Daniel Ziblatt © Annette Hornischer

Daniel Ziblatt: "Tyranny of the Minority"

Thursday, May 16, 2024, 7 p.m. (CEST)

America is undergoing a massive experiment: It is moving, in fits and starts, toward a multiracial democracy, something few societies have ever done. The prospect of change has sparked an authoritarian backlash that threatens the very foundations of our political system. Why is democracy under assault in the United States, and not in other wealthy, diversifying nations? And what can we do to save it?

In their new book, Ziblatt and his co-author Steven Levitsky offer a coherent framework for understanding these volatile times. They draw on a wealth of examples—from 1930s France to present-day Thailand—to explain why and how political parties turn against democracy. They then show how our Constitution makes us uniquely vulnerable to attacks from within: It is a pernicious enabler of minority rule, allowing partisan minorities to consistently thwart and even rule over popular majorities. Most modern democracies—from Germany and Sweden to Argentina and New Zealand—have eliminated outdated institutions like elite upper chambers, indirect elections, and lifetime tenure for judges. The United States lags dangerously behind.

Together with Levitsky, Ziblatt issues an urgent call to perfect our national experiment. It’s a daunting task, but the country has been remade our country before—most notably, after the Civil War and during the Progressive Era. And now America is at a crossroads: It will either become a multiracial democracy or cease to be a democracy at all.

Photo: Daniel Ziblatt © Annette Hornischer

©Stephanie Edwards

Daniel Ziblatt is Eaton Professor of the Science of Government at Harvard University and since October 2020 the new director of the Department Transformations of Democracy. He has been awarded the 2019 Berlin Prize by the American Academy in Berlin and was Karl W. Deutsch Visiting Professor at the WZB in Berlin from 2019 to 2020. His book How Democracies Die (with Steven Levitsky, Crown, 2018), a New York Times bestseller, has been translated into over fifteen languages. His book Conservative Parties and the Birth of Democracy (Cambridge University Press, 2017), an account of Europe's historical democratization, won the American Political Science Association's 2018 Woodrow Wilson Prize for the best book in government and international relations and three other prizes including the American Sociological Association's 2018 Barrington Moore Award for the best book in comparative historical sociology.

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