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Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt

Authors of the New York Times-bestselling How Democracies Die

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  • About Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt

    The rise of authoritarian governments conjures images of violent coup d’états, revolutions, and angry mobs. However, Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt argue political changes are usually slow-building and subtle, and that democracies die not at the hands of generals but of elected leaders. In their New York Times-bestselling book How Democracies Die, they take a deep dive into the historical trends and warning signs of rising fascism from Latin American to Europe, and explain how demagogues can take over political parties and rise to power. Now, they believe that American democracy may be in danger.

    In their talks, Levitsky and Ziblatt warn against the steady weakening of critical institutions, such as the judiciary and the press, and the gradual erosion of long-standing political norms.  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 to save ours.

    How Democracies Die was a New York Times Book Review “Editor’s Choice,” one of Newsweek’s “50 Best Books of the Year So Far,” one of Time magazine’s “10 Best Nonfiction Books of 2018,” and was recommended by Barack Obama as “a useful primer on the importance of norms, institutional restraints, and civic participation in maintaining a democracy.” Daniel Ziblatt is Eaton Professor of the Science of Government at Harvard University where he is also a resident faculty associate of the Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies and Harvard’s Weatherhead Center for International Affairs. Steven Levitsky is the David Rockefeller Professor of Latin American Studies and Professor of Government at Harvard University, where he serves on the executive committee for the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs and the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies.  Ziblatt and Levitsky are co-chairs of the new Challenges to Democracy Research Cluster at Harvard’s Weatherhead Center.

  • Speaking Topics

    How Democracies Die

    In this thought-provoking lecture, Daniel Ziblatt and Steven Levitsky delve into the history of where democracy has failed in Latin America and Europe, and explain their four-part test for identifying authoritarian leaders. Drawing on decades of research, they explain the two crucial traditions, mutual tolerance and forbearance, that have allowed American democracy to survive for so long—and the greatest threats to its future. Ziblatt and Levitsky leave audiences with concrete actions they can take to bolster democracy everywhere, such as building alliances that extend beyond traditional party lines, defending institutions, and mobilizing the vote.

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  • Praise for Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt

    Praise for How Democracies Die

    Two years ago, a book like this could not have been written: two leading political scientists who are expert in the breakdown of democracy in other parts of the world using that knowledge to inform Americans of the dangers their democracy faces today. We owe the authors a debt of thanks for bringing their deep understanding to bear on the central political issue of the day.

    Francis Fukuyama, author of Political Order and Political Decay

    The authors argue, with good evidence, that democracies aren’t destroyed because of the impulses of a single man; they are, instead, degraded in the course of a partisan tit-for-tat dynamic that degrades norms over time until one side sees an opening to deliver the death blow. Donald Trump is not a dictator. But it’s impossible to read How Democracies Die without worrying that our collective decay of democratic norms may open the door to one down the line—perhaps even one of an entirely different ideological persuasion.

    Wall Street Journal

    The big advantage of political scientists over even the shrewdest and luckiest of eavesdropping journalists is that they have the training to give us a bigger picture…. [Levitsky and Ziblatt] bring to bear useful global and historical context… [showing] the mistakes democratic politicians make as they let dangerous demagogues into the heart of power.

    The Sunday Times

    A powerful wake-up call.

    Foreign Affairs

    The great strength of Levitsky and Ziblatt’s How Democracies Die is that it rejects the exceptionalist account of US democracy. Their lens is comparative. The authors say America is not immune to the trends that have led to democracy’s collapse in other parts of the world.

    Financial Times

    How Democracies Die studies the modern history of apparently healthy democracies that have slid into autocracy. It is hard to read this fine book without coming away terribly concerned about the possibility Trump might inflict a mortal wound on the health of the republic…. It is simplistic to expect boots marching in the streets, but there will be a battle for democracy.

    Jonathan Chait, New York Magazine

    The political-science text in vogue this winter is How Democracies Die.

    The New Yorker

    [An] important new book.

    Nicholas Kristof, The New York Times

    Scholarly and readable, alarming and level-headed… the greatest of the many merits of Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt’s contribution to what will doubtless be the ballooning discipline of democracy death studies is their rejection of western exceptionalism. There are no vaccines in American (or, I would add, British) culture that protects us: just ways of doing business that now feel decrepit.

    The Guardian

    Carefully researched and persuasive… the authors show the fragility of even the best democracies and also caution politicians… who think they can somehow co-opt autocrats without getting burned…. How Democracies Die provides a guide for Americans of all political persuasions for what to avoid.

    USA Today

    A smart and deeply informed book about the ways in which democracy is being undermined in dozens of countries around the world, and in ways that are perfectly legal.

    Fareed Zakaria, CNN

    If you only read one book for the rest of the year, read How Democracies Die… This is not a book for just Democrats or Republicans. It is a book for all Americans. It is nonpartisan. It is fact based. It is deeply rooted in history… the best commentary on our politics, no contest.

    Michael Morrell, former Acting Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (via Twitter)

    Fair warning: reading Levitsky and Ziblatt will leave you very, very unsettled. They make a powerful case that we really and truly are in uncharted territory, living in a moment when the line between difficult times and dark times has blurred.

    Washington Monthly

    Where Levitsky and Ziblatt make their mark is in weaving together political science and historical analysis of both domestic and international democratic crises; in doing so, they expand the conversation beyond Trump and before him, to other countries and to the deep structure of American democracy and politics.

    Ezra Klein, Vox

    We’re already awash in public indignation—what we desperately need is a sober, dispassionate look at the current state of affairs. Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, two of the most respected scholars in the field of democracy studies, offer just that.

    The Washington Post

    Levitsky and Ziblatt show how democracies have collapsed elsewhere—not just through violent coups, but more commonly (and insidiously) through a gradual slide into authoritarianism…. How Democracies Die is a lucid and essential guide to what can happen here.

    The New York Times

    The defining political book, so far, of 2018.

    The Philadelphia Inquirer
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