The need to reshape democracies

Giacomo Buldrini
Photo by Michelle Ding on Unsplash
Published on January 17, 2020

Many intellectuals, with the Berlin wall fall, had enthusiastically announced the definitive victory of the liberal democratic model over its possible alternatives. Francis Fukuyama, a world-renowned American political scientist, with the essay “The End of History and the Last Man”, argued that occidental institutions and lifestyle would spread throughout the world and would have caused the end, at its point of maximum development, of the socio-political evolution of human civilization. Fukuyama was not right, indeed, his thought, besides being inaccurate, proved to be dangerous. He convinced us that democracy had reached its all-time peak, that it would adapt to every technological evolution and every social change. But today democracy creaks, in the face of the overpowering power of the social media and the lowering of the quality of political debate, it creaks in the face of the disconnection between citizens and institutions, increasingly perceived as distant and impersonal structures. Confidence in politics has collapsed in recent years, as has electoral participation which, as recent studies show, is increasingly less aware and informed.

In this sense, Italy is an iconic example: according to a study by the institute Ipsos MORI , it ranks first among OECD countries in the distance between perception and reality. The most worrying data, even say it, concern safety: 64% of Italians think that in the last 20 years murders have increased, when the numbers tell us that they have dropped drastically by 47%. Today, more than ever, the need to rethink our democracy is strong and, fortunately, something is moving. In this sense, the growing interest in the model of deliberative democracy, on the part of local and non-local institutions, is a sign of hope.  Despite the growing diffusion of the phenomenon, few people know how deliberative democracy works, a model that recovers characteristics of both representative and direct democracy. At the heart of the concept there is the participation and discussion of citizens. These are selected though sampling, i.e. extraction, from within the entire population, in order to be invited to council meetings where they can deliberate on certain issues. The slogan of the deliberation process is “Information”. The assembly is in fact preceded by the exposition, by specialists, of data and reports on the discussed topic. For more details on methods and technical issues, please refer to the book
“The next democracy” written by Rodolfo Lewanski, professor at the Department of Political Science, University of Bologna. In his book, Lewanski presents some concrete examples of deliberative democracy and particular attention is given to the Irish Constitutional Convention.

In 2012, in the face of the severe economic and political crisis, Ireland decided to modify its constitution through a specially formed commission of 100 members, 66 of whom were randomly selected citizens. Some of the proposals of that committee took the form of referendums, one of which was about homosexual marriage. Often the deliberative processes are initiated by citizens, but in some cases there are local governments that promote these practices, which, in the best case, end up becoming permanent. One example of this is the German-speaking community in Eupen, Belgium, where there is a permanent system of consultation of citizens chosen by lot according to gender requirements, age and level of education, supported by a 24-member council that sets out the agenda for consultation from time to time. The members of the board receive compensation for their work and, every six months, a third of the members of the assembly is renewed.  The result of these processes is not simply the affirmation of one opinion among the many at stake, but rather the compromise between them, the best synthesis of the knowledge and values that each citizen brings with them.

The affirmation of deliberative democracy could, on the one hand, promote the participation and, on the other, the re-establishing of a mutual trust that is absent today between citizens and institutions. The latter, in fact, have limited the civic commitment of the first to a simple electoral vote, triggering a vicious circle that has favored the reproduction of mechanisms of disinformation and disinterest in matters of public interest. Deliberative democracy would come back to promote popular sovereignty, a concept that is on everyone’s lips today but which is often used improperly to justify acts that are anything but democratic, giving back to the citizens the dignity which belongs to them recognizing their proactive, interpretive and deliberative capacity.

Sources

Fukuyama, Francis, “La fine della storia e l’ultimo uomo”, Milano, 1992.

Ipsos Mori, (Market and Opinion Research International) “People in Italy and the US are most wrong on key facts about their society”, 2018. Access Data:
https://www.ipsos.com/ipsos-mori/en-uk/people-italy-and-us-are-most-wrong-key-facts-about-their-society

Lewanski, Rodolfo, “La prossima democrazia: dialogo – deliberazione – decisione”, 2016.
Access Data: https://laprossimademocrazia.com/libro/

OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development).

Wiki Contributors, “Permanent Sortition In Eupen, Belgium”, 2019.
Access Data: https://participedia.net/case/5770

Translated by Valerio Silvestri
Reviewed by Isabella Pessano, Alessandra Monticelli
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