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Democracy - a Plea to Strengthen It and Fight for It
by Hanspeter Georgi
Monday Jan 20th, 2020 7:01 AM
We as democrats must take care of democracy as a learning system. If we do not do so, democracy will wither away.
Democracy - a plea to strengthen it and fight for it
When parties are overburdened, citizens must become more involved
by Hanspeter Georgi

[This article is translated from the German on the Internet.]

A class of politicians in whose composition the population no longer sees itself reflected, opaque democratic procedures and the indecision to remedy recognized shortcomings in the conduct of politics - is liberal democracy still salvageable?

For a brief moment, Francis Fukuyama's 1992 political diagnosis was that the liberal democracy of the West in the form of party democracy was "the end of history". It was undoubtedly a 20th century success story. But it is not at the end of the historical process of finding the best form of government. Meanwhile, the adjective "liberal" is changing to "illiberal" or even "authoritarian" to distinguish our previous form of democracy from developments in other countries that also call themselves democratic. Pressure is developing the authoritarian systems of Russia, China or even Turkey, not to mention Trumpism.

Both Joachim Gauck and Frank-Walter Steinmeier deal with democracy in many of their speeches. They must have reasons for doing so if they see threats to our democratic constitution. Joachim Gauck, for example, quotes Carlo Schmid, probably not without reason, in his speech of 18 January 2017 at the end of his term of office. According to Schmid, democracy should "also have the courage to be intolerant towards those who want to use democracy to kill them". This is certainly also an allusion to the fact that Weimar failed not because of its constitution, but because of the ballot box. After all, about 60 percent of the eligible voters had voted for parties that were hostile to democracy.
Federal President Steinmeier even set up a "Forum Bellevue - On the Future of Democracy". On the occasion of the opening of this venue on 19 September 2017, where since then people have been arguing with "reason and truthfulness" about threats to and improvements in our democracy, President Steinmeier remarked: "We, the citizens, must look after democracy with self-confidence - and also learn to fight for it again".

More transparency than bureaucratic regulation

As a citizen, I see the following phenomenon as an opportunity to reflect on why we should improve our democratic constitution: At the end of the 1960s, Strauß and Schiller wanted to push through a major tax reform - still on the political agenda today, but never realized. On the contrary: even the tax authorities are no longer in a position to overlook the fiscal complexity that has been created. Why does our political system not succeed in creating a transparent tax law for citizens who pay taxes? A similar question arises for social policy as for other areas. Wolfgang Schäuble, President of the German Bundestag, commented on this in the FAZ newspaper of 23 May 2019: "The Basic Law was created as the foundation for a free state capable of acting. We should once again expose this idea more strongly, instead of continuing to wall ourselves in behind ever newer regulations which entail even more detailed rules". This is in line with the historian Niall Ferguson's diagnosis of the decline of the West - How institutions decay and economies die (2012/13). There it says: "The constitutional state has many enemies, but among the most dangerous are the authors of long, extensive legal texts".

The number of overhanging and balancing mandates increases from one legislative period to the next. If nothing changes, the next Bundestag will have about 800 members representing us instead of the 598 seats planned. Our Parliament is already the largest after the Chinese People's Congress. Necessary changes to the electoral law are being discussed, but not implemented. For us as "normal voters", according to the German constitutional law expert Joseph Isensee, it is hardly understandable what happens to our vote when it is put into the "Kafkaesque calculating machine of our electoral system". Worse still: "Not even a handful of members of parliament are able to explain the distribution of seats without an accident" (Norbert Lammert). This calls for electoral law reform, especially since the second vote does not correspond to the Basic Law's requirement for the personality vote.

Trust in the political class is dwindling

In the course of the decades a class of politicians has emerged that no longer manages to be representative on its own. Friedrich Merz's answer to a journalist's question about his income and assets may be representative of this development: "It's quite astonishing: you come under pressure to justify yourself when you are successful in your profession. At the same time, you no longer have to explain yourself in public at all if you hold a political mandate without a professional qualification and without any professional background and then become completely dependent on politics economically". In People's Mouth the explanation is how the phenomenon of the political class came about: from the delivery room via the lecture hall into the plenary hall.

