Democratic games

By Henning Köhler, November 2013

We are permitted, from time to time, to “register” (revealing verb) our vote to influence the composition of parliament. In doing so, the much-vaunted responsible citizenry has technically done its democratic duty. Of course our “representatives of the people” cannot afford to fall out of favour with the voters – careers and sinecures are at stake – so they have to pretend for four years that electoral promises are more important than staying in power. A favourite phrase is to refer to “painful decisions for the public good”. When “pain” and “public good” are quoted in the same breath, it is pretty safe to assume that this really refers to machinations on behalf and for the benefit of powerful lobby groups. 

Hence many critical intellectuals have meanwhile begun to doubt whether the existing system can any longer be described as democracy at all.

The political scientist Colin Crouch writes in his book Post-Democracy that politics is threatening to degenerate into a “manipulative game among elites”. Elections were increasingly taking on the character of rituals to keep the people quiet. “Competing teams of professional PR experts control the public debate to such an extent that it is degenerating into a pure spectacle in which the only discussion is about a series of issues which the experts have previously selected.” The post-democratic paradigm breaks with the ideal of the citizen as sovereign. Defenders of this development assert that in the face of the complexity of the political tasks brought about by globalization, the common good was best left in the hands of commissions of experts and business associations. Politicians should restrict themselves to delegating decisions of great consequence to highly specialised thought factories working in the background. Elections could continue to be held to formally legitimise this practice. We are not that far removed from such a situation.

In advance of the German elections, several prominent people outed themselves as boycotters. That triggered a downright orgy of abuse in the mainstream media. Nevertheless, the group of non-voters in Germany comprises almost 30 percent. They had to face vilification as being arrogant, lazy, irresponsible and selfish. That is clearly also a part of the march into post-democracy: anyone who refuses to participate in the con is shouted down.

It is necessary to start a broad debate about the untenable status quo and to campaign for elements of collaborative, participatory and direct democracy. How else can the education system, for example, be liberated in future from the tutelage of state and business interests? But take care! Right-wing fringe groups are also calling for a federal referendum law for instance ... for quite different reasons. Let us remain vigilant.

The organisation “Mehr Demokratie e.V.” (More Democracy) has just celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary. The “Omnibus for Direct Democracy” keeps rolling.

Our friends can use all the support they can get.

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