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How Democracies Die: What History Reveals About Our Future

4.21  ·  Rating details ·  9,827 ratings  ·  1,447 reviews
Donald Trump's presidency has raised a question that many of us never thought we'd be asking: Is our democracy in danger? Harvard professors Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt have spent more than twenty years studying the breakdown of democracies in Europe and Latin America, and they believe the answer is yes. Democracy no longer ends with a bang--in a revolution or ...more
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published January 16th 2018 by Crown Publishing Group (NY)
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James It is not about President Trump and it does not talk a lot about his presidency. It is about how democracies in general can be susceptible to…moreIt is not about President Trump and it does not talk a lot about his presidency. It is about how democracies in general can be susceptible to autocrats, how other countries have succumbed to or fought off autocrats, how the US has avoided autocracy in the past, and how it may be particularly vulnerable to an autocrat now, whether that autocrat is Trump or someone else.(less)
Ann Page 21 of this book: Juan Linz, a Yale professor who grew up in Spain during the Spanish civil war, studied why and how democracies die. His book The…morePage 21 of this book: Juan Linz, a Yale professor who grew up in Spain during the Spanish civil war, studied why and how democracies die. His book The Breakdown of Democratic Regimes was published in 1978. "Building on Linz's work, we have developed a set of four behavioral warning signs."(less)

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Michael Austin
Jan 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2018
I have not read Fire and Fury and doubt that I will. It seems too much like gossip to me, and too similar to the truckload of OBAMA IS DESTROYING AMERICA books that occurred during the last administration. But I bought How Democracy Dies the first day it came out, and read it in an evening because it gives exactly the kind of historical analysis that, I think, we need to understand in 2018. Levitsky and Ziblatt are genuine scholars (at Harvard even) who have done substantial research in the way ...more
Lisa
Nov 01, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Two basic norms have preserved Americas checks and balances in ways we have come to take for granted: mutual toleration, or the understanding that competing parties accept one another as legitimate rivals, and forbearance, or the idea that politicians should exercise restraint in deploying their institutional prerogatives."

Well, there is a reason for the use of present perfect in that sentence. Mutual toleration and forbearance have become rare qualities in the political world of today, and
...more
Faith
Jan 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: audio, overdrive
This is a well-researched analysis of the factors leading to the death of democracies, the signs of the rise of authoritarianism and the threats to the checks and balances that were supposed to prevent the election of demagogues. It outlines strategies employed by elected authoritarians to consolidate their control: "capture the referees, sideline the key players and rewrite the rules to tilt the playing field". The authors demonstrate how Trump has attempted to employ each of these tactics. The ...more
Andy
Jan 04, 2018 rated it it was ok
This book delivers autopsies of various democracies from 30,000 feet. Hitler, Hugo Chavez, Pinochet, Trump somehow all get blended into this survey. So the bulk of the book works as an introductory history course. That's fine, but the rise of Hitler, for example, is old information. What I am looking for at this point is what to do to save democracy.

I was disappointed by what the authors eventually conclude. For example, they have a long list of things that the leaders of the Republican Party
...more
HBalikov
Feb 10, 2020 rated it really liked it
Below is how the authors see the need for this book and its purpose:

This is how we tend to think of democracies dying: at the hands of men with guns. During the Cold War, coups détat accounted for nearly three out of every four democratic breakdowns. Democracies in Argentina, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Ghana, Greece, Guatemala, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, Thailand, Turkey, and Uruguay all died this way. More recently, military coups toppled Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi in 2013 and Thai
...more
Jean
I found this book fascinating. Ziblatt and Levitsky are respected scholars in the field of democracy studies. They teach at Harvard University.

The book is well written and researched. It is written in an easy to read style that is easy for the lay person to follow. The first part of the book reviewed how democracies around the world have fallen to authoritarian regimes over the years. The authors explain three key important elements vital to a democracy and then go into detail about each country
...more
Maria
Mar 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: EVERYONE LIVING UNDER A DEMOCRACY
I want you to see this man. He's the reason why I had to read this book.


