And more and more, the report concludes, Germans are disappointed with democracy within the country. This is especially true for those living in eastern Germany.
Last year, only 38 percent of eastern Germans thought democracy was a good form of government, the study said. In 2000, it was 49 percent. ~Deutsche Welle
Put yourself in the shoes of the average German from the old DDR. Those who grew up under the old system probably find the transition under the unified Germany rather unpleasant and jarring (arguably, the hit success of Goodbye, Lenin! with its nostalgic DDR kitsch tapped into some sentiment that could view the DDR with both fondness and contempt); the roughly 20% unemployment in the east (the rate is higher in some of the eastern Laender) can hardly encourage a lot of enthusiasm for the status quo; there have probably been a lot of unreasonable expectations of the “why doesn’t Rostock look like Frankfurt-am-Main by now?” variety that assume there is some magic connection between having elective government and having an economic engine that generates massive wealth and that this wealth will be widely distributed to everyone by dint of being a member of the same country. People who talk about democratic capitalism can only exacerbate this problem, as they imply that there is some necessary connection.
These expectations of fortune and success under democracy are silly expectations, but if you grew up associating the wealthy Wessis with democracy and freedom, you might be forgiven for thinking that the acquisition of democracy and freedom (of some sort) should lead to greater economic success. When that doesn’t happen, you assume something must be wrong with the democratic system rather than with, um, you.
Fundamentally, the reason why most people in the West say they like democracy is because they think it is a means to get them the stuff they could not have under another system, and in this case they quite literally mean “stuff,” as in material things and wealth. Indeed, one of the main selling points of the superiority of “democratic capitalism” over communism during the Cold War was the former’s ability to get people lots of stuff; the austerity of communism was held up as if it were some kind of insult, when it was the oppression, not the lack of material things, that mattered.
When the people expecting it do not get the stuff, they believe that the system has failed them. In other cases, the democracy may be nominal or it may become the property of the plutocrats–as in Panama–and disillusionment with the promises of democracy follows swiftly. Panama in particular has shown high levels of disapproval of democracy and strong potential for preferring authoritarianism because of the deeply corrupt nature of Panamanian democracy, alluded to so well in The Tailor of Panama (one of the best anti-interventionist films of the last 30 years), which is not at all surprising. Democracy does not guarantee either eunomia or prosperity, and quite frequently results in neither, and expectations of either are misplaced and will inevitably lead to disappointment. The question is not why so many people in eastern Germany are losing faith in democracy, but why so many in Germany or anywhere else still have faith in it.
Of course, there is a good argument that it is irrational to blame the political system for your region’s economic failure, but popular preferences are very often a mix of rational interests mixed with a lot of irrational, muddled thinking. It is generally easier to write off an entire system. That does not mean that you are wrong to write it off, but it does suggest that you may never find anything satisfactory if you assume that the fault is in the system and not in yourself. Democracy itself contributes to this error because it encourages people to project their own failures onto the collective of “the people” and thus avoid responsibility by attributing the problem to “all of us” and saying that this is a problem that “we” need to solve. It is, of course, the priorities and values of the people in the system (in theory) that will dictate the people’s relative success or failure. One of the problems with democracy is that it gives people all of the wrong priorities and many of the worst values, starting with ingratitude and laziness and working down from there.
This is perhaps a crude portrait and possibly unfair to many Germans in the east who have not soured on German democracy (which is, incidentally, a system far more constrained and limited in its political options than even our own, if such a thing were possible), but I think it must explain part of the reason for the disenchantment. Germans in the west have much greater confidence in democracy as a good form of government, which makes sense since their material conditions are remarkably better than those in the east:
That percentage for Germans in the western part of the country was higher, with 80 percent in 2000 and 71 percent in 2005 believing it was a positive form of government.
This should serve as a warning: support for democracy can often be very broad but also very shallow. It receives as much widespread enthusiasm as it does because there is a common, but mistaken impression that it has some connection to prosperity, and when that prosperity falters or disappears there can be a large loss of confidence that paves the way for other kinds of radical mass movements.
Democracy is unusually vulnerable to this disillusionment in the modern age, because it has tied its identity in the West to social welfarism and the competence (ha!) of the managerial state, which perversely makes the performance of government managers and the conditions of society measurements of the worth of democracy. By making management of the economy a central preoccupation of government, economic failure redounds to the discredit of democratic government, even if the government has no direct role in economic problems. When the managers fail to run things well, and democracy fails to provide “the safety net,” the many will seek alternative solutions. Countries with people suffering from unreasonably high expectations, Eurosclerosis and a broken social democratic model (we suffer from two out of three of these, by the way) are at risk of losing confidence in democracy, or at least in the particular system of democratic government that currently exists as that government increasingly fails to meet those unreasonable expectations and cannot “provide the goods” that it has no role even trying to provide. The flaw is not that democracy fails to deliver the goods, but that it very often promises to do things for people through government that they ought to be doing for themselves. In its inculcation of dependency and apathy, it is the perfect breeding ground for future despotism.