Rowan Williams – Mass Democracy Has Failed

Former Archbishop of Canterbury writes in NewStatesman on Mass Democracy Has Failed – It’s Time to Seek a Human Alternative.

Williams laments that “Trump’s campaign succeeded in spite of the cast-iron demonstrations of his total indifference to truth (not to mention decency). It has offered not a connected strategy for national reconstruction, but an incoherent series of crowd-pleasing postures; as if Trump’s real aim was not to do anything as president but simply to be president, to be the most important man in the Western world.” The reason this happened he says is because: “The politics of mass democracy has failed. It has been narrowed down to a mechanism for managing large-scale interests in response to explicit and implicit lobbying by fabulously well-resourced commercial and financial concerns (ironically, one of the things that Trump has undertaken to change) … And so, for significant parts of a population, “theatrical” politics comes to look like the only option: a dramatic articulation of the problems of powerlessness, for which the exact details of economic or social reality are irrelevant.”

Williams has his own solution to the failure:

Instead of the chilling, neo-Soviet talk … about something called “The People” and its supposed will, we need better analysis of and investment in local civic activism. And this implies a rethink of party politics as we have received it. The conventional accounts of what is “right” and “left” are fast becoming tribal signals, rather than useful moral categories. The leviathans of the party system will sooner or later have to look at their structures and accountability – not as a step to plebiscite populism, but in terms of what they can do to nurture discussion and decision in the actual communities to which people (not The People) belong.

I’m not sure abandoning the federal stage and focusing on local grassroots coalitions is going to work. At the end of the day, somebody needs to run the government, the national bank, the economy, and our foreign relations, and we have a vested interested in making sure it is the right person and party. Maybe what we need is a new set of political options. We need something besides a plutocracy, something besides elitest progressivism, something besides ethno-nationalism. Maybe what we need is centrist parties that are capable responsible economic management, handling ethnic and religious diversity, reasoned foreign policy, balancing welfare with opportunity, and governing for the constituency and not for lobbyists.

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