Over the course of this year, there has been no shortage of attempts to make sense of our predicament and its historical roots. Recent commentators have variously looked back to the 1930s for analogies with the present, pointed to the effects of the 2008 economic crash, or tried to pin the blame on the rise of postmodern theory since the 1960s.
In her short, sharp book, the historian Sophia Rosenfeld takes a longer and deeper view. Her argument is that, ever since its origins in the late 18th century, modern democracy has had a peculiar relationship to truth: the current crisis merely epitomises that. We shouldn’t focus only on external causes, for our system of government carries within it the seeds of its own destruction. As in her previous work on the twisted history of democratic political rhetoric, it’s a simultaneously reassuring and unsettling message.