Erosion of democratic legitimacy: When the view does not correspond to the reality


  • Gia Zhorzholiani


Democracy, Legitimacy, Participation, Georgia, Party


Most people believe that democracy gives them political power, and makes them rulers.That is why democracy is acceptable to the people and recognized by them. This view is the basis of the legitimacy of democracy .          The normative ideal of democracy both in the advanced democratic countries ("the West") and in the post-Soviet space that dominated the process of disintegration of the Soviet Union used to nourish this view and was following it. The accompanying liberal ideology, the absolute priority position of individual freedom in the hierarchy of values, further strengthened this basis of legitimation.             How consistent is this dominant view with the real order that has developed in the new post-Soviet states (Georgia)? In reality, we can see that power is exercised only by a small group of citizens. Contrary to the "popular" democratic view of the academic discourse on democracy, the democratic theory focuses on the analysis of real democracies and the study of it’s main features and their interrelationships. Real democracy is described as a competition for the selection of rulers (Schumpeter), as polyarchy (Dahl), as a means of the resignation of the electing rulers (Popper), as a counter-democracy (veto power over rulers - Rosanvallon) and others, and not an order, where demos (people) exercise of power. It is a paradox when real democracy and the view of democracy that legitimizes it do not coincide and contradict each other in many directions. This discrepancy significantly weakens legitimacy over time and under the influence of several factors, and in special cases leads to crisis, eroding the existing real democratic order and showing a tendency to transform political institutions and the political system. The trajectory of the transformation tendency can be both pro and anti-democratic. Democracy as the political power of all members of the demos was established in the era of mass parties when a significant portion of the demos was united (or actively supported) in the parties. In Europe, this was mainly due to the emergence of mass (so cold platform) left-wing parties - from the second half of the XIX century to the 70s of the XX century. Then begins the crisis of the parties, which is transformed into a crisis of party democracy. Legitimacy is strengthened by the importance of the participation factor: if the mechanisms of power-sharing and power distribution (both vertical and horizontal) are strong. This is possible only if the contradictions between political groups (masses that are government-oriented and have ambitions for appropriate responsibility) are not radically polarized. In other words, if the political opposition is focused on changing the policy of the government all the time (not even during the elections) and not the government itself. The government also is becoming radically polarized and unable to implement the mechanisms of sharing and distribution. The legitimacy is further weakened by the fact that power is exercised not only during elections but also in the period between elections when there is even higher inequality between different groups.


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