Authoritarians want predictability and thrive in it
There has been an avalanche of recent books on the breakdown of democracy, the why and now of this flashback. Is democracy really facing an existential crisis? What is democracy anyway, and is there a firm framework for judging its crisis that is not partisan?
Indeed, there is. The Rules of Democracy by political philosopher Jan-Werner Müller is an introduction to the first principles of democracy. He proposes a “hard border” for democratic conflicts – it cannot compromise the equality of all citizens, it cannot say that some people are second class citizens or cannot participate in the national community. According to this definition, democracy can accommodate all kinds of disagreements, polarizations and frictions, but not the deliberate otherization or denial of the right to vote of a group.
Unlike those who believe the sky is falling on our heads, Müller doesn’t think we are on the verge of fascism – while authoritarian populism in Brazil, Hungary, Poland and the United States has threatened democracy, it says that the mass mobilization and militarization of 1930 is absent now. Indeed, all these governments frequently invoke democracy.
But it’s easy to spot bogus Democrats – populist leaders who claim to speak for the “real people” or the “silent majority”, implicitly saying that those who do not support them are not “real people” and are beyond all consideration. While all parties speak to their own supporters, a base they forge through their rhetoric and platforms, populists seek to completely exclude certain groups from membership.
There are family resemblances to their style of governance – nationalism (with racist, religious or ethnic overtones), the hijacking of the state for loyalist supporters, and the arming of the economy to secure power. .
With a propensity for crony capitalism, they must keep a grip on the judicial and political system, he writes. In Hungary, for example, Viktor Orbán promised German carmakers “Chinese terms” with flexible unions, he changed the civil service law by claiming that the liberal left had occupied the levers of state and should be purged, he entered to control the courts and the media. They also often simulate sovereignty, with a studied performance of collective assertiveness.
Liberals who deplore this tend to blame the masses, who can be influenced and influenced by demagogues. In fact, no authoritarian populist has come to power without the collaboration of the elites, Müller says. But rather than blaming “the masses” like the liberals tend to do or “the powerful few” like others tend to do, we need institutional responses.
The critical infrastructure of democracy since the 19th century, says Müller, are political parties and the media. They must not be exploited by other forces, they must remain arenas open to disputes and disputes. These two intermediaries – the media and political parties – are now troubled, he admits, and suggests ways to renew their missions.
At the heart, says Müller, is “institutionalized uncertainty”. An election is not the only and last word; it reveals the balance of political forces at a given moment. A democratic opposition takes the government without delegitimizing the system, the government recognizes the role of the opposition, knowing that their positions can be reversed. A leader cannot use force or the tax system to destroy opposition; election losers graciously accept defeat, knowing that it is limited and temporary. This uncertainty is crucial, says Müller. Either way, democracy can never be predictable.
The opinions expressed above are those of the author.
END OF ARTICLE