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Is Europe Experiencing an Age of Post-democracy?

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Politics
Wordcount: 1946 words Published: 8th Feb 2020

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This essay will explain and evaluate whether Europe is experiencing an age of post-democracy using a range of literature and examples. Democracy can be defined as “a system of government based upon free and fair elections, with universal suffrage and respect for civil and political rights” (Kubicek, 2017, p.34). Post-democracy is a term coined by Colin Crouch (2004) and can be used to describe how in society we still have democracy such as the right to vote in elections, but it is becoming less effective, which will be explored further.

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Firstly, “a post-democratic society is one that continues to have and to use all the institutions of democracy, but in which they increasingly become a formal shell” (Outhwaite, 2017, p87). This highlights how membership and belonging to party has hollowed out as there is no participation (Dommett, 2005).  Thus, to explain this, a post-democratic society in Europe is the way that politics is distorted by elites, and how political parties are seen more or less the same and not many options where voting is concerned (Crouch, 2004). An example could be in the recent UK elections, and how there are different parties such in the United Kingdom such as the Labour, Conservatives or Liberal Democrats and although they may have opposing views they have similarities and can be argued there is not much choice. In addition to this, the public services were privatised, turning these services into investments (Mendieta, 2015). Therefore, it indicates how the government have less control over these services politics and now the main aim is to make profit rather than help citizens. Furthermore, this means that the interests of businesses are put first.

Secondly, the reasons as to why a post-democracy occurs is firstly due to globalisation, as businesses and corporations hold a lot of power over governments and European states (Crouch, 2014). For example, if these corporations do not like regimes in one country, they can move to another which meets their needs, this is due to the idea of neo-liberalism. Crouch (2004) argues that New Labour politics is a prime example of post-democracy and how there two contrasting views of how it how it promoted a change for politics discourse but was similar to centre right and neo-liberal views. However, although that was defined as post-democratic we have seen a change in politics such as Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party, who rejects New Labour views and examples of his political views are to renationalise the railways (Schenner, 2016). Therefore, the notion of post-democracy can be challenged.

Furthermore crouch (2004) argues that in society there has been a disappearance of social classes which is seen as indication of post-democracy. Thus, a democratic society challenges class inequality. In a post democratic society, it hard for people certain groups of people to identify with one political party. For example, the traditional working-class identity has declined in relation to politics. This is because political discourse is no longer in the interests and class interests are difficult to recognise (Mendieta, 2015).

In addition, media and democracy play a vital role as technology has increased the way in which citizens interact within politics. Crouch (2004) argues that the tabloid media uses soundbites and simple language and how it is not political but not relating to speech of the ordinary people. Furthermore, media is concentrated into a group of small owners, and reproduce the same news (Fenton, 2016). This emphasises how we are presented with information and options which make citizens believe they have a choice when in reality it is limited. Furthermore, examples from all over Europe where false information and fake news is spreading. For example, in Italy in 2017 fake stories were shared on Facebook before the election which can help distort political views of the users. This links to echo-chambers and how people only see information based on their own beliefs and people who share these beliefs (Sunstein, 2006).  Social media for example can reinforce these views. This suggests that citizens views are rarely challenged. Thus, in order for the media to be democratic the concentration needs to be more larger and divers in order to have more political views and not about the main aim should not be about profit. In addition, platforms such as social media can resolve post-democracy as it means individuals can be more actively involved as it can give many citizens a voice. However, it could be that actually the media creates negative view of politicians even though most of them are trying to make a change. Nevertheless, it is evident that the media is seen as neo-liberal as it has power and control over politics and profit thus highlighting a post-democratic society (Fenton, 2016).  

Additionally, direct democracy is a term used to describe looks at democracy for society as a whole, this is different to representative democracy which focuses on the individual (Grugel, 2002). An example, the EU referendum or Brexit in 2016, was about United Kingdom leaving or staying in the EU. It can be argued that it was characterised by untruthful statements, simple answers that made it seem easier to leave the European Union and the focus of Immigration. This has led to conflict within those who voted and between politicians, which links to the idea of populism. Furthermore, it is argued by Crouch that direct democracy is about the power and influence of those are part of the elite and can afford superior campaigns (Five minutes with Colin Crouch, 2013). Harkening back to the definition of democracy, these types of debates and referendums can create and interesting discourse that are inclusive of many citizens. However, it seems that there is a divide between the interests of the wealthy groups and ordinary people and can lead to the decline in votes. Thus, using this case it is evident that voters will not have high expectations and it is difficult to see how this is democratic. 

