Rules in democracy

How can democracy resist the populist wave that threatens it?? By accepting the fact that it is a regime of division and uncertainty, and by working to maintain the conditions of pluralism.

In Retrutopia (2018), his latest book, Zygmunt Bauman insisted on the climate of moral panicwhich would characterize the turning point of XXIe century, that is to say the moment when a number of individuals prove a floating insecure feeling, which serves as a justification for the implementation of policies of fear claiming to respond to precariousness and uncertainty. Jan-Werner Mller, book after book, seeks ways for democracies to escape this painful destiny. He had already shown, in Fear or freedom. What policy in the face of populism?based on the little-known thought, outside the United States, of Judith Shklar (whose liberalism of the oppressed makes the protection of victims the absolute foundation of state action), that solidarity can replace fear. Not that we should ignore the latter: it obliges us to conform to a ethos common, in other words define together the conditions for an independent existence.

These conditions cannot be found in populism. We know that the author sees it above all as anti-pluralism, that is to say as the reduction of socio-political diversity to the divide between a people authentic and the others, composed of experts and politicians foreign to the real world threatening the exercise of a sovereignty which must be imposed without the limits of representation and constitutionalism (see What is populism? Finally define the threat). Populism thus understood supposes the homogeneity of the people and the supposed infallibility of its instinctwhich would contrast with the corruption of the elites (even if it would be wrong to reduce it to the criticism of the elites: the essential remains the demand for exclusive representation of the silent majority). Populism therefore extols the supposed virtues of this mythologized people, who pre-exist the construction of nations, against representative democracy. This book describes the ways in which democracy can resist the populist wave.

A double separation

J.-W. Mller places his reflection under the auspices of Claude Lefort: in the preface, the latter recalls that the nature of democracy is to be a game of open possibilities, inaugurating a past that is still close to usand, he adds, we have only just begun to explore it (p. 9). And it is again with Lefort that the book concludes with the reminder of a definition which underlines the openness and indeterminacy specific to a regime. based on the legitimacy of a debate on the legitimate and the illegitimate, a debate necessarily without guarantor and without end (p. 308).

The German political scientist recognizes that there is neither guarantee nor predetermined finality of the democratic regime, but he sets out limits of which the entire book aims to demonstrate: Uncertainty and the exercise of freedom in general must be contained within two hard boundaries: people have no right to undermine the status of their fellow citizens as free and equal members of the political community; Furthermore, everyone has the right to their opinions, but everyone does not have the right to do anything (p. 308). If uncertainty does not have the same importance as the freedom and equality that surround it, it underlines the open and indeterminate aspect of democracy, the benefit of which is measured by the certainty that autocratic regimes promote.

The debate on legitimate and illegitimate is crucial. Because wanting to be the only ones to legitimately represent the people, populists invalidate the claims of all the others. This is not a debate on the policies to be implemented, nor even on values: those who do not share populist convictions on the nature of the people are excluded from it. We see who is thus designated, at least in right-wing populism, the main target of J.-W.'s analyses. Mller: those who come, at the same time as they transform our familiar landmarks, destroy our cultural rootsauthenticity as supposed to be contained in the origins (because the populists find, and not shape, the will of the people). Therefore, where populists come to power (as in Hungary, Poland or the United States under the presidency of Donald Trump), certain citizens risk being deprived of full legal equality. What then becomes determining is to prove our belonging to the real people.

This process of sidelining a part of the population benefits greatly from the active collaboration of conservative elites. Is it the consequence, as some liberals have defended, of a collective desire for authoritarianism?? This is not the opinion of the author. According to him, this is a matter of the political offer in increasingly fragmented and polarized societies (p. 56). Now, we are confronted with what is called double division: that of the very rich, whom right-wing populist leaders designate as the cosmopolitan liberal lites, and that of the most deprived, who no longer participate in the political system. For the author, the first (0.1% of the population) indeed reach escape anything that even remotely resembles a social contract (p. 64). They live in a separate political world and are able to afford the services of what Jeffrey Winters, in Oligarchy (2011), callsrevenue defense industry (which allows certain billionaires to pay less tax than their secretaries!). But it is the secession of the latter which mainly concerns J.-W. Mller, of those who have only a country called deprivation and quiet hope (p. 70). During the pandemic crisis, while the most privileged were able to retreat to their second homes, the most disadvantaged continued to die. This reality justifies qualifying the United States, although a democracy (namespecifies the author), as, in many ways, a racialized caste society (p. 72).

