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.

Not a Wall, but an American “Grand Tour” to Reduce Racism and Increase Integration

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“At the start of the conversation with Donald Trump, I made it clear that Mexico will not pay for the wall,” Mexican President Peña Nieto declared after their meeting. We don’t know if a wall will really be built between the US and Mexico any time soon, assuming the rare case that the elections in November will be won by the American tycoon. What we do know is that no walls will be able to block the integration of a continent such as America, whose populations are destined to meet and cohabit as Europeans did, even if after centuries of divisions and wars. How, then, can we accompany and facilitate this process? How can we work for mutual understanding among the nations of America?

At the end of the 17th century, young wealthy people, mostly men from England and other Protestant Northern European nations, started a tradition called the “Grand Tour.” The idea was to visit Continental Europe, especially France and Italy, in an educational trip aimed to learn from the past and the cultural roots of Western civilization. Many of those aristocrats not only visited the ancient sites of Greco-Roman civilization but also visited the cradle of the Renaissance, Tuscany, containing my wonderful city of Florence. These young aristocrats on their tour were immersed in the local cultures, learning from the people how they were living, including learning some language skills, in a type of rite of passage to understand and experience the “European life”.

Those travels, we could say, represented the embryonic beginning of the creation of a European identity. Through an exchange among people of different cultures, meeting for the first time not through trade, war, or politics, as in the past, but through journeys of pleasure and learning, contributing to the social construction, not merely the economic or political construction, of a continent “united in diversity” as goes the present day EU’s motto. It is ironic and sad to see how today instead the UK is distancing herself from Europe. Unfortunately though, the Grand Tour was only for the elites, as poor people certainly could not afford such a journey of exploration; that’s why Thomas Cook’s  founding of the first British travel agency in the middle of the 19th century enabled many more people to afford travel, and so began the era of mass tourism.

Today, almost four centuries after the Grand Tour tradition started, it is time to balance modern mass tourism with a new wave of cultural, historical, and ethical tourism. This should happen not only in Europe, but also in the Americas, helping the United States to do with Latin America the same that the UK did with Europe: facilitating the first social seeds of a unified American continent, that will be created in the centuries ahead, in one way or another.

This doesn’t mean that mass tourism should stop, as it is still useful for the economy and society in their entirety. However, it could be accompanied by a new form of travel: American travelers should start to go not only to hotels and tourist resorts that are often a false way of being exposed to a foreign country, but also to local communities, authentic villages, and family homes, in order to become (even if only for few days) part of the local life – learning from their different cultures, their indigenous civilizations –  and why not even the Spanish language, that will become, probably one day soon, the second language of the US.

This would have many side effects besides the start of grassroots integration of the continent. First of all, racism towards Latinos that is starting to accompany the racism towards African-Americans in this country would start to decline when people travel to Latin America and see how people live there, often in humble conditions.

Second, avoiding brand-name chain hotels would allow money to flow directly to local people, helping grassroots development as well as being cheaper for the tourists.

Finally, this type of travel could also, indirectly, help to reduce drug production, drug trade, and drug consumption between the US and Latin America, with beneficial consequences for the economies and security of Latin American countries. A new form of ethical and cultural tourism will not only help the peasants to have an alternative source of income that reduces the need for drug cultivation, but it could also play a role in the reduction of demand for these drugs in the US too. By visiting the countries that produce drugs (such as Mexico), staying with local people, experiencing what is an authentic community life, a warm approach to relationships or a good simple meal, this could reduce the alienation that can make many US citizens prone to drug abuse in order to resist the daily stresses of life today. Coming back to their country these people will not only be authentically refreshed and recharged, but will have a new appreciation of the small things in life, helping them to fight the solitude and the consequent need for intoxicants.

Obviously, security issues should be taken into consideration when planning such travel. In particular, there is the risk of international terrorism, and otherwise it can be difficult to travel to non-tourist places or remote areas due to safety reasons. However, a little bit of risk has always been part of real travel – not mass tourism but the real exploration of foreign places – and today this would be less dangerous than in the past, and could even be less dangerous relative to mass tourism which often provides targets in the form of crowded tourist spots. Thus, travelers should not pay too much attention to exaggerated media reports, and even take the travel warnings of the US government with a pinch of salt, as they often don’t mean that one should not go to a country, but just exercise caution.

It is unclear if the new US President that will be elected in few months will build bridges or a wall at the southern frontier. One thing is sure, however: a wall will not block the migration and the natural encounters among different people. New bridges will allow people on different sides of the border to meet on more equal and open terms, like “individual ambassadors” for cultural exchange and grassroots diplomacy. This is the real foreign policy that the US should pursue to increase soft power and pursue a new American century. It is time to “make America open again” if we want to really live together and learn from each other in this continent. As in the words of Senator Tim Kaine, the probable next Vice President of the United States: “Bienvenidos a todos en nuestro país, porque somos Americanos todos.”

After the failed coup: a second chance for Erdogan or the final end of the Turkish liberal democracy?

