Consensus Politics: The Post-democratic Order

Consensus politicians

The German election that is currently taking place has been characterised by the liberal media hysterically screeching over the rise of Alternative für Deutschland, or the rise of anti-establishment sentiment in general, but an issue oft overlooked is the wider crisis of democracy that elections such as this make plain to see. This crisis arises not in the form of dictatorship or totalitarianism, but rather as a result of a void in ideological options in many elections – the established consensus. For instance, Germans may elect a sizeable proportion of AfD and Die Linke representatives to the Bundestag today, but the question of who runs the country for the next four years is already sealed; it’ll be the CDU, in coalition with the SPD, or the SPD in coalition with the CDU.

This has for the last four years been the order of German politics, and before that in Merkel’s first term between 2005 and 2009. The centre-right CDU and centre-left SPD have been in a coalition they term the “grand alliance”, which they claim is the pinnacle of democracy, as it leads to the government itself having a wider democratic mandate than if one party were to rule alone. But in actual fact, a coalition such as this is the antithesis of democracy. Having two major parties that agree on practically every issue is not representative of a healthy democracy, but rather a tired, listless, and flat process which is democratic only in the sense that the electorate goes to the polls every 4 years.

The Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats have very few ideological differences; they both support the neo-liberal economic consensus; they both support European integration to an almost psychotic degree; they’re aligned on all the major foreign policy, domestic security and even fiscal matters. The only difference is that, say, 90% of SPD members support the relatively insignificant right of homosexuals to marry, whereas maybe 70% of CDU members do. Or the CDU support selling off the entire Autobahn, whilst the SPD perhaps support private finance initiatives for most of it. The only differences centre around uninteresting and insignificant issues pertaining to the day-to-day running of the country.

The same can be said of political parties in other countries, even if the two establishment parties might not be in an official electoral alliance. The United Kingdom is a prime example of this; when the Conservative Party came to power in 2010 after 13 years of Labour government, Tory leader David Cameron won the election styling himself as “the heir to Blair”, in reference to the erstwhile Labour Prime Minister. This was no mere slogan, however, given that domestic politics and foreign affairs for that matter continued just as before. The only major difference came about in the form of the over-hyped issue of budget deficits, as the Conservative Party had an ideological commitment to budget surplus as opposed to Labour, who paid very little attention to the matter.

The degree of similarity between governments and establishment political parties can be best encapsulated in a phrase coined by University of Warwick political scientist Colin Crouch, but popularised by Anglo-Jewish politician Peter Mandelson; post-democracy. Crouch’s original use of the term was in reference to the notion that our societies function in the same way as a democracy is expected to, with elections, relative freedom of speech and so on, but with an overarching theme of liberal democracy that sees the democratic institutions co-opted by bureaucrats, judges, civil servants and the like, who steer the particular country in a certain direction on all the major political issues.

Mandelson’s use of the term came from his role as an EU Commissioner in 2015, an office that, being unelected and unaccountable, one would fully expect to inspire such sentiments. His comments that “we are entering a post-democratic era” are often interpreted by anti-EU campaigners as referring to the a dastardly plot by Eurocrats to impose a Soviet-style authoritarian order on the nations of Europe, but this is perhaps with a touch of unwarranted hysteria. The more likely subject of his remarks is the consensus politics of liberal democracy outlined above, in which there are no real ideological choices on the table, only differences of how society, guided by a bunch of technocrats, reaches the same end goal.

Was he wrong in his assessments? Most certainly not. Our democracies are indeed very listless in this respect, with the main parties gravitating toward the “centre ground” on all major domestic and foreign policy issues. Whilst this ensures a degree of stability and continuity, it’s also both intellectually weak and socially dangerous. Intellectually weak because it removes a large proportion of philosophical and political debate from social discourse; if the main parties agree on everything, what is there to debate, argue or discuss? However, on a more serious note, it is socially dangerous as it breeds apathy, enabling the liberal establishment to remove whatever freedoms or privileges they want from the people without any real opposition to this.

The evidence for this can already be seen; mass-surveillance, internet censorship, ID cards, passport retina checks and more. The establishment parties all agree on the supposed necessity for these measures, and there is no real opposition vocal enough to ensure the proper checks and balances on these systematic infringements on people’s rights. This is just one example, but the point is that the lack of opposition is not conducive to a healthy democracy or a healthy society.

This is why, as a “far-right” nationalist, I was unusually pleased by the emergence of Jeremy Corbyn as a major political force back in 2015. Whilst his hard-left politics are not my positions, at least this is a man offering a genuine alternative to the established order, or “consensus politics”. And the validation for these feelings were confirmed by the mass media’s vitriolic coverage of Corbyn’s rise to power within the Labour party; it’s not just nationalist opposition the liberal establishment is against, it’s all opposition. This is also why, much to many people’s surprise, I have urged my German friends to vote for AfD or Die Linke in their respective strongholds; this wasn’t so much indicative of an endorsement of radically left-wing politics, but rather it was a call born out of a desire to inject some life into politics, regardless of the orientation of the insurgent ideology.

In any case, the rise of a radical movement on one side of the spectrum is a great positive, even when it comes from the left. As with all things in social life, nature tends to find a way of balancing the scales; the logic goes that, as one extreme rises, so must a movement of equal extremity on the polar opposite side of the debate, to act as a natural balance. This is after all what the establishment are trying so hard to prevent; a process whereby two sides of the spectrum essentially radicalise each other through their desire to present the people with a genuine alternative to the stale, listless political consensus.

However an opposition manifests, it’s crucial for the intellectual and social health of nations that it does indeed manifest. The present established order is carrying a democratic deficit that’s dangerous, inept at solving real problems and, let’s be honest, just plain boring.

William is a writer based in England, Great Britain.