Our current forms of democratic government are looking hollowed out and weary, to put it very mildly indeed. Of course, “democracy” isn’t an a-historical given. You get many kinds. The question is how you arrange it. The problems with what we’ve got now are legion: we might agree about what many of them are.
I’d say that the radical critique of liberal democracy still has force: that its deep links to capitalism, its inequality, ideology and instability mean that we must work to transform and eventually replace with something better. Right now, some kind of action is needed to push back against neoliberalism – the current, extremely vicious version now abroad. At the Moment “markets” rule us, rather than the democratically elected representatives of our ‘democracies’. The logic of these markets is inhuman, nihilistic and rapacious. They treat people like disposable things, eat up the commons and suck the life out of our planet. One of the key effects is to produce massive inequality, and this this inequality is ruining the idea of civic (and civil) life.
It can cause things like Occupy – and I think we will get more of that. There are a lot of educated under or unemployed young people, and they aren’t unaware that their future is being stolen from them – there may lie some hope in that (cf Paul Mason) But! It also generates armies of sometimes infantilised, resentful Superfluous People (superfluous to capital, to the elites, that is) Result: a government which is either the tool of banks and elites, or which responds to the anger of the dispossessed via nationalism, racism and authoritarianism – sometimes both.
If you want a democracy, you must become an active citizen, not just a private consumer letting the public, the commons, go to hell. We need, then, a return to active, radical challenge to this state of things. I’d call it democratic socialism 2.0 : but I don’t care what name it goes by: civic republicanism, post-capitalism, whatever. The current state of affairs is coming apart: we can either work to push back against the toxic forces now unleashed, or sit back and watch. I’d rather push.
Picture credits: top picture: Noel Douglas; bottom picture: picture by author.