to Newsletter! conference: Criticism of Parliamentarism & Anti-parliamentarism in Europe since 1789

Conference duration
1½ days
Venue address
Landesvertretung Rheinland-Pfalz

The annual conference ‘Criticism of Parliamentarism & Anti-parliamentarism in Europe since 1789’ in 2015 will be organized by the Kommission für Geschichte des Parlamentarismus und der politischen Parteien.


Sections and suggested topics

Thur, 7 May

1. Arguments and Images

14:00 – Keynote: Jean Garrigues (Orleans): “Criticism of Parliamentarism & Anti-parliamentarism in Europe”(confirmed)

14:45 – Conference introduction – Marie-Luise Recker (Berlin)

15:00 – “Theatrical illusion” – Criticism of the representative system – Paul Friedland (Harvard) (confirmed)

15:45 – “Talking Shop” and “Soap Box Speakers” – On the criticism directed at parliamentary performance Nicolas Roussellier (Paris) (confirmed)

16:30 – Break

17:00 – ‘Black Box’ parliament: Criticism of work-based parliamentarism: Suzanne S. Schüttemeyer (Halle) (confirmed)

17:45 – “Mediocrity” and “Corruption”– The public image of representatives and professional politicians: Adéla Gjuričová (Prague) (confirmed)

18:30 – End

19:00 – Dinner

20:00 – Late lecture

President of the German Bundestag Norbert Lammert on contemporary criticism of parliamentarism (confirmed)

Fri, 8 May

2.Media and Arenas for Criticism

10:00 – Parliament as the stage for criticism – Henk te Velde (Leiden) (confirmed)

10:45 – The street (election campaigns, protests, occupations) – Thomas Lindenberger (Potsdam) (confirmed)

11:30 – Break

11:45 – The media tribunal (political press, broadcasting, talk shows) – Barabara Wolbring (Berlin) (confirmed)

12:30 – Lunch


3. Anti-parliamentarism Actors and Practices

13:45 – Democratic abstinence: The non-voter – James Retallack (Toronto) (confirmed)

14:30 – Political satire: Caricaturists and satirists – Andreas Biefang (Berlin) (confirmed)

15:15 – Break

15.45 – Opposition through obstruction: Filibusters, populists, anti-parties – Benjamin Conrad(Mainz) (confirmed)

16.15 – System opposition: Royalists, revolutionaries, saboteurs – Pasi Ihalainen (Jyväskylä) (confirmed)

17:00 – Conference summing up Andreas Schulz (Berlin)

Approx. 17:30 – End of conference


Conceptual Considerations

Right from its beginnings, the parliamentarisation of the European national states has been accompanied by opposition and criticism: whether royalism, radicalism or violent anti-parliamentarism from the Left or from the Right – parliaments have always been exposed to hostility as a matter of principle. The arguments and oppositional practices of the opposing powers are surprisingly similar. For example, parliamentarians have always faced accusations from all sides of merely staging a political theatre performance designed to obscure and delude the population regarding the real power structures. Parliamentary rhetoric seemed to be nothing but a form uttering tropes that merely simulated the decisions previously made in backrooms. The opponents’ critical view was also shared by parliamentarians themselves as parliamentary practice evidently starkly contrasted their idealistic concepts of democracy and parliamentarism. When preparing the individual topics, this fundamental tension between ideal parliamentarism and practical experiences should be considered throughout. The conference organisers assume that the permanent virulence of this contrast explains the continuity and even resonance of the anti-parliamentary discourse in Europe. Semantic shifts or new critical arguments appear in the course of constitutional changes to parliamentary systems, yet the fundamental repertoire of criticism remains unchanged. Royalist anti-parliamentarism, for example, decamped from the front of opponents as soon as the opposite model of monarchy by divine right became a moot issue, historically speaking – however, the arguments of royalist criticism would not disappear: the accusations of dependency, corruptibility and incompetence made against elected representatives of the people from the perspective of those in favour of aristocratic elite parliamentarism are still heard from all political camps. In the context of 20th century mass democracy, these arguments become some of anti-parliamentarism’s sharpest weapons.

The conference focuses not only on images and arguments, but also on the changing venues and arenas for parliamentarism criticism. Just as parliamentarism needed the audience of the public in order to be able to assert its claim to validity in the first place, anti-parliamentarians needed forums to make their voices heard. One central venue for criticising parliamentarism is parliament itself: in the 19th century, rostra, plenum and gallery became a national stage for anti-parliamentary speeches. The further the medialisation of Europe’s political systems progressed, the more diverse the communication channels for anti-parliamentary criticism became. The public character of streets, squares and assembly rooms made them preferred spaces for anti-parliamentary theatricals. Elections, cultural performances and mass events were used as tribunes to publicly criticise parliamentarism. Examinations of these venues and arenas should focus on the political choreography and the symbolic forms of theatrical anti-parliamentarism events where the approval of the public was sought. In this respect, the technical prerequisites and possibilities of the respective media also play a central role: how does the linguistic performance in anti-parliamentarian displays in parliaments, broadcasts or talk shows, or the style of the arguments employed in political manifestos, differ from public speeches or debates on television; which image and visualisation strategies are mobilised?

And finally, it is about the actors themselves. Here, a differentiation must be made between anti-parliamentarism and criticising parliamentarism. Even though the lines between the two may be blurred, it nevertheless makes sense to distinguish between a broad, fundamentally affirmative environment of critics and the kind of anti-parliamentarism that is opposed to the system per se. This would include critical journalists or the oppositional ‘intelligentsia’ who, just like the representatives of citizens movements or individual populists, behave at least partially dialogue-oriented. The arguments and practices of this environment of supporters are not least important because they contribute to the renewal and self-reform of parliamentary systems. Their a priori expectations and ideals are frequently similar to the conceptual horizon of those who are radically opposed to parliamentarism. What differentiates them from these is their willingness to listen and adapt: the integration of the initially anti-parliamentary party the »Greens« or other newly established political parties in Europe into the political system, for example, can be interpreted as reconciling the ideal with praxis. In this third section, the particular focus should be on specific and frequently less noticed actors and practices. Parliamentary obstruction, for example, can both be an instrument used by system conformant minorities as well as a means of destruction used by those who are radically opposed to parliamentarism. And extremely disparate phenomena are hidden behind the increasingly important statistical category of the ‘non-voters’: the democratic practice of temporary abstention from voting, the permanent abstinence of passive social groups or a politically active protest potential. Whether intentional or not, all three non-voter groups tend to appear anti-parliamentarian. On the one hand, anti-parliamentary violence such as parliament occupations or acts of sabotage by revolutionary political movements is directed against parliamentary institutions as such. On the other, some of these groups want their acting to be seen as legitimate interventions or symbolic protest against putative deficits in political practice.

Anti-parliamentary movements and parties are issues frequently addressed in parliamentary research. The organisers would therefore like to highlight different and fresh aspects. The conference is distancing itself from the usual differentiation of anti-parliamentarism according to political camps – not least also because they assume the consistency of arguments across all camps and images in a transnational discourse context: anti-parliamentarism in Europe always was strongly interrelated. The topic is therefore also eminently suitable for a comparative approach. The conference will of course take the classic narratives and methods of anti-parliamentarism research into account. These will be the central theme of the introductory lecture, which summarises and assesses the currently accepted facts. The organisers also intend to invite a high ranking parliamentarian who will take a stand on the topicality of anti-parliamentarism and parliamentary criticism.

To maintain the coherence of the conference programme, speakers have been specifically asked to focus on particular topics.

The conference languages are English and German.

Berlin, 8 October 2014


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Posted on

7. 5. 2015