Post-Democracy in Italy and Europe

by Henry on April 25, 2013

I have a gloomy article on the parlous state of social democracy in Italy and elsewhere in Europe up at Aeon. The draft was completed two weeks ago; if anything the events in the interim have given even more cause for depression. The Italian Democratic Party looks on the verge of entering into a coalition with Berlusconi’s people that is neither appetizing nor particularly convincing – it has also led to a very bad three way split between (1) the party’s old guard, (2) a quasi-Blairite wing lead by Matteo Renzi, the mayor of Florence and (3) the left (who would have liked to see Renzi win, if only because whoever ends up as prime minister under current circumstances is likely to be badly damaged). The Movimento 5 Stelle is still dithering, while trying to attract defectors from the Democratic Party’s left (a few weeks ago, the Democratic Party hoped that all the movement would be in the other direction). It has done poorly in a recent regional election, and is likely less enthusiastic about immediate elections than it was a few days ago. Even by the impressive standards of its international peers, the Italian left and center left have a prodigious capacity for screwing stuff up due to factionalism. It would be fair to say that it’s not withering away through disuse.

Last September, Il Partito Democratico, the Italian Democratic Party, asked me to talk about politics and the internet at its summer school in Cortona. Political summer schools are usually pleasant — Cortona is a medieval Tuscan hill town with excellent restaurants — and unexciting. Academics and public intellectuals give talks organised loosely around a theme; in this case, the challenges of ‘communication and democracy’. Young party activists politely listen to our speeches while they wait to do the real business of politics, between sessions and at the evening meals.

{ 57 comments }

1

William Eric Uspal 04.25.13 at 3:47 am

“a very bad three way split between the party’s old guard, a quasi-Blairite wing lead by Matteo Renzi, the mayor of Florence and the left”

I found this pretty confusing. Perhaps our favorite punctuation mark can save the day:

“a very bad three way split between the party’s old guard; a quasi-Blairite wing lead by Matteo Renzi, the mayor of Florence; and the left”

Huzzah!

2

Henry 04.25.13 at 4:00 am

Am a fan of the artfully deployed semi-colon, but have opted for a less elegant (albeit more transparent) fix.

3

js. 04.25.13 at 4:07 am

What you needed was the Oxford comma, of course. (And yes, I stumbled over that bit as well, and then supplied the necessary comma in my head, so to speak.)

4

david 04.25.13 at 4:15 am

I wonder whether the ‘post-democracy’ thesis is essentially Goodhart’s law writ large: when democracies target things which are easy to mobilize and vote about, things which are easy to mobilize and vote about diminish.

(And so we wind up complaining that subcontractors exist, or that unions willingly let companies talk them into investing whole pension funds into their own corporate debt, and in doing so defang every form of industrial action)

But on the thesis itself, I think Rodrik beat Crouch to it.

5

QS 04.25.13 at 5:57 am

Very nice article.

“Instead of clamping down on such abuses, the state has actually tried to ape these more flexible and apparently more efficient arrangements, either by putting many of its core activities out to private tender through complex contracting arrangements or by requiring its internal units to behave as if they were competing firms. As one looks from business to state and from state to business again, it is increasingly difficult to say which is which.”

I think you undersell this one. The problem is state capture by finance capital and giant conglomerates, relaxing regulations on mergers and eliminating restrictions on financial machinations, leading to even more concentration of economic power, leading to deeper penetration of the state, bigger mergers, less oversight, etc. etc.

6

shah8 04.25.13 at 5:57 am

Oh, hi there Hugo Chavez, attempt any coups lately?

Gotta remember, Chavismo was a direct response to the “post-democracy” dilemma. Latim America has already been through this, actually–everything from the dimunitization of the OAS, to the renationalization of local assets of international business (and other forced attention to local concerns, like Brazil’s fining of McDonald’s over their Happy Meal ads), to new constitution that give political actors more power over bureaucratic and corporate actors.

