“Postdemocracy” – Interview with Colin Crouch

Preparing  Supertaalk #8 “Parlament vs. PR: Parteien in der Krise”Werner Reisinger and Florian Christof met Colin Crouch, the author of “Postdemocracy”. The british sociologist gave them the following interview.

Supertaalk:
Prof. Crouch, if you would have to give a very brief definition of what the term “post democracy” means, let’s say in a few sentences, what would it be?

“… the energy of the political system and the innovative capacity have moved to other spheres.”

Colin Crouch:
Postdemocracy would be like postindustrialism. Postindustrial society – we have all the products of industry. Industrial activity continuous. But the energy, the dynamism of the economy has gone somewhere else. So where I use post-democracy with the same idea. All the institutions of democracy remain – we use them. It’s just the energy of the political system and the innovative capacity have moved to other spheres.

Supertaalk:
Since your analyses and criticism that you came up with in your book is focused very much on the anglo-saxon system of democracy – why is it that the book did get such a great response in europe where many countries have multi-party-systems. Not like in the US for instance.

Colin Crouch:
It was based originally on british, american and italian experience. The book was published first in Italy in fact, and had big resonance with the public there. But I could understand, because of the Berlusconi-Phenomenon. I have been surprised, that the resonance the book had in Germany and Austria also. I am slightly puzzled by. I think it could simply be that my thought-processes are more accessible to german people then to english speaking people.

Supertaalk:
I was wondering, when I read your book, it said the crisis of the classic democracy started in the 1980s or something like that. It was the same time when the neoliberal doctrine became very popular in the US and the UK; when Reagan and Thatcher started the massive off-shoring and the privatization of the public sector. David Harvey mentioned it in a brief video, saying that in central-europe people like to call it an anglo-saxon disease. Is there a coincidence of the decline of functionality of democracy and the neoliberal doctrine? Did it really come to privatization of politics? What are the coincidences?

Colin Crouch:
Yes, they are very closely related. And in the new book, i have just written about why neoliberalism survived the financial crisis, which should have made it very vulnerable. I have tried to make these links. It’s a very close relationship, indeed. Because the growing power of large corporations is a fundamental aspect of the shift of post-democracy. When I say, the political energy of the system has gone elsewhere – it has gone to rather secret private discourse between great global corporations and governments.

Supertaalk:
Your thesis came out a few years ago, it don’t say much about the European Union and the Euro-System, which is the current topic of the day. Can we get a brief statement on what your personal opinions are about the perspectives of EU and the stability of the Euro-System? What do you think?

“the economy is global and democracy remains very very national”


Colin Crouch:
Fundamentally the European Union is a very optimistic sign. One of the problems that democracy has, the economy is global and democracy remains very very national. The European Union is a means to getting beyond that. Unfortunately the European project, like it is now defined is a very neoliberal project. In particular the Monetary Union is more anglo-saxon then the anglo-saxons are. This is a design fault of the system, which Europe is suffering from.

Supertaalk:
If we regard the rise of nationalism in central europe, is a common economic government of the EU possible?

Colin Crouch:
Sadly, the prospect is very poor. There are at least two things. On the one side, neoliberalism: As Fritz Scharpf, the german political scientist has argued, market making is a negative form of constructing europe. It’s much more easy to do than positive institution building. So that’s one set of problems. The other set of problems is that national reaction to globalisation is increasingly taking this xenophobic form. Now these are two very negative forces preventing the construction of a good social europe.

Supertaalk:
What started as a protest movement against unemployment and a failing politcal system in spain with the slogan “real democracy now!” has now swapped over to other parts of Europe and the US where the Occupy Wall Street Movement has created heavy media attention. Now, what seems to be the beginning of a global rise of resistance to some situations created by governments – is this what you expect to be a way out of the post-democratic dilemma – for in austria there’s quite a big discussion going on about the traditional forms of participation (via the representative system, Anm.) versus new forms of democratic participation, e.g. it’s better to found a partie, because this is the possibility the representative system gives us to make an influence.

“We need both parties and civil society initiatives.”

Colin Crouch:
We need both parties and civil society initiatives. We cannot expect parties to do this alone, unless there is a real strong feeling in the public opinion that something must be done about this financial system and about this form of capitalism that we have. We cannot expect the parties to create that by themselves. So we need to support movements and protest that articulate this concern, and try to create a strong movement of public opinion, to which the parties can then respond. I don’t see parties and “bürgerinitiativen” as alternatives, they are necessary to each other.

Supertaalk:
Much has been written and said about the role of new forms of technology [and] systems of communication like social media, Richard Wilkinson mentioned the potential of free information and the conflict over restrictions on it. Do you think they have the capabilities to help and establish a more democratic society – more active citizens in a democratic sense? Or do they probably lead to, as some skeptics say, to a decline of public interest in politics?

Colin Crouch:
Well, they are serving very well, in assisting organisations with very slim resources. I think it’s rather similar to the history of newspapers. When newspapers, mass newspapers started, the existing elites were not interested because the did not control them. There was a great diversity of ownership, and this helped all kinds of opposition opinion – liberal groups, working class groups, anti – religious groups. Eventually, the great power centers understood this and began to buy up newspapers and controlled most of them. And I expect we shall see the same with new media, but at the moment, we are living in the period where they are useful to, and are being used by all kinds of groups.

Supertaalk:
Thanks a lot for the interview.

Camera: Romana Kalhammer