Elitism, Populism, and European Politics

By Jack E. S. Hayward | Go to book overview
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Introduction
Mediocre Élites Elected by Mediocre Peoples

RALF DAHRENDORF

While I was thinking about the theme of the First Europaeum Conference, I was struck by the remark of one of the Fellows of St Antony's who had just come back from Venezuela. He told me that Caracas is at this moment ( September 1993) plastered with graffiti of a political nature, of which one says: 'a mediocre president elected by a mediocre people'. Reflecting on this phrase, I knew that it describes what I want to talk about: mediocre élites elected by mediocre peoples in Europe.

The apparent gap between the electorate and its leaders in Europe and elsewhere in the world has reminded me of my own entry into politics, German politics at the time, in the late 1960s. Some of the speeches I made had as their main subject something that was then called a 'credibility gap' between the leaders and the electorate. Not only was the credibility gap much discussed, but there were a great many conferences in the early 1970s with subjects like 'Democracy in Crisis', to quote the title of the book produced by the Trilateral Commission in 1973. One might be tempted to think of long cycles of the disenchantment of the electorate with its leaders, cycles perhaps of something like twenty years: the early 1990s, the early 1970s, the early 1950s, the early 1930s, the early 1910s, the early 1890s. But then I have never been a great believer in these Kondratieff metaphysics, so I discarded the idea at this point.

Returning to reality, it is striking that by the time the big academic volumes about the disillusionment of the early 1970s were published, mostly on the subject of governability, the countries of Europe, of North America, and of some other parts of the world had actually found a new stability. Indeed they had found not only a new stability, but

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This is an edited version of the opening address to the Europaeum Conference on 17 September 1993.

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