Wednesday, February 7, 2018

How Democracies Die by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt

Genre: Political Science
320 p.
Publisher: Crown
Published: 1/16/18
Source: NetGalley and Publisher for review
Affiliate Link: http://amzn.to/2E5jvmT


A bracing, revelatory look at the demise of liberal democracies around the world--and a road map for rescuing our own
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.
My thoughts:

No matter what you think about US politics right now, I do think there is a resurgence in learning about the political process and what these people in office can and can't do or even what they should or shouldn't do (if not in legal terms). This book does a good job at explaining a bit of that from lessons in the past in terms of what is happening today. Unfortunately I've seen some people dismiss this book without even a cursory read because it does criticize Donald Trump and his rise to becoming the current US president. While it does criticize the man and what he has done, it also brings a historical viewpoint in politics I have not read in quite a while. The book isn't just about Donald Trump even though he is the reason the book was written.

I think the most one word review I've seen about this book is depressing. While that aspect is present in the book, it is also hopeful. We get lessons from democracies that have perished but also those that were threatened and survived and became stronger. The US has had several threatening instances to our democracy and some were successful and corrected in later years which made it stronger and some gone uncorrected or partially corrected which has diminished our democracy. The book also shows what specific ideas were put in place by the founding fathers to prevent demagogues, those who use popular prejudices and false claims, from taking charge. Some ideas were explained in a historical context (ideas that eluded me like the electoral college) as to why they were put in place and also why those ideas failed in recent times. It also delivers a road map in how authoritarian figures come to power by examples of the past and how closely that map is followed in the present. It isn't a one sided book but well rounded as it shows how no one side (liberal or conservative) is immune to the danger of an authoritarian figure. Also, be assured, it shows how the authoritarian figures were subverted either before or after that person came to power.

So while I do see that aspects of this book are depressing I also see hope within the pages. I think it also helps to see that the tiny actions of "no" within the party in power might make a difference if it starts to grow. This book really helped me see that as a bit more positive than I had before (not much but I'll take what I can get). There is so much more I want to say as this book has really made me think. If you want to know a bit more about how democracies win or fail this is the book for you. It is, I think, better than the more tabloid book out there (no names and admittedly I haven't read it because there is nothing to back his claims) as it is a well written and a well documented thesis on how democracies die and also live.

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46 comments:

  1. It could be an interesting book for everyone who wants to know more

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  2. Glad this wasn't all doom and gloom. :) Great review!

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    1. I don't think that was the intention for the book but a way out of the situation.

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    1. You might like the historical parts since it is world wide, but yea.... mostly a US book.

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  4. Not my kind of reads but sounds fitting especially for the world we are now

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  5. Not something I would sit down and read. That being said I have always been interested in politics. Have always been a staunch democrat. So you can imagine how I really feel about what's going on in Washington. Glad the book kept you interested.

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    1. I'm curious as to what dissuades you from this one. Makes me wonder if I'm missing something. I really did like the historical perspective they presented. I do hope you are taking care of yourself!

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  6. Shortly after the election I listened to The Presidential podcast - which went through the history of every president and the biggest events that surrounded them at the time. It really put things in perspective.

    it was depressing because we've done awful things and we keep repeating the mistakes but it was also hopeful in that we survived it and made things better.

    I think it's always good to know the process no matter who is in power.

    Sounds fascinating Melissa.

    Karen @ For What It's Worth

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    1. I agree, but I do like that this one talked about some of the mistakes we didn't quite make better which I often find missing from some of these books... but also glad about those we did make better. I think you may find something useful in this one.

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  7. Sounds like a very sobering, but informative, read. And certainly timely.

    Tanya @ Girl Plus Books

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    1. Well, it is meant to be contemporary for the time as it does criticize the president currently residing, but in a way that is at least specific and historical.

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  8. I didn't know about this book so thanks for letting us know about it.

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  9. Sounds like a great book. and so timely obviously! I can see giving this a shot. Yeah probably a little depressing , like how did we get here, but nice that there's hope too. Nice review.

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    1. I think there was some hope there. I'll take what I can get. :)

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  10. Seems like an important read, and I'm glad it's not all depressing....though understandable it is!

