Category Archives: Europe

The opportunities with the end of the World Liberal Order and Pax Americana

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Richard Haas in a recent article argued that the US retreat and the consequent end of the, Western built, Liberal World Order will make a world “that is less free, less prosperous, and less peaceful, for Americans and others alike”. This short article wants to challenge this conclusion, to say that it could, but it could also represent the opposite: it is a question of perspectives. To argue so we need to challenge its definition of “World Liberal Order”.

First of all, it was a “world” order as it was dominated by the Bipolarism and then by the Unipolar moment of the US, but both of this orders ended (the first for the collapse of one of the two empires and the second for the retreat of the one left, given the unsustainability of “imperial overstretching” for both). But in reality, the order had been created by the winner of WWII, UK and US, and it was led by the West (in primis US that is why many refers to it as “Pax Americana”) while today could become really more “worldly” because of multipolarism. Many countries around the world want to have their say today and it is their right, now that the “Rest” is catching up with the “West”. The “Easternization of power”, to say it with a recent book of Gideon Rachman, shows that the balance of military, political and economic power has shifted far away from the West to Asia and this has to be taken into account by the West. Not only China and India but emerging powers with primacy in their regions desire to become the stakeholders of future regional structures, from Turkey and Iran in the Middle East, to Indonesia and the Philippines in South East Asia, to Brazil and Andean countries in South America. Regional orders are becoming more and more important with economic integration and the so called “collective security communities”, the first and oldest one being NATO, that after ending its expansion is concentrating now on defense of its borders. But there are other collective security communities in formation, first of all the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, with China and Russia leading it, the Association of South East Asian Nations, with Indonesia and Thailand at the center of the ring, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, with India and Pakistan, the Organization of America States, with Mexico and Brazil as top player. The other two regions, Africa and Middle East, must resolve their internal domestic problems, before to think about a grand bargain among the regional powers. This shift from world orders to regional ones will save the preponderant power, still the US, from the risk of “imperial overstretching” of the hegemon, even if there is always the risk of the lack of order with the lack of hegemony (see the Hegemonic Stability Theory).

Second it was “liberal” as it was based on liberal values of free market and democracy, but the beneficiary of this system were especially the political and economic elites, not so much the billions of people that still struggle to achieve their human security needs around the world. This liberal order based more and more, with the time, on extreme forms of neoliberalism, liberism, and crony-capitalism, was the reason that created the enormous inequality of today, that has not end in its raising. And to end such type of liberal order could mean to limit the top-down liberalism imposed on people for the interest of the banks and great corporations, to create a more “inclusive liberalism” at grassroots level, with more inclusion for people, especially of lower classes, ethnic minorities, or discriminated people because of gender, age or different abilities. Nevertheless first, this can be done only if we pass in the West from “representative democracy” systems, often corrupted and representing the interests of the few, to a more “participatory democracy”, similarly to the ancient direct democracy, now that we have the technological tools that can help us to do that. We can look at the new “Five Stars Movement” (5SM) in Italy, that always represented a country that anticipates the trends for the Western world, being the creator of that Western civilization, from the Republic in Rome two millennia and half ago, to the Renaissance in Florence five centuries ago, to Berlusconi that arrived to power almost 25 years before Trump. This movement, born online, is the first party in Italy, and is foreseen that will govern soon the country. Its first policies will try to reduce inequality, cutting high incomes of politicians and introducing a citizen’s basic income, and to reduce the corruption of representative democracy, cutting public funding, forbidding convicted representatives to be in Parliament and limiting the mandates of lawmakers to a maximum of ten years. This is how populism could be used in a good way in other democracies too, at least provided that people can vote with the head on their shoulders, and not with the guts and the fake news of today. The problem though is that the end of political ideologies gave people insecurity on how to choose the vote and so before to give the power of “direct/participatory democracy” to the people, if we want to avoid manipulation and possibility of going back to tyrannies we need to do a formation of the people, teaching in the schools political literacy and civic education for example, and before to vote the citizens should be informed on programs more than on Facebook likes (Trump docet). The US will learn from past errors and the lobby system as well as the informational wars are things that America will be able to deal with in the short future.

