How Democracies Die Summary: The Consequences of Losing Democracy – Study Guide

Author: Steven Levitsky, Daniel Ziblatt

Short Summary of How Democracy Dies
“How Democracies Die” is a book written by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt and published in 2018. The book examines the decline of democracy in different countries throughout history and discusses the warning signs that democracy is in danger.

The book looks at the role of political leaders in the decline of democracy, arguing that leaders who reject democratic norms and institutions, such as Donald Trump in the US, play a key role in undermining democracy. The authors also discuss the importance of strong political parties and their role in maintaining democratic stability.

One of the critical arguments of the book is that democracies are more vulnerable to destruction than we may realize and that it is essential to be watchful and to take steps to strengthen democratic institutions and norms before it is too late.
how democracies die summary

Detail Summary

Imagine for a moment that democracy in America doesn’t die. It just starts to unravel. Slowly at first, then quickly gaining speed. The country’s powers, which have been the foundation of our society for more than two centuries, begin to fail.

What would be the consequences for American citizens?

In this article, we’ll explore the dangers of losing democracy and the consequences people in America face when it begins to unravel. We’ll also discuss what we can do to save our democracy and protect our rights and freedoms.

Linz’s Litmus Test: How to Diagnose Democracy

One of the foremost experts on the breakdown of democracies is Dr. Juan Linz. He’s developed a litmus test to help you determine whether your democracy is in trouble. The test has four parts:

  1. The first is whether there’s a clear division between those who hold power and those who don’t. In a healthy democracy, there should be a separation of powers between the different branches of government and between the government and the people.
  2. The second criterion is whether the government tries to control all aspects of social and political life. A healthy democracy allows for a diversity of voices and opinions.
  3. The third test is whether the people hold the government accountable. A healthy democracy should have an open and accessible government responsive to the citizens’ needs.
  4. Finally, Linz looks at whether violence or the threat of violence use to control people. A healthy democracy should be based on consent, not force.

The Unraveling of Democracy in America

It’s hard to believe democracy in America is under attack, especially in the 21st century. And the consequences are severe.

What are some of the consequences of losing democracy? Well, to start with, you lose your right to free speech and freedom of assembly. You also lose your right to due process and equal protection under the law. And if that’s not bad enough, you also lose your right to vote.

Democracy is also essential for a healthy economy. When democracy falls, the economy falls with it. The stock market crashes, businesses close their doors, and unemployment rates rise. In fact, many economists believe that the Great downturn directly resulted from the unraveling of democracy in America.

So what can you do to save democracy? Well, that’s up to you. You can get involved in politics, vote in every election, and stand up for your rights. Democracy may be under attack, but we still have a chance to save it.

Trump’s Attitude Towards the Guardrails of Democracy

How does democracy die? 

One way is when a president does not believe in the democratic process and starts to unravel it. Trump has shown time and time again that he is against the guardrails of democracy. This all undermines democracy which could have severe consequences for people living in America. You may also be interested in The Social Contract Summary.

Gatekeeping: What It Means and Who Does It Impact?

In American culture, gatekeeping is a term used to describe the use of power to control access to resources or opportunities. This power can be political or economic and often uses a form of social control. In other words, gatekeeping is an issue of power dynamics.

Regarding democracy, gatekeepers can be anyone, from elected leaders and the media. Gatekeepers task with controlling access for those who consider it worthy or not. 

Moreover, gatekeeping can create an environment where basic human rights are ignored, and those affected by policy decisions, including low-income Americans, do not have a say in their destinies.

The Consequences People Face When Democracy Dies

When democracy dies, there is an actual cost to the American people. The unraveling of democracy turns into an erosion of the way of life. From the importance of the rule of law to civil liberties and personal freedom, these are the essential threads that bind us together as a nation.

As democracy dies, we risk losing these fundamental rights, as well as our government institutions which expect to keep checks and balances in place and our values of equality and justice for all.

Saving Democracy in America: What Can Be Done?

So, what can be done to save democracy in America? To start, vote. It’s been said before, but use your voice and vote in every election, no matter how small it may seem. Make sure your community is registered to vote and educated about the importance of voting in a democracy.

Additionally, support organizations that are actively working on preserving democracy. 

To whom is this book dedicated?

  • To those who live in a country where democracy is falling day by day.
  • To people who love to read history and are interested to learn about democracy.
  • Anyone who feels their voices are not heard and not taken into account.

Even though this book is mainly focused on the American political system and its flaws, it’s a beast reading book for all the humans worldwide who fight for a better society where everyone has an equal voice and rights.


In conclusion, democracy is a vital part of American life that cannot be taken for granted. As seen in the past few years, powerful forces have unleashed the foundations of democracy. Gatekeeping can use to limit people’s access to information and resources, while powerful leaders can weaken the principles of free and fair elections. 

The consequences of losing democracy are vast. They affect people from all walks of life, economic backgrounds, races, and religions. When democracy is lost, people are subjected to the will of those in power. Additionally, the book “How Democracies Die” is a comprehensive examination of the factors that contribute to the decline of democracy and provides a powerful warning about the dangers. Head to PickyReads for more amazing book summaries.