Friday, November 11, 2011

In Italia si dice 'democrazia'

The undermining of democracy in Italy. Tragic! Even in Europe we need to be on guard against democratic decay. Features that Huntington and Fukuyama consider politically immature, part of a pre-modern rather than modern system of governance, are manifested in Italian political life today: the personalization of power, subversion of the rule of law, patron-client relations among other concerns. (Arguably, this might not actually count as "backsliding" if Italy simply never outgrew this phase of politics.)

This article in The New York Times is a great commentary on the underpinning principles of democracy, which is actually a fusion of three trends -- liberalism, republicanism and democracy. [1]

In a republic, political leaders ought to serve the public interest. In Italy today, "Mr. Berlusconi’s behavior and his own words eloquently reveal how his government is based on gaining loyalty through private favors. He truly feels betrayed that elected politicians would put the voters’ interests over their loyalty to him."

Indeed, you have the classic description of caciquismo, the author continues:

"He can be forgiven for feeling this way. Because of his enormous personal power — built on an immense fortune, the proprietorship of a media empire, the rhetorical skills of a demagogue and the control of a political party that he created — Mr. Berlusconi has been able to attain the loyalty of many people. The system he has built has the features of a lordly court: a signore sits at the center, surrounded by a large number of courtesans and servants who owe him their power, their wealth and their fame.

Many of the people Mr. Berlusconi has surrounded himself with are corrupt and servile, all the easier for him to dominate them. People with principles are regarded as dangerous enemies."
However, now that Berlusconi will step down:
"This provides Italy with a chance to begin a process of civic and political regeneration. To do so it must liberate itself not only from Mr. Berlusconi, but also from his system of power, and from the political and moral bad habits that he has reinforced and relied on in the political elite and in large sectors of public opinion.       

The first step should be to abandon the belief, promoted by Mr. Berlusconi’s elite, that to be a free citizen means to be free from the law and civic duties. Italians must also reject the other fundamental dogma of Mr. Berlusconi’s doctrine, namely that the people are not only the sovereign but the judge, and that politicians must therefore be responsible to the people, and not merely to the magistrates. And finally, Italians must rediscover a healthy republican and liberal wariness of any sort of enormous power.

This means going beyond a few necessary reforms. It must be a serious process of moral renewal inspired by the true principles of citizenship."
Amen. Viva la Repubblica.

[1] See "The Self-Restraining State: Power and Accountability in New Democracies" by Andreas Schedler, Larry Jay Diamond and Marc F. Plattner, eds. On page 32, "democracy (in its equalizing impulses), liberalism (in its commtiment to protect freedoms in society), and republicanism (in ist severe view of the obligations of those who govern) each in its way supports another fundamental aspect of polyarchy and of the constitutional state that is supposed to coexist with it: rule of law."

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