Tag Archives: 5 Star Movement

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?




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


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.