I'll be honest I'm not the biggest fan of America. I'm rather indifferent about them but I'm also aware of the importance of this country for the rest of the world. So like many people I was concern when Donald Trump got into power specially because I had seen a man like that. I'm 20 years old and that is how long the Revolución Bolivariana has been in my country and sadly I had not lived in a government different than that.
...more
Nancy
Feb 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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 interaction 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
...more
Charles J
Sep 25, 2018 rated it it was ok
This may be the worst well-written book I have ever read. That is, most awful books are bad in their writing, bad in their organization, bad in their reasoning, and bad in their typesetting. No such badness is evident hereHow Democracies Die hits all the points it intends to, and reads crisply and smoothly. But it is ruined by a meta-problem: its utter cluelessness and total lack of self-reference. The authors, Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, are very much like the Ken Doll in the Toy Story ...more
Andrew
How Democracies Die: What History Reveals About Our Future by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt is an examination of the Donald Trump presidency in the United States, and its tendencies toward authoritarianism. The authors are both adept at examining Latin American politics and similar subjects in countries like Argentina, Peru, Ecuador and Brazil, and there analysis takes their skills in these study areas and applies them to the current administration in the United States. The authors use four ...more
Gary Moreau
On the surface, this is a book about the internal contradictions of democracy and how those vulnerabilities can be exploited by those interested in authoritarian power with, in the case of the Republicans, a white nationalist appeal. Its a valid assessment to about half of us, and they make a very strong historical and horrifying case in support of it. (think fascism, communism, and MAGA-ism)

Every coin, of course, has two sides. The failure or success of any political system, including
...more
Carlos Alberto Ledezma
This book was quite disappointing. I was expecting a thorough analysis on how stable democracies turned into authoritarian regimes; in contrast, the book only does a quick overview of some modern dictatorships and then delves into the United States' democratic history. Finally, the book concludes with some possible solutions to the current political crisis in the US, but these solutions don't seem to be founded on what's written in the rest of the book.

On the upside, the essay presents many
...more
Mehrsa
Feb 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is the rare book where I liked their solutions section better than their descriptive section. At the end, they fight against those who say that the left needs to let go of its embrace of identity culture (i.e. embrace of multiculturalism). They say that would be a huge mistake and I agree. Basically, this book shows how other democracies aboard have fallen into autocracy (spoiler: there are more similarities between us and them than differences).

My one critique (or maybe it's just a
...more
Peter (Pete) Mcloughlin
Lays the blame for the fall of democracies on the erosion of the guardrails (unwritten rules) of the polity. Also lays a big chunk of the blame for the decay of democracy at the party or legal gatekeepers failing to weed out extremists and outsiders. Outsiders and extremists are not well known for respecting established procedural forms of democracy and will break the guardrails of democracy and turn towards autocracy. This has been the form authoritarianism takes in Ecuador, Peru, Turkey, ...more
Richard
Dec 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Depressing! I received this book free from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. Written by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, and published in the United States by Crown, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, New York in 2018, the book consists of a detailed and concise account of various democratic governments that have collapsed in relatively recent history, and how they compare to the state of the US government ...more
Jenn "JR"
People are unique, complex and also predictable both as individuals and in the groups and societies that they form. Humans are also very good at denial and like to imagine that what they are doing is novel and different, or that they will avoid the same results with the same methods tried in the past. This results in predictable old sayings about history repeating and the doom/fate awaiting those who dont study history.

Levitsky & Ziblatts style is the very clear he delineates his chief
...more
erica
Mar 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I'll write a full review later, but damn this book is good. I literally have chills right now.

So much has happened since How Democracies Die was first published in 2018: Democrats took the House, voter suppression scandals broke in South Carolina and Georgia, and the Mueller investigation concluded. What would Levitsky and Ziblatt have to say about all of that? I desperately need a sequel, or at least an updated afterward to this book!
Dianne
Jan 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What causes the end of a democracy? The Harvard Political Science professors outline the causes and give examples from several countries that have gone from a democracy to a dictatorship, all of these are happening in the United States: The destruction of safeguards to the protection of the political system is being ignored, extreme polarization of the two major political parties, norms being abandoned, obstruction by the Senate causing no laws to be passed, lack of any cooperation or ...more
Ericka Clouther
People should probably read this. For me, it was really boring at the beginning. It set up a framework for analyzing American politics with 4 rules of waning democracy and lots of historical examples. But it didn't get to the main point of the book, the risk to American democracy, until the last third of the book. It really tests the patience of the most sympathetic reader.

It's not a partisan book, per se. When it finally gets to the American examples it cites Republican and Democratic sins
...more
Caren
Jan 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: adult-nonfiction
Fascinating book! I put everything aside this weekend and read it in a day. The authors, both professors of government at Harvard, not only look at warning signs of a democracy's decline based on others countries which have fallen into authoritarianism, but also at points in American history when that possibility existed here. They explain the "guardrails" which saved the USA in the past. Right at the start, they list four things to look for as a warning of authoritarian behavior: 1)Rejection of ...more
Angie Boyter
Jan 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
When we think of a democracy dying, what comes to mind is usually a military coup or civil war or other sudden violent action. In How Democracies Die, Harvard Government professors Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt show how countries can lose their democracy more slowly and insidiously, often without a single shot fired.
They assert that, beyond the obvious mechanisms we depend on like free and fair elections and a strong constitution, democracies work best when these mechanisms are reinforced
...more
Ian
Jun 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, politics
Again, like Meacham's The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels, I think this one earns 3.5 stars, but this time I'm rounding up. Often academics cannot write an easily accessible book for the masses on complex issues, so I'm giving Levitsky and Ziblatt the extra 0.5 star for doing so!

