Declining Democracy

Francis Alÿs
Michael Bielicky &
Kamila B. Richter

Roger Cremers
Juan Manuel Echavarría
Thomas Feuerstein
Thomas Hirschhorn
Thomas Kilpper
Lucy Kimbell
Cesare Pietroiusti
Artur Żmijewski


Exhibition catalogue is published by Silvana Editoriale and includes entries about the artists featured in the show and essays devoted to the topic of the exhibition, written by:

Michele Ciliberto
Piroschka Dossi
Axel Honneth
Franziska Nori
Peter Weibel

Michele Ciliberto
Democratic despotism  

The technically “despotic” character of our historical time (and with this term I refer to the particular form of “democratic despotism” that has imposed itself in Italy after 1994) is made evident by a series of elements: the disregard of the law and the dominion of arbitrariness; the subordination of politics to administration; the systematic attack on the autonomy of judicial power; the veritable fight against freedom of information; the rejection of political and social conflict; the diffusion, through the media, of an illusory image of the country, without any relation to reality. It is a democratic despotism of a new type that has taken on populist and charismatic features, also as a consequence of the decline and the end of the political mass phenomena of the 20th century.
For its establishment, a decisive role has been played by the long crisis of the Left as well as, in a specific way, by the fragmentation of what used to be called the popolo di sinistra (the people of the Left) – including its characteristic organizational structures – and the “social classes”, in the classical sense of the term. Moreover, strictly connected to this crisis, its success has been favoured by the crisis of function and meaning of politics, with a systematic emptying out of the legislative assemblies and a Parliament reduced to the direct dependencies of the executive power – a real genetic mutation with regards to the role it had played during the so-called Prima Repubblica (First Republic).
However, the problem is not just the Parliament: the new despotism is trying to dismantle all the political, civil, cultural and also religious counterforts that could hinder its dominion. It is – as we said before – a despotism of a new kind, when confronted with the classical models, based on a democratically acquired, large approval, for which the mass media carried and continue to carry great weight, starting with television – especially the private channels, but also the public ones – and with the “common sense” that it spreads through a typically despotic vocabulary in which lemma expressing on the one hand feelings of pure violence and on the other a dewy rhetoric of “love” mingle and occasionally blend.
Above all – and this is a fact that appears clearly, precisely on the lexical level – it is an incomprehensible form of despotism if we do not take into account the new forms of individualism which have gained ground in the last years on all levels, including the relationship – often of a fetishistic kind – with the body and with the dimension of corporeity.
Briefly, the new despotism – embodied by Silvio Berlusconi – is above all the result of the long Italian crisis; we have to start from there if we want to understand some of its essential peculiarities.

Excerpt from the catalogue Declining Democracy, published by Silvana Editoriale; soon available online the full text.

Declining Democracy