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Stewart: “Dying days of democracy”?

Written By: - Date published: 2:11 pm, April 27th, 2017 - 59 comments
Categories: democracy under attack, democratic participation - Tags: , , , ,

Rachel Stewart asks:

Are we in the dying days of democracy?

Are we in the dying days of democracy and, if so, can humanity survive it?

There is so much crazy, weird bizarro flitting all around us like a flapping demon, it’d be hard to seriously make the case against it.

In a world gone mad – or, at least, out and proudly neo-liberal – democratic values appear to have entered the ever-tightening circles of the death spiral. The ground is fast rising up to meet them.

From scientists marching through the world’s streets to remind politicians why they’re still relevant, to women marching to remind male legislators of the very same, it’s beyond crystal clear. Houston, we have a problem.

Knowing that right now, out in the big wide world, are a bunch of leaders who either weren’t elected by the people, or were dubiously so. Putin, May, Erdogan, Mugabe, Assad, to name a few.

Then there’s Trump. Astonishingly elected, but by fewer than three million votes than his rival. Only in America. Land of the seriously deficient electoral system. It’s going to take some time turning that ship of state around.

Here at home we find we’re stuck with the lack-lustre Mr English as Prime Minister, and not of our choosing. He was the pre-ordained prefect left to us by Key when he exited stage right. Yeah, the Nats held an internal mock election but, that’s all it was. The appearance of democracy when you’re not really having it.

Enduring years and years of corporatocracy winning over democracy does that to voters. It dulls the desire to identify with any political tribe. Watching the steady drip of public wealth – think water, for a start – transferred into private hands has turned many a stomach, and a few worms. Like me.

Then add in the homeless; families living in cars before they get put up in a motel paid for by us, in a kind of merry-go-round of false economy and galloping governmental geldings who wouldn’t know a testicle if they tripped over one.

Because democracy should mean elected people looking after people. Instead it has morphed into elected people looking after unelected corporate interests, and themselves. They have fallen for the neo-liberal neonicotinoid. If you think bees are in trouble maybe have a good look around at the current state of humanity. …

Read on for plenty more. “Dying days of democracy”? Probably not, but after 9 years of Brighter Future / Dirty Politics it certainly can feel that way.


Looks like Stewart is not alone, see Has democracy reached a breaking point? on CNN.

59 comments on “Stewart: “Dying days of democracy”? ”

  1. Ad 1

    She’s confusing the ‘death of democracy’ with ‘losing’.
    They are different things.

    • Draco T Bastard 1.1

      No she isn’t. We’re most definitely seeing a steady decrease in democracy as corporatism takes over.

      • aerobubble 1.1.1

        Corps takeover yes. But. Its the market, the market isn’t rational, the delusion is coming to frution, corps have taken to stupifying discourse in order to maximize their influence. Pay off lobbyist to get their way, then stuff up democracy. Then the people look to strong men, to lead. Thoughneither strong, or having much leadership, less they emulate Hitler. So whose to blame. Easy, wealth people would rather fund anti abortion drives than hard nosed tell it like it is news. So whose the leader of the press, Murdoch, drive to the bottom, provider of the bastion of distortion, Fox. Aint a surprise really, if I were the USSR and wanted to destroy the west, I’d pick Murdoch to ensure Karl Marx’s ediction comes true. Classic shit in shit out. Pick your ill, Murdoch owns the influence and media that keep democracy distorted and unable to move forward.

        • aerobubble 1.1.1.1

          The money is all in more unsustainable, pollution, debt tranches, corps backed the wrong market niches, oil. They can only win by perpetuating the same highly geared intermeshing of global finance, its a babel of monied interested all about to crash. Anarchists rejoice. Serious crop of stupidly stupid wealthy people now rule, and their number is shrinking. I guess thats how we got Rockefeller, either his type, or the hstupidly rich stupid elite of Europe who pushed it into two world wars. The US has the disease Eu had in the early 20th.

    • Wonderpup 1.2

      Is democracy the legitimised tyranny of the majority? If so, f*ck democracy.

      • KJT 1.2.1

        Instead we have the legalized tyranny of a small minority of our political class. I think I prefer the majority.

    • weka 1.3

      “She’s confusing the ‘death of democracy’ with ‘losing’.
      They are different things.”

      National are experts in removing democracy with it being too apparent. You probably admire their skill in that.

  2. Philj 2

    Just heard a new term (for me at least) at a lunchtime lecture today in Saint Andrews on the Terrace, Wellington, on the topic “The Politics of Decency” given by Winton Higgins. It was Post Democracy. That’s what are are now experiencing?

