Olivia Mitscherlich-Schönherr teaches philosophical anthropology with a focus on boundary issues in life at the University of Philosophy in Munich
With the fall corona wave, we are at a crossroads in dealing with the crisis. We face the alternative of making public the political learning successes we have achieved over the course of the easing of recent months or taking another step in social learning.
In the Corona months, we went through social learning processes by not only fundamentally changing the political measures to deal with the Corona crisis, but also by rethinking the political standards for dealing with the crisis. From a science-intensive drug-oriented corona policy in “lock-down”, we have switched to a holistic, multiple approach to the crisis.
At the latest in view of the rapid increase in the number of infections, our renewed holistic and multiple approach to the Corona crisis will be challenged in turn.
In order to intelligently shape the current situation, we are essentially obliged to keep in mind different norms: protection from infection and the education of our children, the stability of our economic order, the burden on vulnerable populations and the desire for it. Break out of the stressful daily life.
The democratic representative system must also learn
At the same time, we are also challenged by the way we make political decisions about the upcoming Corona measures. In the context of our representative system, the political decisions that have been handled by the political representatives.
The Corona resolutions passed by federal and state governments in recent weeks, which are of great importance to our daily lives, are not only inconsistent – as everyone has complained. They often give the impression to the general public that they are the result of opaque compromises. But along with the comprehensibility of the reasons, public acceptance of the measures is declining.
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The current coincidence of high case numbers and the loss of authority of the political elite marks a turning point. Major political decision-makers seem to have a tendency to pull the cord: to switch back completely to the norms of virology, to make sharp interventions in public life and to enforce strict adherence to it.
This would further promote the alienation of political elites and the wider population; and the biopolitical learning successes we have achieved in our careful handling of the crisis would be abandoned.
The structural contradiction of liberal democracy is more evident
However, there is an alternative to this step backward: continuing the political corona learning process. In the current alienation of elites and the wider population, a structural contradiction arises within our liberal democracy: the contradiction between the liberal principles of the separation of powers and representation and the democratic principle of self-determination for all.
Representative democracy is in crisis Photo: image stock & people
We need to address this structural deficit of our representative democracy here and now. For our liberal democracy, it does not just pose a problem of legitimacy: political self-determination has long been exercised by a minority, while the political influence of the vast majority is limited to the choice of the few who decide on their behalf.
Of course, under the circumstances of the second corona wave, our minority democracy is also facing a stability problem: it is unclear whether and how we as democrats will weather the current crisis well.
Citizen councils could make up for the shortage
With the currently imminent transformation of our political approach to the Corona crisis, it would be worth trying an instrument that has been used with great success in several European and non-European states to address the structural deficits of the Corona crisis. to bridge representative democracy: the citizen councils and popular assemblies.
Citizen councils operate for a limited time and focus on controversial socio-political issues – such as how to deal with the corona crisis. They are not legitimized by elections, but by being equally shaped by lotteries of all population groups.
In this they distinguish themselves not only from parliaments, but also from expert bodies such as the Ethics Council or the Federal Constitutional Court, in which the debates on controversial political issues are in turn taken over by political elites.
In the present day, a nationwide Corona Citizens’ Council would be able to make all stakeholders heard: freelancers as well as skilled workers in the auto industry, party-loving youth such as residents of retirement homes, parents as educators and teachers.
Ireland called a citizens’ assembly during the financial crisis
A Corona Citizens’ Council should not replace the representative system, but complement it – thus contributing to its redemocratization. In terms of design, one can learn in particular from the “Citizens Assembly”, which was created during the financial crisis in Ireland and which was very successful precisely thanks to its integration into the representative system.
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In Ireland, the government and parliament not only approved the convening of the citizens’ assembly, but also appointed a chairman and a scientific advisory board, and set up a parliamentary committee to prepare its recommendations for parliamentary debates. The rules under which the “Assembly” met were given to itself. She was also free to invite other scientific experts on specific topics. This ensured their independence from the political elite. The recommendations of the Irish Citizens’ Assembly on issues of abortion law and same-sex marriage have sparked wide public debate and have served Parliament as a model for – socially supported – constitutional changes.
The federal government should now organize the draw for councilors
The federal government could build on Ireland’s recipe for success by setting the conditions for a nationwide Corona Citizens’ Council. To do this, she would have to organize the draw for the council members and convene a broad advisory board from the different currents of the natural, human and social sciences dealing with the corona crisis.
Next year, the Corona Citizens’ Council could meet in digital form over a weekend to discuss the controversial questions of the corona policy: which instruments – from contact restrictions to tracing apps to vaccinations – do we want to use in the corona crisis? Should their application be mandatory and how should violations be punished? When and how do we want to relax which restrictions?
How can we ensure that people living in precarious circumstances are not disproportionately affected by the pandemic? How can we protect the vulnerable population groups of the elderly and people with previous illnesses? In the current crisis, how can we meet our global foreign policy obligations – especially with regard to refugees at the EU’s external borders? According to what criteria do we want to distribute the corona resources? And how can we take environmental standards into account in particular?
In the case of council work, the elected citizens’ councils – according to the Irish model – should be brought to a common knowledge level by the advisory council. Based on the shared knowledge, the various aspects of corona policy should be debated in small groups and joint recommendations should be adopted in plenary at the end of the weekends and presented to the public for discussion.
If a Corona citizens’ council wants to contribute to the sustainable redemocratization of our country, the government and parliament should consider its recommendations in their corona measures. Even if the Corona Citizens’ Council did not work fast enough for the decisions now under discussion, with its creation we would have achieved a participatory expansion of our representative democracy. In the long run, we could benefit from this in dealing with explosive socio-political challenges such as the climate crisis.