How can democracy be rated?


Hans Vorländer

Prof. Dr. Hans Vorländer, born in 1954, has held the chair for political theory and the history of ideas at the Technical University of Dresden since 1993. There he is himself director of the Center for Constitutional and Democracy Research.
His main research interests are: political thinking and comparative political research, political theory and the history of ideas, constitutionalism and the constitution, democracy, liberalism and populism.

In the course of history, democracy has repeatedly adapted flexibly to changing circumstances and has mostly been able to cope with its challenges and problems. Therefore, it still seems to be the best possible form of rule today.

A principle with creases? Democracy has come under pressure recently as a result of various developments. (& copy picture-alliance / Jan Haas)

Since its inception in antiquity, democracy has repeatedly met with criticism and at times even with hostility. At present, profound changes in the economy, society, culture and world politics give the impression that democracy is in crisis. Political movements have emerged which, with reference to "the people", fundamentally criticize politics and the media and cast doubt on the functionality of democracy.

In addition to political polemics, there is also well-founded criticism. This names problems that are related to democracy and that are generated by it. The following criticisms have recently been made:
  • First, the complexity and lack of transparency of democratic decision-making processes are criticized. Responsibilities are no longer recognizable in the multi-level democracy, which extends from the municipalities to the federal states, the nation state to the European Union, and consequently cannot be assigned or controlled.

  • Second, the democratic process is superimposed by structures of transnational governance which are not or only insufficiently democratically legitimized. This leads to decisions with negative effects on the nation state and social cohesion.

  • Thirdly, parties insufficiently fulfilled their mediating function between society and the state, which is why the citizens withdrew their trust and terminated their membership.

  • Fourthly, the media no longer perform their educational and visual task for politics, entertainment replaces information, moods take the place of content. The audiovisual media and print media would also no longer reflect the reality or the concerns and preferences of the citizens and thus lose credibility with them.

  • After all, the financial crises since 2008 had shown that global investors, banks and companies on the one hand and supranational regimes such as the World Bank or the World Trade Organization (WTO) on the other "governed" the world and that democracy was replaced by the rule of free, deregulated markets . Globalization harms national economies, causes deindustrialization and weakens labor markets. The result is social and economic upheaval, a growing gap between rich and poor, in short: globalization creates losers who are no longer heard in the political system. Populist movements are often seen as a reaction to these developments, which only deepens the division in society and exacerbates the crisis of democracy.
Indeed, there has been an increase in populist movements in recent years. For example, predominantly left-wing populist movements in southern Europe, but not only there, have massively criticized the excesses of globalization and the practices of globally operating companies and banks and called for the end of what is known as "neoliberal" policy of deregulating capital and labor markets.

Their protests were also directed against transnational regimes such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and meetings of leading economic nations. Responsibility for these processes was attributed to both of them, but they were also accused of lack of transparency and the undermining of democratic decision-making processes (for example when negotiating multilateral trade agreements) at the national level.