How Democracies Die

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How Democracies Die
How Democracies Die.jpg
AuthorsSteven Levitsky, Daniel Ziblatt
Cover artistChristopher Brand
CountryUnited States
Subjects
PublisherCrown (publisher)
Publication date
16 January 2018 (2018-01-16)
Media typePrint (Hardcover, paperback, e-book, audio book)
Pages320
ISBN978-1-5247-6293-3

How Democracies Die is a 2018 book by Harvard University political scientists Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt about how elected leaders can gradually subvert the democratic process to increase their power.[1]

Synopsis[edit]

The book warns against the breakdown of "mutual toleration" and respect for the political legitimacy of the opposition. This tolerance involves accepting the results of a free and fair election where the opposition has won, in contrast with advocacy for overthrow or spurious complaints about the election mechanism. The authors also assert the importance of respecting the opinions of those who come to legitimately different political opinions, in contrast to attacking the patriotism of any who disagree, or warning that if they come to power they will destroy the country.

The authors point out that the various branches of government in a system with separation of powers have actions available to them that could completely undermine the other branches or the opposition. The authors warn against ramming through a political agenda or accumulating power by playing "constitutional hardball" with tactics like court packing, stonewalling nominations, or abusing the power of the purse, and recommend "forbearance" and some degree of cooperation to keep government functioning in a balanced fashion. Other threats to democratic stability cited by the authors include economic inequality and segregation of the political parties by race, religion, and geography.

The authors dedicate many chapters to the study of the United States, President Donald Trump, and the 2016 presidential election, but also apply their theory to Latin America and European countries, especially Venezuela and Russia. According to them, the United States has, until 2016, resisted the attempts to undermine democracy thanks to two norms: mutual toleration and forbearance, the latter defined as the intentional restraint of one's power in order to respect the spirit of the law if not its letters. They finally predict three potential scenarios for the post-Trump United States.

Analysis[edit]

Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, Harvard professors, study the prospect of the democratic system in an holistic approach, and take a critical stand of the Trump presidency. They describe their work as a study of how democracies die. The main subjects are drawn in the introduction: the authors argue that in our time, democracies still die but by different means, "less at the hand of men with guns and more by elected leaders". The methodology used is mainly based on the "comparative method" and it is a book that tries to "reveal about our future" based on history, more specifically on historical comparisons (finding similar dynamics, presenting models of "gatekeeping" and the "rhymes" of history). The object of the study is the president Trump as an "autocrat in becoming" and, a comparison with state failures and autocrats. The study assesses the risk of his presidency and try to identify the pattern of autocratic tendencies.

Recommendations of the authors[edit]

Levitsky and Ziblatt accept the fear of the Trump presidency as legitimate, and pledge for the protection of the democracy. Particularly the last chapter saving democracy, put emphasis on political recommendations to save democracy in a pledge

We must be humble and bold. We must learn from other countries to see the warning signs. We must be aware of the fateful missteps that have wrecked other democracies.

We must see how citizens have risen to meet the great democratic crisis of the past. (p10)

A proposed solution to the crisis

We must not only restore democratic norms but extend them through the whole of increasingly diverse societies. This is a daunting challenge [...] this is the challenge we face, previous generations [...] made extraordinary sacrifice [...] we must prevent it from dying from within, (p231)

And they make recommendations for the Republicans

They must build a more diverse electoral constituency and they must find ways to win elections without appealing to white nationalism, the sugar high of populism, nativism, and demagoguery (p223). They realize that the president could inflict real damage on our institutions in the long term. (p189)

And also to the Democrats

Although the democratic party has not been the principal driver of America deepening polarization it could play a role in reducing it (p226) Democrats could consider more comprehensive labor market policies [...] it is imperative that Democrats address the issue of inequality. (p229)

In an interview, Levitsky identifies two objectives of the book: One is defeating Trump and the other is shoring up our democracy [2]. Finally, they suggest that the effect of the Trump presidency could be a mild form of "competitive authoritarianism" [3]

Summary[edit]

