Let me start by saying that I am not an expert in political and social matters, my knowledge is limited to my experiences, my education and my imagination. In the following post I make no claims of being scientific or right, I just want to start a discussion on a subject that seems to be taboo in the society in which I live.
Well then, I formed myself in a democratic system, within the European Union, that allowed me to grow without cultural barriers and helped me to gain a critical historical-political conscience. I live with freedom of speech and freedom of movement (at least within a relatively large space and within the possibilities that capitalism imposes on me) and I could not be happier with all this.
However, the experiences and the confrontations I have faced and assimilated in the past year or so have led me to wonder how a democracy frightened by change can be effective at a time of uncertainties, like the one we are currently experiencing. Heck, the confusion behind the latest political elections in nations such as the USA, France and the United Kingdom, and tomorrow maybe in Germany, Italy and who knows where else, doesn’t give a positive image of democracy in the light of the situations that need to be addressed; a thought I see shared by a lot of people who belong to my generation.
People no longer know who to vote for, and this happens not because of a lack of information (despite the serious problem of misinformation spread by media), but to a lack of prospects that inspire security and stability. And, in my opinion, it’s not fault of the candidates, who are not all that different from those that showed up in the past, but rather of a system that no longer guarantees the certainty that people need in a period of instability.
Looking at history backwards, I find that the democratic system we are used to functions decently during periods of relative peace (social, economic, political and diplomatic) and in limited contexts. Conversely, the higher the population, the more the governmental structure becomes exponentially articulated and vast in a vertical direction, bringing figures like the Prime Minister or the President to move away from the common citizen, knocking down the ideal axioms of a democratic government.
In this regard, sooner or later I’ll have to write some words about the political situation in the People’s Republic of China, as western opinion makers and journalists are quite arrogant on the subject and, willingly or not, they often make some disgusting propaganda on a topic they seem to not fully understand.
Back to us, democracy worked (more or less well) in Athens because its citizenship was narrow and people usually knew each other. They knew who (instead of what) they voted for. Today, this system works well in relatively quiet contexts and with a small population, as in Northern Europe. Elsewhere, in contrast, problems resulting from voting for an election program proposed by a party representing a political orientation are far more pronounced, and personal sphere is relegated to a cancerous gossip that brings out the worst in people, feeding fanbases and whatever. That’s why people like Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen, Beppe Grillo, and so on and so forth, are having success: it’s because populism takes back into play, albeit in a dangerously distorted way, the personal relationship between voter and voted.
The cracks of democracy in its populist drift should make us reflect on what are the causes that have led to this situation and what could the solutions be. Studying, just recently, the history of ancient Rome, made me wonder if we are getting closer to a stage similar to that of the Republic in the first half of the first century BC, when economic crises, political instability and civil wars became unbearable, to the point where the Republic found an effective outlet in the figure of the princeps and in the resulting empire.
There is no perfect form of government, but there are some forms of government more appropriate than others relatively to the historical moment and the events that characterize it, and the world has changed substantially since the end of World War II. Mind you, I’m not calling for the end of democracy, far from me, as I mentioned in the opening lines of this post, but I believe that some things have to change if we want to avoid surprises or crises worse than those that we are living right now.
One of the aspects that amaze me the most of the democratic ideology in which I live is the inflexibility towards other forms of government, almost as if it was taboo to talk about them; I am convinced that if there will ever be a ruinous fall in the West it will be due to this aspect. In Ancient Rome, there was a special magistrate, the dictator, who was supposed to intervene in times of greatest danger to the future of Rome itself, and leave the post to the previous magistrates when the crisis was resolved. In three hundred years there were at least sixty dictatores in Rome that possibly have saved the Republic from situations in which the ordinary magistrates wouldn’t have been sufficiently coordinated and quick to act with efficiency. And, remember, all this well before the actions of Lucius Cornelius Sulla and Gaius Julius Caesar tainted forever the title of dictator.
Obviously the environment we live in today is very different from the Roman Republic and I am convinced that what I have just told you is not applicable to the contemporary world, particularly in light of the fact that the political and economic apparatus are far more complex today and to expect only dictatores honest as Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus is definitely an unacceptable risk. However, I find that there is something to learn from the flexibility of the Roman Republic’s government, which Polybius had praised by calling it a mixed constitution (a synthesis of monarchy, oligarchy and democracy), and keeping the blinders on a pure democracy may be a bad idea. To have, even theoretically, a broad-minded discussion could, on the contrary, lead us to design new mixed forms of government more compatible with the situation toward which we are heading.
We have been clever enough to reach a system that offers freedom of thought and action to its citizens and guarantees, at least in theory, la crème de la crème of human rights, but we are now bogged down in a swamp in which we are slowly sinking and which shows the cracks of a building that may be refurbished with innovative ideas. What are these ideas? Well, I do not know, not yet at least. But I’m willing to find them. And if we commit all together, as a community open to dialogue, using the knowledge of the best in each area and the sensitivity of those living less well-off situations, we could really create a more prosperous and equitable future.
But the conditio sine qua non is to be open-minded, in the true meaning of the word.
What do you think?
By the way, I promised a post about Trump and this is not it. Sorry about that, but stay confident.
She saw me and she cried
For I was not her son anymore
She thought I left
Thinking of her as a whore
She’s wrong and she knows it
Covering her eyes
Then calls me a traitor
A wolf in disguise
“Freedom, my dear
is this your real face?”
I ask in wonder
Not seeing her grace
Stale she became
After giving me height
But all is not lost
For I’ll scry the twilight
– Tomass Vadi