Spring 2020 course to examine how democracies die

October 30, 2019
The PLSC 297 seminar will examine the growing movement away from democracy and why it matters.

The PLSC 297 seminar will examine the growing movement away from democracy and why it matters. 

IMAGE: Penn State

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.

The PLSC 297 seminar will examine the growing movement away from democracy and why it matters. The course, taught by McCourtney Institute for Democracy Managing Director Chris Beem, will be held from 4:35 to 5:50 p.m. on Tuesdays in 218 Hosler Building from Jan. 13 to March 3. The one-credit course is available to any undergraduate student at University Park.

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, both in the United States and throughout the world."

“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.

The McCourtney Institute brought Ziblatt to campus in spring 2018 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 PLSC (course #18397) in LionPATH.

Last Updated October 30, 2019