Personalization of Power | Origins and contexts of the Workshop (subheading, preferred formatting Bold)
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The idea of the workshop derives from an offer by the Council of Europe to host a VIU initiative in the framework of the World Forum for Democracy. We accepted the challenge since it gives an excellent opportunity to develop synergies among the faculty in a visible international framework, obtaining for VIU a chance to manifest itself in the field of a global challenge with its own styles and pluridisciplinary cosmopolitan experimental ways. The mission is to do an independent and autonomous workshop in our premises. If possible and relevant, someone would report what we have done to the general seminar, which will take place on 8th-10th of November 2017 in Strasbourg. The Seminar in Strasbourg will be devoted to answering the question Is Populism a Problem?
Personalization and Populism (creating subheading for paragraph preferred to bold type in paragraph)
Populism may be referred to a political movement or entity or to a type of political communication, which is addressed directly to “the people” against privileged élites of some form. It is a controversial and slippery concept, widely used, prevalently applied to phenomena like Peròn, Berlusconi, Putin, Trump and Grillo, where the relationship between the leader and his people is central. In this sense, there is an obvious connection between Populism and the Personalization of Power. By Personalization we imply a process - a transformation. In a situation, where in institutional positions of different level, one would expect an impersonal role and official procedures to prevail, we move to a different situation, where the person who is in power overtly takes the scene with his body, images and action. In the case of Berlusconi and Trump, such personalization can be seen: 1) in the electoral process, where the biography of the candidate is more important than the party and where the words, the face, the body and gestures of the leader becomes an icon and a crucial method for propaganda; 2) in government, where the leader stands out and centralizes decision-making, coopting in power people whose primary quality is to be personally loyal - in the case of Trump, family members; 3) in government, where there is less distinction between private and public, where a patrimonial attitude towards the State re-emerges, with foreign policy based on personal relations among leaders, protocol disrespected, agenda non-transparent, private mansions preferred to official spaces for meetings among heads of State, about which the public and often great part of the entourage is not informed. More could be added. Focusing on Personalization rather than simply Populism, we define a broader area of enquiry, which goes beyond Populism. We realize that this core populist characteristic has affected politics and social practice of leadership in general.
Personalization of Politics
One of the disciplines, which dealt with personalization, converting it into one of its topoi, is Political Science. Politologists developed the concept of Personalization of Politics to describe a recent historical process which invested Liberal Democracies since perhaps the 1980s with Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, but anticipated already by Henri Trudeau. Leaders are becoming more important in absolute terms and in relation to their parties: in terms of recognition, exposure and mass-visibility; in terms of their role in government, as part of a process of “presidentialization of politics” (Mughan 1993). They are considered as those able to win votes; campaigns focus on leaders; the votes are decided on the basis of the evaluation of their on specific key-issues and their non-political qualities have increasingly more importance. Governments are increasingly identified with their leaders, which overshadow their member of cabinets (in some countries governments started to be called after the name of the leader). The phenomena are measured prevalently by media statistics and opinion polls and are affected by the more general decrease in the role of parties, of political participation and of ideology and partisanship, by the growth of electronic media (television and internet), by the increased powers of the executive and of the head of government over the ministers and by the change in electoral systems, with the adoption of majoritarian or mixed systems, rather than proportional, which favours coalition government and collective leadership. The way personalization of politics takes place is to a degree also country specific and its manifestation differs between Parliamentary and Presidential systems, but it is clearly present in both, as a general trend. Although personalization of power is not a new phenomenon in politics, since it is necessarily linked with the processes of democratization, the risk involved in the contemporary trends of personalization rests in the weakening of social pluralism and the marginalization of other actors of our polyarchies (Dahl), whose role is to intermediate between the leader and the mass and preserve democracy.
Personalization in non-political institutions
Our workshop however doesn’t have to be as political and as policy-oriented as the Strasbourg event. Personalization of Power can be related to human relations within institutions which are not strictly political. The process for example can be observed in social and economic institutions, such as universities and business company, where strong personalities and personal loyalties were used to bring change, restructure the organizations and operate cuts from above, unrooting the power of the unions and resistance among more “conservative” employees.
