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Steven Levitsky

STEVEN LEVITSKY (2018-2024) is Professor of Government and the David Rockefeller Chair of Latin American Studies at Harvard University. His scholarship speaks to pressing issues of our time in both the United States and abroad. As a preeminent political scientist in the comparative study of democracy and authoritarian governments world-wide, he commands extraordinary expertise in especially timely questions related to current affairs (e.g. “how democracies die” and what can be done to protect them).  His writings on political parties, informal institutions, and competitive authoritarianism have left indelible marks on the discipline of political science, and his most recent work on partisan polarization has made him a central figure in contemporary debates regarding the well-being of American democracy.  Professor Levitsky initially rose to prominence with a major book and a series of related articles on Argentine Peronism, a body of work that broke new ground for political scientists in the study of party organizations and informal institutions. His subsequent work elaborated theoretically on informal institutions in social and political life-a topic that produced an edited volume and another set of influential articles.  More recently, Professor Levitsky shifted toward the study of democratic and authoritarian regimes in different world regions. A series of articles and a co-authored book identified the different ways in which democratically-elected rulers can concentrate executive powers and whittle away at the institutional safeguards (or “checks and balances”) that are essential for democratic rule. An article last year in the prestigious journal Foreign Affairs extended the argument to analyze American democracy from a historical and comparative perspective, generating widespread debate among social scientists at home and abroad. Levitsky and his Harvard colleague Daniel Ziblatt explore the U.S. case in greater depth in a highly-acclaimed new book How Democracies Die (2018), which the New York Times Book Review called “Comprehensive, enlightening, and terrifyingly timely.” This book analyzes the historical development of American democracy to understand how democratic norms get constructed, and how their erosion in contexts of acute partisan polarization can undermine the proper functioning of democratic checks and balances.


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