When the citizens of Saarland, Schleswig-Holstein, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, France, and Norway go and cast their votes, the issue of why the “casting” of votes doesn’t seem to work anymore becomes more and more pressing on each occasion.
Why do so many people feel left behind, excluded, and powerless when it comes to the forces that are propelling our society? What can be done to give these people their votes back without handing the arena of political discourse over to those trying to push their own bitter agendas by stoking the fire created by this feeling of powerlessness. But hold on a moment. Who are “these people” who need to have their votes given back to them, and who is meant to give them back?
The success of the populists all over Europe can in large part be attributed to the fact that they have stuck their fingers into the open wounds which have been allowed to fester with the democratic deficit of the EU, the effects of a neo-liberal economic system which puts profit above all else, and a exclusionary school system. The fact that in reality we are actually comparatively well off in Germany doesn’t change the feeling a growing number of people have that their voices are no longer being listened to.
In 1917, shortly before the end of the First World War, Rudolf Steiner instigated a political movement that developed liberty, equality, and fraternity as the central organising principles of a modern society: intellectual and cultural life requires liberty, a democratic state subject to the rule of law is based upon the principle of equality, and an economic system based upon the division of labour requires associative cooperation, which when followed through to its logical conclusion sooner or later leads to the global concept of fraternity. Although this political movement wasn’t successful, three significant movements in modern civil society have taken up the mantle of exactly these principles and together constitute a radical alternative to the immensely dangerous nationalistic movements of 2017:
Supplementing representative democracy with directly democratic plebiscites confers on citizens, i.e. the sovereign, a voice in between elections: participation is the modern form of equality. A system of unconditional basic income for all gives work its value again, because it removes the relationship of dependency that most people currently have with it, and would lead to the abolition of the unproductive, humiliating Hartz-IV welfare system. Associative cooperation is the modern form of fraternity. The freedom of people and society requires as its foundation a school system that itself possesses the spirit of freedom. Education requires diversity and free access in place of government regulation or monopolising economics. Free schools are the bedrock of a mature society.
If we truly want to oppose the populists, we need to further develop our society such as to afford each and every person the feeling that their opinion counts, and do it in such as way that they recognise it. What we currently need is not less, but more democracy, not less, but more solidarity, and not less, but more liberty. In reality, “these people” are us.
Henning Kullak-Ublick, class teacher from 1984 -2010 at the Flensburg Free Waldorf School; board member of the German Association of Waldorf Schools, the Friends of Waldorf Education and the International Forum for Steiner/Waldorf Education (The Hague Circle).