Anti-politics is the aversion of citizens to political institutions and elected political figures. In this article, IDI Senior Fellow Prof. Tamar Hermann and IDI researchers Yuval Lebel and Hila Zaban survey different types of anti-politics, distinguish between anti-politics and de-politicization, and present insights about Israeli anti-politics based on the findings of the 2008 Israeli Democracy Index.
What is Anti-Politics
Anti-politics, common in many countries, is the aversion of citizens to political institutions and even more so to the elected political figures.
This is how the English researcher Colin Hay describes the phenomenon in his book, Why We Hate Politics: "Once something of a bon mot, conjuring a series of broadly positive connotations—typically associating politics with public scrutiny and accountability—'politics' has increasingly become a dirty word. Indeed, to attribute 'political' motives to an actor's conduct is now invariably to question that actor's honesty, integrity or capacity to deliver an outcome that reflects anything other than his or her material self-interest— often, all three simultaneously."C. Hay, 2007. Why We Hate Politics, Cambridge: Polity Press: 1
Another English academic, Gerry Stoker, expresses a similar view: "It is clear that in the eyes of many people politicians are not the best advertisement for politics. Politics is often viewed as a rather grubby and unpleasant feature of modern life. People who take up politics as a trade or a vocation tend to attract more derision than admiration. Politics is something you apologize for, rather than being proud about."G. Stoker, 2006. Why Politics Matters: Making Democracy Work, Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan: 47-4
Carl Boggs, an American researcher, describes the phenomenon as well: "Politics has become the most denigrated and devalued of all enterprises, robbed of the visionary, ennobling and transformative qualities that not so long ago were associated with the great popular movements of the 1960s and the 1970s."C. Boggs, 2000. The End of Politics: Corporate Power and the Decline of the Public Sphere, New York and London: The Guilford Press: 12 In fact, "the words 'politics' and 'politicians' have become pejorative terms."J. Lewis, S. Inthorn, and K. Wahl-Jorgensen, 2005. Citizens or Consumers?, Maidenhead: The Open University Press, p. 5
Anti-politics may be manifested in many ways: an ongoing decline in voting participation; an unwillingness of people with leadership skills to run for office; obvious contempt towards politicians on the part of the public and the media; high rates of distrust in decision-makers; an unwillingness to participate in political processes, such as joining a party or taking part in political gatherings; the founding of civil society organizations that openly challenge the political structure and politicians.
In democracies, which are founded on the idea of representation, high levels of anti-politics can delegitimize the government completely. Moreover, anti-politics "releases" citizens from civil responsibility, because if the system is indeed beyond repair, there is really no point in investing resources to attempt to repair it, which may lead to an actual collapse of the democratic structure.'Anti-politics is a flight from responsibility, disguised as virtue' http://armsandinfluence.typepad.com/armsandinfluence/2004/05/power_and_antip.html
Types of Anti-Politics
There are different types, or levels, of anti-politics: from a fundamental rejection of politics and the political system, through a rejection of the current political system and a demand to replace it with another, to anti-politics which is limited to demands for certain structural and procedural political changes.
The best-known approach, which totally delegitimizes politics as a system, is the anarchist approach that claims that any type of state politics is in fact a form of oppression. The anarchists' stance is that "exploitation and government are two expressions of politics"M. Bakunin. See A. Yasur (ed.), 2004. Anarchism: An Anthology [Hebrew], Tel-Aviv, Resling: 56 . Yasur: 6. According to this point of view, politicians cannot truly be the people's representatives, because they are "an over-privileged few..., [who are] in fact elected by a rabble that is convened on Election Day, and have no idea why they should vote, or who they should vote for."M. Nelson, 1995. 'Why Americans Hate Politics and Politicians', PS: Political Science and Politics, 28 (1): 73
Another approach that fundamentally rejects politics in its secular form is based on the religious belief that public matters should be decided by religious commandments. Nelson explains many Americans' apprehension of politics by pointing out that American political culture rests on the belief that the government must act according to "higher law," which is the ultimate law.S. Zubaida, 1993. Islam, the People and the State: Political Ideas and Movements in the Middle East, London: I. B. Tauris: 1 Zubaida, an Israeli researcher, in his discussion of fundamentalist Islam, also claims that Islam is in fact a form of governance.See Boggs (Note 3) In some ways, one could claim that libertarianism, extreme forms of which can be found in the US to this day, is founded on anti-politics.See Nelson (Note 8): 72 - 77 This anti-political view matches the libertarian stance that political institutions are naturally interested in promoting their own interests, rather than those of the public.For a discussion of processes taking place in former communist countries in Eastern Europe see: A. Renwick, 2006. 'Anti-Political or Just Anti-Communist? Varieties of Dissidence in East-Central Europe and Their Implications for the Development of Political Societies', East European Politics and Societies, 20: 286-318; G. Eyal, 2000. 'Anti-Politics and the Spirit of Capitalism: Dissidents, Monetarists, and the Czech Transition to Capitalism', Theory and Society, 29: 49-92; J. Dryzek and L. Holmes, 2000. 'The Real World of Civic Republicanism: Making Democracy Work in Poland and the Czech Republic', Europe-Asia Studies, 52: 1,043-1,068; V. Tismaneanu, 2001. 'Civil Society, Pluralism, and the Future of East and Central Europe', Social Research, 68 (4): 979-991. For a discussion of Latin-America see J.P. McSherry, 1998. 'Politics of Antipolitics: The Military in Latin America', Journal of Third World Studies, 15 (1) (Spring): 301-305; E. Peruzzotti, 2002. 'Towards a New Politics: Citizenship and Rights in Contemporary Argentina', Citizenship Studies, 6 (1): 77-93 According to this approach the idea of representation is made absurd because the lone citizen, living in a small community, knows best how to promote his own interests, and any system that prevents him from doing so is intervening in the activity of the "Invisible Hand," which should be regulating the socioeconomic market.
