How Democracies Die

How Democracies Die

Book - 2018
Average Rating:
Rate this:
"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 military coup--but with a whimper: the slow, steady weakening of critical institutions, such as the judiciary and the press, and the gradual erosion of long-standing political norms. The good news is that there are several exit ramps on the road to authoritarianism. The bad news is that, by electing Trump, we have already passed the first one. Drawing on decades of research and a wide range of historical and global examples, from 1930s 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."
Publisher: New York : Crown Publishing, [2018]
Edition: First edition
Copyright Date: ©2018
ISBN: 9781524762933
Branch Call Number: 321.8 L5792H 2018
Characteristics: 312 pages ; 22 cm
Additional Contributors: Ziblatt, Daniel 1972-


From the critics

Community Activity


Add a Comment

Oct 13, 2018

The sobering takeaway from this book is: democracies are actually very fragile. It can take only one person, with dictatorial qualities, to unravel decades, even centuries of democratic governance.

What I kept coming away with is the fragility of our democratic systems. They only work if we believe, trust and respect them. Supreme courts can be packed with politically aligned justices. Filibusters can be abused to the point of making governments impotent. Respect for the executive, the house and judiciary have been eroded.

In order to keep democracy working politicians must respect the rules and customs that have been observed over the decades and centuries. Once the unwritten rules of decorum and respect are broken democracy itself can unravel.

It was a chilling subject.

Sep 17, 2018

The description of how demagogues such as Trump undermine democracy is spot on. Unfortunately, the authors -- conventional liberals -- are very short on solutions.

Jul 11, 2018

I have just rented this book and look forward to reading the authors' thoughts on this subject. Regrettably, there is one reader whose arrogance led him to underline many passages. You must consider yourself to be so self-important. In doing this you disturb the flow of the narrative and cause the other readers a distraction that they do not need. I will erase the underlined portions; so sorry about that! Think twice before defacing a book!!
Otherwise, it is very educational for those who can look at how history repeats itself.

Jun 19, 2018

Two experts on European and Latin American authoritarian/semi-authoritarian governments 1946-2018 explain what makes them non-democratic and compares them to Trump's non-democratic actions. The authors see three possibilities for America post Trump - 1) America quickly recovers from Trump's non-democratic presidency, 2) The Republicans utilize their white nationalist appeal to stay in power and further erode democracy (via their advantages gained through years of gerrymandering, voter suppression, and right-wing judicial appointments), 3) The Democrats and Republicans continue with their polarization and with their ineptitude further erode democracy.

Jun 17, 2018

it is not that democracy is dying, but that it is being killed

Mar 10, 2018

This is a powerful and important book. Other democracies have withered and died; ours could, too. Forewarned is forearmed.

Feb 28, 2018

Very much agreed. Oh, and Donald Trump doesn't present a threat to our democracy. Though taking away our guns is, it takes away a constitutional right and leaves us vulnerable to everybody.

Feb 28, 2018

This is a MUST read for every patriotic American. It doesn't matter what your political ideology is, our democracy and our Constitution need to be preserved, protected and defended. It takes real effort to do this on everyone's part. That will make America Great Again!!

Feb 13, 2018

Compelling and persuasive argument about the gradual ways that democracies weaken and slide into autocracy (as opposed to suddenly, in violent coups), first using examples from countries all over the world, and then the U.S. Shows how the "soft guardrails" of American democracy--mutual toleration and institutional forbearance--have both functioned and broken down at different points over the entire history of the U.S., and gives a clear account of the warning signs of autocratic slide in the U.S. over the last 25 years. Details the alarming ways in which Donald Trump exhibits key indicators of authoritarian behavior. Also maps out some possible futures for the country, and a (hard) path for fortifying democracy in the U.S. I highly recommend this book for anyone who wants a better understanding of the fragility of democracy in general, and of the dangers that the U.S. democratic system is currently facing in particular.

Jan 31, 2018

“How Democracies Die” is a clear-eyed and level-headed assessment of the potential threat to our democracy presented by the presidency of Donald J. Trump. This book is a welcome and noticeable departure from the more typical writing about Trump as it does not indulge in simply reacting to his transgressions or waste time questioning why the president behaves the way that he does. Rather the authors competently and methodically lay out a case arguing that our constitution alone will not save our democracy or prevent a decline into authoritarianism without parties and political leaders acting in accordance with the time tested norms of political behavior that safeguard our nation from abuses of power and the decay of our institutions of democracy.
The authors spend about half of the book presenting a number of interesting historical case studies illustrating worldwide political behaviors that, over time, threaten or protect democracies. Two key practices that are particularly relevant to the healthy functioning of American democracy are “mutual toleration” and “institutional forbearance.” Simply put mutual toleration describes the practice of recognizing that we all have an equal right to compete in the arena of political ideas and policies, resting on the belief that our opponents are generally “decent, patriotic, and law abiding.” Institutional forbearance is a commitment to play by the rules established in our constitution, using restraint and self control in the practice of the particular powers doled out to the branches of government in a system of checks and balances.
As the authors illustrate, Donald Trump did not begin the breakdown of the exercise of these important norms. Rather they show that multiple historical social and economic factors since the 1960s have steeply increased the partisan divide in our country over the years. This in turn has made possible corrosive political practices that act against tolerance and restraint in use of power by both parties and our governing leaders. We currently find our selves mired in a cycle begun in the mid 1990s (thanks Newt) of dangerous demonization of our opponents, and a lack of compromise that has resulted in a repeated failure to provide results for citizens on important issues , and a tit-for-tat decrease in the practice of restraint in exercising circumventive measures such as an increase in the use of filibusters and executive orders. This, along with a weakening of the systems that used to vet nominees and protect against the capture of the electoral process by demagogues, made Trump’s rise to the presidency possible if not inevitable.
After laying out these concepts, the authors parallel Trump’s campaign and presidential behaviors with the actions of contemporary figures like Erdogan, Chavez and Putin who have weakened their democracies and increased autocratic practices. Like these authoritarians, Trump has attacked institutions of democracy like the press and the court systems, made unproven charges of corruption against governing leaders and organizations, claiming political opponents are criminals and promising to use presidential power to punish them, attempting to purge and pack some departments, etc. While I doubt some Republicans or any fervid Trump supporters will be convinced by their argument, I found it to be both compelling and troubling.
One disappointment I had in the book is that the focus is solely on the practice of parties and political leaders, to the exclusion of a discussion of the behavior of voters. This felt like a failure to not explore the part citizens play in accepting, supporting, or defeating authoritarian leaders. I am sure we have a part to play and I would have like to be dealt into the solution to this troubling world wide trend.
This book will be an enjoyable and easy read for those interested in politics and history.

View All Comments


Add Age Suitability

Jan 31, 2018

MelissaBee thinks this title is suitable for 16 years and over

Jan 31, 2018

MelissaBee thinks this title is suitable for 16 years and over


Add a Quote

Mar 25, 2018

"No single political leader can end a democracy; no single leader can rescue one, either." page 230


Add a Summary

There are no summaries for this title yet.


Add Notices

There are no notices for this title yet.

Explore Further

Browse by Call Number


Subject Headings


Find it at SPL

To Top