Harvard Political Scientists Deliver Loyola’s Annual Hanway Lecture on ‘How Democracies Die’

On October 27, Loyola University of Maryland held its annual Hanway Global Studies Lecture at McGuire Hall, giving students, faculty, staff, parents, and community members a chance to hear ideas from Steven Levitsky and David Ziblatt. Harvard political scientists and winners for their co-authored book “How do democracies die?Levitsky and Zilbatt engaged in a discussion of the factors contributing to the weakening of democracy both domestically and internationally.

The event was introduced by incoming President Terrence M. Sawyer, JD and hosted by two of Loyola’s global studies majors, Bethlehem Eshetu ’24 and Juan Lopez ’24. Eshetu and Lopez were able to spend the evening guiding a conversation with Ziblatt and Levitsky as they broke down their book and the current state of democracies around the world.

The conference began with Levitsky and Ziblatt revealing what initially prompted them to dedicate a book to the study of deteriorating democracies. As Levitsky said, although he and Ziblatt study different parts of the world, they were mutually concerned after noticing that the United States was emulating alarming patterns seen before damaging events in other countries.

One of Ziblatt and Levitsky’s main points in their book and panel discussion is that today’s democratic systems are deteriorating far differently than before; they are rarely destroyed by an outside party, but rather from within.

Levitsky said, “Democracies don’t die like they used to. People our age…think of military cuts and a brutal death of democracy…in the 21st century, that’s not how most democracies die. They die at the hands of elected presidents and prime ministers.

While acknowledging the successes and failures of implementing democratic systems in the United States and elsewhere, Ziblatt noted that “we should be open to learning from other countries” where democratic improvements have been made.

Levitsky echoed that sentiment, but cautioned against “adopting one size[s]-all approaches”, because many individualized and country-specific factors are also at play in working democracies.

Speaking about the polarization of our democracy, Levitsky pointed out that not only fundamental beliefs and political associations divide Americans, but also geography. Views on how democracy should work in rural versus urban areas, for example, tend to differ radically.

Despite tensions among citizens caused by differing political views, Levitsky and Ziblatt encouraged conversation among those who do not share the same ideas to discuss issues, develop problem-solving skills, and gain perspective.

Staying relevant in today’s times, the writers took the time to highlight the current role of the media. Levitsky spoke about the different forms of media today, saying that markets dominated by private news sources are lacking compared to others.

He said, “When you have a broader public outlet, like PBS or NPR…they become a market shaper…they raise the bar. When you have a market dominated by for-profit corporations…then the quality deteriorates and you don’t get the same kind of in-depth investigative reporting.

Discussing how the media helps shape our current political state, Levitsky said, “Social media leads to polarization… I think the quality of media in our country is particularly low.

Journalism student Bridget Botelho ’24 shared that commenting on the media today were some of her top takeaways.

Botelho said, “As a journalist, I think democracy is a big part of what we do…I thought it was really interesting, the takeaways they had, especially about media and their role within democracy, improving it but at the same time. time providing space for people to express very hurtful things.

Focusing on the fact that younger generations have always had low voter turnouts, Ziblatt referred to the common belief among non-voters that their vote will make no difference as “the ultimate case of self-fulfilling prophecy. ” and “the most self-fulfilling”. -undo logic” since voting is meant to represent one’s voice in a democracy.

Expressing concern, Levitsky said “people who grew up in the 21st century did not experience democratic success”, thus discouraging them from voting.

Levitsky concluded with a full circular message, linking the central theme of “How do democracies die? in the future of democratic systems.

“Just as democracies often die slowly and suddenly and gradually, they are saved slowly and suddenly and gradually too.”

A recording of this year’s Hanway Lecture in Global Studies is available hereand more information about the lecture series is available on the Loyola website.

Featured Image Courtesy of Erin Altenbach


Angela C. Hale