As stated above, anti-politics can take the form of a demand to replace the current administration with a different one. This is common under authoritarian regimes, and is usually part of the public's wish to found a democratic regime to replace the existing authoritarian one. In these cases the anti-politics is based on democratization processes and is the result of longstanding resentment towards a political establishment which is not rooted in free elections and representation.For a discussion of populist governance in eastern Asia see: K. Jayasuriya and K. Hewison, 2004. 'The Antipolitics of Good Governance', Critical Asian Studies, 36: 571-591. For a discussion of military regimes in Latin America see McSherry.(Note 12) The flipside of this is a transition from a democratic regime to an authoritarian one—the authoritarian regime uses anti-politics as a method of justifying itself as opposed to the unsuccessful, corrupt and inefficient democratic regime that preceded it. Another way in which authoritarian regimes utilize anti-politics is to systematically exclude civilians from the political arena, while claiming that this kind of civilian involvement in the form of accepted political institutions - such as parties or free elections—can pose an obstacle to the efficient management of the country.R. Putnam, 1995. 'Bowling Alone: America's Declining Social Capital', Journal of Democracy, 6: 65-78 There are some aspects of anti-politics in communalism as well. This school of thought proposes the community structure as a basis for proper social order and accuses national political institutions of having a negative effect on trust between citizen and state, as well as amongst citizens (the erosion of social wealth).See also A. Etzioni, 1993. The Spirit of Community: Rights, Responsibilities and Communitarian Agenda, New York: Crown Publishers Communalism can be a countermeasure for the state's inability to manage public affairs, founded on a desire to withdraw into smaller social frameworks, which are less alienating than the huge and distant "state."So is the case in African countries, for example. See: V.Azarya and N. Chazan, 1987. "Disengagement from the State in Africa: Reflections on the Experience of Ghana and Guinea" , Comparative Studies in Society and History, Vol. 29, No. 1 , pp. 106-131
A third and common type of anti-politics is harsh criticism of an existing democratic system, and a demand for change, due to extreme dissatisfaction with three aspects of the political system's and politicians' functioning: inefficiency, inattentiveness towards citizens, and corruption. This kind of anti-politics is very common in many democracies today, and exists in Israel as well.
Anti-Politics and De-Politicization
It is important to emphasize the difference between anti-politics and de-politicization.This article does not refer to de-politicization on the decision-making level, which is an attempt (often supported by financial and international institutions) to disconnect national decisions - first and foremost monetary and fiscal ones - from "political," i.e. electoral and coalitional, considerations. Critics of this type of de-politicization on a decision-making level claim that it isolates decision-makers from the political and democratic process, immunizes them from accountability and removes them from the sphere of criticism necessary for retaining the people's sovereignty. See Hay: 91. The latter is to disregard what is taking place in the political arena, or to withdraw completely from politics. It can be put into practice in behaviors such as "exit,"A.O. Hirschman, 1978. 'Exit, Voice, and the State', World Politics, 31 (1): 90-107 a type of "mental emigration." As opposed to conventional emigration, those who choose to "exit" continue to live in the same place, but they voluntarily "exit" the public sphere, specifically the political one. They mind their own business, don't read political sections of the newspaper, don't watch the news on TV, don't vote, and avoid any kind of political activity.Statistics show that voting participation amongst the younger generation is significantly lower than in older age-groups, and this trend can be a sign that an entire generation is turning its back on institutional politics. For example: in the elections in the UK in 2001 only 39% of young voters participated; more people voted in the reality TV show "Pop Idol" that year than for the Liberal party (the third-largest party in those elections). See Lewis and others: 2. In the mid-twentieth century some political scientists praised low levels of political interest and portrayed it as a method of increasing democracies' political stability, as opposed to the bitter experiences of the '30s and '40s, when the public was recruited for political causes by totalitarian regimes. De-politicization can also develop when it seems that the political system is doing fine and dealing with current affairs appropriately, and that there is no need to for citizens to intervene. On the other hand, de-politicization can also indicate the hopelessness of the citizens in their ability to bring about change—the result of ongoing failed attempts to revive the political system.
