Maybe Europe Doesn’t Need Real Democracy Either

The European left can’t get traction in the current depression:

Yet as Europe goes to the polls, left-leaning parties across the continent are looking likely to falter. That’s true both for those in government, such as in the U.K. and Spain, and in the opposition — such as France, Germany and Italy.

France’s Socialist Party is trying hard to rally voters ahead of Sunday’s European parliamentary elections. “Let’s unite with all the French who contest free market, unfair policies that aim at deregulating everything,” party leader Martine Aubry urged at a pre-election rally.

Yet less than 20% of voters say they plan to cast their ballot for the Socialist Party, according to recent surveys. That would be a weak performance considering France’s main opposition party got 29% of the votes in the last European parliamentary elections.

In Germany, the Social Democrats are expected to get only around 26% on Sunday, consistent with their low opinion-poll ratings ahead of Germany’s national elections in September. Italy’s center-left Partito Democratico is expected to get a similar percentage.

One reason is that as Europe tipped into recession, the right moved left — appropriating some of the left’s long-standing economic policies, including nationalizations and bailouts.

I made the following statement last November:

It’s fair to say that the Republican Party is history as a national party in the U.S.

Oh, it’s true that it will continue to be an important regional party, and certainly the party of choice for Caucasian Evangelicals.  But as a national party, its continuance is impossible.  Although American history buffs may look to the Whig split over slavery before the Civil War as a fitting historical precedent, a more relevant analogy is the transition from Liberal to Labour Party in the UK as the predominant left wing party, a transition driven by social changes…

Under these circumstances, Europeans may be satisfied with parties differentiated by nuance.  But over here, with our rigid “winner take all” system, single-party hegemony will be the preferred expression.  We have seen this before (remember the “Solid South?”)

Evidently the Europeans are having their doubts as well.  (The UK is a simple problem of poor leadership, IMHO, otherwise the Torys would still be in the doghouse.)

The basic problem is the nature of our modern society: corporatist to the core, the first hurdle that opposition parties have–left or right–is to make the case that we need a competitive system to start with.

Western societies in general are running scared.  Their elites, who in their hearts don’t believe in the civilisation that put them there, fear that a really competitive system would turn them out of power for good.  That explains the slavish syncophancy of the American media (or, as Bernie Goldberg delightfully puts it, its slobbering love affair) towards Barack Obama, syncophancy which rivals the state controlled organs of Communist parties of old.

The rest of us, indoctrinated in the idea that advance is only in terms of moving up a credentialled ladder, fear that a political shift would push the ladder away from the wall, and us with it.  The weak economy only underscores this.

But you can’t have a true representative democracy without a competitive party system (or something like it.)  One-party systems (de facto or de jure) have the form of democracy, but deny the power thereof.  Perhaps that’s one reason Obama didn’t push democracy in the Middle East.  It’s a wise move by itself, but why should he promote something abroad he (and his flunkies like Ram Emmanuel, David Axelrod and Robert Gibbs) regard as a positive nuisance at home?

In Europe the ability of a country’s elites to centralise power has always been greater than the US, which is why American elites are so in love with Europe.  But the Europeans have been able to perpetuate a pas de deux (or more, in the case of France and Italy) which meant that competitive political systems were, in reality, sophisticated games of musical chairs.  (The French Fourth Republic was the classic study of this.)  But now, as Don McLean sang, the music has died, obviously on both sides of the Atlantic.

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