What are the problems with western society

For a long time, it seems, we have been dealing with a simmering crisis in parliamentary democracy, which is now urging a decision. In almost all Western societies, the reputation of politicians has hit rock bottom. A majority of people now generally regard them as incompetent and aloof; the "political class" - the term coined by Gaetano Mosca has haunted the media for years - is widely regarded as incapable of solving the most pressing problems and as miles away from the experiences and needs of the "common people". Political scientists speak of a double crisis in democracy and certify it has a serious problem of efficiency and legitimation. At the same time, in all western societies we are faced with a rapidly growing mixture of fear, frustration and hatred, when it comes from power-hungry and charismatic political players like Boris Johnson or Donald Trump, from assertive egomaniacs like Recep Tayyip Erdoğan or Viktor Orbán, used by ideologues like Geert Wilders or Jarosław Kaczyński or by supposedly staid right wing wingers like Marine Le Pen, can potentially lead to the destruction of democracy.

Political scientists and sociologists pointed out years ago that one of the most important prerequisites for the functioning of democracy, namely the welfare state guarantee of limiting the inequality produced by the market economy, is increasingly being eroded. The liberal Ralf Dahrendorf, of all people, warned of the democratic consequences of the new liberalism as early as the 1990s. Today we recognize with horror that his warning of an "authoritarian century" was far more clairvoyant than the euphoric expectations of a final victory for democracy, as the American political scientist and planning chief at the US State Department Francis Fukuyama believed he could predict (The end of the story). For the sociologist Sighard Neckel, it is clear that the left-liberal spectrum, including the SPD, is partly to blame for the rise of right-wing populism. "The invitation to resentment," he writes, "which emanates today from authoritarian, völkisch to openly fascist parties and politicians, is only so often accepted by the lower classes because the left-liberal milieu is only helpless or disinterested in the face of growing inequality." .

The British political scientist Colin Crouch already mentioned in 2004 in his book Post-democracy represent the thesis that something like democracy only appears to exist in western countries. By a post-democratic political system, he understands »a community in which elections are still being held, elections that even lead to governments having to say goodbye, in which, however, competing teams of professional PR experts open the public debate during the election campaigns control it so much that it degenerates into a pure spectacle in which one only discusses a series of problems that the experts have previously selected. The majority of citizens play a passive, silent, even apathetic role, they only react to the signals that are given to them. In the shadow of this political staging, real politics are made behind closed doors: by elected governments and elites who primarily represent the interests of business. «

The fact that this analysis is not out of thin air has become evident in recent years, among other things. shown in the dispute over the alleged »free trade agreements« TTIP, CETA and TISA. For some time now, the globalized business elites and their powerful lobbies have been doing everything possible to withdraw from the democratic-political process all scientific, economic and technological decisions that are important for the lives of citizens. With terms like "non-tariff trade barriers" and the establishment of a private investment protection court, they believe they have found a means to achieve their goal. As classical technocrats, they do not believe in the participation of the citizens, but are of the opinion that all really important decisions should, if possible, be made by the smallest group of experts and in camera. The decisions thus withdrawn from the political process are then usually presented to the citizens by their governments as "without alternative". For Colin Crouch, this is exactly what the term "post-democracy" means, for Angela Merkel, on the other hand, it is a question of a "market-conforming democracy" which she sees as a very positive one.

In her book The unfree trade Petra Pinzler has meticulously demonstrated how for years a powerful, globally operating lobby of large corporations and finance capital, backed by most national executives and parts of the European Commission, has been incapacitating citizens and gutting democracy. "It is the attempt by law firms and large corporations," she writes, "to create a legal network around the world through which they can sue states for billions in damages before arbitration boards." What the large corporations do not like, what their power and could reduce their prospects of returns, should be made politically impossible from the outset by the threat of claims for damages. If these plans were carried out, democracy would be mutilated beyond recognition. Politicians who promote this secret seizure of power by global corporations or allow it to happen destroy trust in democracy, which in turn benefits right-wing populists.

