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The term post-democracy was coined by Warwick University political scientist Colin Crouch in 2000 in his book Coping with Post-Democracy. It designates states that are conducted by fully operating democratic systems (elections are being held, governments fall and there is freedom of speech), but whose application is progressively limited. A small elite is taking the tough decisions and (ab)uses the democratic institutions. Crouch further developed the idea in an article called Is there a liberalism beyond social democracy? for the think tank Policy Network and in his subsequent book The Strange Non-Death of Neo-Liberalism.
This term appeared to define a running evolution within democracies during the 21st century. It is a polemical term because it calls attention to recognized democracies that are losing some of their foundations and evolving towards an aristocratic regime.
Crouch names the following reasons:
- No common goals: For people in the post-industrial society it is increasingly difficult, in particular for the underclass, to identify themselves as a group and therefore difficult to focus on political parties that represent them. For instance laborers, farmers or entrepreneurs no longer feel attracted to one political movement and this means that there is no common goal for them as a group to get united.
- Globalization: The effect of globalization makes it almost impossible for nations to work out their own economic policy. Therefore large trade agreements and supranational unions (e.g., the European Union) are used to make policy but this level of politics is very hard to control with democratic instruments.
- Non-balanced debates: In most democratic countries the positions of the political parties have become very much alike. This means that there is not much to choose from for its voters. The effect is that political campaigns are looking more like advertising to make the differences look bigger. Also the private lives of the politicians have become an important item in elections. Sometimes "sensitive" issues stay undiscussed. The English conservative journalist Peter Oborne presented a documentary of the 2005 general election, arguing that it had become anti-democratic because it targeted a number of floating voters with a narrow agenda.
- Entanglement between public and private sector: There is a big interest between politics and business. Through lobbying companies, especially multinational corporations, are able to enforce legislation more effective than the inhabitants of a country. Corporations and governments are in close relation because states are in need of corporations as they are great employers. But as much of the production is outsourced and the corporations have almost no difficulties to move to other countries labor-law becomes employee unfriendly and tax bites are moved from companies to individuals in order to make better conditions for corporations. It becomes more common for politicians and managers to switch jobs from government to business and vice versa.
- Privatization: Then there is the idea of new public management (neoliberalism) to privatize public services. But privatized institutions are difficult to control by democratic means.
As a consequence:
- Fewer voters use their right to vote or they do vote but just don't expect much of it.
- Politicians can easily ignore an undesirable outcome of a referendum or opinion poll. For instance in 2005 when France and the Netherlands voted No at a referendum about the European Constitution these countries still ratified the treaty after only minor modifications were done.
- The rise of xenophobic parties who use the prevailing discontent.
- Foreign governments can influence the internal politics of a sovereign country. According to Crouch, the way the eurozone crisis was handled is the best example of how things work in a post-democracy. European leaders managed to enforce a new government to take office in Italy and in Greece far-reaching austerity measures were put in place.
According to Crouch there is an important task for social media in which voters can participate more actively in public debates. In addition, these voters would have to join advocacy groups for specific interests. The citizens have to reclaim their place in decision making. He calls this post-post-democracy.
- Colin Crouch: Post Democracy, 2004, ISBN 0-7456-3315-3
- Jenny Hocking & Colleen Lewis: Counter-Terrorism and the Post-Democratic State, 2008, ISBN 1-84542-917-6
- (English) On Coping with "Post Democracy"
- (Spanish) La postdemocracia
- (English) There is no Alternative