Daniele Archibugi

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In the last years, populism has advanced in many consolidated as well as in young democracies. As highlighted by the latest Freedom House’s report, global freedom is experiencing an unprecedent stagnation. For the 13th consecutive year the countries who suffered a retreat outnumbered those who registered a democratic gain.Democratic partisans have proposed several strategies to face this issue, most of which are centred on the implementation of national reforms. However, international organizations could also contribute in several different ways to safeguard and democracy promotion in authoritarian countries as well as to improve it in consolidated democracies.Two interconnected democratic deficitsIt has become more common to talk about democratic deficit, but the term can be referred to two different situations. The first is about the fact that not all nations are democratic while the second acknowledges that global decisions are not taken democratically. Decisions about combatting climate change, controlling financial speculation and managing migration flows are not subject to democratic control or input from global citizens.These deficits are interconnected. An international organization with predominantly undemocratic member states will have trouble to democratize and national democratization is complicated if it takes place within an undemocratic global system.While democratic deficits remain a stark reality, we can also report good news: in the past sixty years, the quality and quantity of democracy has grown across the world. Unfortunately, the progress in the democratization of international organizations was limited, despite the fact that the scope and impact of global governance has increased.

Daniele Archibugi

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For long time, political scientists have cultivated the idea that a country which succeeds in achieving a democratic transition, creates stable institutions, provides a robust civil society, and has achieved a certain level of wealth, has a rather low risk of an authoritarian backlash. In other words, a consolidated democratic society would create a sort of political “antibodies” able to impede the slide towards a totalitarian regime. This assumption was corroborated by the very impressive wave of democratization that took place since 1990 and, in fact, both the number and the quality of democratic regimes increased steadily. Such has been the progress of the new democracies that it suggested a sort of democratic triumphal march.Is this still true? How should we interpret the state of democracy in light of the electoral victories of Recep Erdoğan, Vladimir Putin, Viktor Orbán and, above all, Donald Trump? For the first time over the last quarter of a century, it seems that democratic regimes are no longer consolidating and, above all, that this apparent reversal transpires through procedures of the secular democratic liturgy, namely free elections. Economic stagnation and increasing income inequality, the rise of unemployment and of poverty have generated discontent and xenophobia. And, as already happened in Europe in the 1920s and 1930s, the word “democracy” has for many citizens become an empty box. Where they succeeded in gaining power, populist leaders did so through the mechanism of elections and were keen on presenting themselves as the authentic representatives of the people. Even when populists have not managed to acquire electoral majorities, as Beppe Grillo in Italy, Nigel Farage in the UK, Marine Le Pen in France and Norbert Hofer in Austria, they pretend to be the genuine interpreters of the people’s wishes.Is there a risk that new elected leaders will substantially attack liberal institutions, as already happened in Europe in the inter-war period? So far, this has occurred in weak and relatively recent democracies such as Russia and Turkey, where governments have managed to attack and even imprison actual or potential opponents, limit the freedom of the press, and subdue the judicial power without losing much of their popular support.Can something similar also occur in consolidated democracies? Is there the possibility that new leaders with strong popular support will use their power to attack liberal infrastructures? Or, to phrase it differently, is there a danger that the power of the majority will be able to attack the rule of law and reduce civil, political and social liberties?Liberal systems are stable when there is a large majority of citizens that directly support democratic institutions as the only legitimate form of government \citep*{alfred1996}.  But, apparently, this is less true than it used to be. The prolonged economic stagnation faced by most Western democracies since 2007 had the adverse consequence that many material advantages provided by democracy have not been delivered. Income inequality, unemployment and poverty have increased while intergenerational mobility has decreased. It is therefore not surprising that so many citizens disappointed by what has not been delivered by traditional political parties are now supporting new forces. But can this often fully justified discontent undermine civil rights and democratic institutions? We are here wondering if the rule and the power of the people could work against the rule of law up to the point that liberal states would be transformed. It is always easy to unleash the worst attitude of the people against ethnic minorities, migrants, LGBTQ.Are the “new entrant” political factions just anti-establishment or more generally anti-democratic? New political leaders manage to acquire electoral support because they use aggressive language, denounce the wrongdoings of the incumbent politicians, and often call for scapegoats in weak and marginal social and ethnic groups. In optimistic scenarios, the new political forces become domesticated and after a while get accustomed to using parliamentary language and strategies; after having succeeded in harnessing the attention of the dissatisfied, they just become fresh contenders in the usual electoral race. But the pessimistic scenario is that they use their popular support to reduce liberties and modify the institutions that should guarantee democratic checks and balances.In Turkey, a country that for several years has struggled to consolidate its rather recent democratic structure, the government is re-writing the Constitution and there is a risk that this could be approved by popular referendum. In Russia, Putin is more than ever backed by its citizens. Brexit will also reduce the checks and balances provided by European institutions within British politics. And how the Trump administration will re-design civil and social rights, from abortion to immigrants’ entitlements, is still a mystery, even if the first signs are certainly not encouraging.Two ambitious scholars, \citet*{Foa_2016}, have provided some interesting and disconcerting data about citizens’ sentiments and perceptions toward democracy. Using data from the World Value Survey (1995-2014), the study shows that citizens in both North America and Western Europe became more critical toward democracy, and that an increased share of them no longer considered democracy as the only legitimate form of government. And to complicate the picture, it seems they began to look favourably upon non-democratic alternatives.

