The Uprooting of Democracy

Image_Oto Vale


Patriarchy also represents the expression of a worldview that is based on a system of beliefs and values ​​that privileges the notion of hierarchy, competition, domination and control.

“What makes democratic living difficult, in the midst of a patriarchal culture that continually denies it, is that people who want to live democracy are patriarchal by origin” (Humberto Maturana).

Many political scientists, sociologists, philosophers, economists and other thinkers in the field of social sciences have focused on the current moment of growing and dangerous trends of regression that contemporary democracies are going through, in many nations, some of them recognized, in the past, as regimes from a solid liberal social tradition, as is the case in the United States. One of the good analyzes about this phenomenon is in the book how democracies die (Zahar, 2018) by Harvard political science professors Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt. They reveal the new means by which democratic regimes are in decline, which is very different from the traditional methods, which invariably took place through coups d'état under strong military coercion. Levitsky and Ziblatt unveil, taking as their main reference the circumstances (created since the 1980s) that allowed the rise of Trump in the US, a “another way to ruin a democracy. It's less dramatic, but just as destructive. Democracies can die not at the hands of generals but elected leaders – presidents or prime ministers who subvert the very process that brought them to power.”. It is, according to them, a very subtle process, in which “democracies decay little by little, in stages that are barely visible”.

Others also follow this same line of understanding of the phenomenon, as is the case of Polish political scientist Adam Przeworski in his new book Crises of Democracy (Cambridge University Press, 2019), as mentioned by professor of political science André Singer in a recent article entitled furtive authoritarianism, in which he explains that the anti-democratic escalation occurs slowly, within institutions. However, this approach explains very well the new modus operandi that is behind the crises of democracies today, but leaves gaps as to their genesis. In the deepest roots of this phenomenon, it seems appropriate to include two causal components, one historical and the other socio-anthropological, which normally goes beyond reflection and can be very useful; not only to broaden the understanding of this phenomenon, which raises many concerns about the future of some nations, but also to think about alternatives for social interaction that can at least mitigate its effects, as there is a clear tendency for it to spread across the globe, causing profound civilizational regression. Finally, a reflection from another point of view will be proposed here.

First, a quick foray into history. Since the appearance of the first public spaces of politics in ancient Greece and Rome, democratic regimes have experienced different phases, in different places: 1) of fertility, in its inauguration with the Athenian direct democracy (2th century BC); 509) rooting, with the founding of the Roman Republic (27 BC to 3 BC); 4) of total suspension, during the Middle Ages, with the Holy Roman Empire and with absolute monarchies; 1581) restoration, in the Renaissance, with the Italian republican cities (Florence, Milan, Pisa, Venice), with the Dutch Revolution (1648) and with the English Revolution (5); 6) retrogression, with the emergence and development of mercantile capitalism (1789th and 1799th centuries); 7) of resurgence, with the French Revolution (8 to 1947) and with the English industrial revolution of the 1973th century that boosted the capitalist system; 9) of deep deprivation, during the first half of the 1970th century, with the Nazi and Fascist regimes, which came very close to taking their place; XNUMX) compensation, during the short period of social democracy installed in the post-war period (XNUMX-XNUMX), in the main European nations devastated by the world conflict; XNUMX) until reaching the current situation of accelerated decline, with the collapse of state regimes, which began in the XNUMXs, caused by the emergence of the newest form of totalitarianism, the so-called neoliberalism.

In general terms, this was the tortuous trajectory of democracy through History, which, subjected to various obstacles, showing spasms of vitality and adjusting to the contexts of each historical moment, managed to sustain itself and, nowadays, is experiencing perhaps its worst drama, which seems to point to an unstoppable collapse.

This brief historical synthesis is necessary because a critical look at the past illuminates the present and, thus, we can intervene to achieve the desired future. In this sense, the idea here is to show that what may be happening, especially in the last fifty years, is not a probable collapse of democracy itself, but the exhaustion of a democratic way of life, under which institutions and State structures, supported by patriarchal foundations of ancient origin, whose foundations are: appropriation, hierarchy, domination and control. To follow up on this idea, there are two assumptions to be considered: 1) we are living a historical epoch change, as occurred when agrarianism was overcome by industrialism, from the 2th century onwards; XNUMX) the course of History, in its last six or seven thousand years, was permeated by the prevalence of a patriarchal culture.

