Increasing social disintegration, the domination of private economic interests and the erosion of democratic politics show the necessity for a profound democratic renewal of European societies. Democratisation refers not only to the political sphere, but involves all sectors of society, the economy as well as the production of knowledge. In the following I will focus on two dimensions of democracy that seem crucial to me.
1. Democratising Society
The current economic crisis is accompanied by a deep social crisis, whose foundations were laid by rising inequality and growing social polarisation as a result of neoliberal restructuring during the last two decades. Further increasing unemployment and extending precarious (particularly female) employment in the course of the economic downturn foster social hierarchies, marginalisation and exclusion, thereby intensifying societal disintegration and thus undermining democratic foundations.
This social crisis renders employment as the key mode of integration into society questionable and hints to the crucial importance of a new regulation of work and social security decoupled from gainful employment. A general and radical reduction of work hours and equal distribution of gainful employment as well as unpaid care work might serve as starting points in this context.
This also involves extensive gender equality measures regarding gainful employment, orientation towards gender parity in all occupations, a basic revision of wage-structures by re-valuing work on the basis of its societal necessity and establishing minimum as well as maximum income levels.
In this context, a concept of a good life not focused primarily on consumption-oriented economic criteria, but rather on the wealth of the plurality of human experience as well as the human need for manifold social interactions and stable social relations is crucial. Furthermore, discoursive strategies should focus on the deconstruction of the myth of the merit principle and question self-reliance and competition as organisational modes of society. Alongside opposing the growing naturalisation of social differences, social democracy should revitalise the idea of socio-economic equality as the only way to social inclusion and hence as the key prerequisite for a democratic society.
2. Democratising Politics
Referring to the erosion of democratic institutions and procedures, political science recently established the term “post-democratic” in order to describe the current state of politics. Post-democracy does not mean a simple reduction of democracy, but a historic development combining pre-democratic elements with formal representation resulting in increasingly authoritarian tendencies.
Post-democratic developments involve the growing exercise of political power by private enterprises without democratic legitimisation in particular based on the influence of economic lobbies on political decision-making. Processes of parliamentary decision-making are increasingly replaced by intransparent and uncontrollable systems of public-private bargaining.The shift of decision-making to supra- and international levels promotes de-democratisation.
Furthermore, post-democracy refers to a reduction in the opportunities to democratic participation by an output-related understanding of democracy. This means that state activities are not legitimised by a participatory process of decision-making (its input), but by the quality of their output, the assessment of which is primarily made by experts, leading to expertocratic forms of governance. Finally, post-democratic also refers to the extension of profit rationality to the public sector, the measurement of state activities according to economic criteria and the substitution of ideals of political leadership by ideals of public management.
As a consequence of this diagnosis re-building democracy implies the de-economisation of politics, the renewal of the “idea” of the “public” and the development of new forms of political participation. A profound strengthening of parliaments on regional, national and supranational levels and the building of democratic global institutions are certainly starting points, but far beyond, democratising politics needs a process of political emancipation overcoming the logic of inherent economic necessity.
Since everything is politically acceptable if there seems to be no alternative, research on new economic and societal models is required. The production of knowledge plays a crucial role for rebuilding democracy and must not be left to private interests. Resources therefore should be devoted to science and research on democratic social innovations. – What would societies look like, if we paid as much attention to them as we do to technological innovation?