Finally it was an “order” as no major conflict among great powers erupted, but it was not an order for external smaller powers, from the hot long battled in South East Asia and East Asia to the violence inside many countries, full of intra-state conflicts, with minorities repressed and securitized and dictatorial regimes supported by the West destroying their people and arriving at genocide attempts while the great powers tried to not look (from Balkans and Rwanda, to Myanmar and Syria today). The end of this “international order” therefore, could facilitate more order inside the countries, if external powers stop to meddle in other’s sovereignty and start to support actions that address the root causes of internal conflicts, fist of all economic causes, followed by political and social ones. Great power rivalry also, doesn’t exclude the support in the long term to the smaller powers, on the contrary can make competition for soft power of attraction, more that for hard power of sphere of influence, positive for the countries assisted. This is how nationalism and retreat to our own borders, today, could be used in good way: not for invasion and meddling but for respecting the dignity of any state. Great powers could deter one another while cooperating to solve global security, environmental and economic problems, that are the most urgent problems we have as humankind, from international terrorism to illicit trafficking, from climate change to epidemics, from stagnation to still presence of strong poverty. And again here the leadership of the US could be crucial, at the end of the day administrations pass but country’s values and missions remain.

Therefore, as we can see if we want to understand the advantage of living in an era of transformation, we can help to build more “Inclusive Regional Orders” with the lesson learned from the past. We don’t need to throw the baby with the bathwater, many elements of the old World Liberal Order can and should be maintained but also improved, first of all the leadership of someone that take into account the needs of all the rest, like the US could and should do in the future as it did in the past. It will be a long gestation, but we owe it to our future generations, that will hopefully live in peace one day on this planet.

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Will democratic erosion in the West be saved by Internet? The Italian example of E-democracy resilience

FILE PHOTO:5-Stars movement Di Maio looks on as he arrives for a news conference in Rome

According to Plato, who followed the theory of anacyclosis at the time of the struggles between Sparta and Athens, societies pass through five types of political regimes, always through the degeneration of the former. The first is the Aristocracy, with the philosopher king, then comes the Timocracy, with the owners as rulers, then the Oligarchy, with the rich in power, then Democracy, with power for all, and finally the Tyranny, when the anarchy created by the dysfunction of democracy is again managed by a strong leader to maintain order. If we look at today the eternal examples of Sparta and Athens may not be useful only for the Peloponnesian War, with the “prisoner dilemma” (Thucydides trap) at the basis of realism in international relations, but also for their domestic policy regimes .
Today, Western democracy is in decline, not so much because it is inefficient or dysfunctional, even if it has quite normal governance problems when we live “inside history”, but because first of all it became functional to the economic system, making political power a slave of the economic power, and second because we forgot that democracy is a process without end, which needs to be constantly nourished but also reformed, otherwise even the strongest, most stable and efficient institutions weaken and go into decline, returning as Plato said even to the possibility of Tyranny (as it happened a century ago with Nazifascism). The erosion in the Western world of representative democracy and its institutions, both from above – with supranational bodies such as the EU or with the corporations and the processes of globalization – and from below – with civil society, and all groups and individuals that erode the power of the state, from charitable organizations to criminal groups – shows an urgent need for reforms for the very survival of democracy. Democracy, with the liberation of the individual from the chains of stratified society, started already since the time of the Sumerians, continues its journey without stopping. But not without problems and not in the same way in every part of the world.
On the contrary, on one hand new dictatorships and increasingly strict autocracies, almost Orwellian as a Big Brother, are forming around the world, where information and communication are still completely controlled, from China to Cuba, from Russia to Iran. On the other hand, Western democracies are increasingly “participated”, people are increasingly empowered to “control the controllers”, those responsible for public affairs, primarily the politicians, being able to participate directly in the “market of ideas” within the public sphere. This is also and above all thanks to the increasingly transparent information and communication through the interconnected network, what is commonly called in English “Inter-Net”. So today we are passing through a phase of polarization not only within the countries between people of the old “left and right”, which today is actually more and more a division between “the cosmopolitans and the nativists” (given that this is the new division of the electorate and the people at the social, political and economic level) but also a polarization in the world between ever more “direct democracies” and ever more “controlled autocracies”.
So, what should Western democracies do to fight against this new 21st century ideological war, not so much based on two opposite economic models – such as communism and capitalism like in the last century – but on opposite socio-political models? First of all, they do not have to go towards “authoritarianization”. The parliamentary republics do not necessarily have to become presidential republics, to make governments capable of acting with more strength and agility in modern times, as the center-left government thought recently in Italy with the proposal to abolish one of the two failed chambers in the referendum. But they must become rather “popular republics”, rediscovering the importance of direct democracy, Athenian precisely, more than the British representative one, based only on the representative parliament, a very important tool for so many centuries, but today too obsolete. Some propose to return to the drawing by lot, just like in ancient Athens, similar to the Anglo-Saxon juridical system of juries (like my friend David Grant with his “Common Lot” http://thecommonlot.com ). Others, like the 5 Star Movement in Italy, propose to use the Internet for the best.

