Beyond Macron – Can we make liberal democracy great again?

After the election of Emmanuel Macron the question still remains: How will the liberal development of the EU continue in the face of the threat of right wing populism?

The media is volatile by nature, quickly shifting and twisting. After the first round of the French presidential elections, many commentators are declaring victory: The attacks of the worst populists (Le Pen, Mélenchon) have been blocked, and the liberal development of Europe (and the EU) can continue unimpeded.

This is a grave error. The populists’ wave is based on objective reasons — the complexities of globalization, the erosion of national and other identities, growing uncertainties, and weaker traditional narratives. This will continue. Also, populists always have the advantage of suggesting simple things like re-establishing borders, and reframing complex challenges as little irritants that can be easily managed by ranting against trans-border trade, migration, the EU, ‘the elites’, and mainstream media. Decision makers and academics cannot use these paths.

In other words: Even after Macron’s victory in the second round, the core problems won’t be fixed. Global liberals and moderates will gain some breathing space, that’s all. How can this maybe brief period be put to good use? In particular, how can a vastly ossified bureaucracy in Brussels be mobilized and activated in a way that EU citizens will find convincing?

– Klaus Segbers

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  1. Justas Paleckis 1 year ago

    A couple of centuries ago, France and the US showed the way towards liberal democracy. Now precisely in these countries peculiar presidents were elected – one against the will of the party elite and the other one without a party. It also reflects the crisis of classical liberal democracy. Its high point was three decades ago. Liberal democracy was improving while fighting communism. But once it defeated the dictatorial opponent it lost the incentive not to make critical mistakes. Now there is no do-or-die ideological confrontation with populism. There should be an attractive model of a state or states, where the implementation of democracy, social justice, multiculturalism would oust populist parties. So far we do not see it even in the Nordic countries. It is trendy to curse Brussel’s bureaucracy, as if Berlin’s or Warsaw’s, Madrid’s and Vilnius’ bureaucracy would be better. EU politicians and bureaucrats are a reflection of the EU. The lack of leadership is felt by EU Member States also. On the other hand, to win against populism, authoritarianism, nationalism planet-wide in a globalized world is possible only by destroying the phenomena that give birth to these maladies. This requires huge, united efforts from democratic countries. But they are more engaged in local fire fighting.

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  2. Jochen Wermuth 1 year ago

    With the election of Macron, a chance will arise for liberal democracy and free
    markets to be identified with success again.

    The first industrial revolution in Germany was caused by the invitation of
    prosecuted Huguenot refugees from France. Germany’s economic miracle, the
    “Wirtschaftswunder” took place thanks to the many refugees from former German
    territories and migrant workers “Gastarbeiter” from southern Europe. In a similar
    fashion, any economist and historian sees the tremendous opportunity for Germany and
    the EU which the inflow of refugees today represents.

    Combined with the exponential drop in the costs of renewable power, electric
    vehicles and storage and the internet of things, we have the fundamentals for a
    “green industrial revolution” in place. Mr Macron could move this”green industrial
    revolution” agenda forward.

    The skills learned by refugees in Germany and the EU could then be used by them in
    their home-countries which offer much more sun than Germany does, and thus up to
    twice the power for the same price… Germany and the EU could take global
    leadership in the new “green and circular economy” and thereby also ensure that its
    liberal democratic values and its insistence on the rule of law continues to be
    respected around the world.

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  3. Alexei Voskressenski 1 year ago

    The cynical Russian joke tells that democracy is a power of democrats. This joke reflects an idea that a struggle of power may be waged in the power establishment for the seek of power itself under the name of democracy. A direct democracy may help to overcome it, but may be later transformed into autocracy or authoritarianism. For the liberal democracy concept being revived, it must be transformed into liberal enlightened democracy for people in the West and not for the reshuffled establishment by itself and for itself or it permanent unelected representatives that may use power to stay for power forever “for the benefit of democracy.” As for other countries – a concept of non-Western democracy reflecting their regional and national specifics must be admitted to the political theory and discussed. People of non-democratic countries should choose a democratic way of governance not because they are pressed by a segment of political elite from outside and inside, or for the interest of a particular political clan, but because it is deeply understood as the only way of governance that is more humanistic and fair ruling to the benefit of all, if not for us, then for our children. So, we must rethink democracy and its liberal version again, trying to find, as Confucius said, true meaning (zheng ming) of democracy as a power of the people, by the people, for the people.

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  4. Sergei Medvedev 1 year ago

    In the 20th century, liberal democracy faced many challenges, from Russian Communism
    and German Nazism to terrorism, Islamism and left radicalism. Each time, the threat
    seemed huge, the social and ideological dislocation unprecedented, the political
    instruments fragile and each time, democracy survived across the West. This time
    is no different. The challenge of populism, enhanced by new media technologies and
    social networks, comes at another critical juncture of globalization, as a reaction
    to migration, terrorism, and the surge of radical Islam. This is just another in a
    series of global challenges that test liberal democracy every few decades and
    now, as before, Western institutions seem to be able to handle this, either through
    popular vote (in France or in the Netherlands), or through the system of checks and
    balances (the US legal system blocking Trump’s orders), or through communitarian
    instruments (the EU disciplining Hungary’s Orban). The media, too, are looking for
    ways of self-rectification and fact-checking, trying to overcome fake news and
    segmentation (information bubbles). In this sense, I see no need to panic. The
    challenge of populism will be taken just like as many before in the past century. It
    is not yet time to rethink liberal democracy.

