Hollower Democracy? Consequences of a Changing Demos
Political parties in Western Europe have changed. Yvette Peters analyses the consequences of a changing demos in a chapter of a book honouring Peter Mair.
In a recently published edited book in honour of the late professor in comparative politics, Peter Mair, post doc. Yvette Peters of the Department of Comparative Politics has contributed an essay on the consequences of a changing demos in Western Europe.
Hollower Democracy? Studying the Consequences of a Changing Demos
Over the past decades, political parties in Western Europe have changed. While parties used to fulfil the function of bridging citizens and the state, they have increasingly become part of the state instead.
Peter Mair argued in some of his last research that the transformation of the party, in combination with certain other developments, has transformed politics in Europe to the extent that it threatens democracy. Due to the increased dependence on the state, and through prioritizing office-seeking instead of representing citizens, parties transformed democratic politics. In this contribution I aim to extend Mair’s analysis to include alternative forms of political participation, which may be considered channels through which citizens nonetheless enforce democratic representation and inclusion.
Taking into account that ‘extra-representative’ participation has been used increasingly frequent over the past decades, contemporary democratic politics may not be in crisis but simply different now. I argue, however, that the changes in people’s patterns of participation cannot substitute the role of the parties. Moreover, I suggest that the occurrence of these ‘extra-representative’ ways of involvement in fact deepens the problems for democracy. They seem to encourage inequalities in both input and output, thus increasingly threatening political equality. Moreover, due to those inequalities, we may see more and more that small groups in society determine policies.
Mair’s conclusion about the passing of party democracy, where parties are governors with less and less influence and citizens retreat to their private lives, might have actually been somewhat too positive. I end by highlighting some (institutional) developments or possibilities that may help to strengthen democracy.