With this movement, born almost ten years ago by a strategist of the web and a famous comedian who protested for decades against the party system or “the caste”, for the first time in Italy, and probably in the world, a party born of civil society led online from a blog has come to become the first party voted in Parliament (and perhaps in the next election it will also come to form a government). Not only that but for the first time a party has allowed any citizen without a record to apply by registering online at the primaries for the Parliament for voting next March.
This demonstrates the power of the Internet to amplify the voice of the masses, as seen in the Arab Springs. But already for at least a decade there have been signs that the Internet gives political power to citizens and the masses. In fact, great social changes are often driven by revolutions in communication. Even with the Internet, people can access all the information in the world, but beyond that internet is changing human relations and therefore society, as did the press and television. Citizens can intervene directly in political decisions, commenting on them, protesting them, proposing them instead of having representatives who once elected could not be controlled by the represented (except in cases where the person represented was a powerful person). Internet will therefore bring more participation and direct democracy, at a local level certainly and perhaps also worldwide in the distant future, through movements from below that will connect on the network to decide on fundamental issues for the planet such as energy, food, health, environmental protection, technological development. And maybe it will also help to reduce “identity politics”, policies based on identities like nationalism and nativism, making human beings more and more as planetary citizens. This is the way in which Western democracies can recover after the weakening caused by inefficiency and the attacks they are receiving from “eastern” dictatorships, using the internet as an instrument of democracy instead of as an instrument of control or repression, as they do the autocracies (from Russia infiltrating the policies of Western democracies to China by controlling protests on the Internet).
We do not know how it will end but in the meantime a government in Italy (which created Berlusconi long before Trump and Renzi long before Macron, so always showing the path as usual with Italy for the good or the bad) based on the E-democracy, like a government of the 5 Star Movement, could be an example of good practice for other Western democracies. Posterity will judge. As Dante said coming our from the Hell: “To see again the stars”… next spring?

Translation for my Italian friends who don’t know English or how to use Google Translate 😊

L’erosione democratica in Occidente si salvera’ con Internet? L’esempio Italiano della resilienza con la democrazia digitale

Secondo Platone, che seguiva la teoria dell’anaciclosi ai tempi delle lotte fra Sparta e Atene, le societa’ passano attraverso cinque tipi di regimi politici, sempre attraverso la degenerazione del precedente. Il primo e’ l’Aristocrazia, con il re filosofo, poi viene la Timocrazia, con i proprietari come governanti, poi l’Oligharchia, con i ricchi al potere, poi la Democrazia, con il potere per tutti, e infine la Tirannia, quando l’anarchia creata dalle disfunzioni della democrazia viene gestita di nuovo da un leader forte per mantenere l’ordine. Se guardiamo ad oggi gli esempi eterni di Sparta e Atene potrebbero non essere utili solo per le Guerre del Peloponneso, con il “dilemma del prigioniero” (Thucydides trap) alla base del realismo nelle relazioni internazionali, ma anche per il loro regimi di politica domestica.

Oggi la democrazia occidentale e’ in declino, non tanto perche’ e’ inefficiente o disfunzionale, anche se ha problemi di governance abbastanza normali quando si vive “dentro la storia”, ma perche’ prima di tutto e’ diventata funzionale al sistema economico, rendendo il potere politico schiavo del potere economico, e secondo perche’ ci si e’ dimenticati che la democrazia e’ un processo senza fine, che ha bisogno di essere costantemente nutrito ma anche riformato, altrimenti anche le istituzioni piu’ forti, piu’ stabili ed efficienti si indeboliscono e vanno in decadenza, tornando come diceva Platone addirittura alla possibilita’ di Tirannia (come e’ successo un secolo fa con il nazifascismo). L’erosione nel mondo Occidentale della democrazia rappresentativa e delle sue istituzioni, sia dall’alto – con organismi sovranazionali come l’UE o con il potere delle multinazionali e dei processi di globalizzazione – che dal basso – con la societa’ civile, e tutti gruppi e gli individui che erodono il potere dello stato, dalle organizzazioni benefiche ai gruppi criminali – dimostra un urgente bisogno di riforme per la sopravvivenza stessa della democrazia. La democrazia, con la liberazione dell’individuo dalle catene della societa’ stratificata, iniziata gia’ dai tempi dei Sumeri, continua il suo cammino senza sosta. Ma non senza intoppi e non in maniera uguale in ogni parte del mondo.

