Political Weariness: the Semantic Hypocrisy of a Term
By Wolfgang J. Koschnick
[This article published on 6/5/2016 is translated abridged from the German on the Internet, http://www.heise.de
. Wolfgang Koschnick’s book “The End of Our Democratic Illusion” was published by Westend Verlag in 2016.]
In representative democracies, an uncanny secular dynamic of self-destruction operates that does not exist in this constancy and effectiveness in other political structures. Self-destruction unfolds its disastrous effect in these days, weeks and months and triggers a crisis of the political will machine in most countries of the European Union. The total collapse or gradual skidding of democracy into pre-fascist structures could mark its end.
The erosion process began almost contemplatively decades ago in the 1950s and 1960s. Until then, worldview parties dominated the political scene. They were repositories of ideological orientation and powerful expressions of social situations and social camps. That ideological orientation gave them their foundation, color, idea, ethos, drive and personnel. Their followers still understood themselves as kindred spirits when they had long ceased being like-minded.
In striving to attract as many voters as possible, the worldview parties mutated to popular- or “catchall parties” and gradually lost their clear profile and their voters. The party competition depoliticized them. In the catchall parties, social life worlds no longer wrestle with different designs for a good politics and society.
Now the long march into the political nothingness follows inexorably step after step. To gain the majority of voters, the people’s parties maintain very close relations to pressure groups that in a countermove offer then a mass reservoir of easily accessible voters.
These connections are necessary because the voters of the people’s parties do not have any long term party bonds and are politically disillusioned given the party programs that are identical up to the details and formalities. The voters have “no choice in the election” and act apathetically. Thus election results can be irrational or arbitrary.
The catchall parties are gradually bled white and endanger their own survival. This self-destructive dynamic exists as a powerful force in all representative democracies and over decades brings about the end of the last remnants of democratic processes.
PEOPLE’S PARTIES GRADUALLY BLED WHITE
This describes the state of the political party landscapes in the democratic world. Citizens have long known that something was rotten in the state and in every state whether the US, Germany, France, Austria or Japan. Party members lack ideal motivation. Hundreds of thousands of them abandon the unwieldy machines. Party leaders lack the standards and guiding star for their political action. They grope disoriented and visionless through the universe of politics.
We have long drifted into post-democratic conditions. The middle of the population is convinced of this according to milieu research. The middle turns away from politics. Parties and their representatives are only dozing away in their life-worlds.
They form their own biotope where the lack of democratic attention from below is compensated by subsidies from above by the state. Therefore the political parties in all developed democracies need ever more millions in tax funds to survive and lose millions of voters who do not trust them any more.
Politicians are driven hopelessly to subsidies through public funds. In the struggle for survival, democratic politics clings to the money pots of the state and kills the last remnants of democratic life in a cycle without end.
Nearly all political parties in western democracies live from public funds. They pocket enormous sums and cannot live without the giant sums which they grant.
Government involvement with collaborative officials, advisors and secretaries is essential for the continuance of political organizations. Without the funds, they could not survive two days in the wild of freedom. The political parties are state-subsidized parasites in the true sense of the word.
This development has occurred for decades in all developed democracies and reverses political conditions into their opposite. Democracies have changed into substance-less oligarchies. This process reaches a life-threatening peak in most democracies today.
Democracies find themselves in full dissolution. All the people’s parties are losing their last support. Representatives of once established parties have good reasons to groan in the coming elections in nearly all European countries. The pull to the right occurs everywhere. Legitimate fears over the future of democracy and the rule of law exist everywhere.
In the US, the insight grows that Donald Trump’s sayings are only a hair’s breath from the fascist rhetoric of Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler. Some of Trump’s central demands – forceful deportations, lump sum entrance prohibitions for Muslims or intensification of torture – have fascist characteristics.
LOYALTY OATHS AS IN THE NAZI RULE
Never before was American democracy “as ready for a tyranny” as today, the journalist Andrew Sullivan warns. He compares the situation with the late Weimar Republic. The US shows symptoms of the 1930s in Europe, in the opinion of leading fascism researchers. Never was America as near to fascism as today.
Repeatedly the republican candidate for the presidency urged his supporters to raise their right hand and solemnly promise their allegiance. “I swear I will vote for Trump as president – regardless of how I feel, what the conditions are or whether there is a hurricane or other obstacle” is the solemn oath.
Tens of thousands raise their right arm and swear. This is not merely tasteless. American commentators make the comparison to Adolf Hitler. America – and not only America – has become susceptible for an authoritarian and nationalist leader – at the height of democratic development.
In Japan, extreme nationalism and militarism are spreading under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Deniers of Japanese war crimes see an opportunity coming up ahead. The followers of the extreme right are amazingly present in the population and can wreak their havoc unhindered. In Japan, a campaign of extreme nationalists is underway with the goal of repressing all resistance against the government’s falsification of history.
The campaign with which Abe and other rightwing nationalists attempt to trivialize the war crimes of the Japanese army serves political goals. Given the global economic collapse and the growing geo-political tensions, the government pursues a remilitarization to enforce the interests of Japanese imperialism with military means as in the 1930s and 1940s.
In the last two years, Abe gradually raised the military budget and “reinterpreted” the Japanese constitution so that “collective self-defense” allows involvement in offensive American wars. Meanwhile a new law on state secrets is in force that shields large parts of the government from public control.
How strange! Similar erosion processes are occurring in all developed democracies from the US and Europe to Japan. These processes can be described as a permanent rightwing pull to the fascist turn of society and no one wants to notice. Everywhere democracies are in extreme danger.
