„democracy is the worst form of government except for all other forms that have been tried.“
To safeguard democracy it needs constant caution and active participation of all. But how do we make this work? And what does a democracy have to look like in the 21. Century? An article on the weaknesses and opportunities of our political system – and on an awesome project that gives us hope.
Some years ago I attended a lecture at university and the professor explained to us students what's most annoying about democracy: that you don't always get what you want. The good side of it? Others don't either. He concluded by saying: democracy might be the most exhausting game ever invented because it actually recquires all players to have an argument about how to live together. No wonder then that democracy tends to get complicated. So many different opinions, so many different interests and values come into play. You know yourself how hard it can be to decide what's for dinner. Now imagine deciding the fate of millions...
And still: Is there anything more valuabe and defended more passionately than democracy? Our political system – aka the rule of the people by the people for the people – is the baseline of our societal and cultural life. And for good reasons. Not only do a lot of countries envy us for our luck to live in a democracy but democratic values were also hard-earned fighting tyrants and monarchs throughout centuries. It's unsettling therefore that today many believe that democracy once again stands on shaky ground.
Democracy under attack
When democracy is criticized in our days then the criticism usually comes with a demand for more democracy. When other forms of government are publicly preferred to our own it is usually more democratic systems like the one in Switzerland. Their citizens decide regularly on critical issues by ballots – that’s called “direct democracy”. This practice has lots of fans in Germany but there are critics as well. In surveys around 70 percent of Germans regularly speak out in favour of direct democracy on the national level. What do you think? Would you like to be asked more often when critical issues are decided?
Democracy is popular for many good reasons – not least historical ones. But there are convinced critics too. Plato, one of the founding fathers of European philosophy, once wrote in his epic work Politeia: “Tyranny is the natural consequence of democracy”. He did not believe that the peace of society and the freedoms of citizens would last long in a democratic system. And looking at ancient greece he was right after all.
Oscar Wilde, the world-renowned author, took it even further when he wrote in his book The soul of man and socialism: “Democracy is nothing more than the bludgeoning of the people by the people for the people.” Ouch! That a so-called “majority” would be capable of making the right decisions seemed questionable to Wilde. Some say the vote for Brexit was an example of democracy "going wrong"...
Fed up with democracy?
Those who believed that democracy as a form of government is something like the perfect end product of our history and that all bright minds agree on it’s value will be shocked to find out otherwise. Democracy is usually just as good (or bad) as the people bringing it to life. And that is exactly why it is so hugely important that democracy is improved and defended time and time again. But how shall this be done? The answer is clear: only education and caution and tolerance and the active participation of all can do the trick. So we all are responsible.
Looking at Germany one can get a bit of stomach-ache. The status of our democracy seems, well, let’s say upgradable. Keyword: disenchantment with politics – or what is called “Politikverdrossenheit” . A survey of 2018 done by the YouGov-institute found that almost 10 percent of Germans reject democracy or at least see it critically. 83 percent are anyhow fond of it. In the same study 38 percent stated that they think democracy is in danger – by extremism of the right and the left in particular.
In autumn of 2019 the European Commission asked 1.500 Germans how satisfied they were with democracy in their country. The result: only 15 percent were “very satisfied”. 57 percent were at least somewhat satisfied. Not really (or not at all) satisfied were 27 percent. The reasons for this relative unhappiness were not explained by the poll. We might assume that it has something to do with the fact that some of the people just don’t feel like their voices and their interest are getting adequately represented. A somewhat famous and cynical quote of Rudolf Augstein – the founder of the German news magazine Der Spiegel – comes to mind:
“It does not really matter whether democracy functions according to it’s original idea but rather that it is seen as functional by the population.”
Democracy? Without me!
Way less content than they are with democracy Germans are with the government itself. According to a poll of the tv-station ARD from the beginning of 2020 a round zero percent of people call themselves “very content” with the work of Chancellor Merkel and her cabinet. Just about 32 percent are at least “content”. This means the German government right now is less popular than whole milk chocolate (47%) and only a little bit more popular than Russian president Wladimir Putin (26%). The kicker: Not content or not at all content with the ruling government are 68 percent. Oh lord!
In fact, there are people who just don't care anymore. When we look at participation in national elections in the last 70 years we see a pretty steep decline which only in the last few years shows a positive trend. When the republic was founded in 1949 about 79 percent of Germans went voting on election day. In the early 70s record numbers were reached with about 90 percent participation. But after that it went downhill until 2009 (with a short positive phase in the 90s after reunification).
At the last general election 2017 roughly 76 percent of people took the time to go to the ballot box. This means in turn: almost 25 percent of registered voters don’t participate – because they don’t care or they feel like “it won’t change things anyway” as some people say almost casually. Imagine! From a total number of almost 62 million voters there is more than 15 million that could vote but don’t. What do you think is the main reason for this? And how could this be changed?
Just do it (yourself)
From the so far presented facts and numbers we can deduce a variety of important questions: how bad is the state of democracy really? How could we improve peoples satisfaction with democratic institutions? And how can we manage to make the disenchanted and the frustrated voters among us get interested and hopeful again?
EMERALD BERLIN would like to contribute to a healthy development and reinforcement of democratic institutions and values and spread awareness among as many as possible. A pretty decent starting point for this is the education of young people. And there is one very special project which does exactly that by making democracy accessible through experience for young students.
The association Politik zum Anfassen e.V. wants to make politics fun again and motivates the next generation to participate and educate themselves about the workings of our political system. A great endeavour which helps raise consciousness about political issues and thereby solidifies the popularity of democracy itself. Read more about the project on our website!
To support this project and level up its publicity we created the EMERALD BERLIN x Politik zum Anfassen – fashion collection. With this line of statement-fashion you too can show your support and make this project known to others. This collection you find – together with a number of others – on our website. Daily updates on the topic of this blog and on various other issues you can also find on our Facebook- and Instagram-page. Thanks for your support, your comments, likes and contributions!
The author of this blog-article is Marc Dassen. You want to leave him a comment or ask a question? Send him an e-mail via firstname.lastname@example.org.