Al contrario, da una parte nel mondo si stanno formando dittature e autocrazie sempre piu’ rigide, quasi Orwelliane, da grande fratello, dove l’informazione e la comunicazione sono ancora troppo controllate, dalla Cina a Cuba, dalla Russia all’Iran. Dall’altra le democrazie occidentali sono sempre piu’ partecipate, le persone hanno sempre piu’ forza per “controllare i controllori”, i responsabili della cosa pubblica, in primis i politici, potendo partecipare direttamente al “mercato dell idee” all’interno della sfera pubblica Questo grazie anche e soprattutto all’informazione e alla comunicazione sempre piu’ trasparenti attraverso la rete interconnessa, quella che viene chiamata comunemente in inglese “Inter-Net”. Quindi stiamo attraversando una fase di polarizzazione non solo all’interno dei paesi fra persone della vecchia “sinistra e destra”, che oggi in realta’ e’ sempre piu’ una divisione fra “i cosmopoliti e i nativisti” (dato che questa e’ la nuova divisione dell’elettorato e del popolo a livello sociale, politico ed economico) ma anche una polarizzazione nel mondo fra democrazie sempre piu’ dirette e autocrazie sempre piu’ controllate.

Cosa devono fare quindi le democrazie occidentali per combattere contro questa nuova guerra ideologica del 21 secolo, non tanto basata su due modelli economici opposti – come il comunismo e il capitalismo nel secolo scorso – ma su modelli socio-politici opposti? Prima di tutto non devono andare verso l’”autoritarianizzazione”. Le repubbliche parlamentari cioe’ non devono necessariamente diventare repubbliche presidenziali, per fare governi capaci di agire con piu’ forza e agilita’ nei tempi moderni, come si e’ creduto in Italia con la proposta di abolire una delle due camere fallita al referendum. Ma devono diventare piuttosto “repubbliche popolari”, riscoprendo l’importanza della democrazia diretta, Ateniese appunto, piu’ che quella rappresentativa britannica, basata solo sull’importanza del parlamento rappresentativo, uno strumento importantissimo per tanti secoli, ma oggi diventato troppo obsoleto. Alcuni propongono di tornare all’estrazione a sorte, come appunto nell’antica Atene, un po’ simile al sistema giuridico anglosassone delle giurie (come il mio amico David Grant con il suo “Common Lot”, Lotteria comune, http://thecommonlot.com). Altri, come il Movimento 5 Stelle in Italia, propongono di usare Internet al meglio.

Con questo Movimento, nato oramai quasi dieci anni fa da uno stratega del web e da un comico famoso per protestare da decenni contro il sistema partitico della casta, per la prima volta in Italia, e probabilmente nel mondo, un partito nato dalla societa’ civile guidata online da un blog e’ arrivato a diventare il primo partito votato al Parlamento (e forse nelle prossime elezioni arrivera’ anche a formare un governo). Non solo ma per la prima volta un partito ha permesso a qualunque cittadino incensurato di candidarsi iscrivendosi online alle primarie per il Parlemento per le votazioni del prossimo Marzo.

Questo dimostra il potere di Internet di amplificare la voce delle masse, come si e’ visto nelle Primavere Arabe. Ma gia’ da almeno un decennio ci sono segnali che dimostrano come l’Internet dia potere politico ai cittadini e alle masse. Di fatto i grandi cambiamenti sociali sono spesso guidati dalle rivoluzioni nella comunicazione. Anche con l’internet le persone possono accedere a tutte le informazioni del mondo ma oltre a quello internet sta cambiando le relazioni umane e quindi la societa’, come hanno fatto la stampa e la televisione. I cittadini possono intervenire direttamente nelle decisioni politiche, commentandole, protestandole, proponendole invece di avere dei rappresentanti che una volta votati non potevano essere piu’ controllati dal rappresentato (a parte nei casi in cui il rappresentato fosse stato una persona potente). Internet portera’ quindi piu’ partecipazione e democrazia diretta, a livello locale sicuramente e forse anche a livello mondiale in un lontano futuro, attraverso movimenti dal basso che si connetteranno sulla rete per decidere su tematiche fondamentali per il pianeta quali l’energia, il cibo, la sanita’, la protezione ambientale, lo sviluppo tecnologico. E forse aiutera’ anche a ridurre le “identity politics”, le politiche basate sulle identita’ come il nazionalismo e il nativismo, facendo degli esseri umani sempre piu’ dei cittadini planetari. Questa e’ la maniera in cui le democrazie occidentali possono risollevarsi dopo l’indebolimento causato dall’inefficienza e gli attacchi che stanno ricevendo dalle dittature “orientali”, usando l’internet come strumento di democrazia invece che come strumento di controllo o repressione come fanno le autocrazie (dalla Russia infiltrandosi nelle politiche delle democrazie occidentali alla Cina controllando le proteste in internet).