  • Chapter one starts with a critical historiography of autocratic leaders, putting forward the similarities with the Trump presidency, Levitsky and Ziblatt present their "litmus test" based on the work of Juan Linz to identify what they describe as "antidemocratic politicians", and explore a methodology to identify "abnormality and danger" in politics.
  • Chapter two emphasis the importance of "gate-keeping" against extremist forces and on winning what Arthur Harvey calls the "invisible primary".
  • Chapter three is mainly a summary of criticism of Trump based on newspapers. Levitsky and Ziblatt emphases that Trump "test positive" on the "litmus test of anti-democratic leaders" they created, that Trump embrace and promote violence, citing declaration of violence he has made and also citing Hillary Clinton campaign website to show alleged republican anonymous criticism of their own party, also a mention of the concept of "ideological collusion" of Ivan Ermakov to explain "collective abdication".
  • While chapter four treats on how "would be authoritarian" wants to "break free". Give the example of Alberto Fujimori that allegedly didn't come to power "with a plan", Then the political life is compared to a "soccer game", and then about the "great ironies" that "would-be autocrats" use in state of crisis, disasters and security to justify their policies.
  • Chapter five argues that the constitution is not enough and there is a need for "unwritten rules", "informal rules", "conventions", "custom", "spirit of the law", "folkways" or "norms". And also two important norms: mutual tolerance and self restraint (or "institutional forbearance").
  • Chapter six gives example of the consequences of polarization from undemocratic arrangements to a "death spiral". And put in light that American norms and the political system rested on the racial exclusion until 1980.
  • Chapter seven talks about events in the GOP and Trump controversies.
  • Chapter eight takes a stronger stand, identifying norms that Trump may have not followed: "use the machinery of government to punish critics", creation of a commission to study "nonexistent problem" of voter fraud, pardon of Joe Arpaio, hostility toward the establishment (or referees), attack on his opponents and predecessor and also breaking the tradition of not having a pet in the White House. Finally they claim that there is "passive loyalists" who are willing to ditch the president.
  • Finally, chapter nine gives three case-scenarios, one "optimistic" of Trump destitution, one "dark future" and one more likely of polarization. They discuss the mean of a conflict, boycott, impeachment and protest and give political recommendations to Republicans, Democrats and the civil society. They recommend "thinking about how to reset Trump administration's abuses" and then promote the American values of "egalitarianism, sense of freedom and shared purpose" with the political action to restore them.

Reviews and awards[edit]

The New York Times called it an essential guide to what can happen in the United States.[4] The Washington Post said the book offers a sober look at the current state of affairs.[5] The Wall Street Journal called it an unintentional clarifying lesson.[6] In the United Kingdom, The Guardian called it provocative but also unsatisfying.[7] The magazine Foreign Affairs concluded it is an important study.[8] Fair Observer called it an original contribution valuable to researchers, policy makers, and citizens.[9]

In a scholarly review, political theorist Rosolino A. Candela praised the work and concluded that academics will find "much to learn, unpack, and develop".[10]

The book was on The New York Times Bestseller list.[11]

The book was awarded with the German NDR Kultur Sachbuchpreis 2018.[12]

References[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Levitsky & Ziblatt 2018.
  2. ^ Isaac Chotiner (2018). "The State of American Democracy After a year of Trump, how worried should we be?".
  3. ^ see the work: THE RISE OF COMPETITIVE AUTHORITARIANISM Steven Levitsky and Lucan A. Way [1]
  4. ^ Kristof, Nicholas. "Trump's Threat to Democracy". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 10 January 2018. Retrieved 29 April 2018.
  5. ^ "Can American democracy withstand its latest assault?". 11 January 2018.
  6. ^ Willick, Jason (24 January 2018). "Review: Polarized Societies and 'How Democracies Die'".
  7. ^ Runciman, David (24 January 2018). "How Democracies Die review – Trump and the shredding of norms". The Guardian. Retrieved 29 April 2018.
  8. ^ Ikenberry 2018.
  9. ^ Kolasa, Matthew (August 15, 2018). "How Democracies Die Around the World". Fair Observer. Retrieved August 16, 2018.
  10. ^ Candela, Rosolino A. (2018). "Book review - How Democracies Die". The Independent Review. 23 (2). Retrieved 27 August 2019.
  11. ^ "Combined Print & E-Book Nonfiction Books - Best Sellers - February 25, 2018 - The New York Times". February 25, 2018. Retrieved 29 April 2018.
  12. ^ "Levitsky und Ziblatt erhalten Sachbuchpreis 2018". NPR.de (in German). November 12, 2018. Retrieved December 16, 2018.

Bibliography[edit]

  • Berman, S. (2018). A Discussion of Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt’s How Democracies Die. Perspectives on Politics, 16(4), 1092-1094. doi:10.1017/S1537592718002852
  • Bunce, V. (2018). A Discussion of Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt's How Democracies Die. Perspectives on Politics, 16(4), 1103–1104. doi:10.1017/S1537592718002839
  • Connolly, W. (2018). A Discussion of Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt's How Democracies Die. Perspectives on Politics, 16(4), 1095–1096. doi:10.1017/S1537592718002888
  • Cramer, K. (2018). A Discussion of Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt's How Democracies Die. Perspectives on Politics, 16(4), 1097–1098. doi:10.1017/S1537592718002876
  • Ikenberry, G. John (2018). "How democracies die" (March/April). Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  • Levitsky, Steven; Ziblatt, Daniel (2018). How Democracies Die. New York: Crown. ISBN 978-1524762933.
  • Parker, C. (2018). A Discussion of Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt's How Democracies Die. Perspectives on Politics, 16(4), 1099–1100. doi:10.1017/S153759271800289X
  • Pérez-Liñán, A. (2018). A Discussion of Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt's How Democracies Die. Perspectives on Politics, 16(4), 1101–1102. doi:10.1017/S1537592718003043