I don’t think this phase will last much longer, because I think that a double-dip recession in the US is extremely dangerous to status quo, and certain policy makers recognize this. In other words, the rest of the world is almost certainly going to gang up on the Germans, once again, for old time’s sakes. The IMF shooting across Cameron’s brow is a warning…

7

Hoover 04.25.13 at 9:25 am

You say “In the 1990s and the 2000s, right-wing parties were the enthusiasts of the market, pushing for the deregulation of banks, the privatisation of core state functions and the whittling away of social protections. All of these now look to have been very bad ideas.”

The banks have never been more regulated than in the period leading up to the crisis.

It’s impossible to claim that whittling away of social protections now look like a very bad idea when in the 2000s the welfare state grew to a scale never before experienced.

8

emmrob 04.25.13 at 11:00 am

Italy is the best example showing why a single currency area within Europe doesn’t work. The Italian wealth looks like a financial powerhouse, but it’s economic dynamics since the start of the eurozone are a disaster. As a result democracy itself is threatened.
Readers from the Netherlands are advised to visit: http://www.economie-macht-maatschappij.com/italiaanse-economie.html

9

SamChevre 04.25.13 at 1:08 pm

I think that there is a large portion of the move away from democracy that the article misses completely. (I know the US, so I will talk about the US; I understand that Europe has related phenomena.) “People still vote…. Yet these acts of apparent choice have had their meaning hollowed out.”

In the US at least, this has been driven by the left much more than the right. Comparing the US political scene in 1930 to the one today, power has moved from local democracies to national courts and bureacracies. Comparing 1960 to today, the move has been from national democratic bodies to the courts and bureacracies.

It’s not just (in my view, not even mainly) business that’s replaced democracy; it’s the regulatory agencies and the courts. (For a current example, look at the debate over gay marriage in California; the democratic process has rejected it what, 6 times now? The courts resolutely refuse to be constrained by the voters.)

Both on the left and on the right, though, I think the basic counsel is one of despair. I see no morally acceptable path that will make the American worker as well off in a world of expensive energy and developing-world participation as in the 1960’s world of cheap energy and only developed countries having advanced manufacturing.

10

P O'Neill 04.25.13 at 1:43 pm

Appropriately gloomy.

Typo alert: Francoise Hollande? I know the man has difficulty managing his women but let’s not take it that far.

Also, doesn’t the opening anecdote — leftists meeting a Tuscan summer school — illustrate part of the problem? It’s probably easy to feel superior to sleazy billionaires in that setting, but it doesn’t help with the outreach to the disaffected potential voters.

Another puzzle is Ireland. The time should be perfect for an alternative political movement to emerge. It’s in the polls (huge percentages for independent and disaffected). Of course there’s the issue of whether SF should be seen as part of that response. But the stranglehold of conventional politics remains very strong.

11

Marc 04.25.13 at 2:21 pm

@9: A lot of us view the civil liberties protections in the US Constitution as the strongest feature of our political system. It’s actually a good thing that majorities can be prevented from enacting punitive laws directed at minorities.

More to the point – my God, have you kept up with what the courts have been doing in the US? Radical re-interpretations of the Second Amendment; dismantling campaign finance rules; and drastic expansions of corporate power. On economic matters the courts are as conservative as they were before the Great Depression.

And, of course, gerrymandering and filibusters have made our system both unrepresentative (the party with the most votes doesn’t have the most House seats, for example) and unresponsive.

12

JW Mason 04.25.13 at 2:44 pm

Henry,

Have you read any of Luciano Canfora‘s stuff on democracy? Any opinion?

I bring it up because, without disagreeing with you on the current moment, we might want to think more critically about what it’s being counterposed to. It’s interesting to think of “democracy” not as in some sense the normal structural condition of rich liberal states, not as a set of political institutions, but rather as something that happens in discrete moments of disruption and conflict.

In Canfora’s vision, as I understand it, a closed elite is perfectly capable of reproducing itself within a political system organized around elections. It’s when non-elite people riot in the streets — literally or metaphorically — that they win concessions, which are then gradually eroded over years of routine politics.

