Without Contradiction, Democracies Die
4 January 2024
In the context of a scientific discussion, I wish to underscore our drift toward an autocratic style of governance by referring to reputable publications.
“How Democracies Die,” authored by Harvard University political scientists Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt in 2018, delves into the phenomenon of democratic backsliding and the gradual subversion of democratic processes by elected leaders seeking to enhance their power (Levitsky & Ziblatt, 2018).
The book warns against the erosion of “mutual toleration” and respect for the political legitimacy of the opposition. Stressing the importance of accepting election outcomes and opposing attempts to overthrow or make baseless complaints about the election process, the authors emphasize the need to respect differing political opinions without attacking opponents’ patriotism or predicting the country's destruction if they come to power.
In our current situation in Curaçao, there is a noticeable lack of respect for the opposition, an increasing tendency to cast doubt on the election process and results, and instances of political rivalry turning verbally violent. Claims of irregularities, such as ballots being black and white instead of colored, further undermine the democratic process. Attempts to cancel elections and refusals to resign by governments that lost parliamentary majorities are incidents from the past decade.
The authors highlight the potential actions of various branches of government in a system with a separation of powers that could undermine other branches or the opposition. They caution against pushing political agendas through tactics like “constitutional hardball” and recommend “self-control” and cooperation to maintain balanced government functioning. Threats to democratic stability, including economic inequality and party segregation by race, religion, and geography, are also discussed.
In Curaçao, the challenges include difficulties for parliament to hold the government accountable, especially for opposition parties. Democratic stability is further threatened by growing poverty and inequality, with divisive issues emerging around race, religion, sexual preference, and nationality.
Dedicated chapters analyze the United States, Donald Trump, and the 2016 U.S. presidential election, extending the theory to Latin America and European countries, notably Venezuela (Hugo Chavez) and Russia (Vladimir Putin). The authors credit the U.S.’s resilience against democracy undermining attempts until 2016 to two norms: mutual toleration and forbearance.
More recent cases, such as those in Argentina, El Salvador, and the Netherlands, can now be added to this list.
Described as a study of how democracies perish, the book emphasizes that in contemporary times, democracies are more threatened by elected leaders than by armed forces. This resonates with the case of Curaçao, where elected authorities are eroding democracy.
The final chapter, “Saving Democracy,” underscores political recommendations, urging humility, learning from other countries, recognizing warning signs, and preventing missteps that have harmed other democracies. Recommendations include restoring and extending democratic norms, addressing issues in increasingly diverse societies, and preventing democracy’s internal decay.
In Curaçao, particularly among political parties, members of parliament, and ministers, the explicit embrace of democratic norms, coupled with a society that champions free speech, is essential to protect democracy.
Levitsky, S., & Ziblatt, D. (2018). How Democracies Die. United States: Crown.