Globalization and digitization seem to overtax our parties.
Faced with the challenges of the 21st century, globalization and digitization, our parties seem to be overstrained to fulfill their two most important functions. They can no longer explain to voters the increasingly complex world and their demands for adequate policies. As a result, confidence-building suffers, not only in the new federal states. As a result, parties that claim to speak not only for the "people" with simple answers, but even to claim: "We are the people", benefit. And there is then applause on the net or even on the street when the competence of the "elites" is denied and the media is denigrated as a "lie press". The classical parties have little to oppose all this. Why? The sociologist Hartmut Rosa speaks of a loss of resonance. The classic parties no longer reach the voters. The journalist and author Gabor Steingart diagnosed that the parties had developed into "gossip clubs". A debate on the content of the issues is practically no longer taking place on a broad scale. Talk shows are no substitute.

The social networks promote populism and endanger our liberal democracy. Campaigns undermine the order of our representative party democracy. "We democrats watch almost inactively as our democracy is undermined," said Ralph Brinkhaus, FAS, 16.12.2018. I recommend Sascha Lobo, Realitätsschock, as a reading. There is, for example, the reference that in the last elections to the European Parliament, the satirical party Die Partei received about 8 percent of the first-time and young voters (18 to 24), which is about as many votes as the CDU, SPD or FDP. AfD and Die Linke were below that. Politics as satire, fun or spectacle for young voters? The answer of a classical party to Rezo's video, does this show the difference between the 20th and 21st century?

The renewal of our democracy does not just fall from the sky

We need to adapt the institutional structure of our democracy in order to maintain our democracy. Karl Popper's advice: "Democracy cannot be better than the democrats. It is the democrats who have to work for improvement, that is the crucial thing. It is nonsense to complain about democracy. The answer to such a complaint is, "What have you done to improve democracy?" We democrats have to follow this maxim. And as the highest representative of our community, Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier has internalized this maxim for himself and calls on us to live up to it. In his speech on 26 September 2018 at the Scientific Congress of the German Political Science Association, he called on us and the experts: "But we must also have the courage to ... dare to experiment, to develop new forms of participation. ... not simply shifting responsibility away from democratic institutions, but improving representative procedures ...".

What are the options?

Change the electoral system to find a transparent system that does not take party selfish interests into account. A proposal that I think has a lot of charm for us voters is from the political scientist Joachim Behnke. He calls for two-mandate constituencies. The winner and runner-up of the constituency would then be directly elected.

To practice forms of deliberative democracy in order to increase the participation of the electorate, which I prefer to forms of direct democracy. Direct democracy can lead to divisions in society. An extreme example of this: Brexite. Deliberative democratic procedures rely on the power of argument and consensus-building. Taking various criteria into account, representative commissions are formed which, in a rational dialogue, work out a common position on specific issues. These are then introduced into the process of representative democratic decision-making. They are thus a supplement to the principle of representation. The following applies: representative democracy is an institution against the dictates of the majority (Lammert). Particularly in view of the increasing power and effectiveness of social networks - networks that are dependent on moods and therefore unstable over time - we democrats have to make sure that our democracy is weatherproofed by changes in the institutional structure.

Beyond these described adaptations to the system, there are proposals to actually make the separation of powers à la Montesquieu effective again. For today we could observe that the Bundestag has developed into the executive committee of the respective government, i.e. the separation of powers in the legislative, executive and judicial branches has been reduced to only two powers, thus weakening the rule of law. In the spirit of President Steinmeier's appeal, we citizens should get to work on proposals as to how the Bundestag should be constituted.
To sum up briefly: we as democrats must take care of democracy as a learning system. If we do not do so, democracy will wither away.

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