Boris Tsang / Sun Assistant News Editor

Prof. Daniel Ziblatt lectures on the decline of American democracy in Klarman Hall.

September 13, 2018

‘The Constitution is Not Enough to Save Us’ Warns Harvard Government Professor

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“Is American Democracy truly in danger?” was a question that Prof. Daniel Ziblatt, government, Harvard University, never thought he would ponder — until the modern political climate.

Ziblatt discussed a book he co-authored with Steven Levitsky, How Democracies Die, in a lecture Wednesday, warning attendees about the potential of a collapsing American democracy and giving solutions to protect the United States.

How Democracies Die traces the evolution of modern political philosophy in Europe and helps to understand how democratic notions get constructed. The piece was a New York Times bestseller and translated into 15 languages, according to Ziblatt’s Harvard staff biography.

“Like most Americans, I have always taken American Democracy for granted,” Ziblatt told the auditorium.

The lecture emphasized President Trump’s election as an indication of a dying democracy in America and how “the past one and a half years has put us in uncharted territory.”

“Americans tend to think we can place a lot of faith in our Constitution,” Ziblatt said.

He continued to discuss how the system of checks and balances in place are not enough to keep Trump in line and that “the Constitution is not enough to save us,” as many things have changed since the document was written.

“Democracies used to die at the hands of men with guns,” Ziblatt said. “Today, democracies die at the hands of presidents and prime ministers.”

According to Ziblatt, the protection of the United States’ democracy can be found in political parties, as opposing political parties act as democracy’s gatekeepers to “keep extremists and demagogues out of power.”

Ziblatt feels that in the past the American political parties fulfilled this duty, but during the “extraordinary times” of today, parties very rarely endorse candidates outside their own party.

He encouraged the audience to consider the state of America because “citizens aren’t fully aware their democracy is dying until it is too late.”

Lauren Kazen ’21, who attended the lecture, characterized it as “really eye-opening.”

“I’ve caught myself taking the stability of our democracy for granted,” she told The Sun. “It’s interesting and important to look at what the erosion of democracy would look like in contemporary America compared to historical and foreign examples.”

However, not all members of the audience were left convinced that the country is in peril.

“I do not think democracy is dying,” Ben Ostfield ’22 said. “I think democracy in America is changing.”