Yascha Mounk, a writer and political theorist teaching at Harvard University challenges the topic of the World Forum for Democracy. He talks about the threats of our current comprehension of democracy and he criticizes the way we perceive responsibility nowadays.
What do you think about the question “can youth revitalize democracy”?
“I am skeptical about it. Many initiatives have good ideas, but to revitalize democracy is not only about getting young people more involved. Of course, I would like it if young people participate more in democracy, but I think the real question is: What kind of democracy do we need to ensure that people are happy with it again? Currently, the system does not satisfy their economic desire, many young people are unemployed and overall, there is a lot of anger. Therefore, we need to rethink how democracy needs to look like. Here, at the World Forum for Democracy, it is rather about how to spread the word among each other.
When I look at democracy right now, it reminds me of the belief in god in the 16th century. Everybody had to say he believed in god and everybody sort of believed in god, but the justification that god existed had no real support anymore. Currently, we break up into discourse, but everyone keeps it to themselves. We do not know what democracy means. We do not know to what we are attach in our current system that we happen to call democracy. For me, this is a very worrying situation since this is our system, the system we are living in. It contains a lot of great ideas, but we lose the glimpse at alternatives.”
What type of democracy do people want?
“I do not know, but I can tell you one type of democracy that people do not want: Direct democracy. Now, the internet gives us the opportunity to have a direct democracy. When democracy was founded, we created a representative, indirect democracy with parliaments, because it was not possible to have direct democracy.
Focusing on Germany: How should we have done it differently? Come together in one room? 80 million Germans in one room; that doesn’t work. Through the Internet that is now possible, we can have some kind of software where people suggest laws and vote. However, the truth is that people do not want to vote for every policy. They value their free time more than commenting on regular tridua like “what makes healthy bananas”. There is a deep challenge in justification, we cannot say that our system is the best it can be anymore. Now that we could have a much more democratic system, we find that people don’t want to engage in the system. This is the real crisis of legitimacy.”
In your dissertation you write about responsibility, what is our responsibility?
“I think the concept of responsibility became really narrowed. If you look at how politicians spoke about responsibility in the 1960ies century, it was about the responsibility of citizens and what they can do for the community and their state. John F. Kennedy said: “Do not ask what the country can do for you, but ask yourself what you can do for your country.” Now, when talking about responsibility, we mean personal and individual responsibility. Consequently we don’t feel the obligation to do something for our fellow citizens, but have the duty to take care of ourselves. If we fail in that duty then perhaps welfare rights enjoy curtails.
We should help anyone who is unemployed and handicapped, but no one who is unemployed and lazy. Due to this perception, the concept of responsibility is kind of narrowed down in a way that it is not really inspiring. I wish for accretive responsibility in the public sphere, that says people should take up responsibility for each other, and take on politician decision making powers. I think that it is a concept that needs to be rediscovered.”
Do you think initiatives here at the World Forum can achieve this responsibility?
“Yes, many initiatives give people tones of ownerships over certain kinds of decisions. You can only take responsibility if you have the feeling to have some kind of influence and power. Those initiatives make exactly that possible. But if the initiatives can rejuvenated democracy, I do not know.”