  3. Michael 3

    There’s hardly been a resolute defence of democratic virtue against populist authoritarianism, has there? I wonder why not?

  4. SpaceMonkey 4

    Need to define democracy first because it sure has some interesting flavours in various parts of the world…

    Even in NZ I’m sure there are some who would argue it’s been dead for a while now, and others who would argue that we never had it in the first place.

  5. roy cartland 5

    Actually, winning against the popular vote is not ‘only in America’, we used to have disproportional representation too. Hence MMP.

    • Phil 5.1

      I agree, Roy…

      Four times in the history of the United States has the president won the electoral college despite losing the popular vote: 2016, 2000, 1888 and 1876. After those two 1800’s results, I’m sure there were plenty of people nervous about the imminent demise of representational politics.

      In New Zealand we’ve twice had the National party hold power despite winning less votes than Labour, to say nothing of the aggressively disproportionate FPP systems that continue to underrepresent minority parties right across the globe.

      I guess we’re now just in a world of sloppy and ignorant reporting. Only at the Herald. Go figure.

      Anyway, this line from Stewart is particularly egregious:
      Here at home we find we’re stuck with the lack-lustre Mr English as Prime Minister, and not of our choosing. He was the pre-ordained prefect left to us by Key when he exited stage right. Yeah, the Nats held an internal mock election but, that’s all it was. The appearance of democracy when you’re not really having it.

      The fact that we had a PM leave on short notice, and our governmental institutions continue to function basically as normal, is a feature, not a bug, of democracy. It’s almost the entire fucking point of having a regular elections. Yet that is apparently completely over Stewart’s head.

      • Draco T Bastard 5.1.1

        The fact that we had a PM leave on short notice, and our governmental institutions continue to function basically as normal, is a feature, not a bug, of democracy.

        She wasn’t talking about the government institutions or even parliament.

        • Ovid 5.1.1.1

          But that’s the nature of parliamentary democracy under a constitutional monarchy. The Governor General appoints the Prime Minister. English could have been selected by a round of competitive tiddlywinks provided he is an MP who could command a majority of the House.

          It’s certainly not unique. Look at how Palmer, Moore and Shipley became PM. The only difference is that Key scarpered while he still commanded his party’s loyalty.

          I am for constitutional change, and I think Geoffrey Palmer’s blueprint for a NZ constitution would be a welcome thing on the whole, but with the exception of MMP in the 90s, the public at large doesn’t seem to express much desire for reform in this area.

          • Draco T Bastard 5.1.1.1.1

            but with the exception of MMP in the 90s, the public at large doesn’t seem to express much desire for reform in this area.

            [citation needed]

            A large part of the problem is that the inadequacies of our present system aren’t being reported. Hell, are they even being researched?

            And there’s more and more people not voting which, IMO, tends to indicate that more and more people are upset with the system but don’t know how to change it. They know damn well that the politicians won’t do so but they’re powerless to do so themselves.

          • KJT 5.1.1.1.2

            I don’t see that. I see the public keen for anything, including MMP that reduces the power of politicians and increases the power of the rest of us.
            Have a vote on Swiss style BCIR, and look at the results.

  6. dukeofurl 6

    Interesting story In Guardian about American fascism- that was written in the 30s and 40s
    ” in 1938, a New York Times reporter warned: “When and if fascism comes to America it will not be labelled ‘made in Germany’; it will not be marked with a swastika; it will not even be called fascism; it will be called, of course, ‘Americanism’.”

    Could Make America Great Again be the defining statement of Americanism ?

    https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/feb/03/americanism-us-writers-imagine-fascist-future-fiction

    in 1944 then Vice President Henry Wallace ( he was dumped that year for Truman) wrote
    “Wallace predicted that American fascism would only become “really dangerous” if a “purposeful coalition” arose between crony capitalists, “poisoners of public information” and “the KKK type of demagoguery”
    Other interesting stuff about novels and films on the topic

  7. Gosman 7

    This women is an idiot. The PM in Westminster systems of government does not get directly elected by the voters. It is usually the prerogative of the ruling party although it is essentially agreed by the parties in government. It does not have to be directly elected.

    • One Anonymous Bloke 7.1

      It’s nice to know that’s the only way you can find fault with the ‘idiot woman’. Personally, I doubt an infinite number of Gosmans would approach her value.

    • Draco T Bastard 7.2

      The PM in Westminster systems of government does not get directly elected by the voters.

      And in the National Party they don’t even get elected by the people that they’re there to represent.

      • Gosman 7.2.1

        And so what?

