Transformation of democracy
Max Weber conceptualised democratic politics in opposition to state action as an emotional endeavour. He saw political mobilisation and political engagement as necessarily passionate. Political action, according to Weber, is not only based on knowledge and does not only aim at truth and good order, but it also needs impulses and motivation. The sign of a good politician is ‘taking sides, struggle, passion — ira et studium’ (Weber, 2004: 54). In this respect Webers concept is quite similar to contemporary feminist theories that understand politics as affective (among others Berlant, 2010). The true politician, following Weber, is able to forge a unity between ‘hot passion and a cool sense of proportion in one and the same person’. In turn, he who is disposed to ‘[p]assion in the sense of a commitment to the matter in hand [Sachlichkeit]’ (Weber, 2004: 76; emphasis in original) must ‘be a hero - in a very literal sense’ (ibid.: 93). What Weber considers being the fine line in the emotional life of the politician evidently corresponds to the rough line through the genders. Primarily men possess such strength of character: politics is ‘chivalry’ (ibid.: 80) and opposed to acting ‘like old women’ (ibid.: 79).
The Weberian political anatomy of the body accounts for the core of 20th century politics. Politics remained coded as masculine. Even more, in Western Europe — and above all in Germany and Austria as a consequence of the manipulative-emotional political displays in National Socialism - the separation of politics from feeling was considered to be a normative precondition of democracy. Feeling and affect, according to the common belief, presented a danger for democracy. Neither the promises and programmes of politicians, nor the electoral decisions of citizens, should be emotionally driven; on the contrary, they ought to be supported by rational argument. Politicians should focus on the common good (and on the increase in votes), and voters on the realisation of their own interests through the party of their choice. Above all, however, political decisions of citizens and of politicians should be based on information and being informed (i.e. on knowledge). Knowledge and affect, as mentioned in Chapter 1, have been established in the political field of the second half of the 20th century as incompatible opposing terms, so that the emotionalisation of election campaigns was not an available strategy in Germany, Austria, or Switzerland for a long time — very much in contrast to the United States. Only in the 1970s did new social movements start to mobilise followers by displaying their emotional involvement under the motto, ‘the personal is political’, questioning the separation of public and private and paving the way for an affective political style. This mode of politics, however, was long excluded from the political system and only found entry with the Green Party.
At the beginning of the new millennium, the separation between democratic politics and feeling is increasingly suspended in the daily political business (Bargetz and Sauer, 2010). In our opinion political mobilisation in (post-) democratic constellations constitutes one moment of new governmental forms that give rise to new subject relations. The contemporary form of‘mediocracy’ (Meyer, 2001) is downright characterised by the boundary crossing of politics as a rational, knowledge-based form of action and politics as passion and engagement (this is even more true for the Internet and social media; Pajnik and Sauer, 2017). For quite some time, political media formats have exhibited and succeeded with a combination of politics and emotion, and politicians increasingly display feelings as the basis of legitimation and as a resource of identity politics. Factual argumentation becomes unfeasible in short media timeslots; the credibility of politicians rather depends on personal involvement or private-familial empathy as evidence of authenticity.
The visual mass media, especially television, play a crucial role in the personalisation of politics. Donald Horton and Richard Wohl (1956: 216) showed early on in the U.S. context that so-called ‘para-social relationships’ regularly occurred between media ‘personae’ and the audience, spreading the illusion of direct, intimate familiarity' with television stars amongst the audience: ‘They “know” such a persona in somewhat the same way they know their chosen friends: through direct observation and interpretation of his appearance, gestures, voice, conversation, and conduct in a variety of situations’ (ibid.). In the political field the trustworthy performance and personal style in television appearances, or better: the mediatised interplay of political opinion and personal aura of politicians, become decisive criteria for their political success. ‘Politicians are now judged not only on the basis of their “talent" but also on the basis of their personalities’, argued Joshua Meyrowitz (1985: 119) in the 1980s with respect to the construction of political authority in the United States. ‘Here we can think of the “feel good”, avuncular impression conveyed by politicians such as Ronald Reagan’, Mike Featherstone (2010: 199) writes, referring to a prominent example ‘which helps to establish the feeling that they are “trusted” leaders’.
