The wisest words I have seen in 2020 about the world’s advanced democracies came from a spook. Alex Younger, the departing head of the UK’s Secret Intelligence Service (, warned against overreaction to the efforts of Russia and others to subvert western societies. Of course, agencies such as his must counter such operations. But the problems do not begin or end in Moscow.

Democracy’s retreat is a favoured narrative of our times. You can see why. Wherever one looks, self-styled “strongman” leaders are scorning liberal values. The forward march of democracy of the early post-cold war era has become a retreat. Unabashed authoritarians such as Russia’s Vladimir Putin and China’s Xi Jinping have been joined by illiberal nationalists in the mould of Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan and India’s Narendra Modi...

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