As for the second assumption, it is worth making three clarifications here:

1) the notion of patriarchal culture used here is a way of life that is characterized, as defined by the Chilean neurobiologist Humberto Maturana, “by the coordination of actions and emotions that make our everyday life a mode of coexistence that values ​​war, competition, struggle, hierarchies, authority, power, procreation, growth, appropriation of resources and justification rational control and domination of others through the appropriation of truth”.

2) the patriarchal culture and the behaviors derived from it, which will be addressed here, are the result of a historical circumstance and not something inherent to the human condition, that is, patriarchy is the manifestation of a culture (acquired capabilities, in the anthropological sense of the term ), and not an immutable existential condition, as evidenced by archeology, which, according to Maturana, “shows us that pre-patriarchal (matristic) European culture was brutally destroyed by patriarchal pastoralist peoples, who today we call Indo-Europeans and who came from the East, around seven or six thousand years ago”. The archaeological findings that support this cultural transition are recorded mainly in the studies of the Lithuanian archaeologist Marija Gimbutas, which were synthesized in the book The Chalice and the Sword: Our History, Our Future (Palas Athena, 2008) by the Austrian writer Riane Eisler.

3) the pre-patriarchal matristic culture was, as could also be inferred from archaeological studies, characterized by “conversations of participation, inclusion, collaboration, understanding, agreement, respect and co-inspiration”, attributes that showed, according to Maturana, a culture “centered on love and aesthetics, on awareness of the spontaneous harmony of all living and non-living, in their continual flow of intertwining cycles of life and death transformation”. In fact, Maturana's current studies converged in many points with the conception of "voluntary servitude" developed in 1549 by the French philosopher Étienne de La Boétie, for whom “the first reason for voluntary servitude is habit” and that, therefore, “we have to try to find out how this stubborn desire to serve took root to the point that the love of freedom seems unnatural”.

The English historian Eric Hobsbawm seems to have understood well the heart of the current change in times that we are experiencing, from this perspective of the exhaustion of patriarchy, when he dedicated himself to understanding the consequences of the great convulsions and contradictions of the brief 187th century, a period in which that the greatest holocaust in history took place, estimated at 1993 million deaths (Brzezinski, 12), equivalent to something around 1900% of the world's population in XNUMX. “The journalists and philosophical essayists who detected the 'end of history' in the fall of the Soviet empire were wrong. The argument is better when it is claimed that the third quarter of the century marked the end of the seven or eight millennia of human history begun with the agricultural revolution in the Stone Age, if only because it ended the long era in which the overwhelming majority of the human race lived growing food and herding flocks.”. Therefore, understanding the decline of democracies that we observe today involves reviewing the last seven thousand years of history in which patriarchal culture shaped the functioning of societies, which coincide with the history of empires and absolute states and with conflicts, massacres and destructions they sponsored.

The perception of the crisis of democratic regimes also seems to be associated with the understanding that there is a silent sociocultural revolution that started around the 1960s, still ongoing today, which seems to no longer allow, on the part of the State forces, any new civilizing arrangement that is based on patriarchal bases, although it is still tolerated to live without further questions under the submission of the fetishization of the market, which is the second trench of patriarchy that creates and recreates new human subjectivities and is fed by the logic of consumption, accumulation and, consequently, the exhaustion of the Earth system (a central aspect of the patriarchal expression, which will be discussed here only superficially). One of those who also sensed that we are experiencing a profound civilizational transformation in this sense was the French sociologist, anthropologist and philosopher Edgar Morin, when said: “I have the impression that May 68 is something like a symbolic moment of crisis of civilization, where some profound, almost anthropological aspirations (more autonomy, more community) arise, which decline and will be reborn in other forms”. The Spanish theologian and philosopher Raimon Panikkar, quoted by Morin, well expressed this situation of exhaustion of the long predominance of patriarchal culture when he stated that it would be necessary “to see, on the one hand, whether the human project carried out over six millennia by the homo historicus is the only possible one and, on the other hand, to see if it would not be necessary, today, to do something else”.

