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Daniel Ziblatt on Authoritarianism - Dictionary of Arguments

Levitsky I 31
Authoritarianism/Levitsky/Ziblatt: In "The Breakdown of Democratic Regimes", 1978 (...) [Juan J.] Linz examined the role of politicians and showed how their behavior can strengthen or endanger democracy. He also proposed a "litmus test" to identify anti-democratic politicians (...)(1).
Building on Linz's findings, we have identified four behavioral traits that serve as warning signs and can help identify authoritarian politicians.
According to these, we should be concerned when a politician
(1) rejects democratic rules in word or deed,
(2) denies legitimacy to political opponents
(3) tolerates or advocates violence or
(4) is willing to curtail civil liberties of opponents, including the media.
Levitsky I 72
Ad 1) [Donald] Trump fulfilled this criterion when he questioned the legitimacy of the election process and made the unprecedented announcement before the election that he might not recognize the election results. >Electoral Fraud/Levitsky.
Levitsky I 73
Ad 2) (Denial of Legitimacy): According to historian Douglas Brinkley, no major presidential candidate since 1860 has questioned the democratic system as much [as Donald Trump]. Only in the run-up to the civil war did important politicians deny the legitimacy of the federal government in a similar way. This was a "secessionist, revolutionary motive" that had stood for the attempt "to throw the entire system overboard at once"(2).
Levitsky I 74
Ad 3) (Encouragement of violence): Violence emanating from parties or politicized violence is often the harbinger of the collapse of democracy. Well-known examples are the Black Shirts in Italy, the Nazis in Germany, the leftist guerrillas in Uruguay, and the leftist paramilitary groups in Brazil in the early 1960s. In the last century, no presidential candidate of the major parties ever approved of violence (George Wallace did so in 1968, but he ran for a third party). Trump broke with this tradition. In his election campaign he tolerated the use of violence by his supporters (...).
Levitsky I 76
Ad 4) (Willingness to curtail the civic freedoms of (...) critics): Trump revealed this willingness when he announced in 2016 that he would appoint a special investigator to investigate Hillary Clinton after the election and declared that she belonged in prison. He also threatened to punish critical media on several occasions. At a rally in Fort Worth, Texas, for example, he announced, directed against Jeff Bezos, the owner of the Washington Post, "If I become president, oh, they have a problem."(3)
Levitsky I 77
Apart from Richard Nixon, neither of the two major parties' presidential candidates has met even one of the criteria of our litmus test in the last century.
Levitsky I 93
Destruction of the supreme courts and institutions: Having the arbitrators on your side is always an advantage. Modern states have various institutions that have the right to investigate and punish the misconduct of both officials and private individuals. These include the judiciary, law enforcement agencies as well as intelligence services, tax offices and supervisory authorities of all kinds. In democracies, such authorities are obliged to act as neutral arbitration boards. For prospective autocrats, the judiciary and law enforcement agencies therefore represent both a challenge and an opportunity. In Hungary, for example, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán nominally staffed independent authorities such as the Public Prosecutor's Office, the Court of Accounts, the Ombudsman's Office, the Central Bureau of Statistics and the Constitutional Court with his party supporters after his return to power in 2010(4).
Further examples from Poland, Venezuela, Peru, Malaysia(5-10).


1. Juan J. Linz, The Breakdown of Democratic Regimes. Crisis, Breakdown, and Reequilibration, Baltimore 1978, 27-38.
2. »Donald Trump, Slipping in Polls, Warns of ›Stolen Election‹«, in: The New York Times, 14th Oktober 2016.
3. »Donald Trump Threatens to Rewrite Libel Laws to Make It Easier to Sue the Media«, Business Insider, 26th Februar 2016.
4. János Kornai, »Hungary’s UTurn. Retreating from Democracy«, in: Journal of Democracy 26, No. 43 (Juli 2015), p. 35.
5. Joanna Fomina/Jacek Kucharczyk, »Populism and Protest in Poland«, in: Journal of Democracy 27, No. 4 (Oktober 2016), p. 62. The Constitutional Court declared the reform law unconstitutional in early 2016, but the PIS government ignored it. His party, proclaimed PIS chairman Jaroslaw Kaczyński, would "not allow anarchy in Poland, even if it is promoted by the courts"; see Bugaric/Ginsburg, "The Assault on Postcommunist Courts," p. 74.
6. Allan-Randolph Brewer Carías, Dismantling Democracy in Venezuela. The Chávez Authoritarian Experiment, New York 2010, p. 58; Jones, Hugo!, p. 241.
7. Brewer Carías, Dismantling Democracy in Venezuela, p. 59.
8. Javier Corrales/Michael Penfold, Dragon in the Tropics: Hugo Chávez and the Political Economy of Revolution in Venezuela, Washington, D. C., 2011, p. 27; Brewer Carías, Dismantling Democracy in Venezuela, p. 236–238.
9. »El chavismo nunca pierde en el Supremo Venezolano«, in: El País, 12th Dezember 2014, http://internacional.elpais.com/internacional/2014/12/12/ actualidad/1418373177_159073.html; Javier Corrales, »Autocratic Legalism in Venezuela«, in: Journal of Democracy 26, No. 2 (April 2015), p. 44.
10. Conaghan, Fujimori’s Peru, pp. 154–162.


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Ziblatt, Daniel


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