Monday, January 19, 2015

Hendrik Wagenaar — Is democracy in crisis? No, there’s just a new type of emerging democracy

The question if there is a crisis of democracy is one of the most important and vexing issues of our days. So, let’s not rush into facile answers and first ask ourselves some basic questions about democracy. For example, what does this ideal that most people still believe in entail? The democratic theorist Mark Warren once said that democracy consists of two ideals whose realisation are both necessary for a healthy, flourishing political system: the distribution of powers of decision-making to those potentially affected by collective decisions, and equal participation in collective judgement. The first ideal is the one that figures most prominently in debates about democracy in the media and learned journals. This is, what you might call, the canonical image of democracy. The political contrivances that the media get excited about. This first ideal consists of the procedures, beliefs and practices that most Western nations have institutionalised over the course of the last two centuries, for the purpose of protecting against an arbitrary state and to develop structures of accountability. The result is the well-known ‘liberal electoral democracy’ that is characterised by a regime of competitive parties, limited opportunities for political participation through voting and organised interest groups, representative oversight and accountability, constitutional constraints on government activity, due process rights against the state, the right to speak and associate, and an administration of experts governed by an administrative ethos. It is one of the most important achievements of collective human ingenuity. When we talk of crisis, this is the kind if democracy that occupies our collective imagination. Let’s call it Democracy1. 
I want to focus on the second democratic ideal; that of collective judgement and individual development. I call it Democracy2. According to this ideal democracy is an arrangement for collective learning and problem solving. It is value-driven, but only in the way that values manifest themselves in concrete issues. It requires processes of communication through which individuals come to know each other and develop their preferences, articulate their values and beliefs, and develop skills of collective judgement; usually by forming civic associations based on voluntary attachments. When we see democracy in this light, two things immediately strike us: while it receives much less attention in the media, and is often actively discouraged by political elites, there is no talk of crisis. In fact, this developmental and participatory form of democracy is thriving in our post-crash world.… 
Some good news. I would call what he calls Democracy 1, representational democracy, as in the reputed slogan of the pre-revolutionary Boston Tea Party, "No taxation without representation." I would call what he calls Democracy 2, participatory democracy, as in the phrase Abraham Lincoln made famous, "government of the people, by the people and for the people." If participatory democracy is growing, that is a very good thing.

Open Democracy
Is democracy in crisis? No, there’s just a new type of emerging democracy
Hendrik Wagenaar


Dan Lynch said...

The author is delusional.

Non-governmental collaborations have either declined and/or sold out. I.e., labor unions. I.e., the various Civil Rights organizations of the 60's. I.e., the Sierra club sold out to frackers.

There seems to be a lot of cognitive dissonance about the subject of Western democracy. It's like trying to tell a religious person that there is no god, or trying to tell a little kid that there is no Santa Claus. They just can't deal with it, since it would shatter the world as they know it.

Nebris said...

"All politics is local." ~'Tip' O'Neill

Which is why, in the end, democracy fails. Because humans are, as a rule, 'provincial', which is a sociocultural way of saying that they are primarily concerned with their own immediate sphere of interest, tend to ignore everything outside of that sphere and react with fear/anger whenever the larger sphere impinges. That prevents most humans from thinking 'globally' or even 'nationally'.