How to Keep the Lights On in Democracies: An Open Letter of Concern by Scholars of Authoritarianism

Regardless of the outcome of the United States’ election, democracy as we know it is already imperiled. However, it is not too late to turn the tide.

Whether Donald J. Trump is a fascist, a post-fascist populist, an autocrat, or just a bumbling opportunist, the danger to democracy did not arrive with his presidency and goes well beyond November 3rd, 2020.

While democracy appeared to be flourishing everywhere in the years following the end of the Cold War, today it seems to be withering or in full-scale collapse globally. As scholars of twentieth century authoritarian populism, fascism, and political extremism, we believe that unless we take immediate action, democracy as we know it will continue in its frightening regression, irrespective of who wins the American presidency in early November.

In contrast to the hollow proclamations of economic and political liberalism’s “inevitable” triumph over authoritarianism in all its iterations, studying the past demonstrates that democracy is extremely fragile and potentially temporary, requiring vigilance and protection. Scholars of race, colonialism, and imperialism have further deepened our perspectives by reminding us of how the myths of national “greatness” were and continue to be written on the backs of largely silenced, marginalized and oftentimes enslaved or unfree, “others.”

We study the conditions that have historically accompanied the rise of authoritarian and fascistic regimes. In nearly every case, we have observed how profound social, political, and economic disruptions, including the ravages of military conflicts, depressions, and the enormous pressures caused by globalization, deeply shook people’s confidence in democracy’s ability to adequately respond to their plights, or even provide basic forms of long-term security. 

We have seen all of these patterns in our study of the past, and we recognize the signs of a crisis of democracy in today’s world as well. The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed profound inequalities of class and race across the globe. As the last four years have demonstrated, the temptation to take refuge in a figure of arrogant strength is now greater than ever.

To meet the challenge at hand, there are several things we must do. 

We must boldly and unapologetically safeguard critical thinking based on evidence. This includes demonstrating the virtues of entertaining a wide array of positions and perspectives, and support, both in word and deed, for investigative journalism, science and the humanities, and freedom of the press. We need swift and tangible commitments from corporate media organizations and governments to tackle the dangers of misinformation and media concentration. We must encourage coalitions organized across differences of race, class, gender, religion and caste, while respecting the perspectives and experiences of others. We need to reveal and denounce any and all connections between those in power and those vigilante and militia forces using political violence to destabilize our democracies. Much like the active democratic movements across the globe from Nigeria to India, Belarus to Hong Kong, we must be prepared to defend pluralism and democracy against the growing dangers of communal violence and authoritarianism at the ballot box but, if necessary, also through non-violent protest in the streets. We must defend the integrity of the electoral process and ensure the widest possible voter turnouts, not just in this election but in every election large and small in all of our hometowns. And we must re-commit to a global conversation on support for democratic institutions, laws, and practices both within and between our respective countries. This includes directly confronting the unfettered greed that drives global inequality, which has unleashed geopolitical rivalries over access to resources, international migrations, and collapsed state sovereignties all over the world.

We need to turn away from the rule by entrenched elites and return to the rule of law. We must replace the politics of “internal enemies” with a politics of adversaries in a healthy, democratic marketplace of ideas. And above else, we need to work together to find ways to keep the light of democracy shining in our countries and all over the world. Because if we don’t, we will indeed face dark days ahead.

Signed,

Zoltán Ádám | Associate Professor of Economics, Corvinus University of Budapest (Hungary) 

Giulia Albanese | Professor of History, Università degli Studi di Padova (Italy)

Anjali Arondekar | Associate Professor of Feminist Studies and Director of the Center for South Asian Studies, University of California-Santa Cruz (United States of America, USA) *

Kai Arzheimer | Professor of Political Science, University of Mainz (Germany) *

Luis Herran Avila | Assistant Professor of History, University of New Mexico (USA)

Jonathan Bach | Professor of Global Studies, The New School for Social Research (USA) *

Luca Baldissara | Associate Professor of History, University of Pisa (Italy)

Shelley Baranowski | Distinguished Professor Emerita of History, University of Akron (USA)

Deborah Barton | Assistant Professor of History, Université de Montréal (Canada)

Michele Battini | Professor of the Intellectual and Political History of Modern Europe, University of Pisa (Italy)

Heike Bauer | Professor of Modern Literature and Cultural History, Birkbeck, University of London (United Kingdom, UK)

Cristina A. Bejan | Adjunct Professor of History, Metropolitan State University of Denver (USA)