Daniele Archibugi

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Political scientists have long believed that when a country succeeds in achieving a democratic transition, creating stable institutions and accomplishing a certain level of wealth, it has a rather low risk of an authoritarian backlash. There was the implicit assumption of a natural and irreversible path containing the following steps: 1) dictatorship, 2) dictablanda, 3) democradura, 4) democracy transition, 5) consolidated democracy. This assumption was valid for several decades and corroborated by the impressive wave of democratization that took place after 1990. In the last quarter of a century, in fact, both the number and the quality of democratic regimes has increased steadily, leading to what appeared to be a democratic triumphal march.But for the first time over the last quarter of a century, democratic regimes are no longer consolidating and, above all, this apparent reversal manifests itself in procedures that belong to the secular democratic liturgy, namely free elections. The outbreak of this populist infection within most western democracies challenges the idea that once consolidated democracies are immune to the possibility of experiencing a non-democratic reversal. The electoral successes of populist parties and leaders are a challenge for democratic practice and theory. Will the hypotheses regarding democratic consolidation still hold? And, most of all, what lies behind such a populist infection, and how it can be cured? Concerning the first two questions, the analysis of the data from the World Value Survey (1995-2014) carried out by two young scholars, \citet*{Foa_2016} provide some interesting and disconcerting data about citizens’ sentiments and perceptions toward democracy. The study shows that citizens within both North America and western Europe, have become more critical toward democracy, and that an increased proportion of them no longer consider democracy the only legitimate form of government. To generate further concerns, they began to look favourably upon non-democratic alternatives. According to this study, while older generations keep thinking that democracy is essential, younger generations are much more indifferent. In Europe, about 52% of citizens among the generation born in the 1930s believe that to live in a democratic country is fundamental, but only about 45% among those born in the 1980s share this opinion. In the United States, the intergenerational gap is even more heightened. 72% of citizens born in the 1930s believed democracy is essential, while only around 30% of those born in the 1980s had the same view.A similar pattern is visible regarding support for alternative, non-democratic forms of government, and in both the US and Europe, the percentage of citizens believing being ruled by the army is a “good” or a “very good” alternative steadily increases, especially among young, affluent citizens. A closer look at the original data confirms that in all countries there are still large majorities in favour of democracy. But while there are overwhelming democratic majorities, there is a strong disaffection with regard to democratic institutions, including political parties, parliamentarians and trade unions. The citizens that view a strong leader positively are still a minority, but they number more than in the past in the United States and in Spain, in Sweden and even in Germany. In both the US and Europe, the percentage of citizens believing being ruled by the army is a “good” or a “very good” alternative steadily increases, especially among young, affluent citizens.The same scholars, in a subsequent paper \citep*{Foa_2017} arrive at the claim that all these data could be a sign of the fallacy of the democratic assumption, and that they may also be a signal of a democratic deconsolidation within western democracies. Liberal systems are stable if a large majority of citizens directly support democratic institutions as the only legitimate form of government. But this is less true than it used to be. Is this disaffection undermining civil rights and democratic institutions? Is there a risk that newly elected leaders will substantially attack liberal institutions, as already happened in Europe in the inter-war period? So far, this has occurred only in weak and relatively recent democracies such as Russia and Turkey, where governments have managed to attack and even imprison actual or potential opponents, limit the freedom of the press, and subdue the judicial power without losing much of their popular support. Can something similar also occur in consolidated democracies? Is there the possibility that new leaders