Old and New Populisms
3. Democracy: Evolution or Involution?
3.1. A “totalitarian democracy”?
The crisis of politics and of the traditional parties has remote origins, not only here in Italy but in the whole of the Old Continent, including Northern Europe, traditionally liberal countries, founders of modern welfare. The reasons are complex, and the features that characterise it numerous. The very concept of democracy was the brainchild of the late eighteenth-century French Revolution. Revolutionary France and Rousseau’s ideas laid the basis not only of modern philosophy but also of modern politics. They created the premises for the sociological, cultural and political transformation of the new society that was taking shape. The bitter and violent struggles that followed over the years and which led eventually to the Restoration, impacted upon the social tissue not only of France but that of the rest of Europe too1. In those years, a slow, but continuous march towards individualism began along with a change in personal claims of a political nature too.
Sociology, from its origins in the mid-nineteenth century, availing of philosophical categories, portrayed reality in two distinct modes: the holistic and the individualistic, which have recently been combined. The former, essentially Hobbesian and pessimistic as far as human possibilities are concerned, favoured a rigid system of coercion aimed at creating social order, underlining its reproducibility (positivism) (Cesareo, 1993, p. 62). The latter, thanks to Rousseau, emphasised the idea of natural liberty, original to man, who, as protagonist, impacted on society through direct participation. This is the...
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