Democracy has been one of the main victims of the crisis. In parliament the law-making process is consistently bypassed and ridiculed. Hard-won articles of the constitution are erased in an instant on the Troika’s whim. In everyday life long-held basic principles seem to have been forgotten. In the streets, the freedom to move and protest has been seriously curtailed.
This is not a democracy any more, at least as we knew it. But what is it then? Some denounce it as a dictatorship, a term that in Greece has recent and personal relevance. But however in a rhetorical level, this is not an analytically helpful comparison. The differences between today’s state politics and those of the familiar past dictatorships are possibly more than the similarities. ‘Post-democracy’ is another term, promoted by Jürgen Habermas, that focuses more on the institutional evolution of Europe than on the everyday culture and practices of national politicians. What is for sure is that maintaining the democratic standard is not any more the priority of the modern state’s functionaries.
The term ‘de-democratisation’ that we propose is broad enough to describe the experience of the new politics – a first step towards analysis. The term might not be good enough in identifying intentions and aims, but, at least at this stage, aims are still diverse. While some actors are surely driven by an anti-democratic instinct, others have a more practical indifference to democracy, seen as a parochial and utopian obstacle. The common denominator is that democracy has stopped being the top priority.
‘It is the economy stupid!’ Bill Clinton’s axiom from the 1990s seems to have become the new general rule. The rationale behind this approach is simple: people need jobs, and states need money before either can do anything else. It sounds very logical. But the fact that it has become common currency does not mean it is not also very ideological. It is the politics of neo-liberalism in a nutshell: the submission of the political to the economic discourse.
Democracy as a result suffers. It has ceased being the main reason for which states exist and politicians have their jobs. There was a time when the furthering of Democracy – however variously defined – was considered the golden standard of politics, at least in a rhetorical level. This is not the case any more.
This is a historic turning point. The state is abrogating its main legitimising myth. Managing of the economy was never the founding principle of the modern state, at least at the level of declarations: it was law and order, and, since the French Revolution, the expansion of the democratic principle to all people – liberté, egalité, fraternité. Now it is économie. If the state is not run any more in the name of the people that it claims to represent, then it lacks the automatic legitimacy that it used to have in the eyes of the many. It is at this point that to defend its authority the state can turn to methods that are very familiarly dictatorial, no matter how they are dressed up. This is what is happening in Greece.
last edited: 30 December 2013