The criticism of the two journalists Markus Balser and Uwe Ritzer, who in Lobbying trace in detail how globally active and princely paid agents of influence not only influence democratic decisions, but also seek to control our perception of the world. Their conclusion: »Although the unlimited high-frequency trading endangers the stability of the financial systems, it is not possible to introduce a transaction tax. Although the human influence on climate change has been proven for years, the fight against global warming has been delayed. Although smoking is harmful to health and the consequences cost the health system billions, tobacco companies successfully defend themselves against stricter requirements. Although car exhaust fumes pollute the air, limit values ​​remain lax. Although the nuclear phase-out had been decided, energy companies pursued a completely different plan. While it can mean losses for millions of customers, insurance companies are enforcing new rules. Although it would be easy to label food that is harmful to health, politics is buckling towards the food industry. For some things there are only a few explanations, but in all of these cases the most important one is: lobbying. "

Here we hear again a topic that has long played a central role in Marxist-inspired literature and, in its crudest form, amounts to the thesis that the bourgeois-democratic state is ultimately nothing more than the "stooge" or the "executive committee of the Total Capital ”, and could never be anything else that suggests the conclusion for Marxist-Leninists to give up this merely apparent democracy and replace it with a so-called“ dictatorship of the proletariat ”. Today she has the right-wing populists once again calling for the "strong man" who maintains order regardless of democratic concerns. Ulrich Schöler wrote in one under the title Challenges to Social Democracy published collection of speeches and essays, inter alia. retraced the path that Marxists in the SPD and many former communists had to take in the confrontation with the Leninists and Stalinists in order to avoid this impasse. Colin Crouch and Petra Pinzler are also smart enough not to present the role backwards in an allegedly philanthropic dictatorship as a solution. Neither are opponents of globalization, as is often assumed, but only opponents of globalization based on the interests of large corporations and global finance capital. They do not rely on nationalist regression, but on enlightenment and the organization of countervailing power to capital. At the end of his book, Crouch suggests the possibility of a "vitalization of democracy" in which social movements and intensified lobbying work in the interests of greater equality should play a central role alongside the parties.

Even Petra Pinzler does not draw the conclusion from her ruthless analysis of the machinations of global capital that democracy is hopelessly lost. Rather, it sees the citizens themselves as responsible for finding a solution and their own task in providing the necessary argumentative tools. “It's not just because of the big money and a few ideologically blinded politicians that the rights of the corporations are expanded and democracy is restricted in return (...). All of this is made possible by the tacit consent or the ignorance of many citizens. «Enlightenment and rethinking are the order of the day, and that means for them above all to free themselves from neoliberal ideology. "In many people's minds there is still the idea that more market and more trade is always better for everyone than less and that you simply have to accept a few disadvantages."

How one can penetrate the ideological fog and get to light is shown by Daniel Baumann and Stephan Hebel in their book on the language of power under the title Good power stories. “When politicians say 'reforms',” they write, “it is mostly about wage cuts and pension cuts. They denounce the “tax state” when they want to protect top earners and the wealthy from an appropriate share in the financing of the common good. ›Reduction of bureaucracy‹ translates as dismantling protection against dismissal or renouncing control, for example with regard to working hours and working conditions (…). «75 veiled core terms of neoliberal ideology are explained by the authors in their function and from their application contexts and in a way that is explained to ordinary citizens understandable language translated. A lexicon of the language of power that is indispensable for every critical contemporary.