These are movements such as the protests triggered by students and workers in France in May 68, considered by some to be the first global demonstration to end conservative and oppressive attitudes, as well as the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, Occupy Wall Street in the USA, Spring Arabs in the Middle East and North Africa, the Indignados in Spain, the June 2013 demonstrations here in Brazil and many others, which seem to signal the beginning of the exhaustion of an ancient patriarchal culture. This probably explains, on the one hand, the total disenchantment with representative democracy and, on the other hand, the serious risks of regression and barbarism that moments of profound social instability can catalyze, since we know that the capitalist system will not make any recalibration to compensate for the current situation. destabilization of market democracy, the engine of history in the last four hundred years. Therefore, Morin's warning: “There is possible progress, uncertain progress, and any progress that does not regenerate, degenerates. Everything can go backwards”.

In this perspective, what we are probably experiencing in the current moment of change of historical epoch is the gradual destruction of that democracy inaugurated in the Roman Republic, a democracy imposed “from above”, of low intensity, as the sociologist Boaventura de Sousa Santos says. Thus, we observe, on the one hand, the uprooting of a democratic way of life from the base that supported it, the patriarchal culture, and, on the other, the difficult, gradual and imperceptible attempt to root a democracy based on the common, the everyday life, conviviality, the network society, which characterizes the current times. As the writer and psychotherapist Humberto Mariotti says, “The energy indispensable to the development of democracy cannot come 'from above'. It needs to be born horizontally, on the plane where people meet, talk and understand each other in a natural way”.

Throughout History, many thinkers, from the Athenian democrats (Solon, Cleisthenes, Pericles and others), through expressive names such as Spinoza, Rousseau, Tocqueville, to the most recent ones, Karl Popper, Hannah Arendt, Amartya Sen, Umberto Eco, Boaventura de Sousa Santos, among many others, devoted themselves to understanding and interpreting the various forms of social interaction and offering better foundations for the way of living in democracy. These were perhaps the ones who most thought about democracy based on assumptions that overcame the constraints imposed by patriarchy. Maturana, for example, saw the experience of the Greek Agoras (public spaces where issues of interest to society were debated and resolved) “like a wedge that opened a crack in our patriarchal culture”. For him, “Democracy is a rupture in our European patriarchal culture. It emerges from our matristic nostalgia for the life in mutual respect and dignity that is denied by a life centered on appropriation, authority and control.”.

Patriarchy also represents the expression of a worldview that is based, as has been reiterated here, on a system of beliefs and values ​​that privileges the notion of hierarchy, competition, domination and control. Among its various negative implications on our way of life, perhaps the most damaging is the way it forges the idea we have of ourselves, leading people to the terrible conditioning that they are immature and, therefore, incapable of self-management. With this alienation from themselves, they are “naturally” prone to look for authorities “more capable” of leading their lives and, thus, elect the myths and saviors of the homeland. As Spinoza says, “the people only freely transfer to the king the power that they do not completely dominate”.

In this sense, the democracy we experience in practice is, above all, a democratic way of living according to the hegemonic worldview, therefore, a way of social coexistence appropriated and manipulated by the patriarchal culture that sustains the economic worldview, which today is represented by neoliberalism. This appropriation of democracy takes place through what Maturana calls “recurring conversations that deny democracy”. The book The passions of the Ego: complexity, politics and solidarity (Palas Athena, 2000), by Mariotti, whose reading I recommend for anyone who wants to delve deeper into the implications of patriarchal culture in the most diverse areas of individual and social life, reinforces these discourses that deny democracy identified by Maturana. Below, I present, with a brief description, a list of such conversations, some of them added by Mariotti, which encompasses the various forms of appropriation of the democratic process with the aim of delimiting the space of politics to the liking of the patriarchy and thus maintaining a system of domination and control under the mantle of a society that claims to be democratic.