In contrast to the United States, affects were much more restricted in the political field in Western Europe until the 1990s, with only certain affects permitted in certain places and at certain times. Since then the disclosure of details once considered private or intimate and the public display of affects are almost expected, not least in election campaigns. The German political scientist Andreas Domer (2001) accurately called this ‘politainment’. Sympathy or antipathy and affective connections to political personalities and their public displays of affectivity, rather than programmatic work, play a decisive role in the mobilisation of public interest. Election campaigns in particular have increasingly become heydays of passionate political action in which constantly new means and technologies are used to mobilise the potential electorate and to maximise votes by creating moods. Feelings and affects are now considered crucial ingredients of election campaigns — a truism that electoral research in political science has only recently noticed (Hofmger, 2011). Barack Obamas call for ‘hope’ in his 2008 campaign was such a play on feelings as a check drawn on the future — and he succeeded. Especially new social media open a space for affective political mobilisation. And right-wing populist parties and organisations, and populist leaders such as Donald Trump, count particularly on social media to mobilise voters. This fuelled the concept of ‘media populism’ (Mazzoleni, 2014), which draws on affects.
However, affective political strategies remain more accessible to male than to female politicians. For women in politics affects are a precarious resource. In Western liberal democracies gender differences continue to be a mode of separating politics and feeling, knowledge and affect, and maintaining these boundaries. Since the early days of political modernity, the separation of body and mind, of affect and reason, is represented and even embodied by women. Women are considered to be more emotional and therefore less suited for politics. Female politicians are accused of being more passionate and thus less distanced or ‘objective’ in their decisions than men in the political arena. In contrast to male politicians they therefore need to present themselves as consciously non-emotional. For example, Angela Merkel made a strong effort to show no emotions after her victory in the 2005 federal elections in Germany, especially not towards her offensive predecessor Gerhard Schroder, in the television debate on election night. Only recently did she respond to the question of whether her gut feeling and femininity would influence her political decision-making in an online interview with the German blogger LeFloid: ‘I am not only made up of gut feelings, I also have head feelings’,2 to emphasise that she as a woman nonetheless acts rationally. The emotional life of Hillary Clinton as U.S. Secretary of State was also a recurring theme in the media, either expressed as accusation that she lacked emotions or that she staged her tears in the media.
How can the new democratic constellation of affect be explained? We assume that the neoliberal transformation of the state is accompanied by a crisis of representation in liberal democracies - by new political conflicts and struggles concerning state power, a situation that has been termed ‘post-democracy’ (Rancière, 1999; Crouch, 2004). The neoliberal turn raises the question of democracy anew. Studies on post-democracy point out that the dismantling of the welfare state and the reduction of state sovereignty due to political internationalisation may endanger (national) democracy. Phenomena such as falling turnouts at elections, distrust towards political representatives, growing dissatisfaction with the performance of democratic institutions, the growth of the radical populist right, and the erosion of solidarity, in short: the much-bemoaned disenchantment with politics and political parties are indicative of a democracy and legitimation deficit in Western states.
Politicisation no longer occurs only or primarily via the so-called public sphere and its organisations, such as parties and labour unions, and it also does not occur primarily in reference to participation in the political party system. The mediation of interests through (traditional) parties and unions works less and less. And the classic liberal and representative form of mobilisation by ideology that parties traditionally perform is rarely successful anymore. This is due to the fact that politics, political action, and decision-making increasingly take place in informal ways in the substructures of extra-parliamentary and pre-parliamentary gatherings. In the ‘negotiation state’ (Heinelt, 2005), democratically legitimised institutions lose their monopoly over agendasetting, problem-solving, and decision-making to corporatist networks formed between state administration and societal groups such as employers and unions, churches, medicine, and science. Such networks, however, weaken traditional representative bodies and negotiations, such as parliamentary and electoral processes. We can thus observe an immobilisation of the democratic dynamic, even a sclerosis of liberal-democratic procedures.
