When we chose the topic “Authority in Transformation” it wasn’t yet clear how important it would become in June 2016. The Brexit referendum is an unfiltered manifestation of the call for more direct democracy. Direct democracy means acting without representation. It is considered the purest expression of the will of the people. This sounds good, but at the same time means that elected representatives can no longer do what they were elected for—considering issues and making decisions. Direct democracy undermines the authority of representative democracy.
“The parliament is the heart of democracy”
Paul Kirchhof, former judge of the German Federal Constitutional Court
Does Direct Democracy Produce Good Results?
The Brexit decision clearly shows the disadvantage of direct democracy. The valid interests of a minority are abandoned in favor of a vocal majority. 73% of young British people aged between 18 and 24 voted “remain.” As they rightly point out it is they who will suffer the consequences. If we call for more direct democracy, we need to consider the importance of the principle of majority rule. The essence of representative (parliamentary) democracy is the protection of minorities.
Social media such as Twitter and Facebook prove that geopolitical questions are not the focus of their users’ interests. Of the 10 most popular tweets none refers to politics, and Facebook too shows that there is a trend towards no politics.
Past decisions have shown that plebiscites are not always conducive to the cause in question. For instance, US cities that held plebiscites on the health-enhancing fluoridation of water generally rejected it. Cities where the decision was left to representatives generally approved it. In Germany, Hamburg serves as an example where direct democracy turned into a “democracy of prevention.”
Direct Democracy and the Authority of Political Parties
After Brexit, Great Britain is divided. Plebiscites produce polarization where political parties enforce consensus. “Who, if not it [the party], can create a transnational and democratic public sphere that transcends the self-referentiality of national thinking?” RAINER FORST, ZEIT, 04.05.2016
Searching for and finding compromises is the essence of the democratic process. The UK referendum suggests that the state has shifted too much of its responsibility onto its citizens. Authority and responsibility cannot be separated. A representative is elected to represent the voters’ interests. He makes decisions in all conscience, independent of his electorate’s approval. According to English statesman and philosopher Edmund Burke, this is what it means to take responsibility.
The Predictability of Results
Many people have been blindsided by the decision in favor of Brexit. It contradicts the predictions. Why were British pollsters wrong for the second time? It is probably not a problem of technology or interpretation but rather the fact that we are entering an era of such diversity and inconsistency that polling has become ineffective.
There is always a mystery in how millions of individual voters make up their minds. It is the mystery of democracy. TIMOTHY GARTON ASH
“As an English European, this is the biggest defeat of my political life”
Timothy Garton Ash
A Fault of the Authorities in Society and Politics
It would, however, be quite wrong to blame it all on Them. Look in the mirror and say after me: we are also to blame. How did we, as educators, allow such a simplistic narrative to go unchallenged by good history and civics taught at school and university? How did we, as journalists, allow the Eurosceptic press to get away with it, setting the daily news agenda for radio and television as well? How can we pro-Europeans have so underrated the painful sense of losing out from Europeanization which now screams through the vote of the other half of England? TIMOTHY GARTON ASH
Fall of the Berlin Wall and Brexit
The origins of this debacle are as much European as British. As so often, the seeds of disaster were sown in the moment of triumph; of nemesis in prior hubris. It would be an exaggeration to say that a wall will be going up at Dover because a wall came down in Berlin, but there is a connection nonetheless. In fact, there are three connections. As their price for supporting German unification, France and Italy pinned Germany down to a timetable for an overhasty, ill-designed, and overextended European monetary union. As a result of their liberation from Soviet communist control, many poorer countries in eastern Europe were set on a path to EU membership, including its core freedom of movement. And 1989 opened the door to globalization, with spectacular winners and numerous losers. TIMOTHY GARTON ASH
Future of the EU
As Europeans […] we [the British] must do everything we can to ensure the European Union learns the lessons of this stinging reverse. For if the EU and the eurozone do not change, they will be engulfed too, by a thousand continental versions of Farage. And with all its faults, the union is still worth saving.TIMOTHY GARTON ASH