- Democracy seen as a means to conquer power, where political power constitutes an end in itself and not a means of providing improvements to the community and, thus, democracy only represents a way of legitimizing authority and, in many cases, authoritarianism;

- Democracy seen as a means of restricting freedom of information and opinion, in which ways are sought to make it difficult for ordinary people to have access to information and knowledge, preventing them from thinking for themselves and, consequently, from better managing their lives and also the lives of their communities;

- Democracy seen as justifying social exclusion, in which it is tried to justify that the excluded themselves are to blame for their situation of exclusion due to their inability to enter the market, seen as “democratically” accessible to all;

- Democracy seen as a means of opposing the rights of the individual to those of society, in which democracy consists of a mere instrument for regulating conflicts of interest, feeding a dynamic of oppositions, and not as a way of living together supported by self-respect and dignity, which comes about through mutual trust and respect;

- Democracy seen as justifying draconian law and order, in which these fulfill the role not of instruments for preventing social disagreements but of repressing claims against the instituted oppressive culture, thus ensuring the liberal ideals based on material progress, accumulation and predatory competition;

- Democracy seen as a justification of control and conflict, in which dialogue, consensus and understanding are replaced by power, control and confrontation, as standard tools of democracy for resolving differences;

- Democracy seen as justifying hierarchy, authority and obedience, where such attributes are considered virtues of the democratic process, as only they have the ability to guarantee order in social relations;

- Democratic disagreement seen as an invariable form of struggle for power, which leads people to think linearly in terms of ally/adversary, situation/opposition, feeding the idea that democracy is reduced to a struggle for power and not as a cooperative way of coexistence with those who think differently;

- Democracy seen as justifying “competitiveness” and the idea of ​​progress, in which material progress, control of nature and the accumulation and retention of goods are reinforced as essential values ​​for human life, with democracy being the space for competition to achieve such purposes;

- Democracy seen as justifying immediacy, which is reflected in the need to impose points of view before they are submitted, evaluated and changed by the community, that is, democracy is based on mistrust and appropriation of the truth;

- Democracy seen as justifying repetition, in which democracy is prevented from perfecting itself, although there is rhetoric that says the opposite and, therefore, it is seen as a finished product destined for a homogenized public, such as an industrial assembly line;

- Democracy seen as the lesser of evils, supported by the idea attributed to the conservative politician and British statesman Winston Churchill that democracy is the least imperfect of political systems, which weakens it and makes it manipulable, often for authoritarian purposes;

- Democracy seen as a “competitive advantage”, very common in electoral campaigns, the arena where one seeks to justify by means of statistics which candidate is the “most democratic”, a practice that reduces democracy to numbers.

This is the list of behaviors that represent the patriarchal way of capturing democracy, adopted throughout its history, and that sustain the structures of power and domination, the main one being the State itself. Therefore, it is not without reason that the State is associated with Leviathan (1651) by Thomas Hobbes, the absolute sovereign guarantor of the social contract and order at any cost. This patriarchal State seems to have clashed with the current historical context and with a good part of the new generations of the current internet era, whose experience of the world had little contact with deprivation, limits and oppression in their childhood and youth, which is why they are little identified. with the patriarchal nature of the state. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why manipulations that deny democracy are no longer being tolerated today, which is reflected in the current disenchantment and discredit with politics, democracy and State institutions.

The neoliberalism that emerged in the 1970s, signaling a transition to a gloomy world economic order, in which there is a growing dissonance between the State and the market, largely fueled by the advent of the technological revolution and the new digital corporations, seems to be the main driving factor of this process of uprooting democracy. The replacement of market democracy by the virtual market is under way, without democracy and without any institutional mediation. The market democracy of the last four hundred years, which once eliminated medieval absolutisms, is gradually giving way, with the impetus of algorithms, also awakened in the 1970s, to a hypervigilance capitalism, a new police state, now under market forces.

