Germany will regret this CDU(CSU)/SPD coalition if it survives first contact with the electorate. And France may well suffer Post-messiah-stress-disorder, just as the US did when hopes and dreams turned in mass-disillusionment. Both are problems caused by a lack of representation. Or, more precisely, a political discourse that disregards the importance of Representation.
A theme this blog has come back time and again since 2010.
The crucial feature of indirect democracy is the perception of representation, the collective trust in shared aims and expectations that allows the people to put their destiny in the hands of another, safe in the knowledge that even if ‘their’ man doesn’t get the job then the other guy will still be looking after their best interests.
The manner in which this trust is built is the knowledge that you and ‘he’ have a history of cooperation, and that your respective families likewise have a shared social and cultural history of cooperation, all of which allows you to trust that when adversity strikes ‘he’ will act in a predictable and acceptable way:
Throughout centuries of brutal warfare, from the Thirty Years War, the Napolenic War, the Franco-Prussian War, the First World War, the Second World War, and many more, europe has suffered political instability repression and revolution. How many EU countries have not been facist, communist, revolutionary, dictatorships, or repeatedly invaded in the last three hundred and fifty years? Only one. Have many have suffered at least one of the above within living memory? The rest. The EU represents stability to the continent, a framework for peaceful cooperation for the past half century.
The fascination with using proportionalism in defence of ‘victim’ groups, the institutionalisation of multitudinous identities, and the end of majority rule in favour of power sharing, all of these serve to break the network of trust that binds the citizen to their state, to be replaced with endless waltz of realignments as you ceaselessly redefine your identity, and a serf-like deference to a supra-national authority. You are too busy to care about the previous loyalty, and anyway, wasn’t it replaced by something ‘higher’?
All of this must be at least somewhat appealing to peoples who have never been properly protected by their state, whose shifting borders have left pockets of ‘others’ cheek-by-jowl with people whom they share no common history, and people who retain a nascent wariness of whatever catastrophe will next be inflicted upon them by their neighbours. Wouldn’t it be so much better if there were a less contentious way to live…………
It is no coincidence that many european states have a political system based on proportional representation, why would you not when repeated trauma and dislocation prevent the electorate from trusting the politician not to become a tyrant, and the politician from trusting the electorate not to install a demagogue. Democracy is the fusion between the Demos and the Kratos and in europe there are evident fractures between the two.
A nation-state is effectively a collective agreement that a people are a family, who have sufficient trust in each other to accept indirect governance from representatives of the prevailing will of a majority, it is also a collective agreement to work together for the benefit of the whole rather than the individual. In short it is a marriage which results in a transfer union.
Inevitably there will be richer and poorer parts of the nation-states economy, and if that economy is not to tear itself apart from the strife resulting from a polarising divergence in wealth then there must be a compact agreed by the people that national taxation will be redistributed in a manner the assists less advantaged areas. In short the rich pay for the poor.
This compact is seen in every developed country, by way of social benefits applied equally throughout the territory, by way of regional development funds to promote wealth creation in poor performing areas, and by concentrating public sector activity in areas of reduced economic potential. It is fundamental to the cohesion and harmony of the society.
Your blogger has seen many lib-dems argue that the traditional left-right axis is irrelevant as politics is in fact much more more complicated than that, and in consequence how it is a mistake to be defined by your opponents. They are both absolutely right, and tragically wrong. Yes, anyone who has looked at the political compass knows there is more than a single axis to politics. This however is utterly irrelevant if your ideas don’t speak to the dilemmas of the age. The previous hundred years have been dominated by the left-right battle between capitalism and socialism………… And the off-tangent lib-dems were quite frankly irrelevant to the great questions of the day. Two poles competing to attract the greatest mass of public opinion, locked in visceral and adversarial conflict with each other. This is the way the British public understand politics, and to ignore that is to become a pressure group. What Labour achieved one hundred years ago was convincing the public that they represented a better pole to oppose capitalism than liberal ideology could provide. By the time this change had occurred union membership had passed seven million, half way to its mid century peak. By the time the next election arrives union membership will have sunk to seven million as it’s ideas seem ever less relevant to 21st century problems. The question is; are the lib-dems determined to convince the public that they, once again, are the most effective polar opposite to the Tories? Worrying about proportionality in the Commons is yesterday’s answer to the party’s marginal relevance in the face of the Labour movement, do you want success or the righteous purity of eternal opposition?
What this arrives back at is the need for a society and culture that embraces change, and is able to focus sufficiently on the objective of shaping that change in its favour.
The biggest threat to an attitude that embraces change is fear. A fear that demands comforting certainties. Certainties best provided for by creating institutional blocks to ‘dangerous’ change.
Such institutions would include:
A desire for a consensual political culture, one where disagreement results in calibration rather than adversarial challenge.
Formalised by a proportional electoral system that fractures ideology among smaller more coherent parties, and forces them to compromise to achieve a governing coalition.
A desire for a less dangerous political governance, one where potential bandwidth for action is deliberately limited in order likewise limit the scale of possible damage.
Formalised by a constitutional roadblocks where the power of parliament is curtailed, where elements of the constitution remain verboten, and super-majorities are required to legitimise change.
A desire for a less fractious political discourse, one where contentious issues are dealt with by ‘taking the politics out of the matter’, and leaving it to expert opinion to arbitrate.
Formalised by a supranational system of governance that categorises democracy into areas of fixed technocratic competence, and a residual component left for the state to play with.
Germany is about to go into a coalition because, well… because it is terrified of unstable government. Merkel doesn’t want a coalition, because it forfeits the room to maneuvre that is the hallmark of her political style; the elbow room for force compromise. The SPD doesn’t want a coalition, because they know it will only further corrode their tarnished brand; with their very status as on of the ‘big two’ in doubt. But they like safe consensual politics, enforced by a proportional electoral system. The result, sadly, is that the AFD will achieve the status of Official Opposition, and have four years to prepare to be a ‘Party of Government’. If the coalition goes ahead, I predict a very ugly result in the 2022 Federal Election.
France has a different problem, in that it doesn’t have a consensual political system, enforced by a proportional electoral system. It does however suffer a similar problem in fearing populist government, something it seeks to prevent with its two stage presidential election. Yes, we understand the proles likes to make their displeasure known, and to this end we have given them a safe mechanism to vent their ill-humours. The purpose of the first stage is to determine which of the ‘big two’ will be in government. What’d you say! You asked what happens if an insurgent party tops the poll in the first stage? Well, that simply tells us that the ‘winning’ element of the big two has won the second stage, for surely all sensible Frenchmen will pile in behind their adversary to keep the incumbent out! Well, that failed, and we got Macron as a great white hope. What happens if he fails to deliver, as Obama did in his second term?
Don’t fight the public. Mould and shape their views by all means. But thwart them at your peril.
Update – 2018/09/03 – AfD overtakes Social Democrats – You were warned…