I think this is, at least, a useful alternative perspective — that there’s nothing especially unusual about the lack of democratic accountability through the formal political institutions of Europe, and that the variable that matters is the amount of pressure being exerted outside of routine politics. Certainly it seems that to the extent we’re seeing a turn away from austerity, it has little or nothing to do with preferences registered through the electoral system, but is all about the increasing threats of disruptive reactions outside of routine politics.

13

Henry 04.25.13 at 2:56 pm

P O’Neill – thanks for pointing out the typo (my fault) – have asked Aeon to fix it. I do wonder what might have happened in Ireland if the Fintan O’Toole-and-others movement had managed to gel into a competitive party. I think that there might have been room for a genuinely republican (in the small r sense) party in Ireland.

JW Mason – I haven’t read him, but his ideas looks interesting and relevant. And congratulations on the job …

14

Steve LaBonne 04.25.13 at 3:30 pm

To Marc’s cogent response to SamChevre I would add that regulatory agencies, like the courts, have largely been captured by business. Thus we have, for example, financial regulatory agencies which are far more concerned with propping up financial companies than with protecting consumers of those companies’ products, and “business friendly” workplace safety regulators who sit on their hands while the conditions that permit disasters like West, TX develop. The idea that any of this has anything to do with “the left” is beyond risible.

15

Mao Cheng Ji 04.25.13 at 3:47 pm

“In Canfora’s vision, as I understand it, a closed elite is perfectly capable of reproducing itself within a political system organized around elections. It’s when non-elite people riot in the streets — literally or metaphorically — that they win concessions, which are then gradually eroded over years of routine politics.”

That’s a great perspective. Except that this is the case with any hierarchical structure. And democracy, at least ideally, is not suppose to be one of those. Sorry, I am confused now.

16

William C 04.25.13 at 4:19 pm

Hoover

‘The banks have never been more regulated than in the period leading up to the crisis.’

Would you care to expand on this statement?

17

SamChevre 04.25.13 at 5:15 pm

Marc @ 11, Steve LaBonne @ 14

It might be worth my noting that I agree that the strong protections for minority rights in the US Constitution (strong property rights, freedom of speech and association) are good features. I would insist that they are not democratic, and put sharp limits on what voting can change.

18

Barry 04.25.13 at 6:42 pm

Hoover: “The banks have never been more regulated than in the period leading up to the crisis.’

William C: “Would you care to expand on this statement?”

Just as the Bush-lovers don’t count 9/11 or the Great Financial Crash against his record, some people don’t count such trivia as ‘derivatives’.

19

House Carl 04.25.13 at 7:10 pm

SamChevre @9 and @17

The reason gay marriage restrictions keep getting overturned in court is because of questions of their constitutionality. Constitutional limits on what voting can change are a feature, not a bug.

And where would be a better place to decide constitutional matters other than a court? Constitutional matters are the very heart of law, and if matters of law aren’t being argued in court then what use is that branch of government?

20

James 04.25.13 at 9:12 pm

Barry @18, It should be clarified first. Is Hoover referring to bank regulation in Europe or Bank regulation in the US.

21

pjm 04.25.13 at 9:14 pm

@11, 14 17 etc. I am always mystified by the tendency of American liberals to see Constitutional limits on change (enumerated freedoms in the Bill of Rights excepted) as a good thing. Why? The minorities they have always had a tendency to protect were privileged minorities (not for instance, um, racial minorities). The have always done more to hold back reform than the floodgates of reaction (indeed, much of their genesis in the political compromises needed to safeguard slavery). The only positive cast on them is that they are the sort of thing that might be useful when you can’t have democracy. Dan Lazare made the argument in Frozen Republic that many successful democracies do just fine with any Constitution at all (i.e. some set of formal limits on representative democracy) and though I am not sure about that as an absolute statement, I think the American experience gives him lots of ammunition.
Finally, as the reaction myth, I just think a large part of the tendency to reaction in US society comes from the frustrations built into a frustratingly unresponsive “democracy”.

