DEMOCRACY WATCH“Tyranny of the Minority’” Warns Constitution is Dangerously Outdated

By Christy DeSmith

Published 14 September 2023

The U.S. Constitution desperately needs updating, say Harvard government professors Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt. In a new book, a follow-up to their How Democracies Die, Levitsky and Ziblatt urge institutional reforms, which include rejection of candidates who violate norms.

The U.S. Constitution desperately needs updating, say Harvard government professors Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt.

“We have a very, very old constitution; in fact, the oldest written constitution in the world,” notes Ziblatt, the Eaton Professor of the Science of Government. “It was written in a pre-democratic era. It hasn’t been amended much compared to other democracies. As a result, we have these institutions in place that most other democracies got rid of over the course of the 20th century.”

In their new book Tyranny of the Minority: Why American Democracy Reached the Breaking Point, the comparative political scientists argue that these antiquated institutions, including the Electoral College, have protected and enabled an increasingly extremist GOP, which keeps moving farther to the right despite losing the popular vote in all but one of the last eight presidential elections. The scholars also survey governments worldwide for examples of democratizing reforms. And they draw from history in underscoring the dangers of our constitutional stasis.

Levitsky and Ziblatt’s 2018 bestseller, How Democracies Die, drew from global case studies to argue that Donald Trump represented a threat to core democratic principles, even flagging the possibility that he would refuse to cede power. Today, in light of the 2020 election — and the 147 Congressional Republicans who voted to overturn the results — the authors say it’s clear the threat is larger than Trump.

“The new book makes the case that large segments of the Republican Party leadership have lost commitment to democratic rules of the game,” said Levitsky, the David Rockefeller Professor of Latin American Studies and Professor of Government and director of the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies at Harvard. “The fact that the party remains radicalized means the challenge is ongoing.”

The Gazette spoke with Levitsky and Ziblatt, who this week was named the next director of the Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies, about the state of the nation. The interview was edited for length and clarity.