Friday, February 23, 2018

How Democracies Die by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt


Democracies die. We might think that a coup and violence is required to destroy a democracy. But some democracies die at the hands of elected officials who take subtle steps to authoritarianism.

Is American democracy vulnerable? To answer that question, the authors look back in history and examine the demise of democracies. We can learn lessons from events in other countries. We can spot the warning signs. We can also identify what citizens did to prevent the loss of democracy.

This appears to be a very serious time in the history of American democracy. Guardrails that are not specified in the Constitution but have been the norm for centuries are being abandoned. For the first time in American history the U. S. Senate refused to even consider an elected president's nominee for the Supreme Court when President Obama nominated appellate judge Merrick Garland. (Loc 1911/4806) The authors write, “The traditions underpinning America's democratic institutions are unraveling...” (Loc 1911/4806)

The warning signs are there. Attacking the press and accusing them of lying and presenting false news. Threatening one's opponent with jail. Lying to the public. Marginalizing the other branches of government. Denying the legitimacy of an election.

Is American democracy in danger? The authors are concerned. They present possible futures, depending on whether political gate keepers do their job and whether the norms of mutual tolerance and forbearance are restored. We may very well see a future with greater polarization in politics and among citizens. We may even experience a future event that provides an occasion for the president to demand greater powers.

I highly recommend this book. It is a good exploration of what brings about the death of democracies. It is a good evaluation of the events that have led us to this place in our American history. It is a very good wake up call for us all, reminding us how fragile our democracy is.

My rating: 5/5 stars.

Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt are professors of government at Harvard University. Levitisky's research focuses on Latin America and the developing world. Ziblatt studies Europe from the nineteenth century to the present. Both have authored previous books and have written for various publications.

Crown, 320 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher. My comments are an independent and honest review.
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