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Profound social changes have made governance and political leadership more challenging than ever. The result is that politics in the democratic world faces a crisis in the 21st century. The revised edition of this highly successful text reassesses the gap between citizen expectation and the realities of government in light of new developments.

Table of Contents

Introduction

Abstract
Negativity about the practice of politics is not news to many politicians anymore. Indeed, some politicians seem to be intent on taking advantage of it by offering populist stances on issues and by distancing themselves very clearly from something called the ‘political establishment’. The top nominations for 2016 might well have been Donald Trump in the United States and Boris Johnson in Britain, leading the Leave campaign in the EU membership referendum, but as we shall see later in the book there are plenty of competitors. Many politicians have developed something of a gallows humour about it. Gavin Shuker, a UK Member of Parliament (MP), writes: Every MP has their own favourite moment on ‘The Tour’. It’s a routine that each Member must develop – a witty and insightful commentary to accompany the leading of visitors around the Palace of Westminster. Mine is the revelation that, as fire destroyed the old building in 1834, crowds gathered on the south bank of the Thames to celebrate and applaud its destruction. Anti-politics sentiment has always run deep in Britain.
Gerry Stoker

Mass Democracy: Triumph and Disappointment

Frontmatter

1. The Triumph of Democracy?

Abstract
Amartya Sen picks out democracy as the crowning achievement of the twentieth century. It has to be admitted that it is possible to think of many other developments in the century worthy of praise, from widespread advances in economic welfare to space travel. But I think the establishment of democracy deserves to be placed at the top of that century’s achievements. This chapter shows how democratic governance has become a widely accepted and celebrated guide to how we should make decisions on a collective basis in our societies. It explores the nature of this democratic governance, arguing that democracy is a system worth defending and showing that it is not just a ‘Western’ idea but also a universal value. The chapter continues by examining the spread of democratic practice. It concludes by looking at some of the countervailing forces and challenges faced by democracies. Nevertheless the overall message of this chapter is: hooray for democracy.
Gerry Stoker

2. Global Dissatisfaction with Politics

Abstract
The opening quotation from Harold Laski was written to describe the Western democracies in the middle of the Great Depression in the late 1920s and early 1930s. It reminds us that cynicism and disillusionment with politics and the democratic system were quite widespread in earlier periods of history. Unemployment, large-scale poverty and the seeming incapacity of the system to respond gave a distinctive flavour to the disillusionment of the 1930s. There were fears – some of them realized in the build up to and aftermath of the Second World War – that because of political failures people would give up on democracy.2 The atmosphere of the Cold War in the 1950s as noted in the preface to this book in part encouraged Bernard Crick to write his inspirational book in Defence of Politics that was first published in 1962. Later in the 1960s in the context of the Vietnam War and protests there was a surge of interest in political alienation in the United States and other countries.3 In the 1970s there was a wave of concern about the ‘ungovernability’ of democracies,4 and a worry that people would give up on democracy because there were too many demands from citizens and not enough capacity on the part of governments to respond. These fears proved largely unfounded as a generation of politicians responded with programmes to limit government. There followed as noted in Chapter 1 a period of expansion for democracy with the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of dictatorships in other locations.
Gerry Stoker

3. Explanations for Political Disenchantment

Abstract
In this chapter, I explore twelve explanations for the growth in disenchantment with the way that politics is practised in democracies (see Table 3.1). The first common way of explaining the rise of disenchantment is based on the idea that there has been some sort of structural shift in societies that in turn has impacted on the processes of politics. Three variations around this theme are examined. The first is premised on the idea that societies have got thinner or weaker in terms of their civic organizations and sense of togetherness as citizens have withdrawn to their homes, their TVs and new technology. The second is similar in its concerns but looks to the rise of the consumer society as the main factor in explaining a lost capacity for citizenship. The third variation in this group takes a rather different line and focuses on how increased inequality in societal income, education and wealth has led to the increased exclusion of groups from the political process.
Gerry Stoker

4. The Politics of Mass Democracies: Designed-In Disappointment?

Abstract
This chapter explores a different explanation of the global rise of political disenchantment to those examined so far. It takes up the theme suggested by John Dunn, that people are disappointed by politics because they do not understand it. This chapter argues that the increased discontent with formal politics can, at least in part, be explained by a number of misunderstandings of the political process that have taken hold in the discourse of democracies. As a result, many citizens fail fully to appreciate that politics in the end involves the collective imposition of decisions, demands a complex communication process and generally produces messy compromises. What is more, the chapter suggests that this problem has been compounded by the spread of market-based consumerism and the nature of individualism. Making decisions through markets relies on individuals choosing what suits them.
Gerry Stoker

The Pathologies of Political Practice

Frontmatter

5. The Decline of Citizen Engagement?

Abstract
This chapter examines the activism of ordinary citizens in democracies and their engagement in politics. It explores evidence that suggests a propensity for engagement that is widely but thinly spread, and is unevenly distributed. It further argues that the dominant form of engagement is moving from collective and intensive involvement towards more individualistic and ‘woolly’ political acts that have an episodic character. Systems of democratic governance are not so much groaning from the pressure of critical citizens but creaking from the impact of semi-detached but occasional assertive citizens. It would seem unlikely that new forms of participation using new technology will transform the fundamental dynamics of engagement, although it may change its form. As John Hibbing and Elizabeth Theiss-Morse argue, people want to be involved, but on their terms and on an intermittent, piecemeal and sporadic basis.
Gerry Stoker

