A Question of Order India, Turkey, and the Return of Strongmen
What happens when a democratically elected leader evolves into an authoritarian ruler, limiting press freedom, civil liberties and religious and ethnic tolerance?
India and Turkey are two of the world’s biggest democracies—multi-ethnic nations that rose from their imperial past to be founded on the values of modernity. They have fair elections, open markets, and freedom of religion.
Yet this is an account of how the charismatic strongmen Narendra Modi, in India, and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, in Turkey, used the power they had won as elected heads of state to push their countries toward authoritarian ways.
Journalist Basharat Peer knows only too well how the tyranny of the majority can exact a terrible human toll; it’s a story he told in Curfewed Night, his memoir of growing up in war-torn Kashmir. For this book, Peer spent a year and a half traveling across India and Turkey to bring us this timely, brave report from the front lines of democracy in peril, and to tell the stories of the men and women who have shown courage and endured great suffering because of their love of true democratic traditions.
“In the past year, our focus on the rise of right-wing populism has centered mostly on the West. The British vote for Brexit, the triumph of President Trump, the electoral surge of far-right leaders in Austria, the Netherlands and France—all were seen as part of the phenomenon of Western voters rejecting liberal dogma and turning toward a more aggressive nationalism. But as Basharat Peer, an international opinion editor at the New York Times, notes in his new book, you can't consider the broader appeal of ‘majoritarian’ politics without looking further east.” —Ishaan Tharoor, Washington Post
“Peer’s illuminating little book provides a ground-level account of this phenomenon in India and Turkey, revealing striking parallels between the two cases.... With a keen journalist’s eye, Peer observes how various kinds of people—politicians, shopkeepers, intellectuals—experience these regime transitions. He finds that the most profound change is also the most subtle: a slow and sometimes imperceptible erosion of civic culture and political norms that undermines the democratic spirit.” —G. John Ikenberry, Foreign Affairs
“In the midst of a complex global story of democratically-elected autocrats, Basharat Peer makes sense of what is going on in both countries.... A very timely and important book.” —Alex Cacioppo, Huffington Post
“India is frequently described as the world’s largest democracy, thus leaving the impression that the country has nothing in common with a place like Turkey. In just the past year, the latter has weathered an attempted coup, a large-scale purging of key institutions by the ruling regime, and a president who seems increasingly unstable. But as Basharat Peer makes clear in his new book, A Question of Order, the two places have more similarities than you might think.” —Isaac Chotiner, Slate
“Hobsbawm would have approved of this new book by Basharat Peer.... Peer’s analysis of how these two strongmen have risen to supreme power in their respective countries is incisive and compelling.” —David Kaye, Los Angeles Review of Books
“One thing we need now more than ever is intelligent, accessible, lively writing that is rooted in careful research and solid reasoning and engages with varied issues and parts of the world.... Basharat Peer’s A Question of Order ... lived up to each of the stated aims of the series.” —Jeffrey Wasserstrom, National Book Review
“An impressive and sharply written book. Peer quotes Isaiah Berlin: ‘Freedom for the wolves has often meant death to the sheep.’ Recent events in democracies of both East and West are stirring fears of destructive majoritarianism. Strongmen everywhere are rediscovering ‘the art of converting citizens’ fears and insecurities into electoral support. This timely book sounds an ominous warning.” —William Armstrong, Hürriyet Daily News
“Basharat Peer’s new book is impeccably timed. Amid all this loose talk of an authoritarian wave, an in-depth comparison of two oft-cited cases is welcome.” —Marc Edward Hoffman, Bookforum
“A knowledgeable journalist astutely delineates a troubling global move toward the right wing.” —Kirkus Reviews
In conversation with Joanne Myers, former director of the Carnegie Public Affairs Program — Carnegie Council
In conversation with New America NYC and The India Center Foundation — New America
About the author
Basharat Peer is an opinion editor at The New York Times. His memoir, Curfewed Night (2010), won India’s Crossword Award for Non-Fiction, and was chosen as a Book of the Year by both The New Yorker and The Economist. He has been an editor at Foreign Affairs and The New York Times’ India Ink blog, and has written for The New Yorker, Granta, Foreign Affairs, The Guardian, n+1, and The New York Times. @BasharatPeer