Hide this

Results from Google Books

Click on a thumbnail to go to Google Books.

How democracies die : what history tells us…

How democracies die : what history tells us about our future (original 2018; edition 2018)

by Steven Levitsky, Daniel Ziblatt (Author.)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
129993,299 (4.43)10
Title:How democracies die : what history tells us about our future
Authors:Steven Levitsky
Other authors:Daniel Ziblatt (Author.)
Info:London : Viking, 2018.
Collections:Your library

Work details

How Democracies Die by Steven Levitsky (2018)



Sign up for LibraryThing to find out whether you'll like this book.

No current Talk conversations about this book.

» See also 10 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 9 (next | show all)
This is an incredible book and I plan to use it throughout this summer when campaigning and talking to people who want to "vote their conscience" no matter how extreme or politically suicidal. Unlike most reviewers, I'm most attracted to the prescriptions at the end of the book for avoiding the death of American democracy. Before getting to these recommendations however, the authors, two Harvard political scientists, lay out the signs of democracies that are sliding into authoritarianism. They have been studying these patterns for 20 years in European and Latin American countries, and yes, the US. In Venezuela, Argentina, Turkey, Poland and, under Trump (not to mention Mao and Stalin), the signs are familiar. They are: 1. Attacking the "referees, the legal and court systems; 2. Attacking the press 3. Rewriting the rules, to solidify their power.

In threatened democracies, including ours, there is a dearth of "mutual tolerance," where the parties and their leaders respect each other's viewpoints, opposing or not, and there is the abandonment of "institutional forbearance," which is restraint from using "nuclear options" no matter how tempting. You see, while the US has a great constitution and fine laws, most of what really protects our democracy is unwritten traditions. Starting with Newt Gingrich and his "contract on America," and continuing to Mitch McConnell's statement that the GOP was going to prevent President Obama from accomplishing anything during his presidency, we have been slowly abandoning the mores that keep our democracy healthy. According to the authors, the most egregious example of busting through the "soft guardrails" of a functional democracy was Mitch McConnell's refusal to consider President Obama's nominee for the Supreme Court, Merit Garland. This is unprecedented in US history. In healthy democracies, opposing parties work together to move forward with policies that improve the lives of everyone. Mitch McConnell is one of the most pernicious influences on the strength of our democratic system.

The greatest threat to our democracy is partisan extremism, first fueled by outside money that poured into GOP coffers from the likes of the Koch Brothers, Scaife and the Mercer family, and the shrill, bitter invective of right-wing media. Eventually the leadership of the GOP, consisting of reasonable people who were once able to collaborate with Democrats, was hollowed out, and what was left was pure bile. We know the rest of the story.

What is the solution? It's tough and we'll all have to make personal compromises. The authors argue that the established political parties, which have come in for so much criticism lately, are actually the gatekeepers against extremism. With so much money swamping politics, the parties alone can vet candidates and determine who has a legitimate track record, who's lying, and who can deliver on their promises. Americans are ignorant voters. The unaffiliated voter who watches a few TV commercials, or votes based on a few Facebook posts, is easily swayed by a demagogue, as we now know. Secondly, according to the lessons of history, where democracy survived attacks by authoritarians and their parties, we ALL need to move towards the center. We need to compromise, talk to the opposition, give up on some of our pet policy positions, and work together to defend what's really important, which is the integrity of our political system overall. To be a "true progressive" and "vote my conscience" might feel good temporarily, but any policy that's too far from the center just gets reversed in a future election, and paves the way for even more extremism. The best way forward is gradual, through consensus-building and broad coalitions. ( )
  westernwoman | Apr 14, 2018 |
Democracies die when one party stops treating the other as legitimate. This is happening in the US. Levitsky & Ziblatt argue that tit for tat is not helpful but they don’t identify tactics that are, which is frustrating—they indicate that things like coup attempts by the other party are bad and lead to backlash that speeds the transition to autocracy, which I get, but this to me does not translate to the idea of perhaps abolishing the filibuster if/when Democrats get some control back. That said, it’s not clear to me that other people have a clear path forward either unless the Republican party decides to clean house, and this is a useful look at repeating patterns: the key difference between those countries that succumb and those that don’t, they say, is whether the mainstream party to which the fascist insurgency is closest decides to embrace it for short-term benefit (Weimar Germany, Venezuela, etc.) or reject it and support the “opposing” mainstream party to keep fascists out of power (more recent Germany, France). ( )
1 vote rivkat | Apr 11, 2018 |
From the jacket:“Drawing on decades of research and a wide range of historical and global examples, from 1930's Europe to contemporary Hungary, Turkey and Venezuela to the American South during Jim Crow, Levitsky and Ziblatt show how democracies die – and how ours can be saved.”

“ A country whose president attacks the press, threatens to lock up his rival, and declares that he might not accept election results cannot credibly defend democracy “ p206

So how did we get into the current situation?

This book begins with a discussion of the four key indicators of authoritarian behavior:

1. Rejection of (or weak commitment to) democratic rules of the game
2. Denial of the legitimacy of political opponents
3. Toleration or encouragement of violence
4. Readiness to curtail civil liberties of opponents, including media. P 23/24

American democracy has endured many previous threats, including the Civil War and Reconstruction and politicians such as Joseph McCarthy, Father Charles Coughlin and even Franklin Delano Roosevelt who, frustrated with his New Deal policies being struck down by the Supreme Court, attempted to increase the number of judges and thus pack the Court. Each time the checks and balances have brought the system back into balance as outlined by the framers of the Constitution.

