Friday, December 24, 2010

An Objection concerning Stuttgart

Stefan Sachs

( Reached my blog by mail lg )

I cannot resist to wire a reply to this text. As a former citizen of Stuttgart, I
definitely do not share the opinion, that a well planned and democratically
legitimated project is obstructed by violent demonstrations. The gap between a
formally correct procedure and and the widespread opposition to the results by the
citizen of this town reveals in my opinion a little more about the considerable loss
of confidence in our leading classes.
The communication patterns described in this text are well known; different media
may cause a quantitative, but not a qualitative change. The "many to many" pattern
described is not necessarily related to the new phenomenon of social media. The main
difference is a quantitative; the number of persons taking part in this
communication is of course higher but the quality and the mixture of messages is not
so different, from what may have been exchanged on a middle age market or on the
campus of a university in 1968.
IMHO the impact of such communication is related to the perceived need for
directions. In stable times, where a general consensus about values in a society
exists, this kind of communication is more or less meaningless, limited to private
communication without much of a public impact. This changes as soon, as the
broadcasting protagonists loose their credibility. A typical sign for such a
situation is the visibility of the many to many pattern. This pattern uses the
available resources, from "fliegende Blätter" in the late fifteenth century to
social networks today. Typical for a campus in the seventies were the competing
messages on public pinboards, not so different from the fence of the Stuttgart
building site. The main motivation for the public, to seriously consider such
sources of information is the loss of confidence in broadcasting.
So, the real challenge for democracy is, to reestablish credibility in broadcasting
and this may be related in the inability of the individuals involved in
broadcasting, to perform just the inverse pattern (what H.M. Enzensberger once
diagnosed with hospitalism).
In Stuttgart, the credibility of the democratic decision process was definitely
impaired by deliberately false cost estimates, broken promises of politicians and
strange involvements of politicians in related real estate affairs. The planning by
the railway corporation turns out to be inferior.
Representative democracy depends on integrity of the representatives. When this
integrity is damaged, it is natural, that, other, more direct forms of democracy
become more attractive to citizens. In southern Germany, people feel some envy, when
looking at the situation in Switzerland, where direct democracy is well established
and performing astonishing well, even in such difficult times (there is definitely
no battle, any decision of the representatives can become subject of a direct
decision by the people, which restricts their power and makes a strong incentive for
compromise and transparency).
Lack of confidence in the competence and integrity of political leaders will result
in a loss of identity. But the more important task for governments is, to restore
their credibility and in Germany a viable way to do so, would be to make use of the
mechanisms for direct democracy, the german constitutions offer, instead of
vigorously fighting any attempts of participation. I could imagine, that this would
restore identification of citizens with their state.

Stefan Sachs, Lübeck, Germany (


I have read Mr Sachs contribution with interest and respect.However,I cannot see any contradiction between his passionate plaidoyer for ´´direct democracy and my misgivings about th efuture of representational democracy.

My only concern is: what will result from a system which seems to make historically given forms obsolete ?

Lars Gustafsson

1 comment:

  1. "citizen of this town reveals in my opinion a little more about the considerable loss
    of confidence in our leading classes."

    And what of the lost confidence in the ruled classes? *Bildung* and many other social institutions that provide the grounds of societal understanding (as well the ennoblement of citizens) have recently been eroded to the extent that large segments of the population are both uninformed and ignorant of political institutions.

    The Internet has given us the opportunity to inform ourselves more freely and more readily than previously, yet very few people I encounter actually use the Internet for these purposes. Additionally, as far as source-plurality goes, the Internet, in my opinion, is only slightly better than television, and information in itself is not equivalent to education and intelligent thinking.

    "So, the real challenge for democracy is, to reestablish credibility in broadcasting"

    Great, now that we know "the real challenge" is...

    "Representative democracy depends on integrity of the representatives."

    Yes, but once again, representative democracy also depends on the integrity of the voters, those who choose the representatives. When this integrity is damaged it is natural that the representatives take liberties they should not.

    Furthermore, I think it is utterly questionable whether "direct democracy" works in Switzerland. They generally have low voter turn-outs and are pathologically resistant to socially progressive legislation. So, define "performing astonishing [SIC] well."

    We "the people" (in most Western democracies) are the social institutions and in a sense, still today, the source of power. As such restoring the credibility of the government requires restoring the credibility of society, parenting, educational institutions, etc.

    I find the system of direct democracy to be an exceptionally moronic proposal to solve our problems considering our social problems and considering how complicated our societies are compared to medieval Switzerland and 18th Century USA. Furthermore the very idea presupposes that the amount of citizens that creates a referendum and then gets a majority vote for said referendum are rational and well-educated about the issues at hand. Then we see also that the Swiss dogmatically grip onto their direct democratic system as it it were some self-evident perfection of politics, which in turn has traditionally disenfranchized certain segments of the population (women, immigrants). As we see with the minaret and Muslim issues there, the direct democracy can be even more easily overtaken by demagoguery and extremist propaganda than with representative democracy. On top of this we see half of the Swiss didn't even bother voting, which is curious considering that the matter concerned the basic rights and liberties of hundreds of thousands of people in the country.

    "what will result from a system which seems to make historically given forms obsolete ?"

    Lars, I began writing a reply to this, but upon second, third and fourth thought: is your question even intelligible?