Ruth Ben-Ghiat | Professor of History and Italian Studies, New York University (USA)

Waitman Wade Beorn | Senior Lecturer of History, Northumbria University (UK)

Mabel Berezin | Professor of Sociology, Cornell University (USA)

Andrew Stuart Bergerson | Professor of History, University of Missouri-Kansas City (USA)

Anna Berg | Assistant Professor of History, University of Pennsylvania (USA)

Paul Betts | Professor of Modern European History, University of Oxford (UK)

Frank Biess | Professor of History, University of California-San Diego (USA)

Stephen Bittner | Professor of History, Sonoma State University (USA)

James Björk | Reader in Modern European History, King’s College London (UK)

Monica Black | Associate Professor of History, University of Tennessee-Knoxville (USA)

Adam A. Blackler | Assistant Professor of History, University of Wyoming (USA)

Vivian Blaxell | Professor of History and Politics, Marlboro College (USA)

Richard Bodek | Professor of History and Director of European Studies, College of Charleston (USA)

Pascale Rachel Bos | Associate Professor of German Studies, Jewish Studies, Gender Studies, European Studies, University of Texas at Austin (USA)

Marco Bresciani | Research Fellow of Political and Social Sciences, University of Florence (Italy)

Benjamin Brower | Associate Professor of History, University of Texas at Austin (USA)

Christopher R. Browning | Frank Porter Graham Professor Emeritus of History, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (USA)

Hubertus Buchstein | Professor of Political Theory, Greifswald University (Germany)

Darcy Buerkle | Associate Professor of History, Smith College (USA)

Renato Camurri | Professor of History, University of Verona (Italy)

Mauro Canali | Professor of Contemporary History, University of Camerino (Italy) *

Raul Carstocea | Lecturer in Modern European History, University of Leicester (UK)

James Casteel | Associate Professor of European, Russian, and Eurasian Studies, Carleton University (Canada)

Laura Cerasi | Associate Professor of History, Ca’ Foscari University of Venice (Italy)

Andrea Chandler | Professor of Political Science, Carleton University (Canada)

Sarah Churchwell | Chair of Public Understanding of the Humanities, School of Advanced Study, University of London (UK)

Howard Chiang | Associate Professor of History, University of California-Davis (USA)

Rebecca Clifford | Associate Professor of History, Swansea University (UK)

Joshua Cole | Professor of History, University of Michigan (USA)

Mark B. Cole | College Associate Lecturer, Cleveland State University (USA)

Tim Cole | Professor of History, University of Bristol (UK)

Paul Corner | Professor of European History, Università di Siena (Italy)

Mark Cornwall | Professor of Modern European History, University of Southampton (UK)

Antonio Costa Pinto | Research Professor at the Institute of Social Sciences, University of Lisbon (Portugal)

Raymond Craib | Professor of History, Cornell University (USA)

Brian E. Crim | Professor of History, University of Lynchburg (USA)

Mikkel Dack | Assistant Professor of History, Rowan University (USA)

Kate Davison | PhD Candidate, University of Melbourne (Australia) *

Carlos De La Torre | Director of the Center for Latin American Studies, University of Florida (USA)

Sandra Mcgee Deutsch | Professor of History, University of Texas at El Paso (USA)

Yoav Di-Capua | Professor of History, University of Texas at Austin (USA)

Audra Diptee | Associate Professor of History, Carleton University (Canada)

Lindsey Dodd | Senior Lecturer in Modern European History, University of Huddersfield (UK)

Elizabeth Drummond | Associate Professor of History, Loyola Marymount University (USA) 

Hilary Earl | Professor of Modern European History, Nippissing University (Canada)

Michael Ebner | Associate Professor of History, Syracuse University (USA) *

Sean Eedy | Lecturer in History, Carleton University (Canada)

Greg Eghigian | Professor of History, Pennsylvania State University (USA)

Geoff Eley | Karl Pohrt Distinguished University Professor of Contemporary History and German Studies, University of Michigan (USA)

Catherine Ellis | Associate Professor of History, Ryerson University (Canada)

Andrew Evans | Associate Professor of History, State University of New York at New Paltz (USA)

Jennifer Evans | Professor of History, Carleton University and Member, College of New Scholars, Royal Society of Canada (Canada) *

Christopher Ewing | Assistant Professor of History, Virginia Commonwealth University (USA)

Daniel Fainstein | Dean and Professor of Jewish Studies, Universidad Hebraica (Mexico)

