How can the crisis of liberal democracy be recognized?

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William Ewart Gladstone, 29 December 1809 – 19 May 1898, British statesman, presenting the Home-Rule-Bill to the english lower house, / William Ewart Gladstone, 29 December 1809 – 19 May 1898, British statesman, who served in the House of Commons presents the house rules, Historisch, digitally improved reproduction of an original from the 19th century / digital reproduction of an original from the 19th century. (Photo by: Bildagentur-online / Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Liberal Democracy demands respect for others: respect for their values, understanding their interests. It seems the enunciation of a banality but, on reflection, it is not so. For many, in fact, respect for others refers to the old idea of ​​tolerance: the ideas of our political opponents are wrong but behind the ideas there are men, whose person is sacred; errors, therefore, cannot be criminalized above all in order not to risk the dictatorship of the right-thinking over the bad-thinking.

The thesis that I have been making for years in my articles and essays is that no liberal democracy is built on this basis. The basic misunderstanding dates back to the season of enlightenment. The latter have freed the world from many prejudices, traditions, superstitions that have been an obstacle to the full development of individual freedom and citizens’ rights but, with their dazzling light, de-legitimizing the whole past and heralding the New Man – emancipated from every type of chain – they have laicized and secularized the assumption on which the Churches are based – and the universal religions – that is the coincidence between Verum and Bonum between Knowledge and Morality.

It is the reaffirmation, in a modern key, of ‘cognitive ethics’: truths – those of theology or those of the sciences – must be the determinants of action. It is no coincidence that in that part of the West where Catholicism and the French Enlightenment exerted a great influence on education and political culture there are so few treatises dedicated to morality, the latter being considered a chapter of the larger treatise about man, about the world, about history. In order to know how to behave, I must first know who I am, what is the task that has been entrusted to me by the society in which I live – by the political community, by the party, by the class, by the race – what are the duties that I must fulfill so that I can to make my contribution to the well-being and happiness of my fellow men (who become the whole of humanity in the universalist rhetoric).

What’s wrong with all of this? It is simple: it is the refusal to recognize, to take up the title of an essay on the philosophy of law from many years ago, that ‘ethics is without truth’ in the sense that values ​​are not deduced from facts but belong to a dimension in which the criterion of true / false is impossible. It is my conscience that prescribes what I must do, not the Authority ― not even that of those who created the world, as Guido Calogero wrote in a beautiful page – not the knowledge accumulated by lovers of the ‘natural sciences’ and’ sciences of the spirit ‘Political economy can tell me that by acting in a certain way I leave the market; my friends can warn me not to violate the laws of politics if I want to have the votes of my fellow citizens: these are technical judgments – if you intend to achieve a certain result you must use the most suitable means – but the dictates of the economy and policy do not involve any moral obligation.

The values ​​are all on the same level and to order them in a hierarchical scale is not science, collective heritage, but conscience, individual heritage. Freedom and authority, tradition and progress, community and society, solidarity and individualism, enlightenment and romanticism, the armchair and the gym, equality and difference, the native village and the vast world, the aristocratic spirit and democracy, the State over individuals and society in individuals, religiosity and atheism, heroism and prudence, life above all and the challenge of death and danger, with the their infinite variations and combinations, with their inexhaustible symbols, refer to idealities, which are strongly felt by certain human types and are completely indifferent to others.

Having clarified this, in my opinion only a democracy that recognizing all the values ​​in the field, all considered ‘good’ – as rooted in the hearts and such as to induce the sacrifice of goods and life to see them flourish – would have the right to define itself as liberal its constitution only those aimed at presiding over the rules of the game and at keeping the competition always open, within the framework, obviously, of unavailable civil and political rights.

From the rational point of view, what one is willing to die for may seem absurd, like the decision of the young Saracen Medoro, in Orlando furioso, to give pitiful burial to the beloved king Dardinello d’Almonte at the cost of losing his life – “Because it would be a not too careful thought to lose two alive to save a dead person”, his friend Cloridano tells him. But depending on the rationality criterion adopted, all values ​​can appear irrational, starting with those that push to further increase the family’s assets when one already lives in a comfortable condition. An open society is open to all needs, to all interests, to all ethical and political aspirations of individuals: it will be the regulated conflict that determines which ones should be taken into account when writing imperative erga omnes laws; will be the fair compromise (the bargaining of the Americans) to neutralize, with the ‘protection of minorities’, the legitimate desire of revanche of the losers, until the new elections.

When we say that every value is good, we do not mean to deny that absolutized – and without other values ​​that limit its claims – cannot lead to aberrant outcomes and such not due to their intrinsic nature (the victims of the Lager and Gulag for the ” Heaven, from the top of the serene, infinite, immortal worlds ”are one of the many ‘natural’ manifestations of ‘this opaque atom of evil’ which is the Earth) but in the light of an ethical feeling that is increasingly widespread on a planetary level. Equality – the Enlightenment value par excellence – can lead to the violent suppression of those who are linked to an aristocratic or bourgeois-aristocratic society; love for roots can lead to racial genocide: from universalism to the Gulag, one could say, from communitarianism to the concentration camps.

But if the wine of values ​​degenerates into totalitarian vinegar, on the right as on the left – and this happens by virtue of institutional factors internal and external to the states and mentality that have survived the centuries, which would require a separate discussion – this does not authorize the bearers of winning values ​​to treat their adversaries like a dangerous heterodirect herd, a horde of barbarians driven by murderous impulses. With an easy example, there is no right to exclude post-fascists or post-communists from the ‘constitutional arc’ if both recognize that the regimes that have legitimized themselves by referring to the ‘noble causes’ – equality , the nation – have ended up compromising them, since without liberal democracy everything ends up degenerating, validating the old adage that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Yet this is how a certain press portrays the followers of Matteo Salvini in Italy and those of Donald Trump in America. It is enough to be labeled as a sovereignist, nationalist or populist to be expelled from mankind in the name of the fight against what Umberto Eco called the Ur-Faschismus. Today, no space is granted to the community dimension since there are only individuals whose material needs must be satisfied regardless of any ‘belonging’.

A civil war is being prepared between the two souls of a country – the conservative one, the progressive one – when the values ​​of one of the two are torn apart, its symbols and monuments demolished, when the bulldozers of universalism make a scorched earth of the most historical memories. Dear. Here lies the profound crisis of liberal democracy. On a symbolic level, the Nazi fire of the people’s houses is equivalent to the removal of the statue of Lincoln in Boston: the danger of brown shirts – thanks to the US democratic institutions – is incomparable to the devastating fury of the Blacklivesmatters but the symbolic impact is the same . It is the end of that balance between the old and the new that had made the West great: it is the beginning of an era that sees the primacy of human emancipation over the (‘reactionary’) will to save those moments of the ‘world of yesterday’ that, for better or for worse, made us what we are.


Source: Huffington Post Italy Athena2 by www.huffingtonpost.it.

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