Luiss Engaged Research Podcast n.1

The origins of our brittle Italian democracy

 Giovanni Orsina

The gap between the narratives of democracy and the practices of power has been a significant source of delegitimation for the post-1945 Italian political system. The system was unable to achieve a solid and principled legitimation by meeting the requirements of a widely accepted and historically rooted notion of democracy, and had to resort to a fragile de facto legitimacy based on the absence of more desirable alternatives. This can partly account for the collapse of the Republican political system in 1992/1993 and the political instability of Italy in the last quarter century. The first section of the article presents the three most relevant narratives of democracy of the Republic’s early years: liberal, progressive, and participatory democracy. The second section argues that in the early 1960s, when the political system finally reached a reasonable level of stability, it was as an ‘Italian-style’ party democracy that did not fully meet the criteria of any of the three original narratives, which were in fact used to delegitimise it. By the late 1970s, all could see how dysfunctional party democracy was, and criticising it became a discursive resource that no political force could refrain from exploiting—including those who were in government. The third section considers how those critiques were inspired, yet again, by variations of the three original narratives. The epilogue throws a quick glance at the post-1994 period.

“Party democracy and its enemies: Italy, 1945–1992”, by Giovanni Orsina. (2019). Journal of Modern European History 17(2): 220-233. doi:10.1177/1611894419835752

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