It seems that we live a convulsive era, not only thanks to the economic crash. Governments all around the world find themselves facing their own citizens who are out on the streets claiming their rights. It doesn't matter if you are in Tunisia, Egypt, Chile, Greece, Spain, Israel or even in the US, it is very easy to find in the main squares of the most important cities, people registering not only their disagreement with those who govern them, but also their disillusionment with the entire system.
In his famous article on the End of History, Francis Fukuyama said that liberal democracy was the final form human organization would take; but now we have discovered that this liberal democracy is extremely inadequate when confronted by serious economic problems. Financial services, credit rating agencies and banks are in a far better position than ordinary citizens to extract satisfactory responses from our governments to their demands. And people cannot tolerate this discrepancy any longer.
The American constitution began with the ringing words, “We the People of the United States”, because it was written by those who didn't feel that the British were sufficiently concerned with their interest. History has named them the Founding Fathers, but at the time in the eyes of King George I, they were simply terrorists. Today, in the Occupy Wall Street Movement, one will see numerous banners sporting the message, “We the 99 %”. These of course are not terrorists: but the police have arrested them on very many separate occasions, not only in Wall Street, but also in Brussels. The American War of Independence and the French Revolution were the only recourse that citizens had to claim their rights under an oppressive economic and political system. British and French elites of the eighteenth century thought that neither the settlers nor the petit bourgeoisie constituted a threat: neither, they imagined, would ever have the chance to lead a revolution and become the new ruling powers. Now, again, we see how politicians and Wall Street executives, and also bankers from Europe to Asia, are not worried about these protests. They still fondly imagine that history has come to an end.
It is clear that the Arab revolutions are hardly motivated by the same root causes that have driven protests in Europe or in the US. Objectively, the situation in Tunisia, Libya, Syria and Egypt of course, is very different from Spain, Greece, United Kingdom or the US. But if we look for the first incident that ignited these revolutions, we see that it is not so far removed from our own concerns. A Tunisian young man, Mohamed Bouazizi, set fire to himself because he was denied the license to sell his products in the market place. He was a university student, but he had to sell food on the streets to survive. Among the people who are raising a clamour on the streets of Spain and Greece, or occupying Wall Street, we see far too many university graduates who are not able to find a job. And at the same time, they have to read every day in the papers that governments are rushing to help the financial system to recover from its own regrettable errors.
Arabs have been calling for a representative system, while Europeans and Americans have been complaining about the flaws in theirs. While the former have thought that dictatorship was the evil they were up against, the latter have had to focus their rage on the incompetence of their political representatives. Of course Europeans and American might persuade themselves that their troubles are due to the lack of inspiring political leadership, and mourn the passing of the likes of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Konrad Adenauer... Whatever, nowadays, we can be sure that Barack Obama cannot find a way of cutting the high rates of unemployment, that Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy are no longer a sufficient locomotive for pulling the European economy out of the mire, and that David Cameron seems capable only of further alienating those who do not see themselves as part of the system. The crisis started as a financial storm, but once it became clear that the politicians are not able to cope with these troubles, they immediately became part of the problem, and an economic crisis turned into a political and systemic crisis.
The problem does not lie with the particular people who found themselves in charge of these governments and economies. There is a lack of moral authority in all governments once they choose to help the bankers over and against the ordinary people. This is what has occurred since the bankruptcy of the Lehman Brothers and this is what is happening now in Europe with the Greek debt and the fall of Greece, Ireland and Portugal. It doesn't matter who was in government. Neither Republicans nor Democrats, Conservatives nor Social Democrats, Tories nor Labourites are now able to solve the people's problems.
Only Iceland, who sank into a deep pit for exactly the same reasons as all these other countries finds itself in a much healthier situation today than much richer countries, such as the US or those of the EU. And the reason is easy to see. Every Iceland citizen felt that the exit from the tunnel was only possible if he was part of the solution.
The project of a new Constitution written after comprehensive public discussions, not only on the web but also on the streets, has opened a door for them to a new phase of democracy. This was not the time for a representative democracy in which most of the people involved have studied in further education, using forms of communication that allow them to inform others and enter into negotiation over every tiny issue with no cost to the system and little effort on the part of everyone else. These people were ready to decide for themselves, not waiting for others to tell them what they have to do. Representative democracy was the right system for fighting against the tyrannies of fascism, communism and the Ancien Regime: but once these options have been overcome, and the citizens begin to sense that now the ever-present menace and danger thrives among the very representatives of the political and financial class – it is necessary to find a new system where decisions can only be taken if they have sufficient support from the people to legitimate them. How this new system will work is a question that must still be answered. But what we do know is that the solution to this question will be found only if the legitimate contributions of the people are recognized for what they are. This is why we cannot deny that we have entered into a new era.
So it is quite reasonable to doubt whether demonstrations in themselves have enough strength to provoke the necessary changes. On October 15, there are many calls to take the streets and occupy the squares and raise your voice against injustice and inequality. In some places the demonstrations may turn out to be just for the few, but other cities will offer something very different from the same old lonely blues. Resistance to the status quo is strong enough not to be extinguished just because some people find themselves feeling rather lonely and exposed. The only people who are completely on their own this time around are those who don't want to hear the din of the opposition against those who must be held responsible for this grotesque situation.
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