Non sappiamo come andra’ a finire ma nel frattempo una governo in Italia (che ha creato Berlusconi molto prima di Trump e Renzi molto prima di Macron, mostrando il cammino agli altri come sempre succede con l’Italia, nel bene e nel male) basato sulla democrazia digitale, come un Governo del Movimento 5 Stelle, potrebbe rappresentare un esempio di buona pratica per altre democrazie occidentali. Ai posteri l’ardua sentenza. Come disse Dante uscendo dall’Inferno: “a riverder le stelle”…in primavera?

 

 

Ethno-nationalism on the march. Next stop Europe?

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The referendums of Lombardia-Veneto in Italy and moreover Catalonia in Spain (with voices of new referendums in the UK), on the wave of the referendum in Iraqi Kurdistan, show that nation states are in a transition phase in Europe. The nation state, born four hundreds years ago and reinforced through the centuries, traditionally based on a very centralized state and an homogeneous nation, is changing skin, being eroded from above and from below. And the citizens of these nation states, at least in the so called “West” part of the world, seems to want to change their national identity skin, and in the process trying to rewrite the social contract with a new self-determination wave.

The European cases are different obviously from Kurdish one, as in Europe there are democracies, there has been no decolonization or genocide attempt against these minorities and autonomies are already strong, both in federated states like Germany, Austria, Switzerland, or Belgium, but even in non-federations such as Spain, United Kingdom, or Italy (with regional assemblies for special regions) that can be defined as “asymmetric federalism.” But new nationalism, based on ethnicity as in the Catalan case, are on the rise as reaction to globalization, migrations and new identities, and politicians are using that narrative together with populist attitudes to capitalize political power.

But changing borders is not a game and can end up with fatal consequences. The are several separatist movements in Europe and beyond. If all of them seek independence that would create a big mess in world politics in terms of humanitarian consequences and economic costs. An independent Catalonia for example could shake the foundations of the European Union. Should Sicily and Lombardia seek independence after that? If we witness an increasing of ethno-nationalist wave, we will have serious problems in the European integration, even if we will not go back to the Europe of fifteenth century.

The self-determination is the right of the people to determine their own political status without external interference but is becoming more and more a complex and delicate issue. Self-determination is mentioned only two times in the United Nations charter, in the context of developing “friendly relations among states” and “equal rights.” Even if during the 1960s it was interpreted as the right of colonies to become independent, distinct ethnic groups within colonies did not have a right to separate. Since the 1990s—under international law—this right is tangled with human rights and democratic norms. And today it is not free from political manipulation, with interests that go beyond the “autonomization” of nations, ethnic groups or cultures, as we saw with recent referenda.

Many compare the case of Kosovo with Catalonia. Kosovo is the newest European state to have gained independence, but the country did not just decide to secede for no reason. Independence was essential for the survival of its people who were being ethnically cleansed, persecuted, and tortured for decades. Kosovo and Kurdistan are much more comparable cases, even if Kosovo is a sui generis case: the only time when the West initiated a military humanitarian intervention to prevent another Srebrenica. This is not to say that Catalans or Venetians do not deserve more autonomy or even independence in the future. The argument though is that the world is evolving and so is the understanding of self-determination.

Nation states are not eternal. But monoethnic nation states are not the solution. Few countries in the world are ethnically homogenous and will be less and less in the future. Pluralistic nation states, with federations, autonomies, decentralization, and even cities included in the participation to the national “public affairs”, the Res-publica, are more successful, democratic, and stable. Independence and secession should be the extrema ratio for self-determination of the people. The normal process should be the negotiations, the eternal “market of points of view” that would allow to respond to the needs of all parts in a consensual decision making.