These processes of privatisation and informalisation of politics are also ambivalent from a gender perspective, as the national and international regimes of negotiation entail a re-masculinisation of the political field. Decision-making in negotiation systems necessarily takes place concealed from public view. Hand in hand with the secrecy of politics a homogenisation of the arcanum occurs, in particular a homogenisation of gender. Intensified informal interconnections between interest groups, bureaucracy, and private actors tend to reinforce the political influence of men and impede institutionalised policies for gender equality and women (Sauer, 2011).
The informalisation of politics does not only limit the space of political choices, but it also minimises the leeway of everyday life practices. That is, citizens see less and less chance of influencing political decisions. At the same time the aforementioned modes of subjectivation indicate that the neoliberal project systematically prefers and calls for entrepreneurial engagement (rather than traditional political orientations for action). Thus, politics become one site where new affective strategies ‘from above’ are brought into play, i.e. politics of re-politicisation by feeling and affect. We want to discuss these affective technologies of mobilisation, governing, and self-conduct next.
New forms of political mobilisation from above are connected to the post-democratic development. Ulrich Brôckling (2005: 22) speaks of the ‘imperative to participate’ in neoliberalism. Citizens are supposed to, or rather must, engage in political processes and demonstrate civic engagement. Affects are supposed to be actively generated and put to use for democracy; they shall moderate the shift of boundaries between the public and private. New technologies of feeling and the mobilisation of affect shall counteract the growing disinterest in and alienation from political parties and the loss of democratic legitimacy - in the form of community' engagement, for example. That way, however, civic political participation and affective mobilisation of citizens become part of a new modus of domination. They mutate into concepts by' which ‘the “individual responsibility” of the citizens in the community' is called upon’ (Wohl, 2007: 112) in order to compensate for or to conceal the dismantling of the welfare state and of democracy. Such mobilisation reveals another characteristic of the (neoliberal) state: its capacity to integrate protest impulses and exaggerated affective politics. Antonio Gramsci (1971: 59) referred to this capacity as ‘passive revolution’ — one aspect of hegemonic consensus building.
Despite this kind of affective attempt at re-democratisation, the role of affect in democracy and for democracy continues to be viewed with mistrust. In Germany the scepticism was recently' expressed in the ambiguous term, Wiit-biirger (angry citizens). As a pejorative term this label entered the media debate via an essay in Der Spiegel (41/2010) by Dirk Kurbjuweit about citizens’protests against a planned expansion of Stuttgart’s central railway station in 2010. The term was declared the word of the year in 2010 by' the Gesellschaft für deutsche Sprache (Society for German Language). Wutbiirger indicates, according to the German journalist Gerhard Matzig (SZ-Magazin 40/2011), a bourgeois middle that has lost its countenance and let its feelings take over without considering the damage to the common good through this intemperance. Matzig’s reproach (ibid.), ‘anger is a privilege of children and football fans’,3 takes up once again the separation of reason and affect, politics and privacy, or leisure time.
However, affective political mobilisation strategies in European democracies since the 1990s also have their dark and frightening sides. Evidently, right-wing populist parties advanced into the post-democratic ‘vacuum of meaning’ of party politics, created by the radical neoliberal transformation of the political field and everyday life. Moreover, the instrumental neoliberal mobilisation of feelings for regimes of insecurity', precariousness, and fear - be it fear of foreigners or terrorists (Massumi, 2010), or to legitimise public security' measures, paved the way' for right-wing populist anti-egalitarian and exclusionary affective politics. The elaboration of threatening scenarios is supposed to mobilise fear of the ‘Other’, primarily of migrants, but also Muslims, LGBTIQ persons4 or feminists (Ahmed, 2004b: 71—80; Kuhar and Paternotte, 2017). Neoliberal affective politics turned into right-wing politics of fear (Wodak, 2015). The right-wing populist, nationalist, and racist emotional discourse can yield political capital from spreading fears but also through antagonist distinctions between the ‘common sense’ of the people (i.e. ‘us down here’) and the hardening and coldness of the political class (‘those up above’) and the untrustworthy' ‘Others’ beyond the ‘we’. This situation worsened in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland after the ‘summer of migration’ 2015, where right-wing parties in the three countries mobilized against refugees.
