The financial elite has bought European liberal-democratic parties, but are these still relevant or simply an illusion of media?
Claudio Salone was a school principal and teacher for ancient literature in Rome
The ‘Perfect Storm’ that occurred in Europe, more or less, between 1989 and 1991 (the fall of the Wall and the dissolution of the socialist bloc), also hailed as ‘the end of History’ and the triumph of the Free World against the barbarity of communist totalitarianism, actually marked the end of Politics, understood as a confrontation between different horizons, as the search for a synthesis, the best possible one, between the different, multiple, contrasting needs and visions of societies.
At the dawn of 1992 only one horizon remained, that of liberal-radical thought, centred on a globalised economy with no rules, on the unlimited freedom of the individual. and on the irrepressible individual ‘rights’. Hence the vertiginous accentuation of the atomisation of communities, the Enrichissez-vous assumed as an absolute principle of freedom and progress, the opening of an ever-widening gap between the haves and the have-nots (see most recently the Financial Times of 23 June, “More than 5m people become millionaires despite pandemic”, which, from an unsuspected observatory, underlines the dramatic dividing dynamic taking place in the world over the last generation).
The retreat of politics – and above all the profound crisis of the twentieth-century parties – has created a vacuum, into which the so-called ‘populism’ has poured, a term used by the international elites to define the ‘belly’, which, as recounted in the apologue of the aristocrat Menenius Agrippa, wants to rebel against the brain that wants to guide it ‘towards the common good’. Naturally, on condition that those who are stomachs remain stomachs and those who are brains remain brains.
However, populism, with all its limitations, naivety and errors, is still politics, with the ambition to think and operate ‘on the foundations’, on the prospects of the ‘polis’, where today only a vacuous ‘politique politicienne’ (party politics) is practised. It is not a party, but a movement, and it makes itself felt a little throughout Europe, from Orban’s Hungary to Kaczynski’s Poland, where it is in power, to Italy, France, Austria and the United States. It is difficult to place it within the traditional schemes of right and left, which some would like to see as obsolete. It responds to the real and irrepressible need to defend the weakest (the plebs, some would say), questioning the most radical economic policies in the liberal sense, even recovering, in some cases, nationalistic and family values.
Of course, it does so in often naive, we might say pre-modern, forms that make the technocrats wrinkle their noses, setting Gemeinschaft (community) and Gesellschaft (society) against each other, if not reviving the alliance between Throne and Altar (see Putin in Russia, but also Kaczynski in Poland and, if you like, Erdogan in Turkey). This is a fluctuating patchwork of contradictory elements, which sometimes coalesce around the extreme right and act as a barrier to the unbridled globalism of big capital and the doctrinaire internationalism of the Neo-Enlightenmentists now in power.
In Italy, in particular, populism, which was already present in the Berlusconi adventure of the second half of the 1980s and in the Lega movement, has ancient roots in the tradition of the capipopolo (leader), from Cola di Rienzo to Masaniello and Guglielmo Giannini’s “Qualunquismo” (indifference), passing through D’Annunzio and Fascism itself. In the course of the 1990s, with Giuseppe Grillo’s M5S, populism found a very peculiar political form, ‘archaic’ and modern at the same time (the centrality of the Net), which refers, with the ideological refusal of representation (One is worth One), to the ancient direct democracy of the squares of the Italian municipalities of the Middle Ages.
The reaction of the other “front” has been and is very hard: considered little more than a gang of dangerous, impertinent and incapable “kids”, the so-called “grillini” have been “bombarded” daily by the press and television, now reduced to mere megaphones of those in control (it would be interesting to know how they “stay on the market”, according to the canons of liberalist economic orthodoxy, the largest Italian newspapers that, in their golden years, reached sales of up to 700. 000 copies a day and which now – Il Corriere della Sera and Repubblica – barely cross the 100,000 mark) with the precise intention of annihilating the ‘anomaly’ that hinders the peaceful zero-sum game between the right and the left, now reduced to feeding a pseudo-conflict between ‘blancos’ and ‘colorados’.
Certainly, at the test of government, naivety and extraneousness to the mechanisms of power management have put the M5S in serious difficulty, even though it holds a relative majority in Parliament. The current operation by Giuseppe Conte, already Prime Minister of two governments, should lead to a clarification, placing the 5 Star Movement-Party on the left wing of the spectrum, but the founder Grillo resists and implosion is at the gates.
If the ‘new’ M5S – assuming it is born – does not succeed in defining itself with strong ‘political’ characteristics, if it is crushed by a PD that is increasingly the ‘party of rights and ‘progressive’ elites, without any ‘class’ connotations, I fear that the only outcome of the operation will be the disappearance of the M5S.
This disappearance, however, will not eliminate the problem of the political representation of unease, as the short-sighted holders of power, who look at the finger and not the moon, would like, but will only help to relocate it elsewhere. In Italy, in this case, the elsewhere is likely to be an extreme right wing which, however, “does politics”, speaks of social redemption, defence of the weak, moral principles, identity, even if in a racist and discriminatory key.
Politics and democracy “simul stabunt, simul cadent” (“They will either stand together, or fall together”). It has already happened in European history that the blindness of the ruling classes has led to a derisory underestimation of the danger. Carl Kraus, the great Viennese intellectual, opens his dramatically prophetic “Die dritte Walpurgisnacht” with the phrase “Mir fällt zu Hitler nichts ein” (“I can’t think of anything to say about Hitler”). Let us try to treasure that lesson.
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