Popular Culture and Cultural Politics

Two Cheers For Steve Levitsky

On Tuesday, February 19, students, professors, and community citizens filled the better part of the Stetson Room to hear Steven Levitsky. He is Professor of Government at Harvard University and coauthor with department colleague Daniel Ziblatt of the best seller, How Democracies Die (2018).  Levitsky’s presentation lived up the dramatic intensity of his book.  He provided a keen analysis of our present political weirdness: in the words of Stephen Stills, “somethin’ happenin’ here; what it is ain’t exactly clear” (Buffalo Springfield, “For What It’s Worth,” 1967, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gp5JCrSXkJY).  Levitsky provided a lot of clarity.  

Levitsky is worried about the erosion of democracy. Having studied democracies around the world, in health and in decline, he sees erosion in American “democratic norms” (100). The central agent of democratic decline, he suggests, is the sharpening polarization of political views.

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From Abbie Hoffman in the ’60s to Joe Isuzu in the ’80s

Abbie Hoffman’s recent death on April 12, 1989, is a reminder that much of the defiant energy of the 1960s has been channeled by American business advertisers to promote mass consumption. Hoffman was one of the leaders of the Yippies, ready to counter mainstream culture in politics and lifestyle. To defy the American military, he was ready to levitate the Pentagon, among other playful prankster plans. In his spirit, Joe Isuzu lives, selling cars by openly saying, “I’m lying.” Like Hoffman, he mocks hyped-up claims for the latest fancy car, but he’s got counterculture style without its bite. Joe Isuzu’s jokes are designed to encourage us to buy more goods.

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