Democracy and participation must be fought for and defended
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Theses on the current problems
1. In the last 20 years, the number of autocratic regimes has increased and democratic processes have stalled in many places.
2. Democratic deficits are the cause, but also the consequence, of growing power inequalities.
3. Democratic deficits are a major contributor to wars, violence and poverty.
Ideas for possible solutions
- All population groups must be granted full voting and electoral rights, regardless of their origin or nationality.
- Democracy and participation must be open to all groups of the resident populations in the sense of a permanent learning process and must be successively expanded.
- Democracy and participation in institutionalized form guarantee a constant negotiation of new solutions adapted to social changes - especially in social, economic and political conflicts.
- Democracy and participation are needed at all four levels: in the communities, in the individual parts of the country (e.g. cantons, departments, states or districts), at the national level and worldwide.
Studies on elections and voting show that a significant proportion of the populations of Western democracies are politically apathetic and do not participate in political activities (see, e.g., Bachrach 2010:10). Joseph Schumpeter (1961:242; cited in Bachrach 2010:9) defined democracy as a "political method ... for arriving at political decisions in which individuals gain power by means of competition for popular votes." According to Schumpeter (1961:285, cited by Bachrach 2010:9): "democracy ... means only that the people have the possibility of accepting or rejecting the people who govern them". This raises the question of the role of political elites in democracies.
Some political theorists, especially in the 1960s and 1970s - such as Harold Lasswell and Robert Dahl in the United States, Raymond Aron in France, John Plamenatz in England, and Giovanni Sartori in Italy - argued that the dominance of political elites in no way undermines or threatens democracy. Unlike dictatorships-where a single political elite holds power-in democracies, several political elites compete for power. In the process, the various political elites take different positions on current issues of the day (cf. Bachrach 2010:10). However, the concept of elite was and is not very popular among democrats, and rightly so - fascist and Nazi theorists had instrumentalized this concept too strongly in order to legitimize their rule. However, if one uses the term elite in a purely descriptive and classificatory - and not normative - way, then it refers to those persons or groups who occupy high and highest positions in a society. According to Bachrach (2010:14), there are very different elites, for example in the economy, in education or in politics.
In contrast, opponents of the elite theory criticized that it only grants citizens a passive role as an object of political activity (Walker 2010:75). The only way to influence political events is to participate in national elections. If one sees it this way, classical democratic theory loses much of its vitality. According to its opponents, elite theory leads to political passivity, the loss of political vision and the phenomenon of the "silent majority". Also, the system of indirect democracy widely used today leads to the suppression and control of internal conflicts (Walker 2010:79). Accordingly, the representatives of elite theory see people as politically passive and uncreative - democratic mass movements are seen as irrational outbursts of anti-democratic energies. Withdrawal from politics and confinement to private problems are thus preprogrammed. Social and political movements-especially among the lower classes-are seen as anti-democratic and dangerous and as a basis for populist politicians.
In recent years, two factors in particular have shaped the development of democracy: increasing globalization and the mediatization of decision-making processes. On the one hand, more and more relevant and binding decisions are made in international organizations such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization and the EU without being subject to democratic control - be it parliamentary decisions or referendums. As Kriesi/Rosteck (in Die Volkswirtschaft 1-2/2011:57) note, "These [supranational institutions], however, are hardly democratically legitimized, as their decision-makers are not directly elected or indirectly dependent on elected national representatives. Thus, one of the most important basic requirements of democracy no longer exists: the legitimacy of the decision-makers by those affected by the decision."
On the other hand, democracies are increasingly confronted with media that are no longer ideologically or party-politically oriented, but rather follow the laws of their (demand) market to an ever greater extent due to increasing commercialization. The media increasingly set their own agenda and thus become political actors themselves. Conversely, politicians have to submit much more strongly to the rules of the media, i.e. react to current news, take up topics set by the media, and polarize more personally. All of this is not conducive to the democratic process, and can even help media moguls gain power, such as Berlusconi in Italy. These are increasingly subject to the temptation to evade the democratic rules of the game to an ever greater extent.
- Bachrach, Peter (ed.)
2010: Political Elites in a Democracy. New Brunswick/USA und London: AdlineTransaction. Erstauflage: New York 1971: Atherton Press.
- Kriesi, Hanspeter / Rosteck, Yvonne
2011: Herausforderungen für die Demokratie im 21. Jahrhundert. In: Die Volkswirtschaft 1-2/2011:57.
- Schumpeter, Joseph (ed.)
1961: Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy. London.
- Walker, Jack L.
2010: A Critique of the Elitist Theory of Democracy. New Brunswick/USA und London: AdlineTransaction. Erstauflage: New York 1971: Atherton Press.