Who identified this phenomenon well was the philosopher Marilena Chauí, who sees in neoliberalism a new totalitarianism, since “instead of the form of the State absorbing society, as happened in previous totalitarian forms, we see the opposite occur, that is, the form of society absorbs the State”. According to Chauí, the disastrous consequences of this new totalitarianism are: 1) the precariousness of the new uberized working class, constituted by the new “entrepreneur of himself”, with its dramatic psychological effects; 2) the end of social democracy and liberal representative democracy and the advent of “politicians” outsiders, whose mediation with the people no longer takes place through institutionality, but through the digital party (twitter, whatsapp and similar); 3) the ideological “cleansing” (political, social, artistic, scientific, etc.) that seeks to eliminate critical thinking and raises a kind of rescuing of that European desire for “purity” that we thought had been overcome after the horrors of the 4th century; 5) the supremacy of capitalism, now armored by algorithms, as the only and last form of human coexistence, announcing the “end of history”, where there is no longer room for any possibility of historical transformation, alterity and utopia; XNUMX) and in the religious field, the prevalence of neo-Pentecostal prosperity theology, the result of the association of religious fundamentalisms with authoritarian governments. This whole set represents the newest and most perverse expression of the patriarchy that, under the aegis of a “market god”, is dragging us into a dystopian world.

The biggest aggravating factor of this inversion of the mode of suppression of democratic regimes, operated by the forces of capital and no longer by the coercive forces of the State, is the tendency of gradual deconstitution of the State, as predicted by the French historian Jacques Attali, which, despite its patriarchal nature, represents the last space for the achievement of guarantee and maintenance of social rights. Another dangerous aggravating factor is that, without the State, whose main function is to guarantee the minimum civility that capital is incapable of providing, any possibility of channeling and moderating the violence of predatory and exclusive competition inherent to the nature of the free market disappears. In this new world (dis)order, transnational corporations will represent the new Leviathan. For this reason, it is not uncommon to observe, in recent times, terrible conjectures by well-known thinkers pointing out that civilization is moving towards a new and overwhelming barbarism. One of them, for example, was the Hungarian philosopher István Mészáros, who died in 2017, for whom “Rosa Luxemburg's famous phrase 'socialism or barbarism' needs to be reformulated for our time into 'barbarism, if we are lucky'. The annihilation of humanity is our lot if we fail to conquer that mountain which is the destructive and self-destructive power of the state formations of the capital system.”.

Approximately twenty years ago, when Morin was writing the last book of his main work, La Method 6 – Ethics (Editions du Seuil, 2004), he envisaged two outcomes for the current civilizing impasse imposed by the multiple crises of contemporary times. According to him, we could leave History “from above”, through the regeneration of the absolute power of the States, or “to leave from below”, through generalized regression and the “explosion of barbarism a la Mad Max”. However, Morin seems to have already ruled out the first exit, from what we can see from his manifestations in recent years, and indicates that he has surrendered to the predictions of his fellow countryman, Jacques Attali, for whom “Barbarism is most likely. The politician is a cork floating adrift in the storm of passions.”.

Like everything else in life, the uprooting of democracy from patriarchal constraints, discussed here, has its harmful negative aspects, but it also holds redeeming possibilities. If, on the one hand, there are indications that the State is succumbing, leading to a supremacy of market patriarchy, without any institutional mediation, dragging us towards barbarism, on the other hand, there is a latent culture represented by those who no longer feel represented neither by the State nor by the market: the great mass of excluded people with their community initiatives, committed to another way of life and another possible world. This opens up more and more spaces for a new rooting, for the emergence of a high-intensity democracy, which can emerge “from below”, just like the ancient Athenian Agoras, only reformulated for today in order to include those excluded by democracy representation and, mainly, by neoliberalism.

This seems to me to be the democracy in which we should be inspired from now on, since under the conditioning of the patriarchal culture there are no more exits for the current impasses of civilization. However, before that, we will be under the designs of the difficult metamorphosis that is approaching, because it is in it, according to Morin, that resides “ethical hope and political hope”. Then, who knows, we'll find our lost innocence. If there is an “after”!

*Antonio Sales Rios Neto is a civil engineer and organizational consultant.


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