India has become a post-democracy

Political leadership

Claudia Ritzi

To person

Dipl. Rer. com., born 1981; Research assistant at the Chair for Political Science, especially Political Theory, at the Helmut Schmidt University (UniBW) in Hamburg, Holstenhofweg 85, 22043 Hamburg.
Email: [email protected]

Gary S. Schaal

To person

Dr. phil., born 1971; Professor of Political Science, especially Political Theory, at UniBW (see above).
Email: [email protected]

In "post-democratic" political systems, citizens have little influence on the input side of the political process. Instead, the relevance of political leaders is growing.


Charismatic political leaders like the Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, the Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi or the "Iron Lady" Margaret Thatcher are admired for their strength and assertiveness - at the same time their leadership style is perceived and criticized as "undemocratic", authoritarian and egocentric. The criticism of powerful political lone warriors - expressed above all by supporters of participatory and deliberative models of democracy - is based on the ideal that in democratic systems the "will of the people" should be the basis for the action of the politician. Politicians would therefore hang on the strings of the citizens almost like puppets and act within the framework of institutional rules.

This input-oriented ideal of "responsive democracy" has repeatedly been criticized within political theory. Representatives of elitist democratic theories such as Joseph Schumpeter and Giovanni Sartori argue for the strengthening of competent leaders in democracies for the benefit of all citizens. In recent years, theorists have followed their stance, who continue to regard an input-oriented conception of the democratic process in the face of increasingly pluralistic societies, complex problem situations and the political abandonment of national logic of action as ideal, but at the same time as increasingly unrealistic. [1] They expect a progressive disempowerment of citizens on the input side of the political process and a limitation of its political role to the evaluation of the political output.

Such a change, which Colin Crouch [2] also calls "post-democratization", is accompanied by a change in the function of political leadership. In addition to lobby groups and the mass media, strong leaders are gaining influence because they can win the trust of citizens, bundle diverging interests and make trend-setting decisions - the quality of which the voters are supposed to evaluate afterwards. This political leadership, although it takes place in the institutional context of a democracy, cannot claim to be democratic leadership in the strict sense of the word, since it operates largely detached from the preferences of the citizens.

In the following, the relevance of political leadership in modern political systems will be analyzed and evaluated. We argue that so-called leader democracies in view of current political developments - which can be summarized as post-democratization - will gain in importance. Leadership can help implement necessary political decisions and liberate representative democracies from the inability to act that results from conflicts of interest in plural societies. The normative evaluation of leader democracies remains ambivalent, since strong leadership always poses a threat to the responsiveness and legitimacy of a democratic state. Whether a political leader is seen as positive or negative for the development of a democracy (in the medium and long term) depends above all on the person and the situation - and thus always ad hoc risky and for democracy with its normative ideal of rule of law basically problematic.

Post-democracy as "leader democracy"

According to Crouch, the post-democratic constellation can be characterized by four features that can increasingly be observed in Western democracies: At the formal-institutional level, democratic institutions and procedures are retained, so that the view from outside, without knowledge of the internal process of democracy would consider them normatively intact; However, this does not correspond to reality, as they have lost massively in importance for democratic decision-making. This results in the second characteristic of post-democracy, according to which party politics and the competition of parties for votes are increasingly freed from content that is later to program government policy. In place of clear programs and the discussion of political options for action, personalized election campaign strategies are taking place. Thirdly, the content of politics is increasingly determined by the "company", i.e. as a result of the interaction of political and economic actors. Fourthly, it follows that the citizens as Demos not de jure, but de facto. In this understanding, post-democracy is a sham democracy in the institutional housing of a full-fledged democracy.

