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.