Is Malta, a presumed democratic nation-state, employing a mix of capitalist-neo-liberal economy that thrives on the entrepreneurship of influential elites co-opted with government; an ambience that generates aggregated high profits to the “powerful” while dispersing abstract material wealth leading to mass consumerism that has fabricated excessive corruption – what the French poet Louis Aragon had derided as a ‘civilisation de frigidaires’?

Or is Malta a multi-cracked man-made product of a dysfunctional democracy, transcribing corruption and evidenced government transgressions on day to day occurrences that are now submissively affecting ordinary people less and less; people apparently striking a bargain: acquiescence or, even better, political resignation in return for material goods, at least something that could look like implied consent for the sake of consumption’?

“The Power of the Powerless” is the title of a seminal paper by the Czech dramatist philosopher Václav Havel (1978) as a contribution to a volume of essays by Polish and Czechoslovak dissidents on the subject of power and freedom. Note: the volume was never published in whole as most Polish authors were imprisoned.

Havel believed that even under the conditions of what he described as ‘post-totalitarianism’ individuals could begin ‘living in truth’ if they stopped going through the ideological motions the state prescribed. Havel had shown that despite the apparent ‘auto-totality’ of the system, the regimes were in fact extremely fragile. He insisted that citizens absolutely had to stop lying.

Havel, conscious of the failures of earlier concepts of liberalism, capitalism, fascism/Nazism, and diverse interpretation levels of communism in the realms of an idealised popular autonomy, that have in various ways led to totalitarianism disguised as social and popular-democracies, had – using Hannah Arendt’s criticism – transformed societies to stable conformist ‘behaviour’ replacing individualist action. As Friedrich Hayek would conclude discussing totalitarianism, including extreme experimentation with welfare-states, central authority would need to prioritise rather than allow citizens to coordinate their activities spontaneously.

For Havel the solutions to a more representative and participatory political society laid with political society itself and that, at the same time, the regime should be treated as if it were not lying. Truth-telling was a high moral ideal, but it was also part of a savvy political strategy. (cited by Jan-Verner Müller – 2013)

Extracting solutions to our islands’ ongoing political and socio-economic scenarios through sourcing and deeply analysing the daily chronicles of the party in government’s governance, transgressions, corruption, impunity and violence – although much relevant and needed – may never determine a tentative prescription towards effectively living in a country that constitutionally professes popular autonomy.

One would possibly feel tempted to re-read the history of political ideas at least of the past century and the resultant political ventures and misadventures of earlier developments that could be, but are not, construed as overtaken by modernity.

In the realisation of a now entrenched political regime, that irrespective of its evidenced and alleged transgressions veering towards criminal acts, consistently garners massive electoral support, it is imperative that strategists concentrate on the thinking, even if concealed, and behaviour of our society. The most effective actors, guised as political figures, are the same members of civil society.

The Partit Nazzjonalista seems to have ventured its political action through its now consistent dialogue with all members of civil society ending up in the drafting of socio-economic and political proposals that possibly represent the desires, the ambitions and the exigencies of the diverse groups of society. It challenges government on all levels of governance.

But even if I strongly believe that political parties are the vehicle that ultimately trusted with limited authority could assist society in reaching a seemingly utopic notion of popular autonomy, political parties, in this current circumstance, remain just the political platform.

The real opposition is civil society itself; meaning academics, professionals, constituted bodies, labour unions, NGOs, et al. In addition, as Hayek had advocated there exists a need to focus on intellectuals – professors, bureaucrats, teachers and journalists – “second hand dealers in ideas”, who according to him would always end up shaping public opinion in the long run.

These members of the so-called political society are seemingly active in their minute attention to their respective missions; engaging in discussions with government on day to day matters focussing bread and butter, contributing their ideas on all that that could lead to a better organised and managed democracy, and some criticising government and initiating legal action against same.

And yet the same civil society appears inept if appraised as to up to what extent their action has influenced society in general. On the presumption that this government’s vertical and horizontal political strategies (read dictatorial: co-opting influential moneyed elites and dispersing material ‘wealth’ to members of society instilling an abstract idea of self-sufficiency and to deter any threat) have been employed to perfection, it is recognised that all is a perilous climb.

Unlike Eastern Europe’s 1989, the presumed fall of communism, where there smouldered among populations a sense of ‘revolution’, led by diverse sectors of the whole society developing a common front, where professionals, academics, journalists and the majority of workers had a common cause, Malta’s opposition is ineffective, too circumstantially civil, and lacks the potential to change things.

Even if everyday chronicles in respect of government affairs evidence criminality at the highest hierarchies, our people have been coerced to adopt a ‘conformist behaviour’. This recalls Hannah Arendt and others who considered that ‘societies of jobholders’ required its members to abandon any remaining individuality in favour of a ‘functional type of behaviour’. Recalling Herbert Marcuse’s tenet that “the capitalists had effectively bought off the proletariat”, this government’s management and administration of our country has presumably absorbed into its fold all strata of society. A subtle form of coercion, that mind you does not exclude violence through intricate connotation of self-interests representing elites and the common men.

To sum up, the Partit Nazzjonalista, together with opposition parties, needs to carry on with programmes led by the notions of faith and people’s liberal autonomy towards the return to a “new-normality” while realising that it is just a political platform. It needs not only to coordinate its action with the rest of political society that has to be the prime mover in this turbulent scenario, but to effectively engage in a deeper dialogue at community district and societal levels through its people on the ground. People are not called to be militants, but believers. The resolution of Malta’s current deadlock cannot be approached solely through a political viaduct. It possibly requires a diagnosis of any maladies in the social fabric.

As apparently it is initially also the case, with a view to adapt its socio-economic and political programmes identified with the requisites of popular autonomy in a liberal democracy, the Partit Nazzjonalista needs the assistance of what Jan Werner Muller describes the “in-between figures” as “statesmen-philosophers, public lawyers, constitutional advisers, the curious and at first sight seemingly contradictory phenomenon of ‘bureaucrats with vision’, thinkers close to political parties and movements, (Muller 2011) as well as what Friedrich Hayek once referred to as ‘second-hand dealers in ideas’, referred to above.

These informal political actors are invited to join in this peaceful revolution as their valuable knowledge and experience need to permeate amongst specified sectors of society. There could be thought of civil society itself establishing an “extra-parliamentary opposition”.

This is no call to arms, but a call to incarnate the “Power of the Powerless”. It is a call for the institution of justice that expunges any thinking of retribution but instead transcends from a deep sense of national reconciliation.

Note: now that the emergency is due to be lifted Malta’s streets and piazzas shall again be available for mass gatherings.