By Anton Mukhamedov
The post-Trump politics have frequently been labeled “post-truth”. Apparently, we care less about the validity of an argument proposed by a candidate than about its subjective appeal. Arguably, this tells less about ourselves as citizens than it does about the current crisis in representative democracy.
There is nothing new about that idea of post-truth and the postmodernist current had already philosophically undermined the idea of an “absolute truth” well before 2016. What is quite unique is the lack of a political project in the original sense of the term, as an attempt to unify the subjective truths of the citizens to forge a common endeavour for the public good.
Beyond catchy slogans, there is an ideological void: instead of politics – only politicking. Ideas are recycled and personalised, public support is marketed, candidates attempt to enlarge their electorate by all means necessary and the competition of ideas soon becomes a popularity contest. Vast—to the point of being hardly imaginable—amounts of economic and symbolic resources are mobilised to put into motion a nation-wide—or in the case of American elections—world-wide spectacle instead of working to solve collective problems.
In a “society of spectacle”, as Guy Debord called it, the spectacle serves no other purpose other than to reassert itself. It does so by luring into its web numerous spectators otherwise disenchanted with politics. What is lost from sight is the very notion of public good, obsolete in an individualistic and individualised society, yet more than ever necessary, as the natural environment itself, a public good par excellence, is under severe threat due to our society’s lifestyle.
A usual response consists in claiming that while alternative systems like direct democracy certainly sound good on paper, elections are probably the highest form of collective political commitment we may ever hope to attain. Such a distrust of anything slightly more noble than the current politicised showdowns is in fact a self-fulfilling prophecy. The current system diverts resources it was invested with to resolve common problems towards its own self-preservation. So why continue to invest it with individual attention and thus contribute to legitimising it?
Working on finding solutions to problems we face as a community cannot remain the priority of elected politicians, especially since this act is a formidable way of building bonds and solidarity. Rather than reducing highly complex individual perspectives to polarised and simplified choices of candidates, allowing for democratic dialogue and debate to spread into every sphere of social life would be more rewarding, and efficient. How, you ask?
First and foremost, by not fearing to recognise that behind every individual achievement there is a positive social interaction, a cooperation, a tie which is severed the moment social life itself is confined to the domain of private interests. Countering the symbolic privatisation of what was once considered public is one the most important steps. Acknowledging that the corporate management techniques transposed into the public sphere and the ubiquity of graphs and curves have severely limited our field of the possibilities for collective endeavour, and that the latter will take time to be restored comes next.
Discussions and debates centred around forms of direct democratic institutions, such as citizen councils, federations constituted by self-governing communes, as well as constitutions that are entirely citizen-drafted and a partial replacement of voting by sortition are all a necessary part of collective deliberations. But such deliberations will only acquire their full constructive power after a careful collective examination of conscience. What can be good about the sort of progress motivated by a need to detach citizens from the need to exercise power?
While today’s society echoes Tocqueville’s description of an individualist democracy slipping into tyranny, its opposite, direct democracy, is both a utopia and a necessity. It is therefore urgent to cease seeing it simply as a bit of tweaking and fine-tuning of the current voting system or a few reforms, well-integrated within the already existing limiting framework, but instead accept it for what it is: a true political project for a radical transformation of a post-political society.