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  1. Gavin 1 year ago

    Democracy is under crisis and pressure nowadays. At such situation, I think that democracy’s disadvantages emerge more and easier, In the past time, democracy was charming and attractive for the world, especially for the developing countries, because of the western countries’ prosperity in economy and culture and other fields. the people living in the developing countries think that democracy is a only way towards prosperity and rich, sometimes, some people think democracy is equal to high living standard for individuals and prosperity for their own nations. In fact, it is a misunderstanding. the western countries have become richer and richer, and the western societies have been governed very excellent, democratic politic is only one part of the reasons. I think democracy is not the key for western success. because before democracy time, the western countries also achieve their success because of their technology progress.

    Definitely, the present world and time is different from the past. because of other developing countries’ rising, democracy fade gradually. In fact, there are a general situation happened in the western, which is that democratic politic run worse and worse when voting their leaders, Trump in US, Macron in France, Abe in Japan, etc, the leader who win out of voting are not the most excellent one, more and more voters give their tickets to a candidate because they don’t like another one. I don’t think that Trump and Macron will be a good president for their countries. they can’t solve any problems of their societies, because most problems are resulted from structural factors deep in politic system and society, even culture.

    In current Europe, its society are impacted by refugees from north-Africa and middle-east. I think its impacts on Europe only just begin. In the future, more conflicts and crisis will happen.

    Europe people still adhere to their dogmatism and extremism in democracy and humanism, which will let them lose their ability and time to deal with the coming crisis.

    In the end, I emphasize that democracy is not God, if other pillars supporting it become weak, the democracy will also become sick. Maybe, I think the western politics should return back the true democracy spirits, because democracy is not a tool for voting, but a spirit, if the spirit fades, the democracy will be weaker and weaker.

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  2. Marion 1 year ago

    Just a quick comment on spelling: It would be great if the name of the new French president (Emmanuel) was spelled correctly in the article. As it is written now (“Emanuelle”), it is a female name. I suggested this via email already but so far nobody seemed to care.

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    1. Markus Laspeyres 1 year ago

      Thank you very much for the hint, Marion.

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  3. Sandra Miller 11 months ago

    Indeed, Macron’s victory does not mean that liberal democracy is safe, because elections are not everything. The French people just avoided a destruction of the values and institutions on which prosperity of Europe has been based since decades. But the results of French elections does not mean that the battle is over. The issues that lie behind populism are results of dysfunctional institutions, which need to be revised. How can liberal democracies adapt to an ever-changing global societies? That is the question that needs an answer now. Clearly, Europe is not open or well prepared as it needs to be. It still has to find a winning formula by combining openness with a strong sense of equality in order to win this battle of ideas. Equality is the key idea, that is vital to make openness brought by changes acceptable. We need a sense of equality, for if it is not there, alternative solutions based on populist ideas seem more appealing. And that is where our democracies are now.

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  4. Simon Züfle 11 months ago

    In my remarks, I wish to approach the topic from a broader perspective, going beyond the French elections. In Dahl’s terms, polyarchy is mainly defined by two major elements, namely competition for the political power and political participation. This means that discourses should be revitalized at all levels of state, simultaneously integrating diverging positions. To clarify this point, a democratic culture of informed debate should be enabled from the very beginning of state education, maybe through the Federal Centres of Political Education. In ancient Greece, the people – unfortunately mainly men – met at the agora to discuss current political, economic and social issues. Of course, in our times we face a heavy workload. But our democracy needs to be more bottom-up-participatory in 21st century and everyone has the obligation to participate in the community. A modern agora could consist in weekly fora at local level which should be moderated (here intellectuals could find their field of action) on a rotational basis and grasp a variety of current issues. This will also make us aware of the value of our democracy. During the historic CSCE conference in the early 1970s that brought together delegates from NATO and Warsaw Pact member states the most powerful argument European states had was the sharing of their experiences of living in a democracy. I n our times, we also have to sensitize each other about the achievement of living in a democracy.

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  5. Amir Mohsen HADIAN RASANANI 11 months ago

    While dealing with populism, various factors could be enumerated as the root causes. However since populism takes place in different geographical and historical points, a grand theory for populism may prove quite tricky to be conceived. If exceptions are made based on different incidents of populism, the theory may appear to be clumsy in explaining the situation and possibly dealing with it or providing commentators a valid analytical tool.
    However another approach to the problem is possible, in which it would focus on ontological issues rather than the ontic. In such an approach which has been suggested by Ernesto Laclau, we must focus on the ontological sphere in which populism operates.
    People in different societies have some sets of demands. Once these demands are met, a differential logic takes place and administration prevails. However, if due to various reasons, this administrative aspect fails to meet the demands, then the equivalential logic prevails. Under such circumstances, different sets of unmet demands of various groups inside a society, which are in fact signifiers, are utilized by a populist leader through an equivalential chain. The chain of equivalence helps to deconstruct the borders separating these groups -each representing their unmet demands- from each other. Then a delicate task of rearticulation is done by the populist leader which gives a joint identity to all these groups. The unmet demands’ intensiveness is traded off with the extensiveness of the new umbrella, which reidentifies all these groups as one entity. This entity is defined through dichotomization and rejection of a certain otherness. If the extensiveness is further spread, the major demand which has become a signifier of the rejection of the status quo and the propeller of the populist thrust, becomes a hollow signifier. In extreme examples, the populist leader could become the manifestation of the signifier and replace the initial signifier. Then it’s all about rejection of the others and the dichotomization.
    Therefore I suggest we adapt such a framework to investigate the surge of populism in France through a methodology of an intensive case study of the National Front, enhanced with a Popperian searchlight to better drive the case study. Probably this would be useful in order to better understand the modus operandi of populism and enhance liberal-democracy.

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