By David Van Reybrouck
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Additional info for Against Elections: The Case for Democracy
When the supporters of the American and French revolutions proposed elections as a way of getting to know ‘the will of the people’, there were as yet no political parties, no laws regarding universal franchise, no commercial mass media, let alone social media. In fact the inventors of electoral-representative democracy had no idea that any of these things would come into existence. Figure 1 shows how much the political landscape has evolved since then. There was a time when Europe had no citizens, only subjects.
Second, alongside low voter turnout we are seeing high voter turnover. Those qualified to vote in Europe not only vote less, they are more capricious. Those who do vote may still recognise the legitimacy of the procedure, but they show less and less loyalty to a particular party. The organisations set up to represent them receive only provisional support from the electorate and in this context political scientists speak of ‘electoral volatility’ and conclude that it has increased enormously since the 1990s.
Elections, representation of the people and press freedom went hand in hand. Over the next two centuries, this eighteenth-century method went through five structural transformations; political parties arose, universal suffrage was introduced, organised civil society grew, commercial media drowned out the public arena and social media added their voices to the clamour. It goes without saying that the external economic context is of great relevance too, as in times of crisis enthusiasm for democracy ebbs away (in our own time between the wars) whereas in times of prosperity the tide rises again.