I just listened to the authors of How Democracies Die on NPR. First, the book might well have been titled “The necessity of liberalism.” Basically, democracy without liberalism is clearly not democracy in their judgment.
But second, I was struck by their emphasis on the role of elites in dampening and diminishing the passions of the masses in a functioning modern democratic system. To a great extent, the authors were simply warning about what Fareed Zakaria termed “illiberal democracy” in The Future of Freedom over ten years ago.
Without elites acting as structural guardrails on the atavistic passions of the masses charismatic figures who channel their basest impulses can arise and gain popular approval of their autocratic behavior. The ancient Greeks could have told you that. Some things never change.