Real democracy, substantive, meaningful and liberal democracy means power “from by and to” the people, and so inclusiveness of all parts of society. Level of inclusion, through “autonomization” of regions that feel repressed and people that feel not recognized should be the criteria to measure democracies. This for both authoctonous and new minorities. Immigrants arriving to a new country should be granted if not citizenship at least the status of refugee, and their children given the jus solis principle of citizenship based on birth.

But we need to take care of political strumentalization in the process. Referendum can be a great instrument of democracy (like the ones asking on civil rights) but also a great instrument of manipulation. We have seen them used as power tool in many countries, from Venezuela to Ukraine, from Turkey to Europe today.  Constitutions are still the main social contract that state must abide to. If new sensibilities and social change require to change Constitutions that must be done with negotiations.

The world, and states in particular that don’t represent their diversity, because of their history of conquer, nationalist institutions and politics of repression, from Middle East to Africa to Europe, are in great distress. But we need to take care that this process doesn’t become a tragedy for the people, manipulated by political forces. The real solution is dialogue. Spanish and Catalan representatives, as well as Italians and Venetians or British and Scottish, should negotiate and reach a compromise, probably a federalized state structure, for the satisfactions of all the parts and the continuation of the important European integration that is under stress from above and from below.

Visar Xhambazi and Maurizio Geri

 

 

The crisis of post-modernity in liberal Western democracies: second Italy.

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Italians voted no to the proposition of institutional and constitutional reforms, which was agreed by the Italian Parliament for the first time after almost 70 years since the “Costituente”. The Italian Parliament was following the strong acceleration of a post-ideological modern Government, again the first of such governments in Italian recent history. But in a time of increased transparency, empowered individuals and bottom-up democratic tools (first of all the use of referendums) the confidence of some Western leaders to appeal to popular support in order to increase their legitimacy has turned to be a big mistake. From Cameron to Renzi, leaders European leaders believed that they could bring the people on the ship of their vision for the future. But they forgot about one thing: the deep culture and identity of their societies. Exceptionalism for British people and conservatism for Italians. Who will be next? We hope no Merkel even if we are not so sure (Hollande avoided such risk with his recent decision to not seek re-election).

Italians don’t like change, they live in open sky museums, adore their traditions and have a culture of self-governance and “make do” that survive better in government instability than in the opposite scenarios. Italians, even if they always criticize the politicians for being corrupted and not wanting to change, prefer weak corrupt governments that keep the things as they have always been (that’s why Berlusconi reigned for around a generation) than  strong stable governments that could really change the things, including asking the citizens to behave. Besides that, Italians have always been afraid of Communism, before with Fascism demonization and after with the one of Christian Democracy, making a left or liberal government, almost impossible to survive for long time in the country. That, together with the economic stagnation and the manipulation of information in a post-truth, post-fact society, fueled by opposite politicians with a hate narrative rarely seen before, made the result of referendum. But how Italian referendum result enters in the long run of Western liberal democratic crisis?

As said in the previous article on the US, the three “Ps” are very evident also in Italy: increased Poverty, with inequality and intellectual unemployment (involving in particular the middle class); extreme Polarization, in particular between nationalist and cosmopolitanists (not much between Leftist and Rightist that is not anymore the real division of the socio-political spectrum in Western democracies); and spread Populism, or anti-establishment feelings (in particular distrust for corrupted and distant elites). These phenomena are growing in the Italian society since almost a decade. Since more less the Euro consequences (in particular the raised prices) started to couple with the economic crisis, the migration crisis arrived, and the social media technology started to empower individuals and at the same time polarize them. The populist feelings in particular against the corrupted party system in Italy, the “casta”, started to be channelized in particular by the 5 Star Movement, a bottom up movement that is using Internet as E-democracy already since 2005 with the blog of a Comedian, Beppe Grillo, and the use of Meetups (using the American born Meetup idea) and arrived to be the first party voted in the Parliament (even if not the first represented because of the electoral law, another degeneration of the electoral system, like in the US)

Besides these “first layer” reasons the democratic crisis in Italy can be seen also as an identity crisis, as said in the article on US, because of increasing immigration, women empowerment and international integration. Italy, like the rest of Western rich countries, started to be afraid of having to share the wealth with poorer people, first of all economic migrants but also refugees, and risk its identity dilution with the creation of a melting pot society (and in the last 3 years the number of immigrants in Italy increased exponentially with the Middle Eastern refugee crisis). Italian men, ruling the country, its families and its society since the Latin times (similarly to the rest of Europe) started to be afraid of having to share the power with women (and this actually was the first government that among other things had 50% of women). And the Italian nation state in itself, existing since 4 century (since the Peace of Westphalia in 1648) started to be afraid of having to reduce its sovereignty with new supranational actors, first of all the EU (this was one of the most pro-EU governments, accepting the decisions from the EU even if using the rhetoric of anti-austerity) reducing therefore its ontological security.

