In a piece at Salon, Slavoj Žižek contends that the greatest threat to democracy today is in fact the ruling elites who are charged with managing it. These elites, many of whom are elected, nonetheless display contempt for the will of the people and majority rule. Here’s an excerpt:
These elites, the main culprits for the 2008 financial meltdown, now impose themselves as experts, the only ones who can lead us on the painful path of financial recovery, and whose advice should therefore trump parliamentary politics, or, as Mario Monti put it: “Those who govern must not allow themselves to be completely bound by parliamentarians.” What, then, is this higher force whose authority can suspend the decisions of the democratically elected representatives of the people? The answer was provided back in 1998 by Hans Tietmeyer, then governor of the Deutsches Bundesbank, who praised national governments for preferring “the permanent plebiscite of global markets” to the “plebiscite of the ballot box.” Note the democratic rhetoric of this obscene statement: global markets are more democratic than parliamentary elections since the process of voting goes on in them permanently (and is permanently reflected in market fluctuations) and at a global level—not only every four years, and within the confines of a nation-state. The underlying idea is that, freed from this higher control of markets (and experts), parliamentary-democratic decisions are “irresponsible.”
What is new today is that, with the continuing crisis which began in 2008, this same distrust of democracy—once confined to the Third World or post-Communist developing countries—is gaining ground in developed Western countries themselves: what was a decade or two ago patronizing advice to others now concerns ourselves. But what if this distrust is justified? What if only experts can save us, with full or less-than-full democracy?
The least one can say is that the current crisis offers many proofs of how it is not the people but the experts themselves who, in large part, don’t know what they are doing. In Western Europe, we are effectively witnessing a growing incapability of the ruling elite—they know less and less how to rule. Look at how Europe is dealing with the Greek crisis: putting pressure on Greece to repay debts, but at the same time ruining its economy through imposed austerity measures and thereby ensuring the Greek debt will never be repaid. At the end of December 2012, the IMF itself released research showing that the economic damage from aggressive austerity measures may be as much as three times larger than previously assumed, thereby cancelling its own advice on austerity in the Euro-zone crisis.
Image of US presidential candidate Ted Cruz and Ayn Rand via Salon