with strong popular support will use their power to attack liberal infrastructures, breaking the golden rule of respecting the election winner, and leading consolidated western democracies into non-democratic backlashes? Until now, these new political entrants have shown an anti-establishment rather than an anti-democratic sentiment. New political leaders have managed to acquire electoral support using aggressive language, denouncing mainly the wrongdoings of the incumbent politicians, and often calling for scapegoats in weak and marginal social and ethnic groups. But they have done it through democratic political institutions. Where they succeeded in gaining power, populist leaders did so through free and competitive elections, presenting themselves as the authentic representatives of the people. So, whether the signs highlighted by Foa and Mounk may or may not be a predictor of a possible non-democratic backlash, is far from being ascertained. We are facing two possible alternative scenarios, both plausible: in the optimistic one, the new political forces become domesticated and after a while get accustomed to using parliamentary language and strategies. Their language and policies aim to harness the attention of the dissatisfied, and they “mature” to become fresh contenders in the usual electoral race. But in the pessimistic one, they may use their popular support to reduce liberties and modify the institutions that should guarantee democratic checks and balances.Populist sentiments, more or less dormant, have always been present within western democracies as well as everywhere else in the world, and we may think they are deep feelings belonging to human nature. Can democratic politics manage to tame them? Until a few years ago, they affected only a minority of citizens. The fact that new political movements are managing, often rapidly, to increase their votes is generating a threatening race to the bottom. In all countries, established political parties have the dangerous propensity to counter this electoral wave of populism by adopting the issues and language used by them. It is a sort of infection and only a few politicians manage, at one and the same time, to resist the temptation and to be re-elected. For this reason, if it is not properly cured, the infection could end up permanently damaging the democratic system itself. The basic question we have to answer is therefore: why, over recent years, has the populist consensus so swiftly arisen? What is the basis of its success? Populist parties grew in most western democracies only after the end of the Cold War, most of them in the 1990s.To answer this question, it is useful to adopt a historical perspective. Populist parties grew in most western democracies only after the end of the Cold War, most of them in the 1990s. Despite some notable exceptions, their share of popular votes remained below ten percent for several decades. Looking at the electoral data (Figure 1), the picture then dramatically changes, and from 2007 populist parties began to gain traction consistently. Since 2007, populist party support has been growing in terms of both electoral votes and parliamentary seats.In the United States, the November 2016 electoral campaign demonstrated how two ‘outsiders’, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, tried to storm the two well-established political parties. One of them succeeded. In other countries with more pluralized and fractious political systems, such as Spain, Italy, Austria, France and Greece, the populist upsurge has coincided with the rise of new socially progressive movements. However, even in these cases populist parties have succeeded in gaining considerable electoral support. In Italy, the Movimento 5 Stelle gained 25.6 per cent of votes in 2013, being the party most voted for in what was its first parliamentary electoral race. In Greece, Syriza’s consensus moved from 4.6 percent in 2009 elections to 35.5 per cent in 2015. In Sweden, the Sverigedemokraterna (SD), a right-wing populist party, moved from 2.9 per cent of votes in 2006 to 12.9 per cent in 2014.The temporal evolution of the populists (Figure 1) indicates that the economic variable played an important role both in the affirmation and in the growth of populist parties’ consensus. In the first place, the consolidation of most populist parties in the 1990s coincided with a quite strong, even if not prolonged, economic stagnation starting in 1992/1993. In the second, their growth coincided with the prolonged economic crisis that began in 2008. In both cases, western countries experienced a steady drop in their growth rates and a significant economic stagnation (figure 2).