Functionality and Disadvantages of Personalization
The personalization of power and of politics has emerged because it was functional to respond to the crisis and budget constraints, by adopting economism and a market oriented philosophy, which would “save” the institutions. It was welcome in institutions as an instrument of reform against resistance to change, petty consolidated privileges and bureaucratic stalemate, to renew and rejuvenate, to send to retirement and create upward mobility. At the same time it was appreciated because having to do with a very visible familiar face facilitated communication from above and gave a sense of individual accountability, especially in a context of lack of trust. It also provided an attempted way out to the miss-workings of the “system”. It became instrument of reaction by people fed up with the effects of austerity, globalization, unemployment, financial crisis. Yet we’ve been so concerned in facilitating government and management and in personalizing, that we have considerably reduced representativeness, shared and collective decision-making and participation. Stronger executives and personalities have often produced more conflicts and divisions failing to carry out the expected reforms and to properly represent the whole of society. In countries like Russia and Turkey personalization of Power and Populism have produced authoritarian regimes, which superficially could maintain the form of a Democracy.
Personalization, internet, Digital Populism and Para-Fascism: a point of view
Notes on a book. The sociologist Alessandro Dal Lago last week published a book - Populismo digitale. La crisi, la rete e la nuova destra - in which he warns against the kind of special relation which develops in the internet between the leader and the people, based on a digital charisma in the context of a political communicative “double bind”: where there is an illusion of freedom and direct contact with the leader, but the position is subordinate and the rules of the game (the interactions, the freedom of expression, the algorithms of research) are established by invisible powers. In such contexts the digital leaders abandon the old political rituals and liturgies of legitimation by finding in its capability of communication (with retweets, comments and likes) a direct mandate from the people. This new form of legitimation is maybe compatible with representative democracy, but it also seems to be able to overpass it, in perspective. Dal Lago argues that the internet has been used successfully by movements of the Right and that thanks to it have seen the ascendancy of para-fascist movements, who want to get rid of political parties.
Personalization, the Law and the Venetian Republic
Laws, Courts, Judges, Special Councils, Prosecutors have limited fall-outs of personalization of power in contemporary times. The Republic of Venice since about 12th Century progressively limited the powers of the Doge, who no longer had control over the State coffers and was obliged to swear to respect written norms limiting his mandate, at the moment of election. Such dogal promissio contained for example prohibition to interfere in the election of the patriarch, to send ambassadors or letters to the Pope or other sovereigns without the authorization of the Council, to keep hidden the content of received letters, receive gifts, marry foreign subjects, exit the territory of the dukedom without permission and so on. He was obliged to renounce to his possessions. Rituals and representations emphasised his service to the Republic and his status as primus inter pares: iconographically imagined as kneeling in front of the lion. His apartments in the ducal palace were constructed in such a way that they were replicas of the interior of the typical nobleman’s palace, while its central space with view over the lagoon was the Grand Council Hall. The doges were not celebrated by public statues. They were generally buried not in St. Mark’s but in other churches. Only the function of doge was for life, while other posts generally lasted for two years. The republic was founded on rotation of functions and collective leadership, even though major functions were only accessible to the nobility, which in principle represented a body of equals. In this sense, the Republic attempted to depersonalize power. According to Max Weber, the experience of the Italian city-states contributed to the formation of a modern concept of bureaucracy, based on impersonal management: the lower the institutionalization, the greater the personalization of leadership; the more personalization is characterized by direct voluntary loyalty to the leader, the greater its “charismatization”; a charismatic leader is not bound to procedures and avoids decisions which would limit its future choices. The republican thought and practices in Modern Europe, together with the increasing relevance of jusnaturalism, led to the development of modern constitutionalism: a system of government based on separation and balance of powers among the branches of the government. It represented the basic ideology of constitutional processes in modern and contemporary States, and the legal environment in which contemporary democracy takes place. The above-mentioned current trends in personalization of power threaten this model of constitutional democracy.