Occupy-ers and democracy

Great little blogpost from Norman Geras about the Occupy movement’s rhetoric. Read it all – it’s not long – but here’s the most important thought:

It is impossible to credit that anyone of democratic mind could really think any protest demands to be heard and then acted upon, since this would amount to a norm of dictatorship… Therefore, one must suppose those thinking protest must be ‘made impossible to ignore’ believe they already represent the democractic will. And how, pray, do they know this? Even if the sense many Occupy-ers have that, in Jones’s words, ‘the overwhelming majority [of people] have divergent interests from those at the top’ is accurate, this is a fact about the breakdown of people’s interests and not about their political will. If you’re committed to democracy, any kind of genuine democracy, you still have to win this – popular opinion, popular will – and to demonstrate that you’ve won it. In Tahrir Square the protesters want the institutional means of having their democratic will registered. In many countries where these exist, there are protesters who seem to think such institutional means are of little account.

Agreed that protest is protest and democratic mandates are democratic mandates, and they aren’t the same thing.
I suspect, though, that the answer of the Occupy-ers would be that the democratic mechanisms in the UK and elsewhere have broken down the transmission of popular will from people to politicians – so much so that people’s real concerns actually cannot be registered, and that therefore they are in the same situation as the protestors in Tahrir. That feels like a self-aggrandising argument on the part of the occupy-ers (and it’s a challenge that their direct internal democracy can’t meet on a national or even local scale). However, for all I’d say that their attitude is wrong on the facts, it is at least a coherent response as an argument. 
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Published by Anthony Zacharzewski

Anthony Zacharzewski was one of the founders of Demsoc in 2006. Before starting work for Demsoc in 2010, he was a Whitehall civil servant and a local government officer.