Daniele Archibugi

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Gli scienziati politici hanno a lungo sostenuto che nel momento in cui un paese riesce a portare a termine una transizione democratica, creando istituzioni stabili e garantendo un certo livello di ricchezza, il rischio di una violenta reazione autoritaria sia piuttosto basso. L’assunzione implicita è la presenza di un percorso naturale e, se portato a termine, irreversibile composto dalle seguenti fasi: 1) dittatura, 2) dictablanda, 3) democradura \cite{Morlino_2009}, 4) transizione democrazia, 5) democrazia consolidata. Quest’assunzione è sembrata essere valida per diversi decenni, corroborata dall’impressionante ondata di democratizzazioni iniziata nel 1990. Nell’ultimo quarto di secolo, infatti, sia il numero che la qualità dei regimi democratici è aumentato costantemente, portando a quella che sembrava essere una marcia trionfale della democrazia.Per la prima volta nel corso dell’ultimo quarto di secolo, i regimi democratici sembrano oggi aver smesso di consolidarsi e questa apparente inversione traspare attraverso le procedure della liturgia democratica, cioè le libere elezioni. Lo scoppio dell’infezione populista, all’interno della maggior parte delle democrazie occidentali, sfida l’idea che le democrazie, una volta consolidate, siano immuni dalla possibilità di sperimentare un’inversione non democratica. I successi elettorali dei partiti e dei leader populisti rappresentano una sfida per la pratica e la teoria democratica. Le ipotesi sul consolidamento democratico possono ancora considerarsi valide? E soprattutto, quali sono le cause dell’infezione populista e come può essere curata?Per quanto riguarda la prima domanda, l’analisi dei dati del World Value Survey (1995-2014) realizzata da due giovani e ambiziosi studiosi,  \citet*{Foa_2016}, fornisce alcuni dati interessanti e allo stesso tempo sconcertanti circa i sentimenti e le percezioni dei cittadini verso la democrazia. Lo studio mostra che in Nord America e in Europa occidentale i cittadini sono diventati sempre più critici verso la democrazia e che una percentuale sempre maggiore non considera più la democrazia come l’unica forma di governo legittima. Ma soprattutto, aumenta la quota di coloro che iniziano a guardare con favore alle alternative non democratiche.Secondo lo studio, mentre le generazioni più anziane continuano a pensare che la democrazia sia essenziale, quelle più giovani sono diventate assai più indifferenti. In Europa, circa il 52% dei cittadini nati dal 1930 al 1939 ritiene che vivere in un paese democratico sia fondamentale, ma solo il 45% circa tra quelli nati dal 1980 al 1989 condivide questa opinione. Negli Stati Uniti, il divario intergenerazionale è ancora più accentuato, e il 72% dei cittadini nati dal 1930 al 1939 ritiene che la democrazia sia essenziale, mentre solo il 30% circa dei nati dal 1980 al 1989 ha mantenuto tale convinzione. Una simile evoluzione è visibile per quanto riguarda il sostegno a forme alternative di governo non democratico: sia negli Stati Uniti che in Europa la percentuale di cittadini che ritengono che essere governati dall’esercito sia un’alternativa “buona” o “molto buona” aumenta costantemente, soprattutto tra i cittadini giovani e ricchi. Uno sguardo più attento ai dati originali conferma che in tutti i paesi ci sono ancora ampie maggioranze a favore della democrazia. Ma mentre ci sono schiaccianti maggioranze democratiche, vi è anche una forte disaffezione per le istituzioni come i partiti politici, i parlamentari e i sindacati. I cittadini che vedono con favore l’eventuale avvento di un leader forte sono ancora una minoranza, ma i numeri sono molto più alti che in passato negli Stati Uniti e in Spagna, in Svezia e anche in Germania.Gli stessi studiosi, in un articolo successivo \citep*{1996} arrivano ad affermare che tutti questi dati potrebbero essere un segnale della fallacia delle assunzioni rispetto alla democrazia e che essi possono rappresentare persino un segnale di un deconsolidamento democratico all’interno delle democrazie occidentali. I sistemi liberali sono stabili se una grande maggioranza dei cittadini sostiene direttamente le istituzioni democratiche come unica forma legittima di governo, ma ciò sembra essere meno vero che in passato.È possibile che questa disaffezione possa minare le basi dei diritti civili e delle istituzioni democratiche? Esiste un rischio che i nuovi leader eletti corrodano sostanzialmente le istituzioni liberali, come già avvenuto in Europa nel periodo tra le due guerre? Finora, ciò è avvenuto solo nelle democrazie deboli e relativamente recenti, come nei casi della Russia e della Turchia, dove i governi sono riusciti a reprimere e addirittura imprigionare avversari reali o potenziali, limitare la libertà di stampa, e sottomettere il potere giudiziario, senza perdere molto del loro sostegno popolare. Può qualcosa di simile accadere anche nelle democrazie consolidate? C’è la possibilità che nuovi leader, con un forte sostegno popolare, usino il loro potere per attaccare le infrastrutture liberali, rompendo la regola d’oro del trionfo democratico, e portino le democrazie consolidate verso forme alternative di