Many aspects of this diagnosis can be found in different terminology in the discussion. Artur Benz [3] and Julia von Blumenthal [4] describe the shift in weight between the executive and the legislative in favor of the former at all levels of the political (multi-level) system as "de-parliamentarization" or "post-parliamentary democracy"; With reference to the European Union (EU), Peter Mair speaks of "democracy without a demos". [5] In the post-democratic constellation, political leadership also gains relevance beyond presidential systems (which, due to their institutional structure, can always be described as "leadership affinity") - post-democracy and leader democracy can at least partially be used synonymously: "In the model of leader democracy, rulers are selected by competitive elections. The political process is not generated by the political preferences of the electorate or by the interests of social groups but rather by the aspirations and ambitions of politicians. And the objective of politicians is not to reach consensus or compromise but to obtain and maintain political support. "[6]

Political leaders follow the ideal of Joseph Schumpeter's resourceful political entrepreneur. [7] They do not primarily serve the preferences and political wishes of the population, but are innovative, set the political agenda and only generate those political preferences and subsequent approval among the citizens, the political implementation of which they have already begun. If one understands the democratic process in analogy to the market, then the ideal of democracy shifts from the demand to the supply orientation and thus from a democracy of citizen participation to a leadership orientation. While the development of the consumer goods market has given the citizen as a consumer increasing influence on production, the citizen as a voter has lost power. The increasingly free competition not only results in a more significant role for entrepreneurs and politicians acting in an entrepreneurial manner, but also has contrary consequences for the development of political and economic structures of influence.

András Körösényi describes this development as an exchange of the central ideals of contemporary democratic theory and practice. [8] The classic democratic ideal was responsive government, a form of government whose aim was to realize as many preferences of the citizens as possible. Responsivity describes the degree to which political wishes are converted into political decisions. For the mainstream of liberal-participatory democracy theory, the more preferences of the citizens are realized, the more democratic a system is. [9] According to Körösényi, however, the democratic present is characterized by responsible government out, a form of rule in which the government assumes responsibility for citizens through good politics, which however does not have to be linked to the input of the democratic process, but which is often even detached from it. Output responsiveness and legitimation take the place of input responsiveness and legitimation.

In the course of the development towards post-democracy, the course of the political legitimation processes changes, and political and economic elites are strengthened as the central actors in political systems. They face the citizens (beyond elections and votes) as a largely inactive and mostly politically disinterested mass. While the economic actors usually act almost invisible to the public in the background (or in the lobbies of parliaments, government seats and ministries) and are thus barely perceived as the social leadership elite, prominent government representatives try to act as leader to gain a leap of faith and a sympathy bonus from the citizens, which ensures them (retrospective) support for their actions and re-election.

Following this presentation of the characteristics of post-democratic systems or leader democracies In the following, we focus on the perspective of the actors and on the role of paradigms and ideologies. From this point of view, political leadership takes on a different profile: We advocate the thesis that the need for democratic political leadership results from the dilemma that a liberal democracy in the 21st century is increasingly normatively and functionally wiped out between the ideal of responsiveness on the one hand and the empirical limits of responsive government action on the other hand. [10]

Post-democratic actors

Citizens' preferences, their genesis and the normative way they deal with them have changed in several ways: They have pluralized, fragmented, economized and have become less and less negotiable. [11]

Pluralization and fragmentation political preferences refers to the fact that, on the one hand, objective living conditions and specific socio-cultural-economic contexts increasingly result in unambiguous political desires, as was the case for many decades. [12] On the other hand, those milieus that can be clearly associated with specific political preferences are shrinking - such as the working class or the Catholic milieu. The pluralization of lifestyles and the associated conceptions of a "good life" lead to new preferences being fed into the democratic process. Eventually result from their cross pressures also new challenges for the consistency of political preferences at the level of the individual citizen: For example, a person as an employee and shareholder can pursue social democratic and shareholder interests at the same time, which are difficult to reconcile.

The increasing Economization political preferences results from a "spill-over effect". Neoliberalism, initially just a further development of the liberal conception of the market, [13] has also established itself as a conception of the political. [14] Their buzzwords are privatization, decentralization, liberalization and "lean state". These changes have not left the self-perception of citizens unaffected. In Jean-Jacques Rousseau's terminology, there was a shift from citoyen to bourgeois, from state to market citizen, who sees the democratic process more and more in line with the market, sees himself as a consumer of political offers and his vote as a means of payment. The economization refers both to the substance of the preferences, which have moved from an (assumed) common good orientation to an egoistic, utility-maximizing orientation, as well as to the understanding of the "exchange value" one's own voice has.