Federico Finchelstein | Professor of History, The New School for Social Research (USA) *

Tiffany N. Florvil | Associate Professor of History, University of New Mexico (USA)

Filippo Focardi | Professor of Contemporary History, Università di Padova (Italy) 

Moritz Föllmer | Associate Professor of Modern History, University of Amsterdam (Netherlands)

Claudio Fogu | Associate Professor of History, University of California-Santa Barbara (USA) *

Oz Frankel | Associate Professor of History, The New School for Social Research (USA)

Richard Frankel | Associate Professor of Modern German History, University of Louisiana at Lafayette (USA)

Nancy Fraser | Henry A and Louise Loeb Professor of Political and Social Science, The New School for Social Research (USA)

Jane Freeland | Research Associate, German Historical Institute London (UK)

Norbert Frei | Professor of History, University of Jena (Germany)\

Karin Friedrich | Chair in Early Modern European History, University of Aberdeen and Chair, German History Society (UK)

Maximiliano Fuentes | Professor of History, Universitat de Girona (Spain)

Mary Fulbrook | Professor of German History, University College London (UK)

Valeria Gallimi | Assistant Professor, Università degli Studi di Firenze (Italy)

Diana Garvin | Assistant Professor of Mediterranean Studies, University of Oregon (USA) *

Eagle Glassheim | Professor of History, University of British Columbia (Canada)

Svenja Goltermann | Professor of Modern History, University of Zurich (Switzerland)

Peter Gordon | Amabel B. James Professor of History, Harvard University (USA)

Udi Greenberg | Associate Professor of History, Dartmouth University 

Neil Gregor | Professor of Modern European History, University of Southampton (UK)

Brian J Griffith | Eugen and Jacqueline Weber Post-Doctoral Scholar in European History, University of California-Los Angeles (USA) *

Atina Grossmann | Professor of History, The Cooper Union (USA)

Sara F. Hall | Associate Professor of Germanic Studies, University of Illinois-Chicago (USA)

Anna Hájková | Associate Professor of Modern European Continental History, Warwick University (UK)

Shireen Hassim | Canada 150 Research Chair in Gender and African Politics, Carleton University (Canada) *

Dan Healey | Professor of Modern Russian History, University of Oxford (UK)

Valerie Hébert | Associate Professor of History, Lakehead University Orillia (Canada)

Elizabeth Heineman | Professor of History, University of Iowa (USA)

Dagmar Herzog | Distinguished Professor of History, Graduate Center, CUNY (USA)

Benjamin Carter Hett | Professor of History, Hunter College and the Graduate Center, CUNY (USA)

Erin Hochman | Associate Professor of History, Southern Methodist University (USA)

Peter Holquist | Ronald S. Lauder Endowed Term Associate Professor of History, University of Pennsylvania (USA)

Erika Hughes | Academic Lead in Performance, University of Portsmouth (UK)

Samuel Clowes Huneke | Assistant Professor of History, George Mason University (USA)

Stefan Ihrig | Professor of History, University of Haifa (Israel)

Chinnaiah Jangam | Associate Professor of History, Carleton University (Canada)

Martin Jay | Ehrman Professor Emeritus of History at the University of California-Berkeley (USA)

Jennifer Jenkins | Associate Professor of History, University of Toronto (Canada)

Peter Jelavich | Professor of History, Johns Hopkins University (USA)

Rachel Johnston-White | Assistant Professor of European Politics and Society, University of Groningen (Germany)

Sara Jones | Professor of Modern Languages, Birmingham University (UK)

Pieter M. Judson | Professor of History, European University Institute (Italy)

Kathryn Julian | Assistant Professor of History, Westminster College (USA)

Gayle Levy | Associate Professor of French and Director of Honours College, University of Missouri-Kansas City (USA)

Michelle Lynn Kahn | Assistant Professor of History, University of Richmond (USA) *

Marion Kaplan | Skirball Professor of Modern Jewish History, New York University (USA)

Carolyn Kay | Professor of History, Trent University (Canada)

Gema Kloppe-Santamaria | Assistant Professor of History, Loyola University Chicago (USA)

Melissa Kravetz | Associate Professor of History, Longwood University (USA)

Thomas Kühne | Strassler Colin Flug Professor of Holocaust History, Clark University (USA)

Eric Kurlander | William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of History, Stetson University (USA)

Dominick LaCapra | Bowmar Professor Emeritus of History, Cornell University (USA)

Paul Lerner | Professor of History, University of Southern California (USA)