22

marthe raymond 04.25.13 at 9:45 pm

shah 8: Please explain how chavismo was a direct response to the post-democracy dilemna.

Let me say up front that I don’t see it that way. In order for something to be post-democracy, there had to have been democracy (just as post-modern implies that moderism existed)–and in Latin America until quite recently all democratic experiments had been nipped in the bud by the gringo government. Here in Mexico, I am referring to the fact that in February of 1913–just a little over a year after Francisco Madero’s revolutionary democracy sat down in the presidential chair, the US government backed a coup against him. It is still very much a moot point as to whether there will ever be a democratic regime in Mexico–the country of the Perfect Dictatorship (in the words of Mario Vargas Llosa before he became a pimp for fascism).

The same can be said for the rest of the countries in Latin America. In the case of Venezuela, the last military dictatorship–which resulted from the US backed cup against another very brief democratic experiment in the late 40s by writer Rómulo Gallegos–ended in 1958 with the Pacto de Punto Fijo, which resulted in alternation of the two principal parties of the oligarchy in the power until Chávez was elected in 1998. The intervening 40 years was not a period of democracy as the majority of the people had no voice whatsoever in the running of the country.

Chavismo was a reaction to a LACK of democracy, and came to a head following the Caracazo of February 1989, when president Carlos Andrés Pérez imposed a drastic FMI package, folks protested and an uncounted number were killed on the orders of CAP.

Chávez ran on a platform of democracy, a new constitution and redistribution of the wealth. Considering that Venezuela has one of the lowest Ginis in the hemisphere, at 0.39, I wuld say he was pretty successful at democratizing the country–at least for those who didn’t have a pot to pee in before he tok power. The fascist oligarchy has no inclination to democracy–as we are seeing in the extended tantrum of literal murder and mayhem they have thrown, financed of course by the gringo government, since their candidate lost the April 14th election.

23

Random Lurker 04.26.13 at 12:49 am

I would like to point out that what you call ‘democracy’ is really a limited form of socialism.
In fact you speak of “social democracy” (which is a form of limited socialism ) but then switch to the more generic term “democracy”.
Try to substitute all occurencies of the words “democracy” and “social democracy” in the op and in the article with the word “socialism” and you’ll see that the text sounds much clearer.

This is a problem for me because, apparently, a lot of people would like some forms of limited socialism , but are scared of the term (because everyone knows that socialism doesn’t work and leads to Stalin ) and as a consequence cannot articulate what do they want.
This is certainly true of many of my grillini friends, and is likely true of Bersani too.
I think this is the main problem of the left today.

24

marthe raymond 04.26.13 at 1:28 am

The main problem of the left today is that it doesn’t exist–except in a few isolated cases, most of which are in South America.

25

roger nowosielski 04.26.13 at 2:15 am

The featured article makes very much the same point.

I’d like to refer the participants to the following article, “The Politics of Incivility,” which, of all places, had started in Italy.

It definitely looks as though chicken have come home to roost.

26

Marc 04.26.13 at 2:49 am

@21: I was thinking precisely of the Bill of Rights. If you’re referring to the numerous veto points in the US system then I agree; they’ve been barriers to progress.

27

Anarcissie 04.26.13 at 3:55 am

I can’t help wondering what is meant in this by democracy, which must have existed at some point in historical space and time for us to now have post-democracy, as Marthe correctly observes. What is that point? I do not see either parliamentary scheming or the Bismarckian welfare state as particularly democratic, although, yes, they are more sort-of-democratic than Hitler and Stalin. Perhaps I am overly concerned with etymology, but I want to know where the demos has actually exerted kratia, other than by vague diffused pressures or blind rebellion. It seems to me it would be quite a striking development, hardly something we had passed.

28

Mao Cheng Ji 04.26.13 at 7:35 am

A constitution may or may not hinder; Iranian does, Swiss does not. In the US, I think, it’s exactly the bill of rights that produces all the meaningless ridiculous sophistry.

