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A Morbid Democracy

Old and New Populisms

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Monica Simeoni

The crisis of democracy in Europe and the inability of the political parties and élites to adequately meet the challenges of globalisation exposes the increasingly fragmented middle classes to the temptations of Euroscepticism, and, in some cases, xenophobia. This appears to be a portrait of contemporary reality, but the current crisis has deep roots. The Spanish thinker José Ortega y Gasset described the pathologies of the mass man and of the nascent democratic system as far back as the beginning of the twentieth century, in a significant text entitled Una democracia morbosa, which appears to foreshadow the present state of affairs. The crisis of the average man, the degradation and devaluation of culture appear to be the distinctive traits of the new, post-ideological democracy of our times, known as «audience democracy». The political parties, faced with this profound crisis, in some cases seek dangerous shortcuts through demagogic and rhetorical use of the term «people», while the charismatic figure of the leader gains in prestige as a reference model. Resentment, caused by lack of representation of the just demands of the citizens, can turn to anger and destabilise the institutions of democracy. There is therefore an urgent need for an inclusive Europe with a renewed welfare system, based around the citizenry and not the masses.
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The crisis of democracy and its institutions is due to the parties which fail to self-reform and only seek to do so under obvious pressure from movements and civil society, weary of promises that are continuously postponed and never implemented.

It is perhaps this, caused also by the success of the M5S during the Italian February 2013 general elections, that has obliged some of the traditional political forces to change their political approach. A glimmer of light shines through the fog of traditional politics that, until recently, seemed quite impervious to change. The road to be travelled down is, however, still quite long. Criticism of the parties does not seem as yet to be accompanied by concrete and comprehensive solutions capable of responding to a model, the traditional party, which should not be criticized only. Proposals for government should also be forthcoming, not only oppositional criticism of the destruens variety. Recession and economic crises wait for no man and they risk, from a cultural point of view too, destabilizing this Europe of ours, incapable of providing credible answers.

In the first part of the text we highlighted the fact that the middle classes, the democratic backbone of every society, had won for itself, in the age of modernity, a position of centrality of action and thought, full, however, of numerous contradictions. The Spanish scholar Ortega y Gasset pointed this out, while also suggesting some solutions. The risk of approved “pensée unique” and “spiral...

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