Simon Levis Sullam | Associate Professor of History, Ca’ Foscari University of Venice (Italy)

Alison Lewis | Professor of Languages and Linguistics, University of Melbourne (Australia)

Michael Löwy | Research Director Emeritus, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (France)

Stefan Ludwig-Hoffmann | Associate Professor of History, University of California-Berkeley (USA)

Elissa Maïlander | Associate Professor of History, Sciences Po (France)

Andrea Mammone | Lecturer in Modern European History, Royal Holloway-London (UK)

Laurie Marhoefer | Associate Professor of History, University of Washington (USA)

Tracy Matysik | Professor of History, University of Texas at Austin (USA)

Sandra McGee Deutsch | Professor of History, University of Texas at El Paso (USA)

Gladys McCormick | Associate Professor of History and Jay and Debe Moskowitz Chair in Mexico-US Relations, Syracuse University (USA)

Daniel McIntosh | Associate Professor Emeritus of International Studies, Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania (USA)

Sofian Merabet | Associate Professor of Anthropology, University of Texas at Austin (USA)

Sabine von Mering | Professor of German and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, Brandeis University (USA)

David A. Messenger | Professor of History and Chair of the History Department, University of South Alabama (USA)

Daniel E. Miller | Professor of History, University of West Florida (USA)

Jennifer A. Miller | Professor of History, Southern Illinois University (USA)

Michael L. Miller | Associate Professor of Nationalism Studies, Central European University (Austria & Hungary)

Caroline Moine | Associate Professor of History, University of Paris-Saclay (France)

Johannes von Moltke | Professor of German Studies and Film, TV, and Media, University of Michigan (USA)

Leslie Morris | Professor of German, University of Minnesota (USA)

A. Dirk Moses | Frank Porter Graham Distinguished Professor in Global Human Rights History, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (USA)

Yael Ben Moshe | Fellow Researcher at the Faculty of Humanities, Haifa University (Israel)

David Motadel | Associate Professor of International History, London School of Economics (UK)

Michelle Moyd | Associate Professor of History, Indiana University-Bloomington (USA)

Nauman Naqvi | Associate Professor of Comparative Liberal Studies, Habib University (USA)

Nancy P. Nenno | Professor of German Studies, College of Charleston (USA)

Odilon Caldeira Neto | Associate Professor of History, Universidade Federal de Juiz de Fora (Brazil)

Raffaele Nocera | Associate Professor of History, Università degli Studi di Napoli “L’Orientale” (Italy)

Xosé M. Núñez Seixas | Professor of History, Universidade de Santiago de Compostela (Spain)

Eric Oberle | Associate Professor of History, Arizona State University (USA)

Jon Berndt Olsen | Associate Professor of History, University of Massachusetts-Amherst (USA)

Andrea Orzoff | Associate Professor of History, New Mexico State University (USA)

Katrin Paehler | Associate Professor of History, Illinois State University (USA)

Anna Parkinson | Associate Professor of German, Northwestern University (USA)

Sarah Panzer | Assistant Professor of History, Missouri State University (USA)

Robert O. Paxton | Mellon Professor Emeritus of the Social Sciences, Columbia University (USA)

Leandro Pereira Gonçalves | Adjunct Professor of Contemporary History, Universidade Federal de Juiz de Fora (Brazil)

Heather R Perry | Associate Professor of History, University of North Carolina-Charlotte (USA)

John Person | Associate Professor of Japanese Studies, University at Albany (USA) *

Pablo Piccato | Professor of History, Columbia University (USA)

Stanislao Pugliese | Professor of Modern European History and Queensboro UNICO Distinguished Professor of Italian and Italian-American Studies, Hofstra University (USA)

Sven Reichardt | Professor of History, Universität Konstanz (Germany)

Ned Richardson-Little | History Research Group Leader, University of Erfurt (Germany)

Jennifer Rodgers | Research Assistant Professor of History, California Institute of Technology (USA)

Mark Roseman | Pat M Glazer Chair in Jewish Studies and Distinguished Professor in History, Indiana University-Bloomington (USA)

Sophia Rosenfeld | Walter H. Annenberg Professor of History, University of Pennsylvania (USA)

Gavriel Rosenfeld | Professor of History, Fairfield University (USA)

Eli Rubin | Professor of History, Western Michigan University (USA)Metropolitan

Alexandria Ruble | Assistant Professor of History, Spring Hill College (USA)

