How to Save Democracy

People have lost the ability to listen“ – How to save democracy

One could think that democracy is lost. The populists are on the rise; not only in Germany or Europe but in the entire world. This is the picture that is often drawn by the media and Mark Warren, Professor of Political Science at the University of British Columbia, Canada, says this too. This is the „fear“ part of democracy and one which is sadly often the one more present in our minds. So what is the „hope“ part of democracy?

To discuss this question, how we can combine representation and participatory innovations, four professors from four different countries came together and took part in the panel Conceptualizing the Future of Democracy: Combining Representation and Participatory Innovations. Mark Warren, Rainer Forst (Goethe-Universität, Frankfurt), Jane Mansbridge (Harvard University) and Anne Philipps (London School of Economics and Political Science) are all experts in their fields and have been looking at democracy for a long time now. While they all agree that we have to change something about the way in which we participate in democracy, they have different approaches with different emphases.

Mark Warren says that the next step towards combining representation and participation is to do more „barefoot“ political theory. To advance newer democratic innovations, he together with Archon Fung (Harvard University) founded participedia, a website on which democratic innovations are crowdsourced.

Rainer Forst advocates for transnational solutions. He thinks that the crisis democracy is faced with is a justification crisis and that transnational parties could solve this as they are „a major form of combining representation and participation“. The challenge they face is to find common interests among the people; according to Forst the „essence of democracy“.

On the other hand, Jane Mansbridge claims that a system of recursive interaction as an ideal would be best for democracy. As an example she mentions townhalls which she considers very effective: if there was a system where randomly selected constituents spoke to their representatives on important topics, the idea of a direct democracy would be more included in an indirect democracy. However, this recursive interaction doesn’t necessarily mean that the constituents are all approached individually; Mansbridge says that parties play a very big role in bringing like-minded people together and forming political opinions. To overcome our differences, we have to understand the deeper interests of the people we negotiate with and maybe we can compromise on these rather than the actual demands (e.g. when someone is against immigration, maybe the underlying reason are economic fears which could maybe be solved in accord with immigration).

Anne Phillips feels like this is a good idea but that, also through social media, „people have lost the ability to listen“. In her opinion, alternative devices of democracy lack resilience. And if, compared to the economic power, democracy is very feeble, this would mean a further weakening of democracy.

All in all, the panel gave some really interesting insight into why democracy is in a crisis right now and what we have to do to make this situation better and save democracy as a whole.

About Donald Ellis

Professor Emeritus at the University of Hartford.

Posted on September 30, 2018, in Communication and Conflict Resolution, Democracy and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on How to Save Democracy.

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