29

Random Lurker 04.26.13 at 9:04 am

Another point :
The italian center right PD is getting more right leaning every day, but this happens because voters want it.
For example the article cites Renzi, mayor of Florence, as the more centrist rival of Bersani. This is true, but polls show that if new elections were held one month ago with Renzi at the top of the PD instead of Bersani, the PD could win the elections. The leftist party Sel (sum of the greens and of former Communist Refoundation party) is barely surviving at 3%.
Grillo is a very ambivalent mix of occupy and teapartism, and while as I said uptread many of the things grillini want are a form of limited socialism, they would reject the term.
Grillo in fact successfully appeal to many right wing people.

So in some sense this shift to the right is very democratic .

30

Mark 04.26.13 at 11:09 am

Anarcissie may need to search indigenous histories for those moments of democracy and view European social democracy as something of an import.

31

JW Mason 04.26.13 at 12:40 pm

Henry-

Thanks!

32

Sebastian H 04.26.13 at 3:37 pm

“More to the point – my God, have you kept up with what the courts have been doing in the US? Radical re-interpretations of the Second Amendment; dismantling campaign finance rules; and drastic expansions of corporate power. On economic matters the courts are as conservative as they were before the Great Depression.”

Marc, it looks like the two of you are agreeing here. Samchevre is talking about how the courts and agencies have taken (been given?) more and more power at the expense of democracy. He suggests that the left/right direction has been a mixed bag, but the less democratic power/more court/more agency power has been consistent.

As for Europe, the anti democratic moves have been intentional. They were particularly transparent with respect to Berlusconi (get rid of him or we trash your economy just because we can) and haven’t gotten better since. While I thought the euro (currency) project was a bad idea, not in my scariest nightmares did I imagine it would be this bad. It seems as if the ECB is determined to prove the nuttiest right wing conspiracy theorists correct.

33

roger nowosielski 04.26.13 at 4:46 pm

@ 30

Indeed, a very interesting perspective, JW, almost endorsing anarchistic strategies if you want anything done.

Reminds me of one of the ideas behind the French Revolution (a paraphrase, of course) that no institution is meant to last forever, that we should always be in the business of tearing them down and building anew.

34

House Carl 04.26.13 at 7:07 pm

A constitution may or may not hinder progress, but a democracy without one isn’t a good idea. Unless, of course, all “progress” is equally good and every policy generated from democratic debate is by definition the best possible route.

No, I think I would rather remain pragmatic about it. In an of itself, democracy cannot ensure rights that really should be ensured. Though I haven’t read ‘Frozen Republic’, common sense tells me that whatever a democracy can giveth, a democracy can taketh away.

35

gordon 04.27.13 at 2:57 am

Sam Chevre (at 9):

“I think the basic counsel is one of despair…”

Oh, I don’t know. Energy and globalisation (which you refer to) could be subjects of policy. Try this:

http://www.cepr.net/index.php/publications/reports/inequality-policy/

36

pjm 04.27.13 at 2:37 pm

@34 H.C. The idea that formal Constitutions actually have a (substantive) positive affect in terms of civil liberties etc, is not actually factually supported (now matter how appealing it seems in theory).
The second point about democracy betrays a deeply and unduly pessimistic view. One of the reasons why democratic polities don’t go “hog wild” repressing minority viewpoints at the slightest provocation is because everyone finds themselves in the political minority from time to time. And in general, public sentiment is mediated (necessarily) and “smoothed” through political parties anyway (except of course in the US).
Logic dictates that they only alternative to majority rule is minority rule.

37

marthe raymond 04.27.13 at 2:55 pm

Pjm: I don’t agree with your logic. You assume that tweedledee and tweedledum are the only two optiond, then claim that tweedledum is the only option in the absence of tweedledee.

Your premise is wrong, as it posits being ruled as the only society condition.

There is also the possibility of not being ruled, and it has is attractions; anarchy did not come out of the air.

