Many people complain about different things around them every day. If we exclude purely “domestic” complaints, the most common themes are probably things like traffic jams, lack of parking spaces, trains or buses not running on time, stress at work, the price of a cup of coffee, littering, ill-mannered teenagers, etc. Less common (because they affect you less in everyday life), but not too infrequent, are complaints about taxes, pensions, crime rates, queues in the health care system, corrupt politicians, and so on. The list of examples could, of course, be much longer; but the point is that all of these things are to a large degree affected by political decisions (by what the politicians do or don’t do).
In spite of that, many people seem to prefer to complain in private, without engaging in any way in political life. Perhaps it may be psychologically satisfying to blow off some steam in private, but it does nothing to solve the problems. I must confess that I get more and more pessimistic about changing anything for the better in this world, just because of this general reluctance to get involved in political life. I am not saying that everyone should run for office or go to demonstrations every week, but the least one can do is to try to become a somewhat more informed voter – and this means keeping a constant interest in politics, rather than watching a few debates during election time. It would, however, be good if many more people could join political parties and become active members.
The underlying concern here is that democracy seems to be slipping out of our hands more and more every day. Most likely the important thing for people who want to change things radically (no matter in what direction) is not to discuss among themselves what policies would be best in the ideal world. The important thing is to reach out to “common people”, to wake them from their political slumber and apathy. If we sincerely believe in democracy, then we must show the political elites who really should have the power. At this stage I am almost tempted to say that the contents of the policies are relatively unimportant, as long as policies are really in line with what the people want.
The important thing now is to, so to speak, take the power back. When things like universal suffrage was achieved people got the power in the first place. But in most places this power was quickly relinquished to party apparatuses, which made it easy for “special interests” to manipulate the parties behind the scenes. What we need, in short, in politics today – besides a voting system that allows for many political parties to be represented in the parliaments – is much more transparency, popular participation, and popular interest and knowledge. More participation by totally uninformed people, on the other hand, would only lead to blind “populism,” whereby the masses themselves are manipulated by charismatic leaders; therefore increased knowledge as well as participation is vital.
Anyway, if we cannot achieve these things, it is futile – for the few of us who are interested – to discuss alternatives to the present “world order”. But I believe “real” democracy can be achieved. It is possible to envisage a culture where, perhaps not all, but many more people take an active interest in learning about politically relevant matters and in discussing them openly. Of course, this might entail some sacrifices; for instance, it might leave people with a little less time for pure recreation. But if we, the people, cannot make that sacrifice, then maybe we do not deserve to live in a democracy anyway.