With Pierre Bourdieu (1991: 171—202) we can say that a new principle of division has been established in the political field, nationals versus foreigners — which discursively replaces the division between rich and poor — with an enormous potential to mobilise people. Right-wing populist affective politics creates, for example, the phantasm of the ‘Other’, who is not willing to integrate and who cannot be integrated - ‘embodied’ primarily by women, namely by covered Muslim women. The figure of the male rescuer, of a ‘strong leader’, is closely connected to these narratives and reveals the project of de-democratisation of the radical right (Mayer, Sori and Sauer, 2016).
Nonetheless, affective modes of subjectivation also open up new emancipatory possibilities, as the feminist literature on political affects emphasises (Bargetz, 2015; Berlant, 2011; Cvetkovich, 2012a). Affects are fundamental elements of the political life. That is, politics as a field of common action is necessarily an affective space, a space of the care of oneself and of others, a space of solidarity and the breakdown of solidarity. The social movements of the 1970s turned the blurring of boundaries of feeling into a political program. They showed that deep involvement and affectivity can become the point of departure for political mobilisation, which is no longer limited to specific times and places. Hence, politics - which should not be conceived as a distinct sphere — emerges as ‘affective political subjectivation' and in turn produces the very same. Affects are thus conceivable as enabling practices and practices of resistance, as the basis of relatedness and commonness; they offer the possibility to make the fundamental human dependency on others - one’s own precariousness and that of others — the starting point for political action (Butler, 2011; Gutiérrez Rodríguez, 2011). Ann Cvetkovich (2012a) referred to this politicisation through affect with the example of the Chicago feel tank, where (individual) depression was discussed as caused by the political situation and thus as a ‘political affect’.
The Occupy movement and refugee protests, for instance, practice these new forms of political mobilisation on the basis of everyday experiences and through closeness, like camping together, and thus on the grounds of affectivity. In the current debates about care work, the relevance of affect for politics is also brought up in terms of affective empowerment (Gutiérrez Rodríguez, 2010). In the context of her agonistic model of politics, Chantal Mouffe (2000, 2002 2018) proposed an emancipatory appropriation of passions by referring to the potential of affective identification in conflicting political struggles against the radical right. In such ways affects could be made useful for a re-politicisation in the sense of an ‘affective democracy’or of an affect-conscious conceptualisation of politics. The relation of affect and politics, according to this understanding, characterises not only a political style - such as populism - and not only the politicisation of people’s life-world by right-wing populist parties or a form of manipulation for the political exclusion of‘Others’. From such a perspective, even the ‘angry citizen’ does not necessarily seem to be an enemy of democracy; anger rather ‘emerges as a reaction to oppression but also allows for the possibility to fight against domination’ (Purtschert, 2008: 3). Lauren Berlant (2010: 116) aptly speaks of‘cruel optimism’, of democracy’s optimistic (but unachievable) promise of collective action and a better future, which is constantly in danger of being broken or suppressed.
In sum, we want to underscore the importance of the transformation of the state project (e.g. of the welfare paradigm) and of the state apparatus for people’s life-world and social security under neoliberal conditions and for the self-image of citizens as working people. Despite the increasing precarisation of work, which we will discuss in more detail in Chapter 4, the neoliberal biopolitical strategy aims at subjectivation as a self-responsible working individual. The democratic organisation of the struggle over (state) power is also influenced by neoliberal restructuring processes: an ambivalent instrumental-ization of affects and of their transformative potential can be observed — two aspects that are also relevant in the transformation of service work of the market economy and within state bureaucracies. In the next section we will examine changes of the economic field and of consumption practices to complete the contextual framework for the subsequent discussion of affective labour and service work.