Anti-politics, on the other hand, is far from political indifference. On the contrary, citizens are full of interests, stances, and emotions—albeit negative ones—towards anything "political." As a rule, they recognize the importance of the "political," and feel anger and frustration with the system, which is not fulfilling the tasks expected of it, and with decision-makers, who are not attentive to the public's needs and wishes, and who prefer to promote their own interests over the public's. The "anti-political" is not characterized by an "exit," and often shows increased interest in public issues, for example by creating sociopolitical and communal networks, or taking action through civil society organizations. More protests also characterize an anti-political situation, rather than a de-politicized one, in which levels of political interest and activity are extremely low.See Lewis and others: 3.
As opposed to de-politicization, anti-politics is first and foremost a mental state that brings about criticism of the government after any decision or action, which is based on the assumption that the decision-makers are unworthy, the processes are defective, and political decisions are based on personal considerations: "There is evidence that the increasing number abstaining from the electoral process do so less out of disengagement with politics than with contempt for politicians."
An analysis of the findings of the 2008 Israeli Democracy Index can bring to light some obvious expressions of anti-politics in Israel todayA. Arian and others, 2008. The Israeli Democracy Index 2008: Between the State and Civil Society, Jerusalem: The Israel Democracy Institute http://www.idi.org.il/events1/Events_The_President's_Conference/2008/Pages/2008_main.aspx:
- Distrust in democratic institutions—the Knesset, the government, the Supreme Court, political parties and more. Levels of trust in these institutions have been decreasing constantly, and are getting worse. Current levels of distrust suggest the possibility that we are on the brink of total delegitimization of the authorities.
- Much has been written about the ongoing decrease in voting rates.If we examine the last three elections in Israel, we will find that in 1999 voting participation was 78.7%, in 2003 - 68.9%, and in 2006 it reached an all-time low of 62.5%. The rate of citizens who have a preferred party that aptly represents their own views is less than 50%. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that some have called openly to avoid the upcoming elections in order to shock the political system and the politicians (for example: "there is no choice but to treat the legislative and executive branches with shock-treatment. The trend that started last elections - of lower rates of voting indicating dissatisfaction with the political system—must be strengthened by not voting."Y. Nitzan, July 15th 2008. "Don't Vote in the Elections" [Hebrew], nrg.co.il: http://www.nfc.co.il/Archive/003-D-30602-00.html?tag=22-02-28
- The disposition of the Israeli public today is that the political system is disinterested in the public's opinions and needs, and has ceased to fulfill its obligations (for example: "in questions of leadership, deciding between opposing stances, standing fast in the face of opposition - in these questions the government speaks without action. And these are the elements that comprise the public's frustration: words that are not backed by actions."N. Kalderon, July 20th 2008. "On Despair and Grievance" [Hebrew], ynet.co.il: http://www.ynet.co.il/articles/0,7340,L-3570330,00.html
- Above all, we hear that politicians do not posses enough moral values; that politics as a profession is fit only for those who are willing to bend their moral code (for example: "when the political elite is no longer trusted—the collapse of democracy is only a matter of time and circumstances. This is why corruption in all its forms is like poison being steadily pumped into a human body. [...] since the founding of the first European democracies in the 19th century, the question of ethics has always been the system's Achilles' heel. [...] in Israel as well, if we continue to ignore reality, the same claim will be made, and the day when our streets will be filled with the infamous battle cries that history remembers all too well—"they are all thieves" and "clean out the stables"—may be closer than we can imagine."Z. Starnhell, May 23d 2008, "The Citizen Understands Everything is For Sale" [Hebrew], Ha'aretz Online: http://www.haaretz.co.il/hasite/spages/986349.html