And there is also the model of indigenous folks–autonomy of groups. We don’t like the idea of centralization, as that just means minority rule.

Yes, we formed confederations–my people actually came from two–but that was because the English and French were disputing OUR land…..

38

Roger Nowosielski 04.27.13 at 3:18 pm

Well, a confederation, especially when formed to ward off aggression, is not the same as centralization, as you aptly point out.

Of course, it may lead to one because of human hubris, the Athenian Empire being a case in point.

39

marthe raymond 04.27.13 at 5:44 pm

So far as I know, the Athenian Empire evolved more than anything else from the institutionalization of racism–espcially in regard to the Macedonian tribes. My own brief experience in the Greece of this moment indicates that it has not changed.

The Greeks created western racist imperialism, the Romans institutionalized it, and the US is the convulsively dangerous lashing of its dinosauric tail.

40

Roger Nowosielski 04.27.13 at 9:12 pm

I suppose you’re right — they were already dominant, prior to the formation of the Delos League, which is why it seemed “natural” that they (Athens, that is) would be put in charge over the remaining city-states, in terms collecting tribute, etc. And of course, once the coffers were transferred to Athens, she’d dip in to suit her own self-aggrandizing purposes. Considering however the near constant enmity between the Greek city-states, whether culturally- linguistically- or ethnically based (e.g., Ionians vs. Dorians), this was the first known attempt at (con)federation vis-à-vis the common enemy, the Persian enemy, don’t you think?

As to racism in antiquity, I don’t know. Suffice it to say, the Greeks were ethno/lingo/centric to an extreme, so that anyone who didn’t speak their language was a barbarian (their term), derived from “barbar,” I believe (which is how all non-Greek tongues sounded to them, as per Kitto). On second thought, however, Martin Bernal’s thesis, Black Athena, does
seem to confirm your point.

41

pjm 04.27.13 at 10:19 pm

@37, the appeal to anarchy leaves me curiously unmoved. Not that it isn’t a bad ideal to aspire to, I just think it unlikely except as the popular choice of already highly democratic societies. And even then, it is likely to be transitory. Except perhaps in the long run, when are we all post-scarce.

42

roger nowosielski 04.27.13 at 10:34 pm

“. . .except as the popular choice of already highly democratic societies . . .”

Or perhaps a reaction against highly sophisticated societies in the methods and mechanisms of domination (Foucault), or even blatantly oppressive societies (e.g., nihilism, Dostoyevsky)

43

pjm 04.28.13 at 12:12 am

@42, as to references to Foucault and subtle methods of social control etc. I have for a long time possessed the suspicion that so much of post-* social critique was based on worldview that saw (progressive) revolutionary change as an active dynamic in the West and had to bring high-powered arguments to account for its absence (theorizing about social structure and grand narratives) and from there progress to new strategies. I find Bernstein’s viewpoint more plausible (Godot was never going to come in the first place), and view much of post-modern theory (along with most cultural radicalism) as a dead end as a guide to political action.

If we just get the cultural critique right, Capitalism will collapse like a house of cards, or (the anarchist version), if we don’t get the critique right we’ll end up enslaved automatons milling around the Panopticon. Even though politically sympathetic, I don’t buy either of these claims (though would pay more attention to the latter, but maybe that’s just the worrier in me).

My big complaint, given a continuing commitment to a non-doctrinal anti-capitalist project is the degree to which democracy, as both goal and vehicle, gets inadequate attention and (sympathetic) theorizing from the intellectual Left. Social democrats tend to be aimless; Marxists deploying the rhetorical trope of “bourgeois” democracy; anarchists pushing decentralization and direct democracy. I find each of those in some measure regretable or misplaced.

44

marthe raymond 04.28.13 at 12:35 am

Pjm: I mentioned anarchy merely in passing in my post.

The point of my argument had to do with autonomy in the indigenous model, which despite the best and/or worst attempts on the part of dominant colonial societies to extinguish it, persists. There are numerous examples here in Mexico–most notably being the groups affiliated with the EZLN (neozapatistas) in Chiapas–an alliance based on the autonomous agrarian operations of the original zapatistas under the leadership of Emiliano Zapata here in my state, Morelos.

