Participation in modern times

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The Alternative PPA offers the possibility for organized sectors of civil society to embark on a debate on issues capable of igniting a spark of hope for the world

The former president of the International Political Science Association, Jean Leca, back in the 1990s, commented on one occasion that the Participatory Budget (PB) originally from Porto Alegre evoked the soviets Russians, however, in a non-revolutionary conjuncture. For the renowned professor of Sciences Po, this distinctive trait transformed the capital of Rio Grande do Sul into the headquarters of the World Social Forum (WSF). For foreigners, the ability to mobilize the population in the periphery neighborhoods stood out in a context that celebrated “the end of history”, in the Hegelian expression updated by Francis Fukuyama, in the face of the fall of the Berlin Wall. At the time, it seemed that humanity had reached the peak of evolution by combining representative democracy with the market economy.

Before a prerogative of the Municipal Executive and the City Council, the Participatory Budget signaled the yearning for popular intervention in the political sphere to decide on the distribution of resources from the treasury. It contributed to rationalize revenue, control the application of the public surplus and promote a profane pedagogy, alien to the palatial lexicon, on the institutional functioning of the State.

With sincere admiration, the Greek-French thinker Cornelius Castoriadis met in locus the experience of participatory democracy, spread across hundreds of municipalities in the Southern and Northern hemispheres. The experiment of democratizing radicalism has been reproduced, in state proportions, for more than 12 consecutive years in Bahia. The penetration of the Workers' Party (PT) in the hearts and minds of the people of Bahia is understandable. The good news is that the Lula da Silva 3.0 government intends to adapt the co-management trigger nationally, taking advantage of the accumulated learning.

The Participatory Pluriannual Plan (PPA Participativo) provides for 27 state plenary sessions and, not by chance, began in Salvador (BA) on May 11 of the current year. The programs and actions of the federal administration will pass through the sieve of such a methodological tool, in the next quadrennium. The initiative empowers Brazilian citizenship, without suppressing political representation or removing the constitutional attributions of the National Congress, although it brings into play a forgotten actor who, until then, had no place or voice. Impossible for congressmen, political and ideological positions aside, to ignore what is approved by the majority of organized civil society, in assembly.

The ancients and the moderns

From a historical point of view, direct democracy was invented in the sixth century BC, after the uprising in Athens led by Cleisthenes – considered the “father of democracy” – who overthrew the last Greek tyrant, Hippias, who ruled between 527 BC and 510 BC The phenomenon coincided with the passage from the mythical attitude to the philosophical conscience in Greece. The reforms of Cleisthenes, as a legislator, gave birth in 514 BC to the birth of democracy by expanding the popular presence in the deliberation on the directions of the polis, that is, of the City-State. A discovery as formidable as the wheel to aid transportation in ancient times, in the human technological adventure.

This is not to say that politics did not exist in other quarters earlier; for example, among indigenous ethnic groups whose convivial wealth throughout the Americas continues to be the subject of anthropological studies. It just means that the West is proud to attribute the cradle of democracy to the Athenian square (agora), converted into a meeting space to debate and vote on the public interest.

Benjamin Constant's famous speech, From the freedom of the ancients to the freedom of the moderns (1819), explains the metamorphosis of the dominant form of politics that led from participation to representation. The freedom of the ancients had a republican and participatory character, requiring investment and energy from individuals to donate themselves to the community. Something that presupposed the existence of a social substratum in charge of productive work, for free citizens (with the exclusion of women, metics and enslaved people) to spend time on politics. War was on the agenda.

The freedom of the moderns, on the other hand, was based on civil liberties, in particular individual guarantees as a shield of protection against excesses and abuses by state power. Voting for representatives freed individuals to address private issues involving business and family. Exchange deals were prioritized to shape interpersonal relationships and between nations. The Earth spun. The most important thing was no longer the imminence of war. Trade was on the agenda.

In Benjamin Constant's interpretation, the French Revolution – the symbolic engine of modernity – tried to follow the model of the Roman Republic with its institutions, such as the Consulate and the Tribune of the Plebs, but ended up with the donkeys in the water. It resulted in the autocratic dictatorship of Napoleon Bonaparte. On the contrary, the writer emphasized, the model to follow would be the English Constitutional Monarchy, arising from the Glorious Revolution. England, a populous country wrought in the commercial spirit, was better adapted to the practicability of modern freedom. Their practices of common life in society should serve as inspiration for the consolidation of brand new civilization standards.

