Why are we afraid of democracy?

Thursday 25 September, 20.00 until 21.30, De Balie Kleine-Gartmanplantsoen 10 1017 RR Amsterdam International Satellite Events 2014

Tickets available on the debailie website.

Sigmar Gabriel, Germany’s vice-chancellor and head of the Social Democrats, set the tone for the debate about democracy in Europe this year by dismissing Eurosceptic parties on both left and right of the political divide as ‘stupid’. After so many votes were cast for such parties in the May elections, it has become more politic to label them as a protest vote. Either way, there is an assumption that many voters are swayed by irrational concerns and don’t really know what is in their own best interests.

While Europe’s leaders all uphold democracy as an ideal, this sentiment coexists with a fear of ‘populism’ – that is, the voters voting the ‘wrong’ way - and a belief that in some situations – like the recent financial crisis – technocrats and experts may well be a better option than democratically elected politicians, who can be easily swayed by short-termism and popular prejudice rather than enlightened opinion. Some fear that the only people who still bother to vote are the angry and marginal and that democracy needs to be reformed to work better. Outside Europe, by contrast, there can be great enthusiasm for democracy – as in the Arab Spring – that is not matched by Western commentators, who stood aside as the elected government of Egypt was overthrown by coup d’état. Sometimes we even hear envious talk of the ability of the Chinese government to get things done without the messy compromises and delays that democracy seems to entail.

Why do we have this ‘problem’ with democracy when it was once considered the bedrock of Western civilisation? Why has populism become a political swearword and particularly associated with the right when historically it was more the preserve of the left? How can we expect democracy to work when the implication is that we need less popular leaders in charge? Is there an aspect to this debate of it being contemporary politics and politicians that are less inspiring than they might be, as opposed to the problem resting with the voters? Is there a crisis of ideas in politics itself? If so, why do we seem to be afraid of exposing decisions that affect us all – law-making for example – to the scrutiny of the widest possible democratic debate and opinion? Just what lies behind our fears of democracy today and just what is at stake for tomorrow?

For further information, visit the De Balie website.

Diederik Boomsma
duo-councillor, Christian Democrat Party, city council of Amsterdam

Professor Frank Furedi
sociologist and social commentator; author, What's Happened to the University?, Power of Reading: from Socrates to Twitter, On Tolerance and Authority: a sociological history

Maurits Kreijveld
futurist, wisdomofthecrowd.nl

Evelien Tonkens
professor of Citizenship and Humanisation of Institutions and Organisations, University of Humanistic Studies

Angus Kennedy
convenor, The Academy; author, Being Cultured: in defence of discrimination

Produced by
Angus Kennedy convenor, The Academy; author, Being Cultured: in defence of discrimination

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