by Alan Posener
Die Welt / Welt am Sonntag / HIRAM7 REVIEW
With the German election drawing near, commentators have turned from castigating the politicians for the alleged lack of alternatives they present (bullshit, actually), to a more general wail of despair about an alleged crisis of democracy itself, as represented by the growth in the number of non-voters.
In the last election, we are told, non-voters were a bigger group than those who voted for Angela Merkel, and polls seem to indicate that the number of non-voters will be even higher this time around. Crisis! Bullshit again.
The point about democracy isn’t that everyone goes to vote. That’s what happens in dictatorships. The point about democracy is that I’m free to vote or not as I see fit. So if people don’t go to vote, that’s a sign that democracy is working.
The point about democracy isn’t that voting produces good governments. That’s patently not the case. The point about that democracy is that really bad governments can be voted out. (Good governments can be voted out, too.) Karl Popper once compared the democratic procedure to the procedure by which a scientific theory is defined. If a theory is scientific precisely because it can be falsified (J.B.S. Haldane’s famous “Precambrian rabbits” that would falsify Darwin’s theory of evolution), a government is democratic if it can be falsified – i.e. discarded – by the voters. If the voters choose not to – either by voting for the government or by not voting, i.e. not voting against it: well, that’s the way the democratic cookie crumbles.
As I said above, I don’t think the German election is boring at all. We have a clear choice: between Angela Merkel plus Walter Steinmeier and a continuation of the high-tax / high-spending CDU/CSU/SPD coalition, and Angela Merkel plus Guido Westerwelle and a CDU/CSU/FDP coalition dedicated to boosting growth through lower taxes. As a taxpayer, I know where I’m going to make my cross. It isn’t rocket science.
Ousting the Social Democrats from power will probably result in a putsch by the Left within the SPD, which will eventually lead to some form of rapprochement between the SPD and the “Linke”. This in turn will mean that in 2013 at the latest, probably much sooner, say 2011, a left-wing coalition will challenge Merkel’s right-of-centre government, and things will get really exciting again: How will the Greens react? Will they choose “Jamaica” in order to keep the extreme left out of power, or will they try to tame the left by joining a “Red-Red-Green” government?
And what will the electorate say? One good guess is: they won’t be staying at home.