Levitsky, Ziblatt To Talk Trump as Part of New Gov. Dept. Program

Government professors Stephen R. Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt will discuss their bestselling book, “How Democracies Die," Wednesday, kicking off the second semester of the department's new "Gov Books" program.

Gov Books, which launched in the fall, seeks to connect students to faculty and raise awareness about ongoing faculty research, according to Government Chair Jennifer L. Hochschild.

The program was the “brainchild” of George Soroka, the assistant director of undergraduate studies and a lecturer for the Government Department, according to Professor Cheryl B. Welch, who implemented the program.

“We’re hoping that this breaks down some of the barriers between faculty and students,” Welch said.

At Wednesday’s event, Government concentrators will have the opportunity to discuss the book with the professors and take home a signed copy.


Levitsky said the book is ideal for the program because it’s written for a wide audience.

“We draw on political science research, but we wrote the book in a way that is hopefully accessible to a broader public. It is a book that we hope many Harvard students will read.”

Levitsky and Ziblatt both study democratic breakdowns in world history, and their New York Times bestselling book lays out trends in modern American politics which, they argue, indicate American democracy may be in danger.

“Nobody ever thinks about a serious democratic crisis, a constitutional crisis in the United States,” Levitsky said. “Because we take our democracy and our democratic stability for granted.”

Levitsky pointed to the 2016 election as the impetus of the decision to co-write the book with Ziblatt.

“The [Trump] campaign is what pushed us over the edge. This is the first time in more than a century that either party had nominated a candidate with such demonstrably weak commitment to democratic and constitutional norms,” Levitsky said. “But when we started doing the research, we realized that the problem runs quite a bit deeper than Trump.”

The book compares a weakening of “key democratic norms” in the United States over the last 25 years to historical democratic crises in Latin America and Europe, according to Levitsky, and warns that the combination of President Trump’s “demagogic” rhetoric and hyperpartisanship in Congress could weaken democratic institutions.

Levitsky cited recent events like Republicans’ blocking of President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nomination and the recent government shutdown in January as emblematic of this hyperpartisanship.

“Polarization is really dangerous. And all of us have to take steps to facilitate dialogue across the two poles," he said.

The book also offers action items for concerned citizens, including undergraduates.

“Democrats should fight, they should protest, they should resist Trump in an energetic manner, but they should do so in a way that is norm-defending, not norm-violating,” Levitsky said.

—Staff writer Cecilia R. D'Arms can be reached at cecilia.d'