Lack of individual involvement in political, economic or social life results from restrictive or discriminatory legislation and practice; from alienation caused by bureaucratic processes, the size of cities, companies and factories; or from apathy. Lack of participation in certain activities may stem from class conflict or other social conflicts and subsequent alienation and lack of trust. Other reasons for declining participation of citizens in civic activities has been attributed to: rising anti-governmental populism, long-term weakening of political parties, wholesale failures of government over an extended period of time, segmentation of the population into demographic ghettos by marketing and technology forces; loss of faith in the future and general loss of confidence in national goals; or to a compensating resurgence of activity at the local and community levels.
The desire for participation on the political and economic level implies a desire for a share in 'real' power affecting people's lives. Failure to concede this may be masked by giving participation in consultation but not in decision-making. Cooperatives are a more complete form of economic participation, but management of the cooperative may also favour certain individuals over others. Socialist countries are more advanced in participation at all levels of society in economic life and in the life of the community, but not in political life.
The struggle for resource control between powerful and weak groups, and among weak groups themselves, worsens social segmentation, which in turn debilitates civil society and erodes the trust-building processes that civil society promotes. The loss of trust, of information flows from society to the state, and of private implementation of state policies reduces the reach and responsiveness of the state at the local level. The state's failure to meet local needs then depresses its legitimacy.
Voting, census returns and taxation are among the few venues for citizens to participate in public life at the national level. In the USA in 1989-90, 110-120 million Americans failed to vote, namely two-thirds of the electorate. 33 million failed to return their census forms, namely 37%. For every $5 of federal tax, $1 is evaded, leading to a tax gap of $100 billion.
When one compares the vain appearances of liberty provided by consultation with the actual powerlessness of the individual, one perceives on a small scale how the most absolute government can assume some of the forms of the most liberal type of democracy – so that to oppression is added the absurdity of pretending not to see it.