Like one century ago we are living troubling times. Europe, in its broadest definition (including Russia) is passing again from economic, democratic and identity crisis and so is searching for a scapegoat, with new imperialisms, new xenophobia, under the forms of Islamophobia or migrantophobia, and a new fascist renaissance. The recent victory of Le Pen in France, but also other fascist style leaders, as Orban or Putin, send bad sensations in that direction. But this time similar trends seems to happen surprisingly also in this other side of the Atlantic, at least if we look at the increasing support to Trump, that has been defined as a new ‘soft’ and ‘joker style’ Hitler or Mussolini. And in the unfortunate case he would be elected as Republican candidate, and moreover in the possible tragedy to be elected President, we should really start to reflect on the mechanisms of democracy. Because in a democracy the political leaders need the follow “the logic of political survival” (Bueno de Mesquita, 2003) that means they need to be elected and when elected to keep their power. In order to do so they have to use deeds and narratives to fulfill the needs and instincts of their constituencies, including fears and xenophobia.
Even if personal and historical analogies are not more than what they are, analogies, sometimes it is useful to study them deeply. As Nye says “historical analogies, though sometimes useful for precautionary purposes, become dangerous when they convey a sense of historical inevitability” (1914 Revisited, Project-Sindicate, 1/13/1914). So will we go downhill again towards clashes and authoritarianisms, with these kind of leaders exploiting fears with hate narratives, even if not exactly in the same way, as one century ago? Fortunately the current technological and information revolution make the people brain washing of propaganda less powerful, but today we are in the times of globalization, homogenization and superficiality and the culture that we receive is not always so deep.
Actually one big difference in the current social and political regression respect to one century ago is that it doesn’t seem counterbalanced by the creative cultural moment of the 1910s and the 1920s: we don’t know if we will live again the only good things of the Roaring twenties, les Années folles in France or il Futurismo in Italy. The problem is also that no European leaders think much on how to improve culture and stimulate innovation and creativity, and if they think to culture is represented as a polarized diversity not as an element of individual empowerment, opening minds and hearts, increasing the respect, tolerance and integration of different people.
Only one leader today in Europe, and in the West in general, seems to believe in the force of culture, Matteo Renzi, the Italian Prime Minister, may be also because he comes from Florence, the cradle of Renaissance, and started to work just one year after another leader that search for dialogue and respect of cultures, who he estimates much, being a fervent religious person, Pope Francis. The irony is that Renzi is probably the only leader of a Western democracy that has not been formally elected, in the sense that he was not the candidate when his party won and after being elected just Secretary of the Democratic Party he stole the PM place of its predecessor with a “soft coup”. Renzi went to “la prima” of La Scala on December 7, the season opener of the most important Opera theatre in Italy, defying security fears that were waiting some attacks, saying “they will not close us in the houses”. After the attacks in Paris, Renzi and his government refrained from starting to bomb Syrian or Iraqi people and allocated instead 1 Billion Euro for home security and the same exact amount for culture. The funds will be used especially in the suburbs where youth of different cultures sometimes clashes, and 500 Euro will go to every 18 year old Italian person in a form of a culture card that can be spent on theaters, museums etc. These actions, besides fighting the fear instead of abusing it, sending people to assist to cultural events, are based on the belief that radicalization, and so risk of terrorism and clashes, will be limited by cultural, besides economic, integration in our countries. This is an logic and common sense reflection to do but our European leaders seems to not buy it, if we look for example at the increased discriminatory policies towards immigrants, especially Muslims, happening in Europe, and specifically in France. The problem is that democratically elected leaders know that “with the culture we don’t eat”, as Tremonti, the Minister of Economy and Finances with Berlusconi in Italy, said. And so if it doesn’t benefit the bellies of the voters is a useless policy, at least for the short term goal to be re-elected.
But the current internal policies of Renzi’s government are also coupled, in the foreign policy, by a diplomatic instead of warring approach, as Italy has a history of pro-Arab, pro-Middle East and mediating foreign policies, since WWII. Opposite to France, that today seems to rediscover its Grandeur or UK that starts again with its old imperialist vision, may be because they feared to lose ground respect to Germanic leadership in Europe or Russian involvement in the Middle East. As we all know it is not bombing more the Middle East, after one century since the Ottoman defeat and its “conquest” by Europe, that we will help it to find a new order. We need to support diplomatic tools, democratic movements and long visionary policies, we need to help Egypt, Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia to go towards cooperative and pluralistic approaches, in the relationship among themselves and inside their countries, we need to recreate the social fabric and the moderate ideological debate destroyed by sectarianism and authoritarianism. Authoritarian regimes supported by the West and the search for only national interest without opening common grounds for regional cooperation, have been useful for the old divide et impera, but will not be conducive to a sustainable and stable order in the future of the region.
Culture is what makes people free. As Paulo Freire said: “Education does not transform the world. Education changes people. People transform the world”. Our hopes resides therefore, more than ever, with the people and their possibility to learn from cultures and empower themselves through education, as our leaders, apart rare cases, don’t seem able today to guide masses to more tolerance, collaboration, prosperity and integration. In particular leaders like Donald Trump, a business man not a politicians, at least in the higher sense of this word, that more than to Mussolini I would compare to Berlusconi, another business man that went to politics just for pure interest of power, and remained in power for almost 20 years, destroying the culture of the Italian people with its superficial televisions and making Italians more racist and fearful of the “others”.