I called Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, the authors of the recent book “How Democracies Die,” with a question last week. Levitsky and Ziblatt are political scientists, and their book has gotten a lot of attention lately. They argue that the biggest threat to democracy in much of the world today is not a military coup but elected leaders “who subvert the very process that brought them to power.” My question to Levitsky and Ziblatt was: How alarmed should I be about the recent event in Wisconsin, where Republican legislators are trying to strip power from the incoming Democratic governor and attorney general? Their answer: Alarmed.
The Wisconsin power grab is precisely the sort of anti-democratic move that their book describes. If it continues, Levitsky told me, “in the best case, it can leave us with a highly dysfunctional political system. And in less than the best case, democracies break down.”
Given the seriousness of the situation in Wisconsin, you might think that more people might be speaking out — other Republicans, corporate leaders and so on. But so far, many have been silent. It shows a disappointing lack of courage.