Moreover, Mouffe (2005) argues that European neo-liberal views in society are dominant and no alternatives are used. Therefore, it can be argued that this has increased populist views. Mudde (2004) explains how politicians use emotion and simplicity to gain votes. Although it should be noted that politics is not simple and is multifaceted and involves a range of complex debates, and there are a range of issues which do not have simple solutions. However, it could be argued that the simplicity helps the ordinary people to clearly understand politics, however this view is weak. Mudde (2004, p.543) defined populism as an “ideology that considers society to be ultimately separated into two homogeneous and antagonistic groups, ‘the pure people’ versus ‘the corrupt elite”. There is a right-wing populism who focus ln the elites and left wing who focus on globalisation and capitalism. It is argued that this type of political discourse is centred on the people (Mudde, 2004). This highlights how it is promoted that it gives citizens a voice as populists give them exactly what they want, based on mostly promises. This emphasises political conflict and is seen in European countries such as Italy and Hungary. Moreover, what challenges the notion of post-democracy is there has been an increase in involvement and association of citizens with the growth of parties such as the UK Independence Party and Scottish National Party or Syriza in Greece (Dommett, 2015). This highlights how there can be different ways to organise a political party, and the promotion of more political choice. However, just because these parties exist, the idea that Europe has moved away from post-democracy is not strongly supported.

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Furthermore, Mouffe (2005) argues that politics is about identity, she argues that identity helps individuals make sense of what is going on. It is argued that politics is not confrontational (Mouffe, 2005). This means that there is no difference in politics, it is just the same discourses being produced and may not be seen as interesting to citizens. This way politics can be seen as predictable and do not inspire citizens. In addition, it is argued that new political identities and choices will not exist and are controlled in post-democratic politics (Crouch, 2014).  

In conclusion, society is vastly changing thus it can be argued that politics just need to be adapted in order to meet these changes. Although, citizens are limited in their political views, therefore it can be argued that Europe is experiencing post-democracy. Furthermore, it is argued that a bottom up approach in politics emphasises the choice of citizens which is evidently is at the heart of democracy, however in post-democracy its politics is from a top down approach, thus leading to no options for citizens (Dommett, 2015). Current politics is very distorted due to rapid change, but profit is at the core of decision making in a globalised society. Furthermore, Immigration and identity are at the core of many European political debates. Finally, the term post-democracy needs to be examined further, in order for post-democratic problems be solved and change the way democracy in politics is promoted, which is needed for citizens to be active members within political discourses.



  • Crouch, C. (2004) Post-democracy. Malden, MA: Polity.
  • Dommett, K. (2016) “Post-Democratic Party Politics,” The Political Quarterly, 87(1), pp. 86–90. doi: 10.1111/1467-923X.12208.
  • Grugel, J. (2002) Democratization : a critical introduction. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave.
  • Kubicek, P. (2017) European politics. Second edn. London: Routledge.
  • Fenton, N. (2016) “Post-Democracy, Press, Politics and Power,” The Political Quarterly, 87(1), pp. 81–85. doi: 10.1111/1467-923X.12207.
  • Flinders, M. (2016) “The problem with Democracy”, Parliamentary Affairs, 69(1), pp. 181–203.
  • LSE (2013). Five minutes with Colin Crouch: “A post-democratic society is one that continues to have and to use all the institutions of democracy, but in which they increasingly become a formal shell”. Available at: http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/five-minutes-with-colin-crouch/ (Accessed:3November 2018).
  • Mendieta, E. (2015) “Post-Democracy: From the Depoliticisation of Citizens to the Political Automata of Perpetual War,” Juncture, 22(3), pp. 203–209. doi: 10.1111/j.2050-5876.2015.00861.x.
  • Mouffe, C. (2005) On the political. New York: Routledge.
  • Mudde, C. (2004) “The populist Zeitgeist”, Government and politics, 39(4), pp. 542-563.
  • Outhwaite, W. (2017) Contemporary Europe. New York:Taylor and Francis
  • Schenner J.K (2016) “Introduction: ‘post-Democracy’: Retrospect and Prospect,” Political Quarterly, 87(1), pp. 69–70. doi: 10.1111/1467-923X.12212.
  • Sunstein, C. R. (2006) Infotopia: how many minds produce knowledge. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


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