Democ­racy on Life Sup­port

Global Asia - - BOOK REVIEWS - Re­viewed by John Nils­son-wright

Democ­racy is frag­ile, open to at­tack not just through coups but more in­sid­i­ously through ero­sion of po­lit­i­cal norms and in­sti­tu­tional safe­guards. Har­vard po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tists Lev­it­sky and Zi­blatt of­fer a close anal­y­sis of its cur­rent state in the US through his­tor­i­cally in­formed com­par­a­tive stud­ies of demo­cratic de­cline drawn from Latin Amer­ica and Europe.

While un­am­bigu­ously warn­ing of Don­ald Trump’s au­thor­i­tar­ian im­pulses, they date the weak­en­ing of Amer­ica’s demo­cratic po­lit­i­cal cul­ture from the 1980s and the po­lar­iza­tion of po­lit­i­cal life, ac­cel­er­ated by rel­a­tive eco­nomic de­cline, the grow­ing salience of race and im­mi­gra­tion in pol­i­tics, and the rise of new par­ti­san me­dia out­lets. Po­lit­i­cal par­ties, not the at­ti­tudes of or­di­nary Amer­i­cans, con­sti­tu­tional rules or the in­sti­tu­tions of the three co­equal branches of the US govern­ment, are democ­racy’s pri­mary gate­keep­ers. Weak­en­ing of the key norms of mu­tual tol­er­a­tion and in­sti­tu­tional for­bear­ance, em­braced and ac­cel­er­ated by the Re­pub­li­can Party, is the big­gest chal­lenge to the sur­vival of demo­cratic govern­ment in the US.

Democ­racy isn’t des­tined to die in the US, but it re­mains im­per­iled, es­pe­cially should Trump seek to ex­ploit a fu­ture cri­sis to bol­ster his power. Pro­tect­ing it re­quires a new pro-demo­cratic coali­tion, Re­pub­li­can Party re­form and se­ri­ous prac­ti­cal steps to re­duce to­day’s sharp po­lar­iza­tion in US so­ci­ety and pol­i­tics.

Democ­racy isn’t des­tined to die in the United States, but it re­mains im­per­iled.

How Democ­ra­cies Die: What His­tory Tells Us About Our Fu­tureBy Steven Lev­it­sky & Daniel Zi­blatt Crown, 2018, 320 pages, $11.00 (Hard­cover)

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