Lutz Sauerteig | Senior Lecturer in Medical Humanities, Newcastle University (UK)

Leonard Schmieding | Curator of Education, Berlin State Museums (Germany)

Natalie Scholz | Assistant Professor of Modern History, University of Amsterdam (Netherlands)

Steven Seegel | Professor of Russian, East European, and Eurasian History, University of Northern Colorado (USA)

Sherene Seikaly | Associate Professor of History, University of California-Santa Barbara (USA) *

Jennifer Sessions | Associate Professor of History, University of Virginia (USA)

Eugene R. Sheppard | Associate Professor of Modern Jewish History and Thought, Department of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies, Brandeis University (USA)

Daniel Siemens | Professor of European History, Newcastle University (UK)

Helmut Walser Smith | Martha Rivers Ingram Professor of History, Vanderbilt University (USA)

Matthew Specter | Adjunct Professor of History and Global Studies, University of California-Berkeley (USA)

Jason Stanley | Professor of Philosophy, Yale University (USA)

Paul Steege | Associate Professor of History, Villanova University (USA)

Richard Steigmann-Gall | Associate Professor of History, Kent State University (USA)

Michael P. Steinberg | Barnaby Conrad and Mary Critchfield Keeney Professor of History and Music and Professor of German Studies, Brown University (USA)

Philipp Stelzel | Associate Professor of History and Graduate Director McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts, Duquesne University (USA)

Lauren Stokes | Assistant Professor of History, Northwestern University (USA)

Nathan Stoltzfus | Dorothy and Jonathan Rintels Professor of Holocaust Studies, Florida State University (USA)

Marla Stone | Professor of History, Occidental College and President, Society for Italian Historical Studies (USA) *

Frances Tanzer | Rose Professor of Holocaust Studies and Modern Jewish History and Culture, Clark University (USA)

Julia Adeney Thomas | Associate Professor of History, University of Notre Dame (USA)

Annette Timm | Professor of History, University of Calgary (Canada)

Robert Deam Tobin | Professor of German and Comparative Literature, Clark University (USA)

Lisa Todd | Associate Professor of History, University of New Brunswick (Canada)

John Torpey | Professor of Sociology and History, Graduate Center, CUNY (USA)

Enzo Traverso | Susan and Barton Winokur Professor in the Humanities, Cornell University (USA)

Nadia Urbinati | Kryiakos Tsakopoulos Professor of Political Theory, Columbia University (USA)

Louie Dean Valencia-Garcia | Assistant Professor of History, Texas State University (USA)

Eleni Varikas | Professor Emeritus of Political Science, Université de Paris 8 (France)

Yannick Veilleux-Lepage | Assistant Professor of Terrorism and Political Violence, Leiden University (Netherlands)

Angelo Ventrone | Professor of History, University of Macerata (Italy)

Fabian Virchow | Professor of Political Science, University of Applied Sciences in Düsseldorf (Germany) *

Anika Walke | Associate Professor of History, Washington University in St. Louis (USA)

Janet Ward | Professor of History, University of Oklahoma and President Elect, German Studies Association (USA)

Thomas Weber | Professor of History and International Affairs, University of Aberdeen (UK) *

Robert D. Weide | Assistant Professor of Sociology, California State University-Los Angeles (USA)

Jonathan Wiesen | Professor of Modern European History, University of Alabama (USA)

Christiane Wilke | Associate Professor of Law and Legal Studies, Carleton University (Canada)

Andrew Woolford | Professor of Sociology and Criminology, University of Manitoba and Former President, International Association of Genocide Scholars

Benjamin Zachariah | Senior Research Fellow, Research Centre for Europe, University of Trier (Germany)

Eli Zaretsky | Professor of History, The New School for Social Research (USA)

Barbie Zelizer | Raymond Williams Professor of Communication and Associate Dean for Research, Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania (USA)

Moshe Zimmerman | Professor Emeritus of History, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem (Israel)

Karin Zitzewitz | Associate Professor and Interim Chairperson, Department of Art, Art History, and Design, Michigan State University (USA)

 

* Current member of the Editorial Board of the New Fascism Syllabus

 

Updated Monday, November 3, 2020 at 10:45 pm PST

1 Comment

  1. Great initiative. We will need more of that, whoever wins the election in the U.S. or elsewhere. Social media provides the infrastructure in our age for more authoritarianism, misinformation, radicalization, censorship, and division. This needs to change. We must find ways to use social media increasingly for new ways of cooperation and true exchange of ideas.

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