The satisfaction of participating in public decisions, in antiquity, has given way to other pleasures in modernity. “Lost in the crowd, the individual almost never realizes the influence he exerts. His will does not mark the set; nothing proves, in their eyes, their cooperation. The exercise of political rights provides us with a tiny slice of the satisfaction that the ancients found in it, and, at the same time, the progress of civilization, the commercial trend of the time, communication between peoples varied infinitely the forms of particular happiness. highlights the critic of the Jacobin Terror (1792-1794), a period in which thousands of people literally lost their minds, on the blade of the guillotine.

Satisfaction is measured by bourgeois values, obviously. The temptations of consumption appeared to be stronger than the ideals of engaging in public activities, contesting the status quo. Not infrequently, they see in this the temporal harbinger of a post-modernity. Others, while admitting cultural changes in reality, do not subscribe to the finalistic trend. The beautiful promises of freedom, equality and fraternity have not yet been fulfilled in modernity, argue Jürgen Habermas and Alain Touraine. Only afterwards will it be licit to employ the divisive prefix – “pós”.

The contrast between direct democracy and representative democracy corresponds to the opposition between civic participation (of the ancients) and private independence (of the moderns). But slowly with the walker. “The danger of ancient freedom was that, attentive only to the need to ensure participation in social power, men did not concern themselves with individual rights and guarantees. The danger of modern freedom is that, absorbed in the enjoyment of private independence and in the pursuit of particular interests, we too easily renounce our right to participate in political power.” How to pave a path that circumvents both threats?

One step to the future

Two hundred years later, Benjamin Constant's optimism has not been confirmed. Happiness and peace were missing from the long-awaited meeting. The Enlightenment imagination of the XNUMXth century, with the illusion of linear progress associated with the domination of nature, proved to be calamitous. Nineteenth-century philosophies of history and ideologies (liberalism, socialism, anarchism), for or against capitalism, trod on quicksand. In the XNUMXth century, technological advances and the development of productive forces did not equate the inequalities between social classes and regions of the planet. In the XNUMXst century, the problems have worsened to the point of threatening the survival of humanity, due to the ecological imbalance and the creation of the creature that turns against the creator: Artificial Intelligence (AI). Remember Dr. Jekyll subjugated by his cruel alter ego, Mr. Hyde, in Robert Louis Stevenson's novel.

Irrationalism spreads with the expansion of the extreme right, which mixes neo-fascism with neoliberalism and neoconservatism. The bad gets worse. The tragedy is greater, compared to the 1930s, due to the power of weapons of mass destruction available today. Contemporary neo-Nazi movements, which co-opt troubled youths to commit terrorist acts in kindergartens, are potentially more dangerous because of the arsenal at hand, under a climate of hatred towards achievements in favor of gender/race equality and sexual diversity.

The Alternative PPA, proposed in Lula's third administration, offers the possibility for the organized sectors of civil society to embark on a debate on issues capable of igniting a spark of hope for the world. This is what social participation means at the moment. This is not a bridge to the past. It does not replace political representation, nor could it on a national or transnational scale. Nor does it eliminate consumption from the horizon, despite pointing to a habitus to contain waste (each one knows the amount of garbage they produce) and to overcome the subject's alienating objectification (each one knows the mountain of garbage they are victims of).

It is indeed a step towards the future to establish new paradigms for pluralist sociability and socializing governance, reconciling citizen participation with civil rights. The reconstruction of Brazil implies: (a) the reinvention of political action, beyond the air-conditioning of Parliament and; (b) in the expansion of the conception of politics, which the media presents as an exclusive predicate of parliamentarians, abstracting what happens outside the institutions. Including the poor in the Union's budget is only viable with the insertion of the people in fundamental decisions for the nation.

“Brother, it's time / Get ready now / Hand over the invisible flag!” provokes Brecht.

* Luiz Marques is a professor of political science at UFRGS. He was Rio Grande do Sul's state secretary of culture in the Olívio Dutra government.

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