governo autoritario?Fino ad ora, i nuovi leader politici hanno mostrato un sentimento anti-establishment piuttosto che un sentimento anti-democratico. Questi nuovi leader politici sono riusciti ad acquisire consenso elettorale usando un linguaggio aggressivo, soprattutto denunciando le malefatte dei politici in carica, e spesso trovando dei capri espiatori nei gruppi sociali ed etnici più deboli e marginali, ma lo hanno fatto attraverso le istituzioni politiche democratiche. Laddove sono riusciti a guadagnare potere, i leader populisti lo hanno fatto attraverso le elezioni libere, ricorrenti e competitive, presentandosi come i veri e autentici rappresentanti della popolazione. Quindi, la possibilità che i segnali evidenziati da Foa e Mounk possano o meno essere considerati un fattore predittivo di una possibile reazione non democratica, è ben lungi dall’essere accertata.Tuttavia, siamo di fronte a due possibili scenari alternativi, entrambi plausibili: in quello ottimista, le nuove forze politiche diventeranno addomesticate e dopo un po’ si abitueranno ad usare il linguaggio e le strategie parlamentari. Il loro linguaggio e le politiche miranti a sfruttare l’attenzione dei cittadini insoddisfatti matureranno, ed essi diventeranno nuovi contendenti nella consueta competizione elettorale. E’ quello che è successo in Italia con la Lega Nord e in Francia con il Front National. Ma nello scenario pessimistico, essi potrebbero utilizzare il loro sostegno popolare per ridurre le libertà e modificare le istituzioni che dovrebbero garantire i controlli e i contrappesi democratici.I sentimenti populisti, più o meno dormienti, sono sempre stati presenti all’interno delle democrazie occidentali, tanto quanto in tutto il resto del mondo, tanto che si potrebbe arrivare a supporre che essi siano sentimenti profondi appartenenti alla stessa natura umana. Può la democrazia riuscire a domarli? Fino a pochi anni fa, tali sentimenti sembravano riguardare solo una minoranza dei cittadini, ma il fatto che i nuovi movimenti politici riescano ad aumentare i loro voti, spesso in maniera alquanto rapida, sta generando una minacciosa corsa al ribasso. In tutti i paesi, i partiti politici tradizionali mostrano una pericolosa propensione a cercare di contrastare i successi elettorali del populismo discutendo le loro stesse questioni e utilizzando lo stesso linguaggio e la stessa retorica. Si tratta di una sorta di infezione e solo pochi politici riescono a resistere alla tentazione di seguire il popolo nei suoi istinti peggiori e, allo stesso tempo, ad essere rieletti. Per questo motivo, se non adeguatamente curata, l’infezione potrebbe finire per danneggiare in modo permanente il sistema democratico stesso.La domanda di fondo a cui dobbiamo rispondere è dunque: perché, negli ultimi anni, il consenso populista è cresciuta così tanto? E qual è la base del suo successo?Per rispondere a questa domanda, è utile adottare una prospettiva storica. I partiti populisti sono cresciuti nella maggior parte delle democrazie occidentali solo dopo la fine della guerra fredda, e la maggior parte di essi nel corso degli ultimi vent’anni. Nonostante alcune eccezioni, la loro percentuale di voti è rimasta al di sotto del dieci per cento per diversi decenni. Guardando i dati elettorali (Figura 1), il quadro cambia radicalmente, e dal 2007 i partiti populisti cominciano a guadagnare terreno. Dal 2007, il supporto ai partiti populisti è cresciuto sia in termine di voti che in termine di seggi parlamentari.Negli Stati Uniti, la campagna elettorale conclusasi lo scorso novembre 2016 ha dimostrato come due “outsiders”, Donald Trump e Bernie Sanders, hanno cercato di prendere d’assalto i due partiti politici tradizionali, quello Democratico e quello Repubblicano. E uno di loro è riuscito nell’impresa. In altri paesi con sistemi politici più pluralistici e polarizzati, come la Spagna, l’Italia, l’Austria, la Francia e la Grecia, la recrudescenza populista ha coinciso con l’ascesa di nuovi movimenti sociali progressisti. Tuttavia, anche in questi casi i partiti populisti sono riusciti ad ottenere un notevole consenso elettorale. In Italia, il Movimento 5 Stelle ha ottenuto il 25,6 per cento dei voti nel 2013, risultando il partito più votato in quella che era la sua prima competizione elettorale parlamentare. In Grecia, il consenso di Syriza è aumentato dal 4,6 per cento nelle elezioni del 2009 al 35,5 per cento in quelle del 2015. In Svezia, il Sverigedemokraterna (SD), un partito populista di destra, è passato dal 2.9 per cento nel 2006 al 12.9 per cento nel 2014.L’evoluzione temporale del populismo (figura 1) sembra indicare che la variabile economica ha giocato un ruolo importante sia nell’affermazione, che nella crescita del consenso dei partiti populisti. Da un lato, l’affermazione della maggior parte dei partiti populisti nel 1990 ha coinciso con una stagnazione economica, molto accentuata anche se non prolungata nel tempo, iniziata nel 1992/1993. D’altra parte, la loro crescita ha coinciso con la prolungata crisi economica scoppiata nel 2008. In entrambi i casi, i paesi occidentali hanno sperimentato un calo consistente dei tassi di crescita e un’importante stagnazione economica (figura 2).