Therefore in Italy as in the US we are on the right track towards the democratic natural crisis. We need to see how we use this crisis for the good and not for the bad, not only in Italy but in Europe. Even in the worst case scenario that the EU will fail and disintegrate in the next decades what is important is to know who will take the lead for future new alliances and integration processes. We will not have a pre-WWII scenario because of economic integration and because Russia will always be there to make European continent cohesive (hopefully with the constant support of NATO). But as a recent article on Foreign Affairs said: “Populism is gaining ground. Around the world, economic hardship and growing unease with globalization, immigration, and the established elite have propelled such movements into power, leading to a groundswell of public support for parties and leaders viewed as capable of holding the forces of cultural and social change at bay.”[1]

What we know is that strong leaders will not make a democratic renaissance against the establishment, as they promise, on the opposite they will deepen the democratic crisis, gradually eroding the liberal elements of our countries, as expert populists around the world from Chavez, to Erdogan to Putin, showed. This is the risk in our liberal Western democracies crisis too, at least until the citizens will not take back the lead of the future in their hands through their civil society, with new associations, movements, parties and organizations at grassroots level, and not lead from top-down. The political establishment has to be checked and controlled by these civil society associations to reduce corruption and increase vision, even if cannot disappear as representative democracies needs politicians. But these politicians can be more “representative” of the people, more “spokespersons” like the 5SM try to build. Otherwise we will have fake democracies with strong leaders, that will hide what they really are: autocracies, or as Plato said, new tyrannies.

[1] Andrea Kendall-Taylor and Erica Frantz. How Democracies Fall Apart. Why Populism Is a Pathway to Autocracy. Foreign Affairs, December 2016.

 

The crisis of post-modernity in liberal Western democracies: first of all the US.

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Will the United States show again that is still one of the healthiest, besides one of the oldest, democracy in the world? Will be able to reform its too old institutions and reconcile its too polarized people, in a society that destroyed many moderate spaces of discussions in the public sphere, from education to media? The prospect of the new elected President doesn’t seem enlightened. Bill Clinton had to move his party to the center, to win two elections. Trump moved the party that hijacked to the extreme right, after the Tea Party and beyond the Alt-Right. Electing Trump the American democracy just chose to take a stop in leading the planetary future. After the first black president of its history, the US didn’t elect its first woman president and instead went towards the most macho chauvinist joker and ignorant president could find, because in the post-modern liberal democracies leaders don’t guide masses: they mirror them. The US went towards a cultural reaction that could reverse the country, and also the West, to a past of racism, nationalism, sexism, and many says Fascism. So apart all the issues on economy, anti-politics and fragmentation these elections have been also about culture, identity and post-modernity.

At a superficial level it seems that three main processes are happening today in the US but also in Europe and so in general in the Western liberal democracies: increased inequality, spread populism and extreme polarization. These trends are caused mainly by three factors: unregulated market and banking systems together with economic globalization as degeneration and contradictions of neoliberal extreme capitalism (see “Capital in the Twenty First Century” by Piketty); focus on technical and scientific education abandoning the liberal arts and humanities (see on this “Not for Profit”, by Martha Nussbaum); and the information technology transformation, including biased private news outlets and uncontrolled, instinctual, post-fact and post-truth social media information (see on this “The Filter Bubble” of Richard Sennet).

But at a deeper identity and cultural levels, and inside a longer historical view, four reactionary processes in reality are happening in the US and the West against the very fast progress that we lived in the last decades: sexism, nationalism, racism and religiophobia (mostly Islamophobia as Islam is the world religion with most impact on the daily life). These identity trends, present in particular among people living isolated and not used to socialize and so create trust, in rural areas more than urbanized centers, represents our ontological insecurity reaction to four changes: the starting of end of patriarcate, nation state, monoethnic and secular societies.  We are starting to live in the post-modern societies (not only “Post-modern States”, as Robert Cooper defines the West) with a more equal relationship between men and women, a more broad sense of belonging to an international community, a mixing of races with increased migrations and a return to religion as a political tool. The last one is happening first of all with Islamism but also, as a reaction, with the Christian right wing political stands (especially in the US) making us starting to live in post-secular societies (as defined by Habermas) that fight between religion in politics and religiophobia.

