Our shared syllabus is designed for a 13-week, semester-long course. The course is divided into two broad modules. The first module begins by defining democracy and democratic erosion, and then surveys six substantive themes. Each of the first five substantive themes addresses one of the causes, symptoms, and/or consequences of democratic erosion; the sixth—resistance—explores mechanisms for defending democracy from the threat of erosion. In the second module, each instructor selects regional or country case studies to discuss in greater depth. We conclude by returning to the case of the US and our own unique political moment.


Introduction—setting the stage (week 1)

Bermeo, Nancy. 2016. “On Democratic Backsliding.” Journal of Democracy 27(1): pp. 5-19.

Norris, Pippa. 2017. “Is Western Democracy Backsliding? Diagnosing the Risks.” Harvard Kennedy School Faculty Research Working Paper Series.

Definitions and theories of democracy and democratic consolidation (week 2)

Schumpeter, Joseph. 1947. Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy. New York: Harper & Brothers. Chapter 22.

Dahl, Robert. 1972. Polyarchy: Participation and Opposition. New Haven: Yale University Press. Chapter 1.

Diamond, Larry. 2002. “Thinking About Hybrid Regimes.” Journal of Democracy 13(2): pp. 21-35.

Acemoglu, Daron & James Robinson. 2006. Economic Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy. New York: Cambridge University Press. Chapter 2.

Lipset, Seymour Martin. 1959. “Some Social Requisites of Democracy: Economic Development and Political Legitimacy.” American Political Science Review 53(1): pp. 69-105.

Definitions and theories of democratic erosion (week 3) 

Linz, Juan J. & Alfred Stepan. 1978. The Breakdown of Democratic Regimes. Baltimore, MD: The John Hopkins University Press. Chapter 2.

Lust, Ellen & David Waldner. 2015. Unwelcome Change: Understanding, Evaluating, and Extending Theories of Democratic Backsliding. Washington, DC: USAID. pp. 1-15.

Lieberman, Robert C. et al. 2017. “Trumpism and American Democracy: History, Comparison, and the Predicament of Liberal Democracy in the United States.” Rochester, NY. Social Science Research Network Scholarly Paper 3028990.

Isaac, Jeffrey C. “How Hannah Arendt’s classic work on totalitarianism illuminates today’s America.The Washington Post. December 17, 2016.

Levitsky, Steven & Daniel Ziblatt. 2018. How Democracies Die. New York: Crown. Chapter 1.

Uses and abuses of democratic institutions (week 4)

Varol, Ozan. 2015. “Stealth Authoritarianism.Iowa Law Review 100(4): pp. 1673-1742. Parts I, II and III.

Huq, Aziz & Tom Ginsburg. 2017. “How to Lose a Constitutional Democracy.” Working paper. Parts 1 and 4; skim part 3.

Levitsky, Steven & Daniel Ziblatt. 2018. How Democracies Die. New York: Crown. Chapters 5 and 6.

Populism and demagoguery (week 5)

Müller, Jan-Werner. 2016. What Is Populism? Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Berman, Sheri. 2017. “The Pipe Dream of Undemocratic Liberalism.” Journal of Democracy 28(3): 29-38.

Kendall-Taylor, Andrea & Erica Frantz. How Democracies Fall Apart: Why Populism is a Pathway to Autocracy.” Foreign Affairs. December 5, 2016. 

Propaganda, disinformation and the media (week 6)

Rodriguez, Barrera et al. 2017. “Facts, Alternative Facts, and Fact Checking in Times of Post-Truth Politics.” Working paper.

Adena, Maja et al. 2015. “Radio and the Rise of the Nazis in Prewar Germany.Quarterly Journal of Economics 130(4): pp. 1885-1939.

Gehlbach, Scott. 2010. “Reflections on Putin and the Media.” Post-Soviet Affairs 26(1): pp. 77-87.

Gunther, Richard et al. 2018. “Fake News Did Have a Significant Impact on the Vote in the 2016 Election.” Working paper.

Polarization (week 7)

Svolik, Milan. 2017. “When Polarization Trumps Civic Virtue: Partisan Conflict and the Subversion of Democracy by Incumbents.” Working paper.

McCoy, Jennifer, Tahmina Rahman, and Murat Somer. 2018. “Polarization and the Global Crisis of Democracy:  Common Patterns, Dynamics and Pernicious Consequences for Democratic Polities” in Special Issue on Polarization and Democracy: A Janus-faced Relationship with Pernicious Consequences. American Behavioral Scientist (62)1: pp. 16-42. 

Greene, Joshua. 2013. Moral Tribes: Emotion, Reason, and the Gap Between Us and Them. New York: The Penguin Press. Introduction and Part 1.

LeBas, Adrienne. 2018. “Can Polarization Be Positive? Conflict and Institutional Development in Africa.” American Behavioral Scientist 62(1): pp. 59-74.

Mason, Lilliana. 2018. Uncivil Agreement: How Politics Became Our Identity. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Chapters 1 and 3.