What I am saying is that I don’t see the need to reinvent the wheel–especially since the forms of domination have been shown to be square wheels.

45

roger nowosielski 04.28.13 at 1:12 am

@43, pjm

I don’t think Foucault himself was “doctrinal,” though some of his followers may have been. As to “solutions,” Lyotard has a thing or two to say on this, though the solutions are regional, small-scale. In any case, I don’t regard postmodernism critique as any kind of program, only as a means of understanding what may have escaped the ordinary vision.

So you’re suggesting that critiquing Project Enlightenment should be supplemented by a thoroughgoing exploration of Project Democracy? A la Richard J. Bernstein (I suppose) and Habermas? Is that the “non-doctrinal anti-capitalist project ” you have in mind.

Since we’re on the subject, you might be interested in the following take on “democracy”:

“Have you read any of Luciano Canfora‘s stuff on democracy? Any opinion?

I bring it up because, without disagreeing with you on the current moment, we might want to think more critically about what it’s being counterposed to. It’s interesting to think of “democracy” not as in some sense the normal structural condition of rich liberal states, not as a set of political institutions, but rather as something that happens in discrete moments of disruption and conflict.

In Canfora’s vision, as I understand it, a closed elite is perfectly capable of reproducing itself within a political system organized around elections. It’s when non-elite people riot in the streets – literally or metaphorically – that they win concessions, which are then gradually eroded over years of routine politics.

I think this is, at least, a useful alternative perspective – that there’s nothing especially unusual about the lack of democratic accountability through the formal political institutions of Europe, and that the variable that matters is the amount of pressure being exerted outside of routine politics. Certainly it seems that to the extent we’re seeing a turn away from austerity, it has little or nothing to do with preferences registered through the electoral system, but is all about the increasing threats of disruptive reactions outside of routine politics.”
Post-Democracy in Italy and Europe” comment #12, Crooked Timber.

(The link to Camfora’s book, pdf downloadable, is embedded in that comment. )

46

roger nowosielski 04.28.13 at 1:42 am

@43

“I have for a long time possessed the suspicion that so much of post-* social critique was based on worldview that saw (progressive) revolutionary change as an active dynamic in the West and had to bring high-powered arguments to account for its absence . . . “

Well, yes, of course, since you put it that way. But it was a right kind of worldview, under the circumstances, since Project Enlightenment was assumed to carry so much promise.

47

pjm 04.28.13 at 2:11 am

@44, MR, apologies for “talking past” you then. Any strong advocacy I might make about democracy in the U.S. or Europe would not, as I think you probably agree, translate elsewhere.

48

pjm 04.28.13 at 3:14 am

@45, having been around both Marxist and academic political theory for a long time, nothing about Camfora’s ideas, if I interpret them correctly, seems particularly new. I think they are more correct or not depending on the state of democratic development. Part of the problem, I see, is with the tendency for many Leftists to collapse the reality of advanced democracies into a position similar to Camfora’s.

If one thinks, as I do, it is worthwhile to imagine a incrementalist (or evolutionary) strategy to transform Capitalism in an progressive direction (I sincerely doubt anything else will work – except by cosmic fluke) that leads in certain directions. With that starting point, it rather changes, among other things, ones attention to the details of democratic politics. For instance, the “European” project is problematic for the Left not simply because of those backing it as much as because of the challenge to “accountability” (and thus to popular mobilization) that the institutions Federal Europe poses (as federalism in general undercuts accountability).