To use the words of Thomas Kuhn, we are living in a “paradigm shift”, not so much in the sciences (that evolve when society evolves) but in the society, in particular in the creation of a new planetary society. Our human nature is struggling on the tension between fear and mistrust on one side of its spectrum and love and trust on the other (see “Love and Hate” by Eibl-Eibesfeldt, the founder of Human Ethology). It is natural and it is good we could say. We cannot only progress going forwards otherwise only chaos will be in our future. The arch of history is always bent towards justice, as Marti Luther King said, but it progresses going forwards two steps and going backwards one. Now we are in the backwards one. The risk is that if we don’t control it, it could be a step back so big that would represent a giant leap towards darkness. An epochal crisis of our civilization. We don’t want that, but human nature sometimes has been ruled by irrational behaviors, and cycles of history repeat themselves, making arise and decline of societies and civilizations. As Plato’s five regimes teaches us after Aristocracy, Timocracy and Oligarchy there is Democracy, but after Democracy we go back to Tyranny and the cycle starts again. So we need to ask us today: which culture we want to choose for our future generations, the one based on liberal values or the one based on authoritarian values? Do we want a Renaissance or do we want to open the doors to a new “Middle Age”, the age in the middle between the enlightened times.

“An ignorant people can never remain a free people” said Thomas Jefferson. “We will give you a Republic, if you can keep it” said Benjamin Franklin. But to keep the ability to manage a Res-publica, the “public thing”, we need to fight ignorance, as ignorance breed polarization, populism and finally authoritarianism. This is one of the deepest crises of American and Western democracies: the increasing ignorance of a fast consumerist but slow (and superficial) thinking society that produced a lack of real knowledge, culture and so wisdom. All the rest comes as a consequence. Therefore to chose the path of evolution we need to go back to read books and travel, instead of googling everything, we need to go back to talk to each other’s in the streets, instead of staying closed inside our houses and cars, and we need to recreate that social capital and human trust that is the foundation of any functional society, in particular a liberal democratic one.

Post-modernization and global/glocal-ization contributed to create this superficialization. It is a physical law: if you go horizontally you cannot go vertically, if you expand you become more superficial. There is a superficialization in many spheres: there is a reduction of general power (see “The end of power” by Moises Naim); there is a reduction of the “public sphere”, as Habermas called the space for social life (instead we created superficial, fragmented and polarized networks); there is a reduction of the importance of the mediation of elites (with anti-establishment sentiments against the casts of politicians, the oligarchies that became our democracies); there is a reduction of differences (from languages dying every day to ethnic mixing); and there is a reduction of active political life respect to economic and social automatism and conformism (see already “The Human Condition” by Hanna Arendt).

Also, post-modernity and globalization destroyed the organized and clear life we had in the past creating a life based on thousands of possibilities but also contradictions. We can, but more “we have”, to choose everything in our life, from the type of morning coffee to the health treatment for our lives, from deciding to marry or not (and at which age, with who, for having children or just for having a life in two and so on) to should I answer to this message or not. So our time is constantly interrupted, our space constantly disturbed, our identity constantly recreated in a process of choices, including political choices that resemble more and more a gigantic shopping mall instead of a reflected decision for our future, because we are living in a post ideological society. But this doesn’t make us happier, on the contrary worsen our satisfaction, as we cannot have the pleasure of surprise or calmness, the  “creative idleness” (otium) of the ancient Latins, and we rise expectations and alienations with more disappointments and frustrations (see the TED talk “The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less” by Barry Schwartz).

Our post-modernity is living in constant change, constant crises. Zygmunt Bauman calls our society the “liquid society.” Antonio Gramsci, last century, called the social crisis we were going to live the Interregno “Inter-kingdom.” He argued that the crisis of change consisted precisely in the fact that the old was dying but the new could not be born; in this phase a great variety of morbid symptoms and chaos appear. We know from where we escape but not where we are running. That is what is happening to the US and Western world right now: we know from where it escapes from but not where it is running. Nevertheless as again Latins said: dium vitam et sursum corda, long life and lift up your hearts! As the evolutionary trend of the human specie is what makes its survival. And the optimist trends of modernization and improvement of human life around the planet (from increasing literacy to reduction of extreme poverty, improvement of health and individual empowerment) are there to demonstrate it.