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Some democracies are highly homogeneous. Others have long maintained a brutal racial or religious hierarchy, with some groups dominating and exploiting others. Never in history has a democracy succeeded in being both diverse and equal, treating members of many different ethnic or religious groups fairly. And yet achieving that goal is now central to the democratic project in countries around the world. It is, Yascha Mounk argues, the greatest experiment of our time. Drawing on history, social psychology, and comparative politics, Mounk examines how diverse societies have long suffered from the ills of domination, fragmentation, or structured anarchy. So it is hardly surprising that most people are now deeply pessimistic that different groups might be able to integrate in harmony, celebrating their differences without essentializing them. But Mounk shows us that the past can offer crucial insights for how to do better in the future. There is real reason for hope.
The Great Experiment is that rare book that offers both a profound understanding of an urgent problem and genuine hope for our human capacity to solve it. As Mounk contends, giving up on the prospects of building fair and thriving diverse democracies is simply not an option--and that is why we must strive to realize a more ambitious vision for the future of our societies.
Yascha Mounk is a writer and academic known for his work on the rise of populism and the crisis of liberal democracy. Born in Germany to Polish parents, Mounk received his BA in history from Trinity College, University of Cambridge, and his PhD in government from Harvard University. He is now a Professor of the Practice of International Affairs at Johns Hopkins University and the founder of Persuasion. Mounk is also a contributing editor at The Atlantic and a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Anne Applebaum's 2018 Atlantic article "A Warning from Europe" inspired this book and was a finalist for a National Magazine Award. After seventeen years as a columnist at The Washington Post, Applebaum became a staff writer at The Atlantic in 2020. She is the author of three critically acclaimed and award-winning histories of the Soviet Union: Red Famine, Iron Curtain, and Gulag, winner of the Pulitzer Prize. Her most recent release is Twilight of Democracy.