Tag Archives: Plato

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?

 

 

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From democracy to tyranny: is Israel, our “Western democratic” product in the Middle East, going downhill the Agamben “state of exception” or the Plato Tyranny regime?

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“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” (Nelson Mandela)

There are many conflicts and cases of extreme violence today around the planet, causing suffering and destruction for innocent civilians, many in Middle East and Africa, but also in Asia and Latin America. However the Israeli-Palestinian conflict seems to cause more resentment and popular uprising in the world, both the European-Atlantic one and the ‘Eastern’ Hemisphere one, respect to the other places. There is a reason among many: Israel is a democracy (actually praising itself to be the only one in the Middle East) that at the beginning of XXI century is becoming more and more radical and extreme in its lawlessness political practice, starting to commit something not far from a genocide, after applying occupation, reduction in imprisonment and apartheid, to a population residing in its land, that has been neglected since 66 years its right of existence.

At the same time in the world population the Jews are beginning to protest to Israeli ‘policy’ since the beginning of last war on Gaza. Even if Likud keeps being supported by majority of Israeli Jews, the Jews around the world are starting to rebel against the way the Israeli government is dealing the conflict with Hamas (also because of the growing planetary sympathy for Palestinian cause). This could represent a sign of healthy and maturity in a democracy, in particular for Israel, that consider itself the state of the Jews, it seems right that all the Jews in the world, not only in Israel, are entitled to comment, criticize and call accountable the Israeli government. Nevertheless Israel keeps its extreme policies without feeling threatened in its legitimacy by the criticisms of Jews population and, on the contrary, believing that the support of its local constituency entitle it to go on with its final goal, that is to chase sooner or later the people from Gaza, and in general the people from Palestine (actually what is remained of it, with Gaza and West Bank) whatever it takes. This is clearly shown by attacking not only the elected representatives in Gaza and its civilian population but also the culture and the identity of Palestinians (from the schools to the recent bombing of mosques and the Islamic University, accused to be sites of fabricating weapons).

From what is coming the radicalization of Israeli right government? Could be just a fear of losing control by the Israeli population with the clear recent possibility of a Palestinian state (like in authoritarian countries such as China and Thailand, where many middle-class people feeling threatened by the rising demands of the poor, support authoritarian governments that protect their class interests). Or there could be other reasons. But whatever reasons are there to which extreme and how far right a government that calls itself democratic can go before to enter in the sphere of autocracy? Israel clearly shows actions of apartheid, imprisonment, mass murdering and expulsion of population from Gaza and West Bank. (1) Is this a legitimate goal and policy for a democracy, even if it claims is for its legitimate defense? Or is it a symptom of a “permanent state of exception”, as my compatriot Giorgio Agamben would say, and so not anymore a real democracy? Is Israel still a democracy or is going downhill on the path to tyranny as Plato would have said? (2)

A “permanent state of exception” is a state in which the government, all powerful, operates outside the laws, and “a modern totalitarianism can be defined as the establishment, by means of the state of exception, of a legal civil war that allows for the physical elimination not only of political adversaries but of entire categories of citizens who for some reason cannot be integrated into the political system” (3). We could speak about crisis in the functioning of modern democracies, and so also Israel, when the so called “national interests” applied by governments are distant from the requests of their constituencies, because they lack real channels to shift government policies apart from during the elections. Or we could say that Israeli people are more and more distant from democratic values because of the immigration from former Soviet Union and the increasing number of national-religious Jews that are waiting for the Messiah and so are on far right and extreme positions. We could also argue that the UN, the only possible representative of international community, is already an institution out of history being a reflection of post WWII, and today is accepting helpless the policies of a state of exception as it is not able to even declare it as a ‘state of exception’, being its schools bombed and his places passing from places of protection to places of risk. Whatever is the reason though the “permanent state of exception” of Israel seems clear with its recent actions, carried out in particular in the last 10 years. And the third Gaza war seems to set forth the death of this already moribund democracy, which is becoming more a dysfunctional democracy and so almost a kind of tyranny (being in a permanent state of exception).

But the worst isn’t even this for the future of Israel democracy. The worst could be represented by the fact that to maintain the support from the population a tyranny has only one way: use the education, the media and the political rhetoric to do a brain washing to its people, making them believe that the things the autocratic government is doing are for its own good and that the others are the evil. Israeli state needed since its foundation for example to rely heavily on the advocacy and lobby to foster his cause around the world, but today the Israeli government is using this tool more and more evidently to retain its legitimacy even inside his state and among the Jews in the world, instead of thinking to shift or change policies towards more moderate ones in order to recuperate support. So finally the newest democracy product of the “West” could become not only a form of tyranny in the future but a form of “marketing product”, a state based on marketing itself with money, media and lobbies (first of all the most powerful of the lobbies in the world probably, AIPAC in the US). And it would base its legitimacy not on constructive and sustainable policies but on “delegitimizing the delegitimisers”, the ones they consider their enemy, as an interesting recent article from The Economist points out (4). It is the so called “logic of the oppressor” at its extreme potential, that allow for example Mr Netanyahu in his last farce, the press conference after the Gaza war, to say for example that every civilian loss in the last war was “a tragedy of Hamas’ making.” (5) This manipulation of reality trough the use of the media is a typical technique borrowed from autocracies by modern democracies (in Italy we are very expert on this with the capsizing of the truth on every issue by the media magnate and long time Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi).

So is this the future of democracy that is waiting for Israel and for us in the “Western” world? Is a polarized world trying to gain public support to its part, selling its product, manipulating reality trough the subjugation of media and stigmatizing the others that oppose us our future? It seems to me that this kind of future would be even more scaring of the Big Brother. Because if everyone will be not only controlled but brainwashed and taught to create divisions and hate, in order to gain support against the opposition, instead to care, in order to gain compromise with it, that would be the biggest loss of our civilization of democracy.  And there are indicators of this kind of polarization also in Europe and in the US, with a strong wall to wall between populist/nationalist and reformist/democrats in Europe or Democrats and Republicans (Tea Party in particular) in the US since the election of Obama. So we need to start to work against this kind of approach now, without any further delay, and we need to build laws, systems and educative paths that will allow democracies to flourish and evolve, and not to go backwards, citizens to be really active and empowered citizens, and political system to step up on democracy and not go back to tyrannies, especially in a world going dangerously towards crony capitalism and private funding of party politics like our ‘Western’ world.

 

Notes

(1) Actually this attitude of Israel is currently facilitating a reunification of the Palestinian parties (Al Fatah, Hamas and Palestinian National Authority) and their visions. In fact in the West Bank there is another civilian disobedience movements and Intifada starting now, like the first Intifada, where Palestinian people seems unifying again in some way, realizing that they will have to struggle for their freedom, as a peace process with Likud, and Israel for that matter, is not going to be possible.
(2) According to Plato the government of humans is made of five type of regimes that progressively degenerate starting from Aristocracy, Timocracy (similar to plutocracy, where wealthy citizens govern), Oligarchy, Democracy and finally Tyranny. As Plato says the tyrannical man is the worst form of man, because he is consumed by lawless desires to do many bad actions, like mass murdering, close to complete lawlessness, as the idea of moderation does not exist in him.
(3) Giorgio Agamben, State of Exception, 2005, pag 2
(4) http://www.economist.com/news/briefing/21610312-pummelling-gaza-has-cost-israel-sympathy-not-just-europe-also-among-americans
(5)http://guardianlv.com/2014/08/israel-prime-minister-netanyahu-tragedy-of-gaza-the-fault-of-hamas/