        • Draco T Bastard 7.2.1.1

          Are you that ignorant about what democracy is or are you just trolling?

          • Phil 7.2.1.1.1

            Are you that ignorant about how parliament functions, or are you just trolling?

            • Draco T Bastard 7.2.1.1.1.1

              No one’s talking about parliament you troll.

              • Phil

                That whooshing sound you’re hearing is either a plane, or something more conceptual, going well over your head.

                • Draco T Bastard

                  You’re the one who’s missing the fact that National’s members didn’t get to vote for their leader.

                  I know you’re going to pull out that BS that only caucus should vote for the leader but that’s not democracy. That’s dictatorship.

  8. KJT 8

    We have never had Democracy.
    The best that can be said for our system is that we get to choose our Dictators.
    No where was this more apparent than in 84, 87 and 90, when the choice was the same policies we didn’t want, from both parties.

    • Draco T Bastard 8.1

      We have never had Democracy.
      The best that can be said for our system is that we get to choose our Dictators.

      Yep. Go back awhile and representative democracy was probably be the only viable form of democracy due to communication limitations. We no longer have those limitations and so we should be moving to full democracy.

      But even then it wasn’t as good as it should have been because the elected MPs then followed their own conscience rather than the conscience of their electorate. The same is still true today.

      No where was this more apparent than in 84, 87 and 90, when the choice was the same policies we didn’t want, from both parties.

      Actually in 1990, IIRC, National said that they weren’t going to follow the policies of Labour but then they did anyway.

      • Mosa 8.1.1

        As it turned out printing a manifesto was in 84,87 and 90 a total waste of time and a tissue of lies.

  9. Muttonbird 9

    There does seem to be an increase in protest action around the world, and strike action in New Zealand.

    The workers are waking up!

    • Phil 9.1

      here does seem to be an increase in protest action around the world,

      Compared to when, exactly?
      I’m not seeing around the world that suggests we’re coming up on concerted Occupy-esque or Arab-Spring level of popular/populist rejection of democratic elections.

    • Cinny 9.2

      There’s been an increase in protest action in my corner of the world 😀

      Was making protest signs last night for a small but very well received protest in Motueka re care giver wages. They were out on the main street, stopping work for an hour this morning, good on them too, such undervalued people, doing it for the love, def not for the money that’s for real.

      At the paint shop yesterday, chatting away, lady who served me asked what I was painting.. protest signs for care givers… boy did she have something to say about it, spent the next ten minutes listening to her concerns, lovely lady. She had a care giver looking after her mum, and the care giver was amazing. She’s backing the care givers 100%, was very passionate about it, good on her.

      If she’s telling me about it, a stranger, she’ll be telling everyone else about it too should the opportunity arise, and good on her, she’s had enough. Needless to say she is looking forward to voting for change in September.

      Then there are the invisible protests about to take place, people who have never voted before are so angered by environmental destruction that they are enrolling to vote this year. Almost fell over when a hippy told me about his intentions the other day, every vote counts and they wont be voting for more of the same.

      • Muttonbird 9.2.1

        It would be great if your experience of new voters were to come true. I’m not sure that the tipping point has come yet on that but there is certainly more industrial action in New Zealand and unions have won some significant gains as a result which then shows to workers that they can get a better go at life if only they fight.

        That Industrial action is on the increase tells me that this government has got it wrong and is ignoring workers and they are finding this out. They’re also finding out this government is a reactionary soft touch and any amount of action is likely to see results.

        If this would translate to the electoral vote as you and I hope it does then a change to a socially conscious government is possible.

    • Gosman 9.3

      I suggest you don’t have any hard evidence for that and protest action tiday would be similar to what it was 10 years ago.

  10. timeforacupoftea 10

    Democracy has been wrecked twice in New Zealand.
    1) The David Lange / Rodger Douglas govt.
    2) MMP.

    • Cinny 10.1

      There was a referendum in 2011 on the electoral voting system, 57.8% voted to keep MMP.

      Early in 2012 the Electoral Commission called for public submissions on our electoral system, their findings and resulting recommendations were released later that year.

      Among the recommendations…

      Abolishing the one electorate seat threshold – a party must cross the party vote threshold to gain list seats.

      Reducing the party vote threshold from 5 percent to 4 percent. If the 4 percent threshold is introduced, it should be reviewed after three general elections.

      The National Government decided not to implement either recommendation.. I wonder why?

      MMP prevents one party from ruling our country, maybe the new government will fine tune it, the outgoing one sure won’t.

    • peterlepaysan 10.2

      I am baffled.
      What is your definition of democracy?