In Europe and in Germany in particular, all these developments pressed in the “rightwing” and “fascism” direction for decades with the killing argument that this was political weariness and should be strictly rejected.
The careless gossip of “political weariness” suggests the absolutely bizarre implication that this is a problem of the citizens. The citizens are said to be intellectually confused, tired, weary, dull, limp and low-drive. They are on a dangerous false track and suffer in a hardly curable emotional disorder or depression. The infamy of the psychologizing term is that the phenomenon has to do with politics and politically hardened structures, not with psychology.
One only needs an appetite for the joys of democratic life. Life will turn upwards again. Many academics and most politicians who are occupied with the “problem of political weariness” speak of “therapy” as though treating a kind of depression.
WITH PENICILLIN AGAINST POLITICAL WEARINESS
Incumbent politicians are completely unscrupulous in their arrogant presumption. The CDU politicians and great healer of political complaints Wolfgang Bosbach (“The recommended therapy can only be effective when the diagnosis is right”) does not come to the idea that the reason or culpability for the weariness could lie somewhere other than in the confused heads of citizens.
So the idea that a politician now has a hard time is emphasized. Everyone wants something from him. Everyone tugs at him. “Making everyone whole and fulfilling every desire is unfortunately a classical case of objective impossibility (even in politics). Too often there are opposing interests. Therefore politicians and parties should not only announce their decisions but carefully explain them so they can be understood,” Bosbach writes. This is so simple. One only has to know how the game is played…
The idea that citizens could have good reasons for withdrawing from politics and abandoning membership in political parties in the millions is completely alien to him…
Everyone who goes into politics is ultimately a better person, better than everyone else. “The prejudices against politics and politicians are well-known. “A political song is a nasty song,” it says in Faust I. “Politics corrupts character” is a sentence that is gladly quoted. Admittedly there may be characters that ruin politics. But no one can say convincingly why political engagement should be harmful for personality or character development…
In 2011, Karl Theodor was helped in the CSU (German mainstream political party) with the notion “penicillin against political weariness.”
The term political weariness leads astray since it suggests the weariness of people is the source of the problem. In truth, the opposite is true. Politics first despised the trust of the population and then lost that trust. Weariness is not a moody aberration of people. It is the reaction of the broad population to contempt of their general well-being by the elected representatives and their politics.
PR-TRICKS AND ADVERTISING AS MEDICINE
For decades, incumbent politicians tried to control “political weariness” with silly public appearances. They appeared on television one time on the idiot show “Big Brother” (“The people must be interested a little for democracy and politics so they do not look away”) and the next time in “Good Times, Bad Times.”
Again and again the population’s political interest is roused with advertising slogans. Politics should be an animator project for good moods and expel weariness. The underlying idea is always that if producers successfully sell products with advertising, political enthusiasm could also be produced with advertising.
Politicians believed with all seriousness they could help themselves with a little propaganda against political weariness out of the homemade tight spot with the message of the fabulous function of democracy. They turned the real conditions upside down and then interpreted them. The problem would be abolished through communication from top to bottom.
This is a deeply lying or hypocritical approach. With the help of propaganda and all kinds of PR tricks, the rulers bring the naïve people to believe in their rule. Politicians could not demonstrate their manipulative understanding of democracy more clearly.
A series of academics has been willingly instrumentalized through the semantic hypocrisy of the term “political weariness” and bridles the weariness horse from the tail.
So there were studies that analyzed whether “the media’s reporting of scandals has effects on the attitudes of citizens on the legitimacy of the political system” and whether
The subjective perception and deconstruction of media themes is a factor that must be considered in analyzing media effects.”
Even if some of these studies made a relatively differentiated judgment and declared that political sandals are only one of many causes for political dissatisfaction, the initial position is false since it analyzes exogenous factors and sees the contribution of politics to dissatisfaction with politics as a negligible factor. This is as ridiculous as the assumption that guests avoid a certain local diner because they suffer under depressions and not on account of the poor food served there. Restaurant chefs recognize the logical flaw or mistake in reasoning immediately. Academics are not so sure…
The question which qualities of the media are important in the genesis of political weariness is very popular… Presumably poli-tainment could have a negative influence. Talk shows or political satire can influence the attitudes of citizens on politics.
The fans of these poli-tainment formats see themselves as more politically disinterested than the fans of “classical” information. Therefore poli-tainment fans generally have a more negative attitude on the effectiveness of the political system, responsiveness and the integrity of political actors and vote more rarely than info-fans… Trash with academic sauce remains trash with academic sauce.
WEARINESS OR ANNOYANCE?
The question whether decades of practical politics could have contributed to political weariness in a country does not seem particularly interesting to academics. But that is the real problem.
If citizens were asked, they would answer: “We are politically weary because politicians of all political parties give us thousands of good reasons for that. The problem is a politics that only annoys, not weariness.”
The originally democratic society of equals and equal rights who stand together in a horizontal social relation has changed in the course of many decades to a society of unequals with unequal rights who stand in a vertical social relation to each other. Seen historically, the splendor of the illusion of democratic equality and equal rights only lasted a short time. Then the pre-democratic structures came through again with greater rage than ever before.
The political contempt dominant in practically all established democracies and spreading again has reasons that are based in the system of established democracies themselves. The system of “representative democracy” has reached the limits of its effectiveness. When the decision-makers resist the knowledge of the decline and fall of “democracy” as a form of rule is completely underway, then the end of democracy will be unavoidable and will break out over night over everyone. When they cannot resist, it will already be much too late.