility when debates take place online.

When asked for suggestions on how to reverse this trend, Applebaum called for “big structural changes to democracy,” such as a re-examination of the way we vote in the U.S., economic policies that address inequality, and health care reform.

She also encouraged audience members to become active in their local community organizers. “We all might need to make more of an effort and be more engaged civically,” she said, “whatever your politics are.”

Watch a recording of the discussion