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Book Review No easy remedies for an ailing liberal democracy

Rupture: The Crisis of Liberal Democracy
By Manuel Castells
(Polity, £12.99)

MANUEL CASTELLS'S latest book has a wide sweep, going beyond his previous expertise in radical urban sociology to explore the nature of the rupture of the relationship between those who govern and the governed.

He starts from what he describes as the gradual collapse of a political model of representation and governance — liberal democracy itself. It isn’t that people have been rejecting the notion of democracy per se, he argues, rather that they have lost trust in democracy as it actually exists, or doesn’t actually exist, in so many countries today and his book focuses on the causes and consequences of this rupture, although without offering solutions.

The notion of the democratic deficit has a history in political studies but, in Castells's view, the current situation marks a new phase. Since the economic crisis of 2008, fraudulent banks have been rescued with taxpayers’ money while essential services affecting people’s lives have been cut — the effects of neoliberal globalisation in practice.

The consequent cynicism is part of a wider problem, he argues, pointing to the statistic that more than two-thirds of people on the planet think that politicians do not represent them and that governments are corrupt, unjust, bureaucratic and oppressive. Added to the current economic, social and political crisis, there have been acts of terrorism which, he points out, fuel fears of “the other.” This is the breeding ground for far-right populism, exemplified by the election of Donald Trump as US president in 2016.

Subsequent chapters explore the impact in Britain and the vote for Brexit and, while clearly argued, much of the discussion of Brexit and Trump may seem relatively familiar to Morning Star readers. The discussion of the collapse of traditional parties of both left and right in Macron’s France and the end of two-party politics in Spain may seem less familiar, however.

So, what of the evidence to support his thesis? Castells explains that the decision to omit the facts and figures that underpin his arguments was done in the interests of clarity and brevity, with the publishers agreeing to publish the background data on their website. Readers will come to their own conclusions as to whether this enhances or detracts from the print version under review.

Rupture concludes by referencing Antonio Gramsci’s view of his times, when the old order was dying while the new order was yet to be born. But what if there is no new order waiting to be born? Suppose the alternative were to be chaos — Rosa Luxemburg’s reflections on the possibilities of socialism or barbarism spring to mind.

Castells concludes on an uncertain note — learning to live in chaos, maybe? He provides no easy answers for a socialist way forward, to be sure.

 

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