Just like with music, it’s also nice to hear celebrities living in science. In addition, entrance tickets are much more affordable. So last week I sat down at De Vereeniging in Nijmegen to listen to the philosopher Michael Sandel, professor of political science at Harvard University. And with me a few hundred other fans.
Sandel has long been deeply concerned about declining faith in politics and democracy. He sees distrust growing not just in his native United States, where the Capitol has been stormed, but around the world. And the Netherlands is no exception, with flags toppled and politicians threatened.
In Europe, Bosnians and Armenians are the least enthusiastic about democracy in their country, according to the Atlas of European Values. Scandinavians and Swiss are most likely to find their country democratic. This corresponds broadly to the rankings which classify countries according to the degree of democracy. They judge on factors such as: the regularity of elections, freedom of expression and the independence of journalists in their work?
The difference between measuring and asking
All of these factors also seem to matter when it comes to how residents rate democracy in their country. But they don’t explain everything. For example, according to the Freedom House ranking, it is not Bosnia and Herzegovina, but Azerbaijan which is the low point of European democracy. While Azerbaijanis in the Atlas seem quite satisfied.
The oil state on the borders of Europe has been ruled for twenty years by the dictator Ilham Aliyev. He was re-elected again in 2018. By openly cheating in the election, according to independent observers. For example, the results app reported a big lead for Aliyev a day before the election. And anyone who dares to protest, goes to jail. A more plausible explanation for satisfaction in the Atlas I don’t think people would dare to answer such a question honestly.
Judging less educated people more negatively about democracy than the most educated? How important do people think it is to live in a democracy? And do they play politics on a daily basis? See reviews in Europe on atlasofeuropeanvalues.eu/nl/ (choose ‘cards’).
Freedom House’s 10 most democratic countries are almost a European gathering. Only New Zealand and Canada fall between the two. Norway, Sweden and Finland all score a solid 10. Yet the Finns themselves give their democracy a 6.5 and in countries like France, Italy, the UK and In the Netherlands, people are also much less enthusiastic about democracy than the rankings indicate. suspicious.
Power and drive
Sandel studies this striking difference. He began his story in Nijmegen with fellow 19th century philosopher John Stuart Mill. At the time, Mill advocated an electoral system in which your education would determine the weight of your vote. Because those with more knowledge would make better choices.
” A good idea ? Sandel asked the room, which was probably full of highly educated people. Only a few have seen it; 99.9% thought it was downright undemocratic and unfair. “But,” Sandel continued, “your House of Representatives is almost 95 percent highly educated people. Is that democratic?” Humming and hesitation. The audience ultimately turned out to be fifty-fifty divided. No, not desirable, but undemocratic…? The more educated can also represent the less educated, right?
Since the 1950s and 1960s, politics and administration have increasingly been in the hands of highly educated people. A new elite, warns Sandel. He sees this as an important cause of polarization and growing distrust. Because a society in which success is reserved only for highly educated people indirectly labels others as losers.
Science journalist Marga van Zundert is one of the creators of the European Values Atlas (valuesatlas.eu) and draws on the social science data on which the Atlas is based for this series. Read it here previous columns back.
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