Interview with Peter Weibel by Peter Unfried
(Die Tageszeitung, January 29, 2011)
Mister Weibel, recently some citizens have manifested the will to increasingly intervene in politics. This can't be due only to a low-level station or to a lifetime extension of nuclear power plants. What is the reason for it?
The enormous transformations of technological communication also change the social situation and the political order. That is the case with Stuttgart too.
What happens there?
The citizens grow up in a technical world which has lead to them winning an enormous power over their environment, while the relationship to the surrounding world has become extremely individualised. To put it simply: in the past they had to wait for the sun to rise. Today they can press a switch anywhere they are and the light goes on. They also do not need to move their bodies anymore to talk to someone, they push a button and someone answers.
They'll be pushing till the cows come home with politics...
That's the problem. In the technical world, people are used to extremely short stimulus-response times between their wishes and the environment. Moreover: with the new media, individuals have become transmitters. With the old media, namely television and radio, they were only receivers. Accordingly, today we have a spectator and listener democracy, in which the will of the people has turned into mere consent. Every four or five years they are allowed to vote, which is to applaud or boo in terms of communication technology, and that's already where their power ends.
However, in the meanwhile people have realized that those they delegate power to are not realising the program as promised. Besides that, those they have voted out of office just continue with their program. Therefore, the citizens' experience is that in all fields of life they push a button, there is a reaction and something changes; only in politics nothing happens.
What do you trace this to?
Our politicians are the descendants of Lenin, who stated: "The party apparatus must permeate the State apparatus." Also in the Western world the State has become a prey of the political parties, as much as the political parties have become a prey of the banks, like the current financial crisis demonstrates. In the parliamentary democracy it is not the citizens who decide, but the political parties. Until now, only politics had the power "to do things with words", to paraphrase the title of Austin's book, which introduced the performative turn in 1961: How to Do Things with Words.
The citizen wants "to do things" too, now?
Exactly. We are experiencing the transition from the parliamentary to the performative democracy. The citizens want to break the monopoly of a party-political caste and to share in power. They want to performatively push through their ability to act and their decision-making ability, that is to say to turn rhetoric into action.
Excerpt from the catalogue Declining Democracy, published by Silvana Editoriale; soon available online the full text.