Customers of Versus Participants in: The Problem With the U.S. Left

While this is a description of the European left, it also seems relevant to the Democratic Party in the U.S. (boldface mine):

But Mair – an expert on the evolution of political parties and party systems – makes a strong case that leftwing parties in Europe today have become profoundly disassociated from their voters. This is in part because of ordinary people withdrawing from political parties – the membership of mass parties has collapsed over the last few decades. However, it is also because the elites of parties don’t rely on mass membership to provide resources – instead they rely on resources from the state and networks where they are firmly embedded with other elites. The result is that European political parties rather than representing their constituents to the state, tend to represent the state and its imperatives to their constituents.

This helps explain the extraordinary haplessness of mainstream leftwing parties faced with the politics of austerity….

European voters, mainstream European parties and European leaders have increasingly learned how to live without effective participatory democracy. And now it’s biting the social democratic left.

The key is the reliance on “networks where they are firmly embedded with other elites.” Many of these same elites that confer resources and legitimization–as well as a life after politics–are opposed to the desires of the Democratic rank-and-file. So we don’t get to have nice things.

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