How Democracies Die by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt
“Many Americans are justifiably frightened by what is happening to our country. But protecting our democracy requires more than just fright or outrage. . . . We must learn from other countries to see the warning signs—and recognize the false alarms. We must be aware of the fateful missteps that have wrecked other democracies. And we must see how citizens have risen to meet the great democratic crises of the past, overcoming their own deep-seated divisions to avert breakdown. History doesn’t repeat itself. But it rhymes. The promise of history, and the hope of this book, is that we can find the rhymes before it is too late.”
—From HOW DEMOCRACIES DIE
“Chilling . . . A provocative analysis of the parallels between Donald Trump’s ascent and the fall of other democracies.” —Kirkus Reviews
If just a few years ago someone had described to you a country in which candidates threatened to lock up their rivals, political opponents accused the government of rigging the election or establishing a dictatorship, and parties used their legislative majorities to impeach presidents and steal Supreme Court seats, you probably would not have thought of the United States.
But as Harvard professors Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt—who have spent more than twenty years studying the breakdown of democracies around the globe—deftly illustrate in HOW DEMOCRACIES DIE (on sale January 16, 2018), in recent years American politicians have said and done things that are unprecedented here. Chillingly, Levitsky and Ziblatt recognize those actions as precursors of democratic crisis in other countries.
“For us, how and why democracies die has been an occupational obsession,” say Levitsky and Ziblatt. “We’ve recently become convinced that our decades of work have, sadly, become relevant for understanding what is going on in our own country. There’s nothing in our Constitution or our culture to immunize us against democratic breakdown.”
In HOW DEMOCRACIES DIE, the authors offer a bracing, revelatory look at the demise of liberal democracies around the world—and a road map for rescuing our own. “We think of democracies as dying at the hands of men with guns,” write Levitsky and Ziblatt, “but more often, they die at the hands of elected leaders who maintain a veneer of democracy while eviscerating its substance. People do not immediately realize what is happening.”
In the wake of last year’s presidential election, Levitsky and Ziblatt published an op-ed in the New York Times titled, “Is Donald Trump a Threat to Democracy?” The conclusion of the piece, which reached millions of readers, was that while his election was in fact a step toward authoritarianism, the erosion began long before Trump, and the problems will outlast him. HOW DEMOCRACIES DIE is an effort to better understand where current threats to American democracy come from—including racial and partisan polarization and the abandonment of established norms of mutual toleration and forbearance in favor of winning by any means necessary. Perhaps more important, Levitsky and Ziblatt draw on the experiences of other democracies in crisis to suggest strategies that we should—and should not—follow in the defense of our own.
“Ultimately, American democracy depends on us—the citizens of the United States,” write Levitsky and Ziblatt. “No single political leader can end a democracy; no single leader can rescue one, either. Democracy is a shared enterprise. Its fate depends on all of us.”