As to comments about Foucault, the Enlightenment, etc. I will confess a substantial indifference to philosophical regimes of any kind (which I suppose makes me a Rortyian). Philosophy succeeds as critique but critique is not nearly sufficient for political strategy and theory building does rely on a significant empirical component. My comments about Foucault etc were more aimed at the political assumptions built into the world view of the (primarily French) intelligentsia (whether those stem from intellectual culture or the deeper within the French political psyche) which exert influence either through philosophical theory or bypassing it altogether. But I do think the political assumptions in post-modernism (for instance) feed back and promote either a culture radicalism (which is not deny the utility of cultural analysis) or a heightened pessimism. To reiterate, one’s expectation that the Revolution should have happened by now (1920, 1950, 1960 etc) largely pre-determine what one believes to be the important questions that any social or political analysis has to answer, leading to overly structural and/or overly deterministic classes of theorizing. Determinism begets determinism, etc.

49

marthe raymond 04.28.13 at 4:54 am

Pjm: Wittgenstein said that philosophy’s task is to flatten out the bumps in the road caused by language. When I read that 50 years ago I knew it was going to stick with me.

I have taught a lot of Wittgenstein to quite a range of students–from 6th graders to graduate students–and have noticed that the kids “get” him right off the bat, while graduate students–especially philosophy graduate students–go round in circles with him.

Your writing and thinking style as reflected in your writing here is also very circular. That’s what happens when you are a prisoner of language””””’

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marthe raymond 04.28.13 at 5:09 am

Sorry, the phone froze. Should be language’s perverse capacity to produce tautological cancers.

You cannot limit the set of possibilities to repetitive riffs of language and expect not to suffer. Not only does the grammar and syntax of a language reflect the world view of its user (Boaz, Whorf and Sapir) but the limitation of that language to false sets of options and deceptively comfortable tautological constructions rapidly paints the user into a corner.

It seems to me that’s what you have done. And I, for one, am unwilling to put myself in that corner with you, as it is a dead end.

Perhaps if you critically analyze your use of language you will be able to find your way back out of that corner. Read what you write as if it were not your writing and you may see what I have described.

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Roger Nowosielski 04.28.13 at 5:32 am

@48

Rortyism: Democracy over Philosophy

First, to agree with you. Yes, I do believe that the project, United Europe, is a way to go, a model (though it must be based on political, not economic unity). Further, I think you’ll also agree that the political solution must precede all others — economic, social, etc.

Now, here’s where I’m having a problem with your analysis, and forgive, it’s the anarchistic streak in me: nation-states, being at near-constant war/competition with one another, can’t possibly support/cultivate/provide the right kind of environment for the blossoming of a genuine democracy. Get rid of nation-states, whether by means of federation or any other means, fine: then we stand a chance. But meanwhile, and that’s my second question, which exactly are “the advanced democracies” you speak of? Where should we look?

Do you perchance subscribe to Castoriadis’s views on democracy and autonomy?

Just a long shot.

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Roger Nowosielski 04.28.13 at 5:41 am

Well, we do have one thing in common, Marthe –Mr. W.

I’ve been taught by third-generation W’s students, one of them, a student of O.K. Bouwsma, and I was never the same again.

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Roger Nowosielski 04.28.13 at 5:47 am

A case of intelligence bewitching language”

Yes, we’ve all got to be mindful.

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marthe raymond 04.28.13 at 6:10 am

Roger: Wittgenstein also said: The world is what it seems to be.

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marthe raymond 04.28.13 at 6:27 am

The universe ate the rest of my post and the phone seems to want to control this exchange: BUT, I believe that the perception of the world is different if one does not share a common language with another person. Just as “If a lion could talk, we wouldn’t understand him”.

And I believe that language, not intelligence, is the bewitching element–the witch in the woodpile. So unless you meant to write intelligence-bewitching language, I have to disagree.

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Roger Nowosielski 04.28.13 at 8:27 am

It was a pun.

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pjm 04.29.13 at 4:51 am

@49, M. That’s the philosophical conceit, that it’s so important to not to be circular, that some sort of linear progress can be expected. But philosophy has been promising that for centuries and I doubt even many philosophers believe it any longer. There is nothing wrong with circularity or being in a corner, it is the usefulness of the position, especially in its ability to find accord with evidence, not the direct of line of descent from first principles that’s important.

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