#learn power wednesdays: Thinking about post-democracy


George W. Bush and Bono in 2006.
Credit: Wikimedia
, Public Domain (from Alex De Waal’s article Designer activism and post-democracy). 

We live in interesting times. Of course, there rarely ever is a truly dull moment in history. But for those born in the relative tranquility of “the West” roughly after 1945, the current historic moment can feel deeply uncomfortable. We are currently experiencing wartime-rates of technological and social change, and existing institutions are either creaking under pressure and/ or becoming rapidly obsolescent. One of the things in need of reinventing seems to be democracy.

We have started our “week” with a quote by Colin Crouch, who coined the term “post-democracy” about ten years ago.

According to Crouch, under pressure from globalisation and economic competition, existing institutional arrangements structuring our political lives have been largely emptied of their meaning. Parties do no longer present programmes to implement, citizens disengage from politics as they do no longer feel represented, and governing elites are busy riding out their privileges while forging deals with economic interests. Crouch sees a nefarious triangle in operation, which ties together the state, the market and the corporation, with the latter prevailing over the state and the market. Luckily, we are not fully there yet – according to Crouch, democracy still has a few aces up its sleeves, such as the environmental movement or feminism. As an antidote to post-democracy, Crouch counts on a fourth force, the busy but small voices of civil society, not to
abolish but to criticise, harry and expose the misdeeds and abuses of
the cosy triangle
(Crouch 2011).

Alex de Waal identifies another facet of post-democracy – the involvement of celebrities in policymaking and politics. As little seems to be about true content of political programmes anymore – we might have already exited the post-democratic world to arrive in a post-fact world judging for example by the Brexit campaigns and ongoing American presidential elections – branding and PR takes on an exaggerated importance. Celebrities can deliver that sought-after emotional response which creates much-needed attention in an era marked by increased indifference.

And lastly for this #learn power wednesday, Leigh Phillips at the Transnational Institute provides interesting insight on how post-democracy could work at the supra- and international level.
The European Union appears as the incarnation par excellence of post-democratic
governance, as it shows all the official hallmarks of a democratic
institution, yet spectacularly fails Tony Benn’s democracy test.

However, while Phillips’s diagnosis of the current post-democratic malaise seems coherent, the medicine prescribed looks less convincing. It is not quite clear how a true supra- and transnational democracy should emerge as people, and existing democratic institutions remain strongly tied to a national context.

Further reading:

Colin Crouch, Post-democracy, Polity Press, Cambridge, 2005

Colin Crouch, The Strange Non-Death of Neo-Liberalism, Cambridge, Polity Press, 2011

Alex de Waal, Designer activism and post-democracy, Open Democracy, 17 May 2016

Johanna Möhring and Gwythian Prins (eds.), Sail on, O ship of State. The Fate of the Nation State, NHE, 2013

Leigh Phillips, A Global Post-Democratic Order, TNI, 2016

Johanna M

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