Tag Archives: Renzi

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 social media technology started to empower individuals and at the same time superficialize and polarize them, and the populist feelings started to be fed in particular by the 5 Star Movement birth, apparently bottom up but behind the scene with the Big Brother approach, already in 2005 with around 40 “Friends of Beppe Grillo” Meetups (using the American born Meetup idea).

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 a decade or so 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, but cannot disappear as representative democracies needs politicians. Otherwise you have fake “direct democracies” that hide what they really are: autocracies, or as Plato said about the failing of democracy: new tyrannies.

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

 

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Where our Western democratically (or not) elected leaders will bring us?

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”.