The rethinking and thus the resistance to the perfidious policy of trade agreements started late, but has since become so strong - not least due to the return of the USA to a more protectionist policy - that the »brave new world order« that is emerging here Corporations will probably not be established. But this by no means averted the destruction of democracy. Harald Welzer has in The smart dictatorship Describes with impressive precision how the digitization of life, which most people today wrongly welcomed as progress, can lead us into the most radical bondage. “The enemies of freedom,” he writes, “come from such different directions as Islamism and libertarianism. Both sorts of freedom enemies are fundamentalist, as they offer worldviews in which everything can be solved if one only follows the right belief, in one case it is a religiously based belief system, in the other a technoid one. Both promise the release of responsibility, relief from freedom. "

By using so-called "social" media, according to Welzer, billions of people today contribute to the destruction of the foundations of freedom and democracy without even suspecting what is happening through them and with them. They make their self transparent for the collectors and users of the data streams and in part also for every other member of the "network community" and thus themselves more and more thoroughly perforate "the central obstacle to the enforcement of total domination," namely privacy. Even if the institutions of democracy and the rule of law still exist, we have now become objects of a technology that occupies our selves. »This occupation affects everything we are and claim to be: our thoughts, our preferences, our buying behavior, our bank account, our social relationships, simply everything (...). Other forms of self-control have long since seized power over us, long ago we censor ourselves before others do, we have long been afraid that something “from the past” will come to light that is viewed negatively today, we have long been saying something really private, even subversive only under carefully examined conditions. «In short, the conditions for the establishment of dictatorial rule are already met in our constitutional framework. "The dissolution of democracy happens within the framework of democracy."

Richard Meng has it in his book We can (not) make it deals with the changes in the media world and their effects on politics. Anyone who wants to understand where the deep dissatisfaction with the performance of our politicians comes from should read what he writes about the parceling of the public, the increasing loss of orientation towards the common good through forced individualization and the widespread feeling of powerlessness of politicians who face the danger of a Permanent plebiscites through demoscopy and shitstorms increasingly pursue a fearful avoidance policy instead of actively and foresightedly tackling problems and, if possible, solving them. It is particularly commendable that Meng does not go easy on his own profession, journalism. For him, the crisis of democracy is not least a crisis of journalism.

“In the meantime, the media crisis has become the norm, and journalism's elegant distance from reflecting on its own material conditions has largely evaporated. The circulation of newspapers is falling continuously, the generation breakdown in newspaper use is complete. ”This, according to Meng, also put the so-called quality media under pressure, which is increasingly causing people to resort to personalization and sensational reporting. "Especially where there used to be clearly differentiated, more analytical journalism, the economic defensive also lowers the inhibition threshold for mainstream thrill." Real journalism, according to Meng, runs the risk, "in its daily search for points of criticism just not banal to distinguish more from relevant, no longer to see structures behind people. But to surrender to the topicality and entertainment criteria. And in the eternal exclusivity and escalation mode, in the end, no longer producing images that could be talked about rationally - but rather distorted images, often reduced to individuals who only incite emotions. ”The result is what Meng calls“ journalistic populism ”.

Wolfgang Gründinger deals with another aspect of the democratic crisis in his book with the lurid title Old sacks politics. For Gründinger, a decisive cause of the noticeable future blindness and lack of innovation in our political system is demographic change and how we react to it. According to him, the misery of today's politics in the Federal Republic of Germany is primarily due to the fact that, for the sake of short-term electoral success, the parties have lost sight of the vital interests of the younger generation and thus the future of our society. “If a party had mobilized all voters under 21, that would not even have been enough for the five percent hurdle. If, on the other hand, she had got all voters over 70 on her side, this would already be more than a fifth of all votes. ”The result, according to the author,“ 69 percent of young people think that politicians do not care what they think ”.

