Early last year, Daniel Ziblatt coauthored a The New York Times op-ed titled “Why Autocrats Love Emergencies”. His thesis now has great relevance in the time of the coronavirus. “Crises offer … would-be authoritarians an escape from constitutional shackles,” Ziblatt argued with fellow Harvard professor Steven Levitsky (with whom he wrote the influential book How Democracies Die), says The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Think of the autocrat wannabes among today’s democratic leaders who have shown great impatience with checks on their power, such as Donald Trump, Israel’s Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu, and Hungary’s Viktor Orban. With emergency measures in place, it is easy to imagine their temptation to expand personal power at the top.
Hungary is a simple case – one of several countries in central and southeastern Europe that have yet to fully adopt democratic norms. Foremost among their leaders, Orban, has taken control of courts, the parliament, and the media. Now, he is pushing through a draft law that will give the executive branch dictatorial powers for an unlimited period. It would be known as the “law to protect against the coronavirus”. Other troubled democracies could follow suit.
And yet, a few months into the crisis, the issue is far more complicated. Rather than veering toward authoritarianism, many Western leaders — including Trump — have been surprisingly passive. Others like Netanyahu and Orban have used the virus as an excuse to continue their longtime assault on democratic norms.
The story is not over, especially if the health crisis gets worse. While COVID-19 exacerbates existing problems in democracies, it does not provide the formula for a takeover — provided the public and the system push back. It seems that democracy will prevail.
Source: The Philadelphia Inquirer