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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

goodbye to all that? « Previous | |Next »
July 20, 2013

Jeremy Gilbert in Postmodernity and the crisis of democracy at Open Democracy argues that we have now entered an epoch of ‘post-democracy', within which the established institutions of democratic representation simply do not function to represent or to enact effectively the collective will of the citizenry. Gilbert says that:

One of the best-known and most widely understood explanations for this situation is that it is the key political consequence of economic globalisation. Put very simply: where governments no longer have the degree of control that they once did over flows of capital, labour, ideas, or people, then the capacity of individual national legislatures to determine what happens within their own borders is severely curtailed. Everything from wage levels and rates of inward investment to media content and the cultural makeup of local populations could once be regulated by the state, and now cannot.

So we have a situation characterized by the inability of institutions which were born in the industrial revolution and came to maturity in the era of cinema, railways and mass democracy to get to grips with the mercurial fluidity and speed of postmodern cybernetic capitalism.

This involves a shift from the era of representative democracy to a consultative democracy premised on the focus group, which is an acknowledgement of the end of the party-political model of the mid-twentieth century.

Gilbert suggests that what has emerged is government by an enlightened technocratic elite who accept implicitly the neoliberal premise that politics as such is over, and that all we really need is to be administered and managed by competent and trustworthy individuals. The political elite:

would use techniques such as focus groups and market research to find out what would make people happy, would try to give them more-or-less what they wanted, but would always keep in mind that maintaining the profitability of [Australian] companies and investors must be regarded as the first priority of governance.

He adds that this technocratic, neo-liberal model works very well during an economic boom but it comes when the boom ends. During a boom, it is not necessary for the governing elite to make choices about how to distribute a limited set of resources. The corporate elite can carry on reaping most of the rewards, as long as there is just enough cheap credit and extra tax revenue to keep consumers feeling comfortable and public services afloat.

As soon as the boom ends, however, an ugly reality makes itself felt again---the clearly identifiable conflicts of interest between sections of the nation state come to the fore. Some sectional interests will win and some will lose because the winners can only win at the expense of others.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 1:24 PM | | Comments (4)


"...the inability of institutions which were born in the industrial revolution and came to maturity in the era of cinema, railways and mass democracy to get to grips with the mercurial fluidity and speed of postmodern cybernet capitalism"

This assumes there is a desire in these institutions to maintain their role s. Seems that, in some cases, they are only too happy to take the money and play dumb. Its just easier that way.

Its been pretty much this way all my life.
And I would dispute that "neo-liberal model works very well during an economic boom", it doesn't, it just might be less blatant.

I think the point is that the "neo-liberal model works very well during an economic boom" ...because it gives the consumers the illusion that they are getting ahead of the game.

I agree there has been a quantitive and qualitative rupture in the fabric of civil society and democracy.
The initial premise is correct, but the cure sounds worse than the disease, although you suspect Plato would have approved.
As is usual with this sort of theorising, the failure is monumental, due to a false opposition of competent and incompetent which ignores the realities of human nature and human subjectivity.
Put bluntly, you suspect that putting a fresh set of rabbits in charge of the lettuce patch is not the best way of protecting the resource.
It's fair enough as to what happens in the world now, but this vanguard concept ignores that communities work best from bottom to top, the other way consolidates an irrational, excluding and dumbing-down Orwellian tendency.
It seems to actually advocate by implication the abandonment of oversight and accountability via an informed and engaged public.