In addition, Gründinger lists a large number of failures in politics, which hardly anyone would seriously deny, but which he ascribes almost all of them violently to the "aging of society" and the resulting blindness in politics supposedly. In any case, it is not very convincing if the author, for example, attributes the fact that the investment quota is actually too low in Germany mainly to the excessively high pensions for a steadily growing number of selfish pensioners or proposes as a reform of the electoral system: »Young people should be allowed to vote as soon as possible they can and want to do this themselves. "

It is certain that the parliamentary system of the Federal Republic of Germany does not even represent the younger generation proportionally (and therefore inadequately under today's conditions) and that, for reasons of election tactics, the parties today tend to pay special attention to citizens over 60 and their (presumed) needs correct.But one should not, as Gründinger does in large parts of his book, create the impression that the over 60-year-olds are a more or less homogeneous mass of full, only looking to their advantage and not interested in the future of their children and grandchildren of the status quo. Towards the end of his book he seems to be aware of the one-sidedness of his approach. Because now, surprisingly, it says: »My hope is that she (the older) wake up and be enthusiastic about what is happening in this country and its neighborhood - and, above all, keep an open ear for the needs of the young. "

The Belgian historian, ethnologist and archaeologist David Van Reybrouck makes an at first glance astonishing proposal for overcoming the crisis of parliamentary democracy in his book, which was published in Flemish in 2013 and in German in 2016 Against elections. He proposes no longer relying solely on elections when it comes to filling public offices and appointing political representatives, but rather using random selection, which already played an important role in antiquity, especially in Athenian democracy, again To give a chance, as has been done - quite successfully - in his home country Belgium, but also in Iceland and Ireland in recent years.

Van Reybrouck proves with many quotes that in both the American and French revolutions the decision for an electoral-representative democracy was made very consciously because the elite of the revolutionaries mistrusted the "people". "The revolutionary leaders in France and the USA did not want to be drawn because they did not want democracy." According to the author, elections are "aristocratic," while random selection is "democratic," and this is the founding party was also well aware of our representative democracy. However, among the early masterminds of democracy, such as Charles de Montesquieu and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the idea of ​​awarding public tasks by drawing lots was still seriously considered.

In Germany we only know of the lottery procedure in connection with the »planning cells« proposed by the sociologist Peter C. Dienel and tried and tested several times since the 1970s and - albeit with many restrictive additional provisions - with the appointment of lay judges in court proceedings. Interestingly, in German legal literature, the lottery procedure is valued as an expression of "popular sovereignty" and as an effective means of strengthening trust in the judiciary. It would therefore make sense to alleviate the apparent weakness of representativeness and the associated legitimacy deficit of our parliamentary democracy through the additional use of the lottery, as suggested by Van Reybrouck. “Today,” he writes, “we have to go to one bi-representative model, a representative body that comes about both by voting and by drawing lots. After all, both have their qualities: the expertise of professional politicians and the freedom of citizens who do not need to be re-elected. The electoral and the aleatoric model go hand in hand. «Perhaps that is indeed a better idea than, as the CSU has recently been doing, relying on nationwide referendums, which under the given circumstances mostly affect participation are hardly more representative than elections and not infrequently, especially when the argumentative-deliberative moment is neglected in a climate of political propaganda, lead to extremely dubious results.

Markus Balser / Uwe Ritzer: How the economy buys influence, majorities, laws. Droemer-Knaur, Munich 2016, 368 pages, € 19.99. - Daniel Baumann / Stephan Hebel: Good Power Stories. Political Propaganda and How We Can See Through It. Westend, Frankfurt / M. 2016, 256 pp., 16 €. - Wolfgang Gründinger: old sacks policy. How we gamble away our future. Gütersloher Verlagshaus, 2016, 224 pages, € 17.99. - Richard Meng: We (can't) make it. Politics and the media in the avoidance society. Schüren, Marburg 2016, 240 pp., € 19.90. - Petra Pinzler: The unfree trade. The secret rule of corporations and law firms. Rowohlt, Reinbek 2015, 288 pages, € 12.99. - Ulrich Schöler: Challenges to social democracy. Klartext, Essen 2016, 440 pp., € 29.95. - David Van Reybrouck: Against elections. Why voting is not democratic. Wallstein, Göttingen 2016, 200 pages, € 17.90. - Harald Welzer: The smart dictatorship. The attack on our freedom. S. Fischer, Frankfurt / M. 2016, 320 pp., € 19.99.