The increasing Non-negotiability of one's own preferences in the eyes of the citizens results from the fact that neoliberalism can also be effective as a political ideology. As such, it first strengthens a central ideal of democracy: responsiveness. Above all, the liberal theory of democracy assumes that the political preference of a citizen is "inevitable" and that every preference has the same right to be realized in the political process. [15] From this, however, it follows, first, that the citizens in liberal democracies expect that their political preferences will in fact be translated into politics, which in turn reduces their willingness to compromise. Second, economic interests in particular have become influential in those societies that recognize economic growth as a central political goal and have made it the basis of their socio-political institutions. The citizen sees himself as a consumer [16] and in this role is used to the fact that he can choose products from a wide range or even put them together himself. Here, too, political competition cannot follow economic development - on the contrary: in a democratic state, the aggregation function of the parties plays such a prominent role because individualized political offers to the citizen are an impossibility.

The changes mentioned support the formation of the post-democratic constellation, as Colin Crouch describes them. [17] However, they are not aligned - and at least in part lead to contradicting developments: On the input side of the democratic process, the changes result in falling voter participation, falling cohesiveness of popular parties as well as experiences of democratic frustration and thus feelings of political alienation. The pluralization and fragmentation of political preferences mean that it is becoming increasingly difficult for parties to offer coherent programs with a pronounced content profile for a large group of voters. Correspondingly, the cohesiveness of the popular parties sinks, and the electoral success of the client parties increases, which also benefit from the growing non-negotiability of political preferences.

Where parties used to present packages of offers that were voted on, now self-confident, non-party and consumer-oriented citizens make individual demands on politics. According to economic logic, the self-perception of the citizens as consumers or "market citizens" should mean that the political process develops from a supply to a demand market. De facto, however, the opposite is the case in increasingly output-oriented leader democracies: The citizens are confronted with political decisions that are not responsive, but preferential. Confronted with the citizens' original preferences, political action must lead to experiences of frustration.

For the question of the connection between post-democracy and political leadership, the analogy between state and corporation is of particular importance, which consistently brings the paradigm of economic neoliberalism to an end on the political level. From this it follows, among other things, that the success of a democracy can be gauged from economic indicators. The equivalent of a corporation's profit as proof of its success for the state is the level of economic growth and - now loosely linked to it - the unemployment rate. In 2002, Chancellor Gerhard Schröder asked citizens to evaluate the quality of his government work based on the development of the unemployment rate. If the state is to be run like a company, then the head of state or government transforms into a Chief Executive Officer (CEO); and the symbolic power of the political leader is replaced (at least in part) by successful action as a power resource. [18] This presupposes a weakening of the parliament and a strengthening of the autonomy of a head of state.

Political leadership in post-democracy thus results from two processes: from the increasing importance of the "company" on the level of the political and economic elite and from the implementation of the neoliberal paradigm in connection with processes of pluralization and fragmentation on the social or individual level. These two development processes go hand in hand and can be illustrated using numerous data and examples. Even if the number of "charismatic leaders", as Max Weber described them, [19] may not have increased systematically in Western democracies, it can be concluded that leadership in view of the processes of change described has gained in relevance for the political (multi-level) systems in western democracies and will continue to gain in importance. The following is intended to show how this development can be assessed from an empirical and democratic theoretical perspective.

Leadership versus democracy

Advocate of leader democracy recognize in the change in democracy and the democratic process from one responsive to one responsible democracy not a normative problem, rather they welcome the transformations, since in the context of a political reality perceived as hyper-complex [20] the citizens Opinions about political issues, but not enough Knowledgein order to be able to answer them appropriately. [21] A focus on experts who make supposedly objective, factually correct and thus post-ideological decisions is the necessary consequence of this civic image. Political leadership consists pragmatically in "to get the job done" and to generate acceptance for the work done among the citizens.

