Aziz Huq and Tom Ginsburg should be lauded for their important and excellent new book, How to Save a Constitutional Democracy. They effectively show that most failures of democracy in the last century didn’t appear suddenly and obviously, like a coup. Rather, contemporary authoritarians have used pre-existing legal and constitutional mechanisms to gradually remove the key features of liberal democracies. This is a book that needs to be read and studied closely by scholars.
A dramatic illustration of this danger, they argue, is the rise of Adolf Hitler, who gained power in Germany through democratic institutions. Hitler’s rise was enabled in part by an executive order-like action, the Reichstag Fire Decree, which suspended many civil liberties using the pretext of a national emergency. His rise was also solidified through legislation. The democratically-elected legislature granted Hitler near-absolute power through the Enabling Act, and Hitler seized on that democratic grant of power to implement an undemocratic, authoritarian regime. Huq and Ginsburg also note less dramatic “legal” declines from democracy to authoritarianism in countries around the world, notably including Hungry. And they share my worry that we might be watching a similar decline in the United States under Trump.
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