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The Case for Banning Anti-Democratic Candidates

No democracy should be casual about defending itself through prima facie undemocratic means. But if a candidate has exhibited a clear pattern of anti-democratic conduct over time, and if that person doubles down on such conduct after clear warnings, a ban is not only justified but sometimes necessary.

PRINCETON – What should democracies do about parties that use elections and other democratic means to destroy democracy itself? One well-established, but not universally accepted, answer is to ban the party before it comes to power.

But what about individual politicians? Americans are heatedly debating that question now that various legal challenges have sought to disqualify former President Donald Trump from running for a second term, owing to his role in the January 6, 2021, insurrection at the Capitol. The same question is also preoccupying Germans who want to stop the rise of the far right. One proposal would strip individual leaders of political rights while stopping short of banning the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) party outright.

Such measures are serious restrictions on the political process that should only ever be used as a last resort. But when an individual has a consistent record of agitating against democracy – even after plenty of warnings – disqualification from the democratic process is indeed justified. Otherwise, democracies place themselves in mortal jeopardy. As Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels infamously gloated: “This will always remain one of the best jokes of democracy, that it gave its deadly enemies the means by which it was destroyed.”