Voting Authoritarians into Power

Jun 06, 2024  | 6:00 - 8:00pm ET

Panel Discussion at the GHI | Speakers: Udi Greenberg (Dartmouth College), Irfan Nooruddin (Georgetown University), Árpád von Klimó (Catholic University of America); and moderated by Aslı Aydıntaşbaş (Brookings Institution) and Richard F. Wetzell (German Historical Institute)

“The big joke on democracy is that it gave its mortal enemies the tools to its own destruction."* This statement from Joseph Goebbels, Nazi Germany’s Minister of Propaganda, calls attention to one of the central conundrums of democracy: that democracy and the rights it guarantees can also benefit those who seek to abolish them. Not all dictatorships are established by coup d’état; some come to power through democratic processes including elections.

This roundtable brings together three historians to discuss the role that democracy – and its distinctive institutions and processes – can play in facilitating transitions to authoritarian rule in different countries: Udi Greenberg (Dartmouth College), a modern European historian, who is an expert on Weimar Germany; Irfan Nooruddin (Georgetown University), a professor of Indian Politics with a focus on the problems of globalization, democracy and democratization, and civil conflict; and Árpád von Klimó (Catholic University of America), a historian of central Europe who is an expert on Hungary. In a discussion moderated by Aslı Aydıntaşbaş(Brookings Institution), an expert on Turkey, and Richard F. Wetzell (German Historical Institute), a historian of modern Germany, these three panelists will discuss questions including: How do we address the paradox of political parties using democratic means to achieve antidemocratic ends? Are there common patterns to the appeal of antidemocratic politics? What is the role of political parties, political culture, religion, media, and the business community in facilitating transitions to authoritarian rule within a democratic framework? Why and how do democracy’s institutional safeguards fail? How can they be reinforced? What influence do geoeconomic and geostrategic factors have?

* “Das wird immer einer der besten Witze der Demokratie bleiben, daß sie ihren Todfeinden die Mittel selber stellte, durch die sie vernichtet wurde.“ Quote from: Joseph Goebbels, “Die Dummheit der Demokratie.” In: Joseph Goebbels, Der Angriff: Aufsätze aus der Kampfzeit (Munich: Franz Eher Nachfolger, 1935), p. 61.