The state of the nation
The turbulent waves of this scandal-plagued bewildered populist authoritarian government have led to an evidenced and indisputable illiberal democracy roiled by a crisis of legitimacy.
The mechanisms of scandalous and criminal history of this government in addition to a political model painstakingly moulded on polarisation and abuse of power and authority are now sufficient proof.
This is the justified and credible critique of the opposition political community (political parties and citizens), of the unrelenting research on misgovernance by media and more importantly as confirmed through court inquiries and judgements. This apart from pending prosecutions and trials, were it not for the state of impunity commandeered by powerful rulers.
This calls for a “distinctly democratic form” of disobedience on the justified premise that the political process is being blocked. That such disobedience is possible is a sign of hope.
The government’s only means of resilience in power is the sustained hijacking of the state apparatus, the subjugation of high public officials to the command of the ruler/s, the bartering of intra-party opposition with high rewards, and the instilling of fear and ‘uncertainty’ amongst citizens.
This government betrayed the trust and consent of citizens by using ‘power’ as a means of coercion and ‘authority’ as the manipulation of citizens’ expectations, including the public communication of truth and their rightful effective participation in the governance of the country.
We need recall that this party in government had way back 2013 presupposed a semblance of a “night watchman state” ensuring order and security, limited interference in civil society and a market economy allowed to operate unhindered.
But as things stand today, Government, like the notorious crooks, is everywhere. The given clamour of citizens refusing to cast their vote in elections is indicative of their perception of this government. These same citizens know that absenteeism could be a leverage for the corrupt illegitimate rulers.
Illegitimacy is considered as a mix of performance or operation of institutions and the normative perception of citizens. Legitimate politics is desirable for all systems of governance primarily because it is considered that there exists a positive relation between political legitimacy and political stability.
Today we experience this kind of mafia-like nihilistic behaviour, and politics is about behaviour, that brought to fraught what normatively a just and legitimate state ought to have strived for – the ‘ideal state’.
Stretched to extremes, in decades prior 2013, the idea of the “ideal speech situation” based on reason and consensus presupposed by the German communications doyen social theorist and philosopher Jürgen Habermas somehow floated conservatively in Malta political scenario.
This contrasts with today’s populist government that rule by diktat, claims it has the sole representation the ‘real people’ and the best solutions in accordance with the populist interpretation of the ‘general will’, and considers opposition irrelevant, referring to adversaries as enemies of the people.
To sum up the Czech Vaclav Havel in 1978 had described citizens living a lie and afraid of living into truth. He described a regime that “is captive to its lies; it must falsify everything.”
In this multi levelled context the same basics of democracy provide the answers. Hence Machiavelli’s advice that facing a crisis requires “a return to first principles”.
Of politics, legality, and legitimacy
The current problems of this nation-state originate from the prevailing political model that led to the winding down of “politics” and delegitimization of legality and legitimacy.
At long last the Partit Nazzjonalista and social institutions are discussing the subject. What is imperative is to have such discussion explained in the language of the people.
This crisis severely impacted, at times neutralised, our same intermediary institutions. It impacted citizens, losing trust and hope in politics, distancing themselves from constructive participation.
Negative as it sounds, this ought to be interpreted as hope towards the reinvigoration of democracy. Given its imbued characteristics and albeit complex philosophy, its evolving and flexible nature, and its recognition worldwide, including authoritarian governments, democracy is resilient to chaos and its principles provide the answers.
A condensed approach towards defining Politics
Politics is understood as consisting of activities associated with the governance of the state, including order and security.
Politics as a form of political community encompassing a body of citizens, a designated territory, and a set of rules and practices involving the appointment of a government.
Politics as the political model in which state and society, that we now tend to treat as distinct entities, ought to be much more managed as an integrated whole towards the realisation of an ‘ideal state’ or good life.
Similarly, scholars define Legality as referring to what fits within the law and is compliant with a legal framework. It limits and determines what we can and cannot do according to the law. Legitimacy, however, involves following a correct, fair, genuine, moral, and ethical path. Whether a state is just and legitimate rests on “procedures and substantive outcomes”. The former relates to how a state comes about and how decisions are taken. The latter deals with what the state does.
Recent court judgements apart, given the now proven hijacking of all institutions, including the collective decisions of cabinet of ministers, as an ordinary citizen I still believe that courts may not necessarily save us.
The paths for an ideal state are there; the rest is up to us. Democracy is not just about trust (be it in individuals or institutions); it is about effort. This observation was offered by Edward Snowden, one of the figures of our time who became a rule breaker for the sake of restoring the spirit behind the rules. (cited by J W Müller 1921)
Referencing the above with Malta’s recent history on governance is superfluous.
The way forward
If the future of democracy is increasingly in doubt, J W Müller in his seminal book Democracy Rules takes us back to basics, as Machiavelli advised when discussing a crisis. Muller asserts that the three pillars of democracy are liberty, equality, and uncertainty.
“Though ‘uncertainty’ may initially seem undesirable, he explains, it is the crucial factor that differentiates a democratic state from an authoritarian one, in which nearly all political action is rendered predictable. To that end, Democracy Rules urges us to reinvigorate key democratic institutions, including political parties and the free media, with the dual benefit of re-empowering citizens to take part in democratic processes and letting these institutions help negotiate a democratic social contract for all. Diffusing pessimistic theories that democracy is doomed to succumb to populism, Müller encourages us to view democracy as a dynamic experiment with yet-untested possibilities.” (Princeton Alumni Weekly)
To be read and construed along the democratic thinking that political opponents are adversaries that need to be defeated, but not enemies – Giulio Andreotti.