Liberal Arts seminar to examine how democracies die

January 08, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — From Turkey to Brazil to India, many have argued that democracy is in retreat around the world. This so-called democratic erosion does not happen overnight, but instead through a series of gradual actions that undermine the norms and institutions needed to make democracy thrive.

A new Liberal Arts seminar will examine the growing movement away from democracy and why it matters. LA 297 Democratic Erosion, taught by McCourtney Institute for Democracy Managing Director Chris Beem, will be held from 4:35 to 5:50 p.m. on Thursdays in 113 Thomas Building from Feb. 7 to April 11. The one-credit LA 297 course is available to any undergraduate student.

The book “How Democracies Die” by Harvard’s Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt will serve as the course’s framework. In the book, Levitsky and Ziblatt outline a framework under which democracies erode into more authoritarian forms of government, using examples from history and the present day.

Beem said he was inspired to teach the course after talking with students about their attitudes toward democracy in an era of political polarization.

“Young people, in America and elsewhere, have grown up in an era of extreme partisanship and inefficiency. They are so disheartened that they are questioning democracy as a form of government,” he said. “This class will consider the contemporary climate, investigate the hows and whys of democratic decline, and consider various strategies for responding to this decline.”

The Democratic Erosion course is one of several special-mission classes being offered this spring by the College of the Liberal Arts as part of the ongoing Liberal Arts Edge initiative to approach real-world news and events from multiple perspectives. Last spring, an Edge seminar covered democratic dissent and how protest movements translate into public policy.

“This focus on timely, real-world problems is challenging to teach, and often present a new experience for the student, but they are also extremely engaging and interesting,” Beem said.

Last spring, the McCourtney Institute brought Ziblatt to campus for a lecture on "How Democracies Die" and recorded an interview with him for its Democracy Works podcast.

Students interested in registering for the Democratic Erosion course can schedule LA 297 (course #29728) in LionPATH.

Last Updated January 09, 2019