    -Lauren
    www.shootingstarsmag.net

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    1. Yea, it was a bit depressing, but glad there was some hope within.

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  11. This sounds really intriguing, and it's definitely not something I would pick up normally, nice review!

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    1. Well, it was timely and that does interest me. :)

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  12. I like that it goes back and puts the concept of democracy into context all the way to where we are today. Thanks for sharing!

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  13. I don't normally read books like this--too real for me. When I read books, I want to lose myself and not think about the problems of the world. I know that we need be educated on democracy and how the world works, because it's everyone's job to be knowledgeable, and we should all try to build something better.

    However, this IS a book my husband would love to read. I might get it for him and then skim over it myself. Lovely review!

    Do You Dog-ear?

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    1. I totally get it, but sometimes your brain can make it even worse than it could be or is (not as much in this case... but you get what I mean). Hope he enjoys it!

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  14. US politics baffle me so this'd be an interesting read from that perspective alone but I don't think I'd enjoy the hefty dose of reality it'd poor on my reading time, lol.

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  15. Not a genre I tend to read but it sounds well rounded and worthwhile. Especially now. Great post!

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    1. I think it was worthwhile to read especially with what is going on now.

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  16. Great review. I've thought about reading more about politics, for exactly the reason this book was written. I haven't gotten there yet, but I might. This sounds like a book that might be of interest to start down this road.

    Here's the thing I really don't understand about electoral college (well I understand the point of if, even if I'm not sure I agree with it), but why are states an all or nothing in voting. For example, Ohio was almost a 60/40 split, but you get 100% of the electoral college votes. I think it would make more sense if the state gave the percentage of their votes that matched what the voters said. It would also still do what the electoral college intended (which I'm still not sure I agree with), and give votes in some states more than others.

    Melanie @ Hot Listens & Rabid Reads & Books of My Heart

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    1. I know that some of the rules had changed from how it was originally which is good and bad. Bad in how some of the changes failed at preventing a demagogue as it intended in this election and that is what they addressed in a historical perspective. The main caveat, which is often absent in most discussion of the original intent, was that it was supposed to be made of men of intelligence and those that were not swayed by popularity. While that makes absolute sense as another way to prevent those that subvert democracy from taking charge, it is also unattainable in terms of making sure that those would be the ones making the votes (my opinion). The goal was to prevent popularity from taking over which is how demagogues and authoritarians often take power. It did not go into the specifics to the number of votes each state gets but to the mindset of those that crafted the Republic. Hope that helps. :)

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  17. Interesting take meant to educate and hopefully instill hope. I know the author books is frustrating, because even if there is some truth to it, it is now being looked at as nothing but a fluff piece. This, this is different and I am glad to hear that it makes you see things differently.

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    1. Yes, this one is different than the other popular book because their perspective comes from history and not gossip. It didn't exactly make me see things differently but it did bring a broader understanding to the issues at hand.

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  18. Depressing & hopeful ... that's how I've felt while going over historical events lately. I really wish more people learned and understood this stuff. I'd love to read this!

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    1. More depressing than hopeful for me, but hope is still there. If you get it I hope you get some of the same takeaway as I did.... but you will still be frustrated with what is going on in the world.

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  19. Though I must admit I don't read a lot of non-fiction, this does seem like a very important and timely read. Definitely an interesting book!

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    1. I think it is an important read for the time. :)

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  20. I think this one would depress me terribly. I'm already mortified about the Orange Cheetoh. Not sure if I can take anymore.But most of my depression is coming from the polarized media. Each side stinks. Makes me want to just go lose myself in a book. Not a bad thing. lol
    Rebecca @ The Portsmouth Review

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    1. Hey now... don't disparage cheetos! LOL I've always thought that, aside from cable news shows, that the media isn't one side or the other but leans toward money. If you look at it that way, it makes sense as to how they report and what they report. Gotta keep those sponsors happy (sadly enough). This one may not be for you, but it is something good if you change your mind and want another more historical perspective. Now go read something fun!

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  21. This seems like a good one to read. Great review!

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  22. This is not something I would usually read, but I'm glad you enjoyed it!

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