Just finished reading the captivating How democracies die by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt.
The authors, Professors of Government at Harvard University, through an engaging and informative narrative demonstrate how extreme polarization kills democracy.
As I was reading the book, I realized the wisdom in the statement: “the most effective coalitions are those that bring together groups with dissimilar - even opposing - views on many issues. They are built not among friends but among adversaries. History shows that it is possible to reconcile democracy with diversity.”
The authors put forward a fascinating four behavioral warning signs to spot an authoritarian leader. They suggest if a leader shows one or more of these traits, he/she is a demagogue and an authoritarian:
- “rejects, in words or action, the democratic rule of game
- denies the legitimacy of opponents
- tolerates or encourages violence
- indicates a willingness to curtain the civil liberties of opponents, include the media”
Dare I say that the above four characteristics not only apply to a political leader (head of state/government, minister, party leader, politician, etc.) but also to anyone who is and/or claims to be a leader (CEO, commander, manager, boss, superior, etc.)
The authors make the case that “democracy is a shared enterprise and its fate depends on all us”. As such, they say PEOPLE and PEOPLE’s WILL are more powerful that the Constitution.
Rightfully so, they say “people are the first source of power, and the people can abolish a Constitution if they want to.”
Throughout history, people have been instrumental to topple governments and democracies. They’ve done so through peaceful marches, or violent revolutions. They’ve done so because they were fighting for a cause or because of resentment.
I am not going to pass any judgement on whether these causes and/or resentments are right or wrong. What I have realized is that democracy is super fragile. And to make sure democracy stands the test of demagogues and authoritarian rulers, we need to invest in people and in education.
I would like to believe that if people have a good sense of history, if people can tell apart propaganda from facts, if people are able to recognize the characteristics of authoritarian leaders, if people see the early warning signs of democratic norms being eroded, if people can see through the pseudo “economic crises, natural disasters, and especially security threats - wars, armed insurgencies, or terrorist attacks” which de facto allow autocrats to exercise authoritarian measures and “do whatever they like”, then we would be able to safeguard our biggest gift - democracy.
Sadly, our societies have become so polarized, and this has led to eroding democratic norms, which means democracy can longer be taken for granted.
What we are left with, is to invest in people. Invest in raising awareness and building people’s understanding about the sacrosanct democratic norms and values. Invest in teaching people about the infinite benefits of living a democratic societies and cherishing diversity.