    • AB 10.3

      Sorry no. MMP is an advance for democracy. We simply dont get the sort of thing that happens in the UK for example, where the Tories get to totally dominate the House of Commons with just 37% of the vote.

  11. timeforacupoftea 11

    I think MMP stinks, one point I hate,
    In my opinion a party should at least win one electoral seat before they step inside the beehive.
    Ok, so I am taking aim at the Green Party.
    They have held a seat before and would be great to see them aiming to win a seat again.
    I watch them on TV in the debating chambers and they are really just a pack of activists.

    Alternative would be to scrap the electoral seats completely. That would be really Democracy at work as we would all be on a level playing field.

    • Draco T Bastard 11.1

      In my opinion a party should at least win one electoral seat before they step inside the beehive.

      Why?

    • Chris 11.2

      Do you mean how like ACT got into Parliament? On the level playing field? MMP’s not the problem. It’s about how you approach MMP, and being open and honest about it. Once you do that even what goes on with Epsom isn’t a problem.

    • Rosemary McDonald 11.3

      “…and they are really just a pack of activists.”

      There was a time, timeforacupoftea, when the Greens would have considered that the highest of compliments. 🙂

    • gsays 11.4

      Rather activists than status quoists.
      Sounds like it’s representative.

    • Phil 11.5

      I think MMP stinks, one point I hate,

      I think MMP’s ok, but there is one point that I hate: a voter is forced to vote for one party only*.

      Implicitly, a party vote is an endorsement for all policies of the party you vote for. It doesn’t allow you to signal preferences for multiple parties. For instance, say a hypothetical voter had a bunch of issues they cared most about, and 40% of the time they thought National had the ‘best’ policy, 30% of the time they thought it was Labour with the ‘best’ and the remaining 30% was the Greens. How on earth are they supposed to communicate this preference with a single vote?

      STV goes some way to addressing this problem, but even that’s not perfect.

      *unless you live in a small handful of electorate seats where voting for an electorate candidate actually makes a difference to the composition of parliament.

  12. Adrian Thornton 12

    Wallerstein on the End of Capitalism..
    https://kpfa.org/program/against-the-grain/

  13. peterlepaysan 13

    If Stewart is wrong why has the actively voting electorate declined so so steeply in the last 40 years?
    It has not been working for the demos since roger douglas in 1984.
    Fat cat corporates have done extremely well. The demos have been struggling.

    When the demos get really angry look out. Already we do not have enough prisons (double bunkingg for gods sake?).

    How many more gulags do we have to build before there are enough one percenters left to vote for themselves?
    Mind you there will be a very rapidly dwindiling number of non robotic customers.

  14. Philj 14

    This government is done for. I predict it will not fare well come September. How big a trouncing?
    Wait and see. My only question is what will Winnie do? Will Bill get it on with Winnie to retain power? I can see 20% going to NZF. I can’t wait for Election night. Our Brexit is coming.

  15. Carolyn_nth 15

    Oh dear.

    Academic cleverly misses the point of Rachel Stewart’s lamenting of the dying of democracy. Another MOR academic, who has a subjective dislike of the “exttreme left” and extreme right.

    She is emotional and opinionated, and contemptuous of people who continue to defend and support democracy. Indeed, her position is so extreme that at times one is led to consider the possibility the piece is a failed attempt at satire.

    Stewart attacks “corporatocracy”, privatisation, homelessness and various other social ills. Politicians only look after “unelected corporate interests, and themselves”. She agrees with Sirota that voting is pointless but claims not to be encouraging abstention. She says she has always voted because she is “educated, white and privileged” and was socialised from birth to do it. But like Sirota, her message is that rationally people should not bother to participate in elections. In New Zealand, she thinks, we no longer live in a democracy.

    Of course, no set of political and economic institutions can deliver a perfect society defined by one person’s or group’s values. This is an illusion shared by both the extreme anti-capitalist left and the extreme neoliberal right.

  16. Doogs 16

    “. . . . that the government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish . . .” or words to that effect. Down the bloody toilet in much of the world, and starting to do so here. How long ago were these words spoken? In which country, I ask you?

  17. AB 17

    Rachel Stewart could have talked about:
    – the decline in voting participation
    – the influence of money on policy formation and the unwillingness to constrain the financing of elections
    – the emergence of ‘outsider’and fake outsider candidates
    – the decline in workplace democracy through individual contracts and decreasing union membership
    – political party membership levels
    – the effect of distortionary electoral systems such particularly FPP
    etc.
    It’s a worthy topic but this isnt her best work.

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