Similar to Meacham's book, these authors also do a bit of a tour of history, but they stick to the 20th Century and later to provide examples of how democracy has slipped (and sometimes restored) in
...more
Katia N
Mar 01, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book analyses historic examples how certain countries (Chile and Venezuela, but also the others) have moved from the democracy to autocratic and totalitarian regimes. The authors compare those examples with the current situation in America. They state that apart from the written laws and established institutions there are also unwritten norms and forbearance - accepting the opposition as a legitimate player. And when those things are undermined, the democracy is in real threat.

In terms
...more
Antti Värtö
This book really should've been titled "How American democracy can die", since that is the focus here. Sure, the authors talk about Erdogan, Chavez, Fujimori etc., but over half of the book is devoted on US issues and history - and Trump.

Levitsky & Ziblatt are convinced that Trump presents a threat to American democracy. They have identified four "red flags" that can be used to predict if a politician aspires to become authoritarian:
1. They show disrespect for democratic institutions, etc.
...more
Emma Sea
Jul 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
holy shit, we are SO SCREWED!
Bou
A fascinating and alarming account of how in the past decades, the US shook off its democratic safeguards and gave the world Donald Trump.

Dictators - or at least the way we have seen them in the course of history - do now always arrive at the head of an armed column or political movement. People like Chavez, Erdogan and Putin were elected in (fairly) free elections, but managed to hollow out the democratic principles from inside out.

This book tracks down on how these dictators managed to do
...more
Julie Stout
Sep 12, 2018 rated it did not like it
I had expected to find here a serious political analysis. Instead, got treated to anti-Trump ranting and Democrat party pablum. The author's central thesis seems to be that American democracy was all well and good until Trump got elected, and I'm like??? Not for a serious reader of history or political science.

Bewildering to me were many statements made about 20th century events. For example, American instigation of coups to overthrow democratically elected governments in South America, as if
...more
Sotiris Makrygiannis
Sep 09, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: internet, audio-book
2 stars because this books is misleading. Here an example, Putin is accused as demagogue BUT the rich guys that he put in jail were the good guys. And how those fellows got their money after USSR collapse? You have to assume that those that, book describe, as demagogues are the good guys and rest are the bad. Its not working like that. In fact the cycles of Democracy were described by Plato and has 3 modes, from Tyranny to Oligarchy to Democracy. Those 3 steps are part of our common history for ...more
Bruce Katz
Jan 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: current-events
Rating a book like this with stars is entirely irrelevant. Written by two Harvard professors who have studied the lives and deaths of democracies around the world, the book rings a sober alarm about the precarious state of American democracy today. It lays out step by step how democracies have weakened and authoritarian regimes have taken their place -- sometimes dramatically, as with coups, and sometimes incrementally. As they demonstrate, our political culture has taken every single one of ...more
Sarah
Nov 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, audio
Necessary, riveting, and smart. If there's one book on US affairs you read this year, this should be it. It IS very US based, because the US is in the throes of a democratic demise, so if you're not interested in the inner workings of American politics, you might not get much out of this. However, they offer so many examples from other countries throughout modern history who've faced similar problems, that it makes for fascinating reading.
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Steven Levitsky is Professor of Government at Harvard University. His research interests include political parties, authoritarianism and democratization, and weak and informal institutions, with a focus on Latin America. He is author of Transforming Labor-Based Parties in Latin America: Argentine Peronism in Comparative Perspective (2003), co-author (with Lucan Way) of Competitive ...more

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“To save our democracy, Americans need to restore the basic norms that once protected it. But we must do more than that. We must extend those norms through the whole of a diverse society. We must make them truly inclusive. America's democratic norms, at their core, have always been sound. But for much of our history, they were accompanied - indeed, sustained - by racial exclusion. Now those norms must be made to work in an age of racial equality and unprecedented ethnic diversity. Few societies in history have managed to be both multiracial and genuinely democratic. That is our challenge. It is also our opportunity. If we meet it, America will truly be exceptional.” 16 likes
“One of the great ironies of how democracies die is that the very defense of democracy is often used as a pretext for its subversion. Would-be autocrats often use economic crises, natural disasters, and especially security threats—wars, armed insurgencies, or terrorist attacks—to justify antidemocratic measures.” 13 likes
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