Scapegoating, paranoia and exclusion (week 8)

Hochschild, Arlie Russell. 2016. Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right. New York: The New Press. Chapters 1, 9 and 15.

Hofstadter, Richard. 1952. The Paranoid Style in American Politics: And Other Essays. Paperback. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Chapter 1.

Wood, Thomas. “Racism motivated Trump voters more than authoritarianism.” The Washington Post. April 17, 2017.

Kuhn, David Paul. “Sorry, Liberals. Bigotry Didn’t Elect Donald Trump.” The New York Times. December 26, 2016.

Resistance (week 9)

Kitschelt, Herbert. 1986. “Political Opportunity Structures and Political Protest.” British Journal of Political Science 16: pp. 57-85.

Stephan, Maria & Erica Chenoweth. 2008. “Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict.” International Security 33(1): pp. 7-44. pp. 7-17 and 25-32.

Kestenbaum, Dave. “Act Six: A Change in the Office Climate,” in “608: The Revolution Starts at Noon.” This American Life. January 20, 2017: 53:28 – 1:04:15.

Gerken, Heather. “We’re about to See States’ Rights Used Defensively against Trump.” Vox. December 12, 2016.

Senate Joint Resolution No. 19, 2005 Montana Legislature.


Weimar Germany

Berman, Sheri. 1997. “Civil Society and the Collapse of the Weimar Republic.World Politics 49(3): pp. 401-429.

Peukert, Detlev J.K. 1987. The Weimar Republic: The Crisis of Classical Modernity. New York: Macmillan. Chapters 12-14.

Zambia and Senegal

Wahman, Michael. “A Zambian opposition leader was arrested, but there are deeper cracks in the country’s democracy.” Washington Post. May 18, 2017.

Cheeseman, Nic. “How Zambia’s long-stable democracy ended up in a political crisis in 2017.” Quartz. July 7, 2017.

Kelly, Catherine Lena. 2012. “Senegal: What Will Turnover Bring?” Journal of Democracy 23(3): pp. 121-131.

Kelly, Catherine L. “Here’s everything you need to know about Senegal’s recent referendum.” Washington Post. April 3, 2016.

Venezuela and Nicaragua

Ulfelder, Jay. “Daniel Ortega Shows Us How to Dismantle a Democracy, 21st-Century Style.” Dart-Throwing Chimp. November 20, 2011.

Shifter, Michael. “Nicaragua Is Turning into a Real-Life ‘House of Cards.” Foreign Policy. September 5, 2016.

McCarthy, Michael. “6 things you need to know about Venezuela’s political and economic crisis.” The Washington Post. May 18, 2016.

Corrales, Javier. “Venezuela’s government wants to write a new constitution. That way lies autocracy.” The Washington Post. May 15, 2017.

McCoy, Jennifer L. “Venezuela’s controversial new Constituent Assembly, explained.” The Washington Post. August 1, 2017.

Russia and Turkey

Gessen, Marsha. 2012. The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin. New York: Riverhead. Chapters 7 and 8.

Ozbudun, Ergun. 2014. “AKP at the Crossroads: Erdogan’s Majoritarian ̈Drift.” South European Society and Politics 19(2), 155-167.

Esen, Berk & Sebnem Gumuscu. 2016. “Rising competitive authoritarianism in Turkey.” Third World Quarterly 37(9), 1581-1606.

Hungary and Poland

Rupnik, Jacques. 2012. “How Things Went Wrong.” Journal of Democracy 23(3), pp. 132-137.

Bánkuti, Miklos, Gabor Halmai, & Kim Lane Scheppele. 2012. “Disabling the Constitution.Journal of Democracy 23(3) 138-146.

Marcinkiewicz, Kamil and Mary Stegmaier. “Poland appears to be dismantling its own hard-won democracy.” The Washington Post. July 21, 2017.

Grzymala-Busse, Anna and Monika Nalepa. “Why are there protests in Poland? Here are the five things you need to know.” The Washington Post. December 19, 2017.

Tworzecki, Hubert and Rados law Markowski. “Why is Poland’s Law and Justice Party trying to rein in the judiciary?.The Washington Post. July 26, 2017.

Stegmaier, Mary and Kamil Marcinkiewicz. “So Poland’s president surprised everyone, vetoing two bills that threatened the courts’ independence. Here’s what that means.” The Washington Post. July 25, 2017.

Bilewicz, Micha l. “Poland’s ruling party tried a judicial power grab — and then saw it backfire. Here’s why.” The Washington Post. July 31, 2017.

Conclusion (week 13)

Levitsky, Steven & Daniel Ziblatt. 2018. How Democracies Die. New York: Crown. Chapters 8 and 9.

Ulfelder, Jay. “What Now?” Political Violence @ a Glance. November 12, 2016.

Hughes, Sean Patrick. “What Now?” chartell west. November 12, 2016.

Yuval, Levin, “Congress Is Weak Because its Members Want It to Be Weak.” Commentary Magazine. June 18, 2018.

Riddell, Kelly. “Anti-Trump Left a Threat to American Democracy.” The Washington Times. December 19, 2016.