An important check was that political parties were able to nominate candidates that conformed to party principles. However, after the chaos of the 1968 election, 'In 1972 passage of Mcgovern-Fraser Commission issued a set of recommendations that the two parties adopted before the 1972 elections. What emerged was a system of binding presidential primaries. ' (p 51) This resulted in the parties unable to perform as gatekeepers and keep unsuitable candidates out.

In addition, to work at its best, American democracy must be defined by two basic principles: mutual toleration and forbearance. Both of these address the idea that one's opponent is not evil and should not be annihilated; that varying political ideals are just that; that compromises between opposing views can be made.

These concepts have been breaking down for many years, as evidenced by the bombastic rhetoric of intolerance of Rush Lumbaugh and progressing through Ann Coulter whose 2008 campaign speech against Obama 'brought forth cries of “Treason!” “Terrorist!” and even “Kill him” from the crowd.” P157.

In addition to rhetoric, American politics has become a game of political hardball consisting of maneuvers that are legal, but not ethical or moral.

So is the answer to Republican hardball, hardball tactics by the Democrats? The authors say no.

”Even if Democrats were to succeed in weakening or removing President Trump via hardball tactics, their victory would be Pyrrhic-- for they would inherit a democracy stripped of its remaining protective guardrails. If the Trump administration were brought to its knees by obstructionism, or if President Trump were impeached without a strong bipartisan consensus, the effect would be to reinforce- and perhaps hasten – the dynamic of partisan antipathy and norm erosion that helped bring Trump to power to begin with. As much as a third of the country would likely view Trump's impeachment as the machinations of a vast left-wing conspiracy- maybe even as a coup. American politics would be left dangerously unmoored.

“This sort of escalation rarely ends well. If Democrats do not work to restore norms of mutual toleration and forbearance, their next president will likely confront an opposition willing to use any means necessary to defeat them. And if partisan rifts deepen and our unwritten rules continue to fray, Americans could eventually elect a president who is even more dangerous than Trump.”
p 217

This book is short, only a bit over 200 pages. It has definitely opened my eyes to nuances of the current political climate and the true danger our democracy may be in. ( )
2 vote streamsong | Mar 29, 2018 |
Written so simply, easy to understand, I read it in one day. It is a real eye opener for those who never thought it could happen here. Absolutely frightening and depressing. Can't recommend it highly enough. ( )
  seongeona | Mar 7, 2018 |
this book is a sobering consideration of how democratic governments have, through subtle and even legal steps, evolved into authoritarian states. If American norms--political interactions not legislated but tacitly agreed upon--continue to be eroded we, too, could quickly find ourselves watching the last days of a democratic America.

The authors present the histories of countries that were democracies and became authoritarian, highlighting the strategies used by populist leaders to bring the system into their control. Later chapters consider the history of our political parties as gatekeepers as well as the source of conflict. A sad reality is that consensus has only occurred in America when the racist elements have been appeased.

And I am not just talking about slave owning states bulking up their political power by making slaves 3/5ths of a person, or the later repression of voting rights. As my readings in late 20th c political history have taught, the repression of African American, and the poor, is active to this day. I was a young adult when I heard our politicians call for 'law and order' and the end of 'welfare queens' and 'young bucks' drawing the dole. If after the mid-century Civil Rights protests we could not be above board with racism, it morphed into new language.

I was shocked not to have noticed before that recent anti-immigration movements are rooted in a desire to weaken the Democratic party, since most immigrants, along with people of color, vote Democratic. I knew it was overt racism, just missed that connection.

After leading readers through history the authors turn to today's political situation, evaluating the administration's tendency toward authoritarianism. As by the end of 2017, the system of checks and balances appear to be working. BUT, if the Republican party is complicit, the breakdown can and happen here.

In the end, the authors offer how the Democratic party should respond to the crisis--not by imitating the Tea Party methods, or by giving up 'identity politics' and letting the disenfranchised flounder, but by committing to consensus politics, forming a broad coalition, and restoring the basic norms that worked in the past: mutual toleration and forbearance.

I think this is one of the most enlightening books I have read recently. I highly recommend it.

I received a free book through Blogging for Books in exchange for a fair and unbiased review. ( )
  nancyadair | Mar 3, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 9 (next | show all)
Is there any democracy that you would have ranked as highly as you ranked the United States as a democracy in 2016, whatever ranking that is, that’s fallen victim to authoritarianism in your case studies?

Levitsky: No, there are actually very, very few established democracies, democracies that have been fully democratic and that have been around for, say, 20 or more years, very few of them in the history of the world have collapsed. Uruguay is one, Chile is another, Venezuela is a third, maybe Hungary depending on how you interpret it these days. But none have been as stable or as democratic as the United States.
added by elenchus | editslate.com, Isaac Chotiner (Jan 16, 2018)

» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Steven Levitskyprimary authorall editionscalculated
Ziblatt, Danielmain authorall editionsconfirmed
You must log in to edit Common Knowledge data.
For more help see the Common Knowledge help page.
Series (with order)
Canonical title
Original title
Alternative titles
Original publication date
Important places
Important events
Related movies
Awards and honors
First words
Last words
Disambiguation notice
Publisher's editors
Publisher series
Original language

References to this work on external resources.

Wikipedia in English


Book description
Haiku summary

No descriptions found.

No library descriptions found.

Quick Links

Popular covers


Average: (4.43)
3 1
3.5 1
4 4
4.5 1
5 7

Is this you?

Become a LibraryThing Author.


About | Contact | Privacy/Terms | Help/FAQs | Blog | Store | APIs | TinyCat | Legacy Libraries | Early Reviewers | Common Knowledge | 124,561,267 books! | Top bar: Always visible