Colin Crouch is Professor Emeritus of the Warwick Business School (Warwick University, United Kingdom). He is also a member of the British Academy and the Max Planck Institute for Social Research of Cologne. His best-known works include Post-democracy: Themes for the 21st Century Series (2004), a widely read volume regarding the capacity of elites to coerce governments, focusing especially on the power of mass media in the 21st century. Likewise, the German edition of The Strange Non-Death of Neoliberalism (2011) was considered the best book on politics in 2011 by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation. Crouch was interviewed by Florian Christof, editor of the Supertaalk site, during the author’s book tour through Germany.
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Florian Christof: If you had to give a very brief definition of what the term “post-democracy” means, let’s say in a few sentences, what would it be?
Colin Crouch: Post-democracy would be like post-industrialism. Post-industrial society–we have all the products of industry. Industrial activity continues. But the energy, the dynamism of the economy has gone somewhere else. I use post-democracy with the same idea. All the institutions of democracy remain–we use them. It’s just that the energy of the political system and the innovative capacity have moved on to other spheres.
FC: Since your analyses and the critique you came up with focus mostly on the Anglo-Saxon system of democracy, why is it that the book got such a great response in Europe, where many countries have multi-party-systems? Unlike the US, for example.
CC: It was based originally on the 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 that, because of the Berlusconi phenomenon. I have been surprised at the resonance the book had in Germany and Austria also. I am slightly puzzled by this. I think it could simply be that my thought processes are more accessible to German people than to English-speaking people.
FC: Your book said the crisis of classic democracy started in the 1980s, or something along those lines. It was at the same time the neoliberal doctrine became very popular in the US and the UK; when Reagan and Thatcher started massive off-shoring and privatization of the public sector. David Harvey mentioned this in a brief video, saying that in central Europe, people like to call it an Anglo-Saxon disease. Does the decline in the functionality of democracy have anything to do with the neoliberal doctrine? Did it really come to the privatization of politics? What are the coincidences?
CC: 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 a rather secret private discourse between great global corporations and governments.
FC: Your thesis came out a few years ago. It doesn’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 outlook of the EU and the stability of the Euro System?
CC: Fundamentally, the European Union is a very optimistic sign. One of the problems that democracy has is that 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.
FC: If we consider the rise of nationalism in central Europe, is common economic governance of the EU possible?
CCH: 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 globalization is increasingly taking this xenophobic form. Now these are two very negative forces preventing the construction of a good, social Europe.
FC: What started as a protest movement against unemployment and a failing political system in Spain with the slogan “Real Democracy Now!” has now overflowed to other parts of Europe and the US, where the Occupy Wall Street Movement has garnered considerable attention from the media. Now, this seems to be the beginning of a global rise of resistance to certain situations created by governments. Do you expect this to become a solution for the post-democratic dilemma? In Austria, there’s quite a big discussion going on about traditional forms of participation (via the representative system) versus new forms of democratic participation; for example, it’s better to found a party, because this is the only possibility the representative system gives us to make a difference.
CC: 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 protests 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.
FC: Much has been written and said about the role of new forms of technology and systems of communication like social media. Richard Wilkinson has mentioned the potential of free information and the conflict over restrictions on it. Do you think they have the capability to assist and establish a more democratic society, more active citizens, in a democratic sense? Or do they probably lead to, as some skeptics say, a decline of public interest in politics?
CC: Well, they are serving very well, in assisting organizations with 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 they 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.