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A failed attempted coup happened while President Erdogan was in holiday on the Aegean Sea. Erdogan said was organized by Gulen “parallel state”, other parts suggested it was a hoax organized by Erdogan himself to increase even more its power. We don’t know who is right but one thing is certain: if it was not staged it was bad organized. With one surprising element: the image of military surrendering to civilians was a show of the strength of Turkish population. We don’t know yet though if it was also an image of the democratic health of Turkey or just an image of the increasing massive support that Erdogan has (not necessarily good for democracy, as past multitudes supporting strong leaders democratically elected teaches us).

Now, after the military purge, Erdogan and the AKP have two paths: improve the democracy in Turkey creating a national reconciliation with the secular and leftist forces, giving back liberal freedoms to the press and the civil society and taking the lead again for a peace process on the Kurdish issue, or follow the Putin style: expansion of power towards the absolute (including a strong Presidential system), an increased social and political polarization and the elimination of any element of a liberal democracy (if there is still some in Turkey) apart the elections.

The democratic retrocession of Erdogan is evident already since some years, first of all with the failure of the solution of Kurdish issue, that arrived to target not only civilian Kurdish population besides the PKK in the Eastern regions, but also the first pro-Kurdish party entered in the Parliament, the HDP. Second with an “autoritarianization” of his executive, with the increased exclusion of secular forces in the government and in the bureaucracy of the state, from eliminating few years ago the last Kemalist elites, to eliminating the alternative Islamist approach to politics represented by Gulenists, considered today terrorists in Turkey, to also moderate parts of the AKP more recently, including the only diplomatic Prime Minister Turkey had until now, Ahmet Davutoğlu. Finally with the repression of civil society, from the journalists to the NGOs and the people assembled to protest in the streets to even incarcerating academics that signed petition to ask the government to defend civilians in Kurdish regions (being compared to the same level of terrorists).

So did the AKP moderate political Islam experiment also failed, pushed by external factors but also because of not being able to be inclusive, as it has been for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the Ennahda in Tunisa, or will it be able to survive and improve with more inclusiveness and liberalism in the near future?  One decisive factor in this will be if Turkey will soon win against Jihadist terrorism of ISIS, allowed to grow at the beginning by Erdogan as a tool against Assad and the Kurds, but that finally turned against him too (as usually happen with terrorism, Al Qaeda docet). Because if a government cannot guarantee basic security and safety to its population for a protracted period of time there is not much future for that government, even if it keep expanding the middle class and the economic development, unless it changes its policies both inside and outside the country. Will be Erdogan and the AKP able to create a more efficient and effective foreign policy with at the same time more inclusive and united government?

A more efficient and effective foreign policy should be based on one side on a real fight to ISIS and on the other on a new diplomatic approach to the solution of the Syrian and Iraqi civil wars (as the excluded Davutoglu tried to do) including accepting the presence of Kurds at the negotiating table on Syria. Outside the country terrorism can be won with military and financial fight against the cancer born in the states and pragmatic diplomacy towards the states that host that cancer. Instead Erdogan until now kept the same narrative of showing muscles inside and outside, asking Turkish society and institutions to be strong and Western countries “to take a firm stand against terrorism”. He refused to start a real military intervention against ISIS with the support of some allies – not in the sense of NATO forces as Article 5 has never been invocated for terrorist attacks after 9/11 having become a routine unfortunately today – but in the sense of world powers like Russia, US or France, mostly affected by the Jihadist terrorism, and the regional powers more closely involved, in particular Saudi Arabia. And at the same time he gave complete power to the Army to repress the Kurdish movement, empowering the military even too much with the risk of possible backlashes, including the last coup as some analysts had foreseen.

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A more inclusive and united government is what a country instead needs at domestic level, to win against terrorism, as it can be really won only with national unity. Governments need to be strong but they need to be also inclusive if they want to be effective in the fight for a country survival in the long term. Governments need to have a broad political representation and also the support of a civil society that feel listened and included in the polity. This is the lesson we had in Italy for example in the 1970s and in 1990s, when we won both the Communist terrorism and the Mafia terrorism, because of political compromises and massive civil society participation. Instead Erdogan and the AKP regime are until now representing an increasing exclusive government.

Will Erdogan and the AKP be able to create such shift in the foreign and domestic politics after the failed attempted coup or will they insist in the repression of oppositions in all level of society, from politics, to military, to civil society to foreign actors considered as scapegoat like the Gulen movement? Will a new form of “moderate political Islam” born soon in Turkey, taking from the lesson learned of the past AKP mistakes and bridging the gap between secular and traditionalist Muslims? Future will say but will not be easy, as even in Tunisia the balance between secularist forces and Political Islam is not able to curb the backlash from Islamist radical forces producing so many foreign fighters. But for now Turkey survived another military coup attempt. All opposition parties, including the pro-Kurdish HDP and Gulen movement, condemned the coup attempt and the supporters of Erdogan went to the streets blocking army tanks. We hope that also civilians opposing Erdogan will be able to demonstrate freely in the streets soon again.

 

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