How could this state of affairs change?? By strengthening the critical infrastructure of democracy. But this task requires knowing its main principles.

The critical infrastructure of democracy

Democracy is analyzed, in the interest of Lefort loyalty, as the only regime that assumes division. In this perspective, J.-W. Mller insists on the role assigned to the parties. Isn't democracy the system where parties can lose elections (even if the presence of parties is not decisive proof of democracy)? It is also necessary, according to the right remark of Adam Przeworski (Democracy and the Market, 1991), that uncertainty is institutionalized without which citizens have no reason to get involved, or even to change their minds. However, it is possible that the party supposed to defend my interests will always lose. And this is undoubtedly why the aforementioned second secession is observed. It would therefore be necessary to speak of true democracy that the interests of the powerful are, from time to time, thwarted.

How can we allow these conditions to be met when citizen disinterest is compounded by the lack of media diversity and the question of party financing?? Concerning the first point, J.-W. Mller examines the influence of the Internet, which has been said to be the paragon of democracy or, the opposite, that Facebook is fascism. If no technology determines the conditions of its implementation, the unintended effects of the Internet are, according to the author, detrimental to democracy. For two reasons: the sharp decrease in pluralism in the press (particularly regional) and the establishment of a monetization of consumers by targeted advertising, a phenomenon which Shoshana Zuboff describes under the concept of surveillance capitalism. As for party financing, we are seeing a worrying progression of privatization (in the United Kingdom, private donations have, since the Tony Blair era, exceeded member contributions). Of course, these donations are all the more important as one occupies a high social position. Therefore, should we not, as Julia Cag suggests (The price of democracy2018), create a good democratic allowing each citizen to finance, up to 7 euros, the candidate of their choice and, above all, to cap donations to avoid their capture by a few?

But these aspects, whose purpose is to strengthen the critical infrastructure of democracy, must be subordinated to commitments to values.

Conflict or compatibility of core values

In order to determine what really matters in democracy, J.W. Mller returns to the canonical opposition between a strictly procedural approach to democracy and a substantive approach. Much of the interest in its conceptualization lies precisely in the desire to think about procedures and ends together. And, ultimately, the author overcomes the dichotomy by showing that the procedure cannot be totally distinguished from the substance, while being aware of the risks that a substantial conception could be, in the hypothesis where the procedures could not be legitimate, undemocratic. But this risk, ultimately, counts for little: it is clear that, for J.-W. Mller, an authentic democracy must generate individuals who correspond to its institutions, that is to say who obey the laws, even who can recognize themselves in them. From then on, there is no politics without political anthropology: a democracy must train its citizens. The procedure can therefore be considered as that which allows, in a deliberative perspective, such as that developed by Habermas, to reach a decision on substantial questions.

But, in line with Isaiah Berlin, the author insists on the tension between the two fundamental values. While noting, rightly, that freedom, if it is accompanied by an inequality of resources, can reinforce or even exacerbate political inequality, he places freedom, in the Rawlsian lineage, in a situation of lexical priority because, without it, there would be no no way to fight against violations of equality, whether equal rights or social equality. This presentation, classic within political liberalism, is not the only possible one.

If we wish to accept the idea that democracy is indeed the regime of political equality, Dworkin's analyzes could have been invoked. For the latter, the compatibility of fundamental values ​​is essential. The ideal of freedom must be considered internal to equality, which means that the notion of the right to freedom is meaningless. Legality law, as Dworkin writes, allows us to enjoy the institutions of political democracy () and yet protect the fundamental right of citizens to equal attention and equal respect by prohibiting decisions that seem a priori likely to have been taken by virtue of the external components of preferences that democracy reveals. It is therefore unfounded to pose an insurmountable conflict between the ideals of equality and freedom.

It is therefore a question of showing the normative compatibility of the two notions or, more precisely, of showing that the normative definition of one is required by the normative definition of the other, in other words that adherence to the ideal of equality cannot be envisaged without the simultaneous, ideal guaranteeing fundamental freedoms. From this perspective, the latter are not subordinated to legality, they proceed of it. And if political equality is not a chimera, it is because it should be interpreted, like Dworkin, as legality in attention that the political community brings to individuals Democracy can thus be defined as the regime which also considers individuals.

From then on, equality is there sovereign virtue and, understood from a Workinian perspective, it does not come into conflict with freedom. We could have wished that J.W. Mller discusses this approach, but this oversight in no way calls into question the quality of a major work.