How Complicated can Politics be Communicated?


Event data

26. 6. 2017
Karl Renner Institut
Presseclub Concordia, Wien
Muna Duzdar, Staatssekretärin für Diversität, öffentlichen Dienst und Digitalisierung im Bundeskanzleramt
Armin Nassehi, Soziologe an der Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München

On 26th June I attended an event at the Karl-Renner Institute in Vienna’s first district to hear about a subject which is relevant for anyone interested in politics: Complexity in Politics: The Problem or the Solution?  Professor Dr. Armin Nassehi, holder of the chair for sociology at the Ludwig-Maximilians-University in Munich, spoke on the topic. The foci of his scientific work are cultural sociology, political sociology and the sociology of science and knowledge. Nassehi presents a way of thinking that does not confuse competence with stable knowledge and does not simply mix experiences of complexity with moral nourishment.

Muna Duzdar, the State Secretary for diversity, public service and digitalisation in the Federal Chancellery, introduced the subject. .

Initially, she spoke about a wish to give a perspective from political practice. Communicating complex subjects and proposals for solutions is a challenge for politicians. Voters prefer simple solutions and whether or not they are realistic and reasonable is rather of secondary importance.

France’s state President, Emmanuel Macron,  stands for everything and also nothing. It cannot yet be said with certainty what politics he follows.  The leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, is being honoured by fans in Great Britain precisely because of his strong opinions and his current success can be attributed to young people. He also speaks at festivals and has, despite rejection, partially also from his own party, always stuck by his opinion.

Both political strategies could be successful.

In realpolitik, some could also fail. For example, Trump, who has a problem with complex political processes. Both the construction of a wall on the American-Mexican border and the closure of the Meditarranean route are indeed simple solutions but they are neither truly effective nor humane.

Electoral success, therefore, is not the only factor to achieve political success – in terms of realpolitik some goals also have to be achieved. The differences in voter turnout in Great Britain, America and France are also of interest. In France, young people hardly participated in the elections, while in Great Britain the turnout of young people was very high. It  is, therefore, important to take the time to explain complex issues to voters.

At this point the State Secretary gave the floor to Armin Nassehi.

Nassehi explained that if one speakes about the simplification of issues, the prime example of political simplification – populism – has to be examined closer. An excellent example of this being the inauguration speech of US President Donald Trump who spoke about the “people becoming the rulers of the nation again”.

Populism simulates a uniform will of the people which, however, does not exist. The problem with politics is that catchy and clear sentences have to be found. Populistic speeches would fulfill this task with flying colours. Nowadays there is a discernible tendency towards more complex tasks, on the one hand, and a simplification of political speeches and sentences, on the other.

A re-nationalisation and a division into various population groups also creates the illusion that there are clear and visible relationships. However, in reality, people can be members of various groups at the same time. For example, the rich half-Latino whose father is white. Political simplification should not also be the immediate solution to this.

The reason that populism is successful is its new form of protest. This protest no longer operates within the political system but rather against it. It is a new form which declares the established system itself to be the opponent.

According to the sociological theory of power, the powerful are dependent on those over whom they exercise their power.

A discussion with those sceptical of the system is so difficult because they are sceptical of the democratic system.

In today’s world of populism there are also contradictions, such as when long established parties criticise other long established parties due to their long presence in politics and government. The most interesting aspect of politics is that it purports to be able to totally control society. However, from the perspective of sociology, politics can prescribe binding decisions for the collective but cannot control what other sectors of society make of these decisions.

In order to avoid this as much as possible, long-term plans consisiting of causal chains were made in the ’60s: if this happens, that occurs and so on. This type of planning policy, however, did not work. Nowadays one mainly works with scenarios in order to guarantee an overview. The term of complexity is defined in cybertechnics, the science of control, in such a way that, in the case of slightly different conditions, completely different results follow. Therefore, one has to work in terms of interactions, in scenarios. Complexity is expected if one works with models of interactions.

It is the dilemma of politics that, without the occasional great concept, which will only show its effectiveness after a certain time, no effective solutions will be implemented and without individual promises – such as a higher tax rate for the rich – no political success will be produced.

Angela Merkel is successsful precisely because she is a master of non-communication. The non-functioning of simple solutions is the dynamic interplay of different parts of society. The left-wing have also offered simple solutions, such as with financial redistribution.

How much regulation, how much deregulation is correct? Left-wing movements have addressed this issue since the middle of the 19th century. Why does everything converge in the middle, politically, in Germany and Austria? Because extreme positions do not offer realistic concepts upon which one can build. Left-wing radicals would conceptualise society as a blank sheet of paper and assign a particular task to the individual.

Having said that, a population with many diverse interests and objectives is not strived for. The radical right strive instead for a homogenous culture as in the milieus of the ’50s when it was completely clear to which social class people belonged and where women were women and men were men.

One possibility to present complex solutions could be narratives. Social stories with which we could associate. A narrative with long-term perpectives, which reaches the people, is lacking. This is because, nowadays, gender and social origin no longer reveal so much about the individual’s knowledge and identity.

However, people could be given an appropriate form of complexity by sketching out a long-term perspective with simple sentences.


Image Title Author License
Adaptive-Cycle Adaptive-Cycle Hernán De Angelis CC BY-SA 4.0