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Erosion Or Exhaustion Of Democracy? The Challenge For Social Europe

Blühdorn, I. (2014) “Erosion Or Exhaustion Of Democracy? The Challenge For Social Europe“, Social Europe Journal, 18 Νοεμβρίου.


Social Europe is caught between a rock and a hard place. It is supposed to restore confidence in democracy – which since the bailout of the failing banks and the ensuing politics of austerity can hardly be regarded as a plausible promise anymore and which, anyway, at EU-level is known primarily for its absence. But we know that democracy is really the worst form of government except for all the others that have been tried over the time (Churchill).

Ever since Plato’s allegory of the ship and Rousseau’s inability to supplement his demand for popular sovereignty with a plausible explanation of the general will we have been aware of the profound weaknesses of democracy. And ever since Lenin we’ve known that democracy, rather than securing social justice and self-determination, is but the best political shell for capitalism. So restoring confidence in democracy, especially in the face of austerity, is not only a very demanding task, but a rather questionable one, too.

Set against the background of fascism, violence, war and utter poverty, democracy once appeared as the Promised Land. Throughout decades of rapid economic growth it provided freedom, peace, wealth and wellbeing to larger sections of Western societies than ever before. In the 1970s, when the economic downturn, the re-emergence of mass unemployment and the spiralling costs of the redistributive welfare state first signalled that, in the long run, democracy might become unable to deliver on its promise of material security and equality, a shift of emphasis towards post-materialist concerns of identity diverted attention and further strengthened confidence in democracy. The new social movements insisted that genuine democracy was yet to be achieved and that their new politics would deliver not only on matters of social emancipation but at the same time also secure freedom and integrity for society’s natural environment.
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