Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.
I grew pessimistic about democracy in 2018.

It's not my own modest participation that's discouraging me : clearly, Diem25 and European Spring are not gaining traction fast enough to make a real difference in 2019 -- but that's much as I expected.

It's more the crisis of representative democracy as a whole. It turns out to be one of those things that only works when the economy is booming and most people have at least realistic prospects of a bigger share of a growing cake.

And it's the Gilets Jaunes thing which has obliged me to face the unpalatable reality : both political parties and voters have grown extremely cynical about parliamentary democracy. In France, as in so many other places, the "government left" has discredited not only itself, but the very idea of the left; the "government right" has been rendered irrelevant by the right-wing radicality of the supposedly centrist government; and the government itself is now highly unpopular.

The fact that a new political movement captured both the presidency and Parliament within a few months of its creation has contributed powerfully to this disillusion with democracy. At first look, it might appear encouraging : democracy works, real change is possible... but by now everyone realises that it was a combination of palace coup and marketing campaign, and feels cheated and bitter.

In short, France is the new Italy. Or perhaps more accurately, the new Czechia or Romania.

So now, the latest fashionable thing is the "popular initiative referendum" : replacing representative democracy with direct democracy. One is instinctively reticent, one fears that demagogues will manipulate the people in random directions... and one realises that arguing against it is effectively arguing against democracy itself. The People are not mature enough to vote laws? Visibly, they are not mature enough to elect a government either...

Dangerous times, I find my habitual optimism is severely shaken.

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II

by eurogreen on Fri Dec 28th, 2018 at 05:17:23 PM EST
Politics, at its best, if a difficult and sophisticated business requiring complex negotiations, awkward trade-offs, a wide range of skills, and a lot of leadership at a lot of different levels. And yet it is the one area of human activity where we - rightly - demand equality for all.

We do not elect our brain surgeons by popular mandate, or allow people without licenses to drive. But anyone can legitimately aspire to run for high office, or hold to account those that do.

In a well run polity "the establishment" is there on merit, is capable of transformation and reform, and is accountable for its actions. Problems arise when they are perceived to act in their own interests and against the best interests of the people as a whole, and when the system for replacing them seems to be broken.

Then the people literally try to take the law into their own hands, protests seek to set a new agenda, and calls for direct democracy rise. Modern technology/social media could, in theory, make all major decisions subject to popular vote, but we have seen how easy it is to manipulate those tools.

Those polities that seem to do best are often smaller, more cohesive, and with a clear national identity and self-confidence which doesn't require the creation of false bogeymen to maintain cohesion and consensus.

But globalisation is undermining much of the basis of that cohesion by increasing economic, social, regional and inter-generational inequality: by setting cities against rural areas, and creating a degree of multiculturalism that many people find disconcerting or threatening.

Diem25 is probably before its time - for most people their national polity is already too remote. But we do need symbols and movements built around what unites rather than divides us. Part of the popularity of the EU in Ireland is the sense that it keeps our own profligate and populist politicians in line, and that only it has the power and scale to regulate global multinationals that could otherwise simple capture our government.

But if the rise of the authoritarian nationalist right teaches us anything, it is that many people yearn for a clearer identity, "stronger" leadership and a sense that the polity is working for them. If the left could appeal to some of that psychology, without compromising its policy programme, it might actually get somewhere.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Dec 28th, 2018 at 06:57:56 PM EST
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