Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Monday, October 03, 2016

Political alienation

The political events surrounding Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump in the USA, Jeremy Corbyn and the Brexit vote in the UK, as well as the variety of non-mainstream parties in Europe put ideas in my head about democracy, autocracy, and technocracy.

One feature of developments in mid-2016 seems to be the alienation of many voters from established parties. Is this also a rejection of the democratic model of government and politics?

In many European countries immigrant populations tend to vote for politicians who represent their immigrant group. Is this a disintegration of nation states?

Growing economic inequalities make large numbers of people suspect that mainstream parties guard the interests of the top 1% more than the interests of the other 99%. Is this a failure of the social contract?

Suspicions are also raised by un-democratic bureaucratic actions. This is especially true of people's attitudes toward the EU Commission. The commissioners and their departments are far from most member countries' capitals and seemingly even farther from the votes of EU citizens. Are we headed for a world of technocratic states?

The growing complexity of governing contributes to alienation as well. Legislators might well make the final decisions about laws, but how many of them understand the details of tradeoffs between interest rates and exchange rates? Or how many of the electorate understand the issues involved in the distribution of broadcast frequencies? Someone has to understand these things. They are the experts or technocrats in government (bureaucrats with specialized knowledge). Who writes the standards that become laws? Many citizens don't believe that the process is democratic and they're suspicious.

Is government a democracy, a representative democracy, an autocracy, a technocracy, or something else? Voting to leave the EU or elect a leader who seems to oppose the mainstream policies and leadership can be seen as a way to reclaim some democratic power.

Can a democracy survive in a technologically complex world? Can a democracy survive in society with wider divisions between the wealthiest and the average citizens? Can a democracy survive in a society where ethnic, religious, and cultural differences are apparent every day? Can a democracy survive in a political culture is dominated by the alienation of a large segment of the population?

Ask the same questions about a representative democracy. Are there steps to be taken to ensure the survival of democratic political culture?

The politics of alienation
Throughout Europe, Muslims and non-whites tend to vote for the centre-left. In Austria 68% of ethnic-minority voters picked the Social Democrats in the recent general election, against 32% of whites. One study in France found that 93% of Muslims voted for the Socialist, François Hollande, in the 2012 presidential election. But minorities often feel that centre-left parties take them for granted and offer little in return. The Muslims who turned out for Mr Hollande in 2012 stayed home during municipal elections in 2014. (Many blamed the Socialists’ legalisation of gay marriage.) In France and elsewhere, when centre-left parties try to look tough on immigration or terrorism, minorities feel betrayed…

How do we end political alienation?
Unlike the web, politics is jam-packed with intermediaries (ministers, MPs… officials, researchers, councillors, mayors, think tanks) and is run by platforms (political parties and large media outlets) where agendas are shaped in ways that are utterly alien and bemusing to the great majority…

There is not the slightest chance such a system will ever be created willingly by the political class. They are invested far, far too much - materially, intellectually and emotionally - in the current system. This means two things.

Firstly, mass alienation from politics is here to stay for a very long time…

Private Wealth and Political Alienation
Polling data make clear that there is a gaping disconnect between the American people and their trust in this country’s political system. The United States retains the appearance of a democracy, but its substance has been steadily diminished. Private wealth in politics has alienated the electorate and has imposed a conservative agenda on the country.

That conclusion emerges from a review of surveys undertaken over more than a fifty year period by The American National Elections Studies (ANES) a well-respected research organization. The long term trend toward alienation is unmistakable... 

Apathy? Alienation? How 'disengaged' four in ten voters reject ALL parties
Four in 10 people are "alienated" from Britain's political parties and say they will not consider voting for any of them, according to new research.

Young adults are even more "disengaged" from the party system, with 46 per cent of under-30s saying "none of the above" when presented with a list of the parties. Although the polling does not mean people are apathetic about politics, the anti-sleaze watchdog which commissioned it believes the findings pose worrying questions about the future of democracy in Britain…

One year on, Jeremy Corbyn has transformed British politics
That initial leadership election transformed British politics, and we are still coming to terms with the birth of a new mass politics. The Labour party’s membership has grown to well over half a million – making it the biggest left-of-centre party in Europe…

But if you really want to analyse Corbyn’s achievements, it is important not to fall for the cliche that we have transformed the party but failed at “grown-up” conventional politics. In the past year, the Tories been forced into retreat after retreat. On personal independence payments, tax credits, police cuts and Saudi prison contracts, a sharp, oppositional stance has produced results…

For many in politics, that change is not a comfortable one, and that undeniably includes some in our own party…

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At 12:17 PM, Blogger Ken Wedding said...

Robert Zieger wrote from Africa (Congo, but he didn't specify which country), "As per today's post--are you familiar with this book, Against Elections: The Case for Democracy by David Van Reybrouck? He argues that elections may actually be harmful for democracies."

He wrote a synopsis for the Guardian: Why elections are bad for democracy

"Countless western societies are currently afflicted by what we might call 'democratic fatigue syndrome'. Symptoms may include referendum fever, declining party membership, and low voter turnout. Or government impotence and political paralysis – under relentless media scrutiny, widespread public distrust, and populist upheavals.

"But democratic fatigue syndrome is not so much caused by the people, the politicians or the parties – it is caused by the procedure. Democracy is not the problem. Voting is the problem. Where is the reasoned voice of the people in all this? Where do citizens get the chance to obtain the best possible information, engage with each other and decide collectively upon their future? Where do citizens get a chance to shape the fate of their communities? Not in the voting booth, for sure.

"The words 'election' and 'democracy' have become synonymous. We have convinced ourselves that the only way to choose a representative is through the ballot box..."


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