From the Comments: Technocracy04-06-2012
From the Comments section, a reader writes to take issue with my post on the crisis of democracy in Detroit.
Who is saying that people do not want to govern themselves? When you speak of democracy, you seem to mean liberal democracy and its constitutional institutions. But there are also other conceptualizations of democracy, one of them being radical democracy, which is not so radical, as it only means giving power to the people or people acting together is power. In your article, you seem to equate the elites (who are supposed to represent their electors) or their desires and wants with the will of the people. This is why your argument fails and is not in touch with reality. You quickly seem to accept the popular assumption that people are immature and acting irrationally, by which you take away their agency and capacity of critical thinking, which I am sure you are aware are very cherished faculties of human condition Arendt's philosophy. First talk to the people, hear what they have to say about the current state of affairs and then come up with assumptions that are more in touch with the general state of mind of the people.
I guess my point is that the move toward technocracy is happening. We are around the world democratically electing politicians who are handing off power to non-democratically elected technocrats. This is happening in Europe and also here in the U.S. I am sure some of "the people" disagree with this. But more and more seem fine with it, which is the fact I was highlighting. I wrote the blog post to point out the fact, and I think it is a fact, that increasingly the voters are ok with technocratic interventions that subvert the excesses of democracy. My point is that this is a serious abdication of political responsibility and we should at least confront that fact.
Meanwhile, Detroit has agreed to a "consent agreement" that puts the city under a financial advisory board and a "program management director." According to this article in the NY Times, the board gives Detroit some continuing political involvement in its future, which has led many to doubt whether it will work.
“I just think it’s a toothless tiger,” said Pat O’Keefe, a Detroit-area financial consultant who has dealt with municipal turnarounds. “I just don’t think the political process has enough intestinal fortitude to make the restructuring changes they have to do in the short amount of time they have.”
Firstly, thank you for your response. It seems there was a misunderstanding on my part as to what position you were taking on the increasingly widespread hand-overs of (representative) power to technocrats and businessmen/economists. And I would still not entirely agree that the Greek or Italian people would easily “abandon democratic freedoms for the promise of a bailout” — the continuing anti-austerity protests last year and this year show that people (or at least one segment of the population) are not ready to relinquish their democratic freedoms and, apparently, have not been asked for opinion on the matter. Maybe the former prime minister Papandreou was going to hold a referendum on the matter, but we soon saw the shock and disapproving/paternalistic comments from the Troika.
A second question we need to consider is Gramsci’s dialectical couplet of coercion and consent in the hegemonic processes and practices of the (transnational) capitalist class that are imposing this neolibearl austerity logic. While there seems to be some sort of consent among the people that technocrats can do a better job (and are therefore more welcome to run the country in these times than elected politicians — why they came to hold this belief is another important issue to raise), we should not ignore the pressures that are rooted in coercive social relationships of the realm of necessity and the educative aspects of capitalist/neoliberal hegemony of which Brosio (2004, 49) warns us: “There is a tendency to stress Gramsci’s important development of hegemony, the role of persuasion and consent, the seemingly willing participation by subaltern groups in their own domination; however, he was not naive about the relationship of power to this persuasive hegemony.” So, let’s not so quickly come to the conclusion that the people have willingly and consciously aware relinquished their democratic freedoms in order to bring in the technocratic messiahs.