The Light that Failed

A Reckoning

Ivan Krastev, Stephen Holmes

October 2019 Original publisher: Penguin Press UK (World English)Current Affairs

On behalf of: Toby Mundy Associates

Why did the West, after winning the Cold War, lose its political balance?

In the early 90s, hopes for the eastward spread of liberal democracy were high. And yet the transformation of Eastern European countries gave rise to a bitter repudiation of liberalism itself, not only in the East but also back in the heartland of the West. The geopolitical stage seemed set for a performance of Pygmalion but we ended up seeing a version of Frankenstein.

In this brilliant work of political psychology, Ivan Krastev and Stephen Holmes argue that the supposed end of history turned out to be only the beginning of an Age of Imitation. Reckoning with the history of the last thirty years, they show that the most powerful force behind the wave of populist xenophobia that began in Eastern Europe stems from resentment at the post-1989 imperative to become Westernized.

Through this prism, the Trump revolution represents an ironic fulfillment of the over-optimistic promise made at the end of the Cold War that the nations exiting from communist rule would come to resemble the United States. In a strange twist, Trump has elevated Putin’s Russia and Orbán’s Hungary into models for the United States.

Written by two pre-eminent intellectuals bridging the East/West divide, The Light that Failed is a landmark book that sheds light on the extraordinary history of our Age of Imitation.


‘Ivan Krastev and Stephen Holmes have written a bracing analysis of post Cold War politics, upending cherished assumptions and forcing us to look afresh at the complex dialectic of liberalism and illiberalism.’ -George Soros

‘This is a book about imitation by a couple of utterly inimitable authors. It is the most original explanation of the self-destruction of the liberal West as universal utopia. Its analysis is rooted in an unparalleled understanding of the resentment fuelled revolt (and revolting resentment) of political elites who sought to ape the West, and ended up loathing it for that very reason. Scathing yet fair.’ -Peter Pomerantsev

‘This is a book about copying that makes an original argument. In doing so, it reminds us that liberal democracy depends not on mechanical processes but on human originality.’ -Timothy Snyder

‘Witty, incisive, devastating: an unforgettable analysis of why the light of liberalism failed in Eastern Europe, and why resentment towards imitation of the West has fueled the furies of the populist revolt.’ -Michael Ignatieff