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A Morbid Democracy

Old and New Populisms


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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We live in brazenly vulgar times. Totally shameless. But every generation has its own plebs. Imbeciles have always existed, everywhere, amongst the old and the young alike.

(Interview with Vittorio Sermonti, in La Repubblica, daily newspaper 7/4/2013, pp. 52-3)

1. The centrality of the middle classes. Ortega y Gasset

The crisis of democracy, the inadequacy of political parties and representation, the Italian (and not only) élites incapable of answering the challenges of globalization, an increasingly more narcissistic, withdrawn and self-obsessed middle class, a Europe no longer capable of finding common economic and political solutions to tackle the dramatic effects of economic recession.

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