Jan-Werner Müller on the crisis of democracy: Wanted: the fair loser


“I don’t want everyone to vote. In fact, our chances of voting increase when the number of people eligible to vote falls. ”The sentence – it comes from Paul Weyrich, a hardliner of the American Conservatives – is, in its brutal bluntness, capable of making upright Democrats swell a comb – especially since the US Republicans support this program currently implement brutally: In many of the states ruled by them, the electoral laws are being tightened to such an extent that populations who tend towards the Democrats can be kept away from the ballot box.

The German-American political scientist Jan-Werner Müller – he teaches at Princeton University and is known in this country for his brilliant essay “What is populism?” Published in 2016 – does not quote Weyrich’s statement to let off emotional steam, but to show how a core principle of democracy – institutionalized uncertainty – is indeed violated here. In the title of his new book, it, the uncertainty, takes the place where “brotherhood” should actually be in the episode that has been popular since the French Revolution.

This – nowadays best to be translated as “solidarity” – in fact does not play a major role for him alongside freedom and equality. One can criticize that, even if it is to be admitted that the focus on the “uncertainty” is only the consequence of Müller’s approach to institutional theory. But apart from the fact that the author allows a lot of solidarity to immigrate into “equality” in the sense of participatory justice among citizens – there is a lot of uncertainty. In fact, the term provides an effective tool for analyzing the crisis phenomena in many existing democratic systems – and the attack by authoritarian populists who bend and deform democratic procedures to the point of breaking.

The uncertainty recognized as being necessary for the system damages, for example, those who only stand for an election on condition that they win it – for which they then create the conditions themselves using the financial resources available to them. But democracy necessarily needs the fair loser who accepts his defeat – not least because he is a temporary loser if things are done right and can be the winner again in the next election.

No question about it: Müller writes – something else would also have been astonishing for a political scientist teaching in the USA – “after Trump”. His presidency with all its catastrophes, including the harmful continued inability to lose, is the phenomenon that sets the benchmark for the author in terms of endangering and losing democracy, even if the name does not appear on every page. Nevertheless, the concept of the book is quite broader – especially since Müller repeatedly directs his gaze to Europe. A democracy in crisis – Müller even speaks frankly of “decline” – is not just American.

It is difficult to bring the book content to a catchy thesis. Which is also due to the fact that Müller sometimes gets a little bogged down in discussions about the selection of the best according to the ancient polis, in contrast to representation and democracy in Rousseau, to the strange idea of ​​citizen vouchers for party financing.

His highly justified concern always becomes clear and clear: How can the democratic way of life be defended today against all recognizable challenges? According to the author, this is less than ever to be expected of a self-sufficient, idling system. It depends on the citizens, who – especially in the “intermediate” zone of parties and media – create a vitally controversial public. Obviously, Müller himself does not have a pronounced optimism – but he does have hopes that would still have to be disappointed.


Source: Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger – Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger by www.ksta.de.

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