6. The Professionalization of Politics: The Emergence of Multispeed Activism

Abstract
Politics is mostly done in detail and with intensity by a small group of semiprofessionalized and specialist actors. As Paul Whiteley and Patrick Seyd argue, politics would be impossible without that input. This world of highintensity activism and its wider hinterland is examined below. The trend has been for many citizens to allow these professionalized activists to take a bigger role, reserving for themselves less time-consuming functions as funders or supporters. Attention is focused, initially, on party activists and concentration is then directed towards the rise of lobby organizations that represent the interests of a vast array of citizens and seek influence on their behalf. Interest is also focused on protest activism: the movements, radical NGOs and protest politics groups that give spark and challenge to the political world. These various forms of activism overlap to some degree, and sometimes provide recruits from one to the other; in some cases, individual citizens may be engaged in all these forms of activism.
Gerry Stoker

7. The Dangers of Cynicism

Abstract
Groucho Marx, the US humourist, probably now has more followers who share his understanding of politics than Karl Marx, the father of modern communism. This chapter asks why cynicism matters and might have negative consequences. It looks for where cynicism about politics might originate. Is it because we have come to see many public aspects of society through the eyes of neoliberal style public choice theory? It is because politicians lie more? Or it is because the media presents politics in a way that encourages cynicism? There is something in all those explanations but the final section of the chapter explores another idea: that cynicism reflects a sense that the balancing of the books central to our understanding of politics as a moral practice is more difficult to achieve in today’s democracies.
Gerry Stoker

8. The Perils of Populism

Abstract
Populists claim to call it as it is. The political world is divided into antagonistic groups: the people versus the corrupt elite; the people versus those who don’t belong. The perils posed by modern populism come from its tendency to demonize opponents and the political environment in general, and from its failure to appreciate the complexities of democratic practice and the communities in which we live. Populism too often collapses into the politics of blame and simplistic solutions. But it constitutes an important force in modern politics and can be seen directly as a political response to the concerns of democratic disillusionment. Part of the appeal of populism today is that it captures the frustration felt by many about the way politics works and what it delivers or fails to deliver.
Gerry Stoker

Searching for Solutions

Frontmatter

9. Politics for Amateurs

Abstract
E. J. Dionne is right that politics is not just for experts. Democracy should give ordinary people a say in the affairs that govern their lives. You don’t have to be an expert. You don’t have to be a professional. You don’t have to be wealthy. You don’t have to be socially gifted. Admittedly, having any one of these characteristics might well give you an advantage when you do engage, but they are not a precondition for entry. The era of mass democracy has established a commitment to realize the great democratic norm: ‘every individual potentially affected by a decision should have an equal opportunity to affect that decision’.2 The magic in that formula appears to have been lost in the practice of democratic politics if the analysis presented by Parts I and II of this book is anything to go by. Part III of the book, therefore, focuses on the search for solutions, and is premised on a conviction that we need to construct a politics fit for amateurs. Politics in democratic societies needs more than effective leaders and activists and a silent and patient citizenry.
Gerry Stoker

10. Reviving Political Institutions

Abstract
The bulk of this chapter is taken up with measures that will enable people to re-engage with representative politics. The divide between professional politicians and amateur voters is too great, and we need reforms that will give amateurs greater confidence in systems of representation and in their capacity to exercise influence through them. Representation involves an active exchange between citizen and representative.2 Too often our thinking has been clouded by the minimalist understanding of representation outlined in Chapter 9, whereby all that matters for the citizen is the act of choosing their representative: once chosen, the representative acts and citizens are passive. But it should not be assumed that citizens are mere passive players. As David Plotke suggests, the divide between representative and participative democracy is not as great as some believe. If representation is going to be meaningful and powerful – to do its democratic job – it requires a sustained connection between the representative and those who are represented. Citizens should have the capacity for an active exchange with their representative, not just as supplicants looking for a helping hand to cope with a maze of government policies and services but as constituents whose interests the representative is there to represent.
Gerry Stoker

11. Creating a New Civic Arena

Abstract
I agree with Ken Newton. As Chapter 10 demonstrates, my starting point for renewing politics is about making good representative politics. But equally it is important to consider how citizens might be enabled to take on better their role as political amateurs. This chapter is not about to provide moral exhortations about the need for us all to improve our behaviour and get active, or offer romantic visions of how communities can learn to live with one another in harmony. My understanding of how to create a new civic arena is more pragmatic and practical in its focus. There are strong empirical grounds for hope that citizens can extend their political citizenship but equally it is difficult to ignore the cautioning observations of Ken Newton that the task of engaging citizens in politics on a sustained basis is a path strewn with many obstacles. My response is again somewhat pragmatic. The best approach is to throw the kitchen sink at the problem. There are lots options to consider – they all have some strengths and weaknesses – and they all should be on the reformers’ agenda.
Gerry Stoker
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