Does democracy belong in the garbage of history?

Does democracy belong in the garbage of history?

The poster on a tram in Erfurt was ultimately the reason for this article, which, however, has been burning on our souls for a long time, especially when hearing and seeing the daily news, especially when looking to the "right",

because what is going on in Germany, even more extreme in some of so-called western states is hardly comprehensible after the experiences of war and misery, corruption and manipulation: is democracy going down? Did people still crashed hard enough against the wall, or rather fell into the open knife, that they continue to follow the charlatans who really don't have any solutions and still do not have people at the centre of their actions with progress, especially in technological terms and a changing future towards nature and environment? Just the contrary: first think of filling their own pockets.

It is bad to experience how few "people" have learned from events, still think everything will continue as before, no change and certainly not if it still costs something. 25 years of standstill and pure administration of the apparatus are showing more and more effects. If changes in energy policy and in economy had been carried out slowly and step by step since years already, nobody would need to lament today. Yelling is still yelling at a very high level. Nobody here in the "Golden West" digs 40 meters deep for water, carries it home over kilometres on their shoulders, lives in a straw hut that hardly makes "living" possible. And we are amazed that these people also want to live differently! But it can be done for both climatic and financial reasons.

Democracy has always been a combat concept and as such has always been associated with strong values. Constantly influential ancient thinkers such as Plato and Aristotle were handed down mainly with their criticism of the negative consequences of democratic systems of rule and were still regarded as despisers of democracy in the early modern period. The first to revalue the term democracy was the Dutch philosopher Baruch de Spinoza (1632–1677). It is only in the 21st century that the word has got strong positive connotations and is used, among other things, to delegitimize populists who claim to represent the interests of the people. Democratic and / non-democratic have become synonyms for good and evil. How true!

Democracy has always been a combat concept

The classic democracy against which modern democracies are often measured is that of Athens in ancient Greece. In the age of the Atlantic revolutions, on the other hand, the Roman Republic, influenced by Polybius, moved more into the focus of historical-political reflections and comparisons.

Democracies are less violent than non-democracies. This applies to the degree of violence within society, but above all democracies do not wage wars against each other. The Fashoda crisis between Great Britain and France in 1898 and the cod wars between Iceland and Great Britain in the years 1958 to 1976 are considered exceptions to this empirically proven connection. In both conflicts, however, a regular war did not break out. Whether the correlation between democracy and peace can be traced back to a causal link and if so, in which direction this works is a matter of debate in international relations. For example, the peace researcher Ernst-Otto Czempiel argued that wars are not in the interests of the citizens. If they determine politics, it will remain peaceful. It is countered that democracy does not lead to peace, but vice versa, that a peaceful environment promotes democratic processes. Other critics argue that the lack of belligerence between democracies has reasons other than they being democracies. In this respect, it is a spurious correlation. American political scientist Dan Reiter nonetheless sees strong evidence that peace and democracy are mutually beneficial, but acknowledges that such a mutual benefit exists for democracy and economic development as well as for democracy and gender equality.

Criticism of the characteristics and manifestations of democracy was already practiced in antiquity by some well-known quarters. For the historian Thucydides, Athens in the era of Pericles was “a democracy in name but in reality, a rule of the first man”. In the tragic poet Euripides' tragedy, The Suppliants, the herald from Thebes says to Theseus: “The city from which I come is ruled by one man only, not by the mob; nobody there scares the citizens with misleading speeches and directs them hither and thither for their own benefit.”

demokratie 2Criticism of more or less serious shortcomings in current democratic systems is triggered by various manifestations and feeds on various political interests. Common aspects of criticism relate to inequality in the representation of voters and interests, tendencies towards division within society that destabilize democratic systems, a declining culture of democratic debate or a declining appreciation of democratic achievements. Critical objections are not only formulated by political scientists, social scientists and philosophers, but throughout the media public space.

In the conclusion with which he concludes his investigations into the theory of democracy, Sartori emphasizes that democracy should not be taken for granted. According to Edmund Burke, slavery grows on any soil. Freedom, according to Sartori, can always be lost. "It is a plant that needs care."

Types of democracy and democratic systems are not only qualitatively measurable and subject to criticism according to various criteria, but are also subject to changes that can endanger or eliminate their basic democratic structure. Above all, the turning away of large parts of the respective citizenry from democratic values, procedures and institutions becomes a threat to a democratic system as a whole and can bring about a transformation to anti-democratic forms of government. Important reasons for a decreasing or lacking willingness to identify with democratic structures can lie in the aloofness of political decision-making processes and those involved in them as well as in social disintegration and division tendencies, which prepare the ground for the pioneers and beneficiaries of populist propaganda.

Above all, social conflict situations that are insufficiently taken into account and dealt with, such as those that result from a progressive discrepancy in the distribution of income and wealth between rich and poor social strata or from integration deficits in large immigrant populations and the resulting tensions, are considered to be the driving factors for processes of social division that endanger democracy the receiving company. The escalation of such social conflicts promotes the effectiveness and success of populist political approaches.

Politics dominated by elites and the growing gap between poverty and wealth

Salzborn regards the “elitization” of politics resulting from the “economization of the political” as a further threat to democracy. Decision-making processes would be shifted to a space in which illegitimate market actors exercised power. At the same time, a development came to a head that was inherent in the emergence of democracy itself, in that the developing civil society needed the guarantee of a legitimized central authority and legal order to secure its freedom of production and trade. However, if the scope for shaping the political is gradually abolished and public tasks turn into private ones, then the perception of social inequality disappears “in the mode of elitization”, which then apparently becomes a private problem.

According to critics, the financial crises since 2008 have shown that globally active investors – on the one hand banks and companies, on the other hand supranational institutions such as the World Bank or the World Trade Organization – ruled the world and that instead of democracy “the rule of the free, deregulated markets.” Globalization leads to social and economic distortions, results in a growing gap between rich and poor and creates losers who are no longer heard in the political system.

A feeling widespread in the middle and lower classes of society that the elites in a parallel society “up there” at the expense of the underprivileged indulge themselves with all sorts of semi-legal and illegal machinations has been fuelled time and again in the recent past: at international level, for example the announcement of the Panama Papers and the Paradise Papers, in Germany, among other things, through the disclosure of cum-ex transactions. The sociologist Michael Hartmann sees the EU Commission's action against illegal financial aid from countries such as Luxembourg and Ireland for internationally active large corporations such as Facebook, IKEA or Google LLC as a necessary approach to a reorientation, which is also reflected in the taxation of the respective national companies and citizens would have to be. “Only if we succeed in demonstrating realistic and enforceable alternatives to the neoliberal policies of the last few decades we can take the wind out of the sails of right-wing populism with its simple juxtaposition of the people and the elite, and at least some of it can be taken away from the point of political engagement convince those who are disappointed in politics and have generally turned their backs on it.”

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