With the help of strong leaders, structural weaknesses in democracy are to be overcome as well as the problems that arise for modern political communities from their pluralization and internal fragmentation. Where the aggregation of political interests with the help of party political programs and a divided, national or supranational identity becomes increasingly poor or no longer succeeds, democracies threaten to become incapable of action. Politicians and citizens alike tend increasingly to defend the status quo, to only make short-term, rational decisions and to postpone major reforms. [22] As Reinhard Zintl shows, [23] democratic action is characterized by cyclically recurring decision-making patterns that influence political behavior regardless of factual issues. Overcoming cyclicality can be a prerequisite for the success of political action, especially when the pressure of problems is high, which parliamentary systems and governments that are not guided by a strong leader are often unable to achieve. Here, too, the input orientation tends to have a retarding effect, while an anti-cyclically decided output can certainly find approval of the citizens ex post.

At the same time, the citizens' perception of being confronted with parliaments incapable of acting and solving problems promotes disaffection with politics. [24] Political elites can counter the associated loss of confidence if they demonstrate determination and the ability to act [25] - and thus bring about a repoliticization of politically disenchanted citizens.

With the orientation on responsible governance However, a democratic government is always in problematic proximity to the charge of democratic paternalism, one guardianship, [26] who patronizes the citizens "for their own good" at the expense of their political self-determination. Examples of such a practice often cited are decisions in the context of the EU, which are taken and defended against prevailing public opinion, arguing that citizens are expected to recognize the value of the actions ex post. [27] In the opinion of republican and deliberative theorists in particular, but also of many liberal authors, public scrutiny ex post is not enough to speak of democracy and democratic legitimacy. Even in the literal sense of the word, there can only be talk of self-government if the citizens give theirs own Enforce laws with the help of representatives. [28] The democratic demand for responsiveness is inevitably at odds with political leadership. [29]

At the same time, the success of political action is in leader democracies particularly dependent on personality and context factors [30] and, due to the unpredictability associated with it, more risky than in input-oriented democracies. This applies both to the "charismatic leadership" described by Max Weber and to noncharismatic personalism, [31] a form of political leadership that plays an important role in parliamentary democracies with strong parties. In general, it can be stated that the personalization associated with leadership of whatever type promotes the role of non-rational elements in politics [32] and must therefore always be assessed as risky from the perspective of the citizens.

Gender research also indicates that politics in leader democracies is increasingly shaped by male behavior and is consequently also perceived as a male phenomenon. [33] As the example of Thatcher shows, this does not block the path of women into politics, but gender research evaluates the development from more consensus-oriented to leadership-oriented decision-making processes as a step backwards, which has negative consequences for the quality of political action.

Against the background of empirical analyzes, the post-democratic direction of development appears problematic. Attitude research shows that in addition to the attestation of inadequate problem-solving ability of democratically elected politicians, paternalistic behavior also generates frustration among citizens and contributes to disenchantment with politics. [34] The increasing proportion of "dissatisfied democrats" [35] since the end of the East-West conflict - of citizens who are convinced that democracy is the best form of rule, but who criticize the functioning and performance of the implemented form of democracy - is probably less due to a lack of political leaders than to the perception of insufficient responsiveness. This is evidenced by the falling confidence in political institutions and in the political elite as well as through the massive loss of reputation that the professional image of the politician has suffered.

According to a typology of social behavior by Albert O. Hirschman [36], dissatisfied members of an organization, regardless of whether it is a company, a state or an association, can react in two ways: either through exit - that is, by internally or to distance themselves from the organization by de facto resignation and fall into silence - or by voice - by protesting against grievances. Post-democratic politicians must therefore succeed in gaining recognition as political leaders - be it through charismatic or pragmatic action. Otherwise it is to be expected that instead of "fleeing" largely in silence into disaffection with politics, as has been the case up to now, the citizens will protest against the political leadership and the post-democratization of the political systems in the medium term.