Blogs >> Why we should worry about the state of democracy - Jon Rae

Why we should worry about the state of democracy - Jon Rae

Schumacher College director Jon Rae has been in the US at a conference on US democracy.

I am at the State of American Democracy conversation (an acronym of SAD!) at Oberlin College in Ohio taking part in the first of several such conversations across America to be hosted by activist and academic David Orr.  Schumacher College is partner to the conversation and will work with interested parties to catalyse similar conversations in the UK and Europe.
It is very important that the college is involved with discussions on revitalising democracy, and the social institutions that support it, at time of growing disenfranchisement and challenges both local and global that have called elsewhere the ‘long emergency’.    
In the post war era, left and right parties in the West came to see democracy and capitalism as inextricably intertwined. Democratic capitalism has been resilient and in many ways successful, expanding from 11 to over 70 countries in as many years, delivering high growth, enabling generous welfare programmes, and consigning soviet communism – its principle challenger - to of history.

For the diversity and abundance of life and the inherent ability of life to maintain suitable conditions for life on the planet, the record, for now, is far less good. And since the 1980s, the social contract of democratic democracy - embedded [in place] liberalism - has been broken, with corporations and financial institutions increasingly unencumbered by local democracies, escalating inequalities and undermining participation in democratic institutions. The wealth of the three richest Americans is equivalent to the total of the bottom 50%!     
The Conversation comes amid this growing concerns for the future of democracy across most of the world.  Mistrust and political alienation stalks our democracies and are being stoked by those that seek to divide. Across the US and Europe, just 30% of the electorate believed that politicians care about what people think, down from 50% in the heyday of democracy in the late 70s.

This is reflecting in political behaviour with one in three Europeans – mainly working class, minorities and the younger cohort – abstaining or excluded from national elections in the 2010s down from 80% a generation earlier. The Great Recession of the past decade has ratcheted up votes for both extreme right parties such as Alternative for Deutschland (AfD) and, mostly in Southern Europe, new far left parties; together their share of the vote has increased to 25%, heights not see since the 1930s. Whereas the far left look to right entrenched economic actors, the right is tripartite - maintaining the status quo coupled with a scape goat. 

Other democracy conversations are planned for Denver, Atlanta and Los Angeles but this launch at Oberlin will lay the foundations with an opening keynote from Jonathan Porritt. The conversation in democracy is non-partisan focused as it needs to be on the social institutions, and the procedures and practices to uphold democratic governance.

The foundations of democracy are the three human capacities: that we are highly social animals; we have the capacity for reason and; we have the capacity to communicate with each other our highest ideals of collaboration and society. Modern Democracy asks of us that we are informed by truth and fact, that we publicly fund robust systems of education, that we maintain a transparent but free press, that we continually nourish our tolerance for difference in all forms, that elections are free and accessible, that our legal systems are independent and protectors of all our rights, that we hold our government to account with transparency, and we bond again democracy and capitalism anew, rooting it in place, in ecology and in the people and not the few.