Daniel Innerarity, 30 April 2022
Professor of Political Philosophy at the UPV (University of the Basque Country)
Image : (Joma)
We are well aware that societies are spaces of diversity, antagonism and conflict. We do not live in homogeneous communities, nor should we aspire to emphatic unity and absolute consensus. These are impossible and, if for no other reason, situations that make no sense to desire. The disturbing question is whether, despite this, there is some limit beyond which we no longer have a diverse but a fragmented society, unbearably unequal, incoherent and dysfunctional, wounded and fractured. How do we distinguish pluralism from fragmentation, the division of powers from the clash and vetoes between institutions? What is the difference between productive disagreement and enriching diversity? How do societies break down and to what extent is it possible for them to recompose their fragile unity?
Jordi Sevilla has discussed all this in his forthcoming book “La España herida” (Wounded Spain). The title of the book seems to suggest the umpteenth look at the territorial conflict that Spain has not yet resolved, but this book aspires to make a complete diagnosis of the social rifts, for which the author reviews other wounds that are sometimes less noisy but no less important, such as the gender and intergenerational gaps, the gap between rich and poor, the contrast between the rural and the urban, and the coexistence – problematised by the pandemic – of the analogue world and the new digital reality. These are wounds that could be completed with the oppositions between the global and the local, between rationality and emotions, the public and the private, and the old and the new politics. These fractures have generated new lines of identification, axes of conflict that go beyond the right/left simplification and that we must confront with a more sophisticated strategy.
A rift is not simply a tension that is resolved with an agreement or a compromise, but a consolidated rupture, a chronic wound for which there seems to be no healing. In a rift, conflicting values and interests are stabilised without the possibility of integrating or compromising between them. Digital and analogue coexist and will coexist in the future, but the costs of the transition to a more automated working environment will have to be shared fairly and the divisions that threaten to leave many behind will have to be fought; the economy does not prosper without stimuli, but the discourse of merit seems to ignore the structural conditions that stabilise inequality and belie the supposed equality of conditions; we live in a supposedly open space but in which there are insurmountable distances, ceilings and red lines; the difficult balance between competing versus cooperating seems to have stabilised in a brutal competition without common rules; the values of freedom and equality, always in tension, have become polarised in such a way that those who seek to monopolise one of them completely disregard the other; the demand for respect for diversity drifts into narcissism as the appeal to equality becomes an alibi for imposition.
There are many breaks in the rules of the game that can be explained by a game that has not been sufficiently inclusive. Let us ask ourselves whether behind the disaffection that led a large part of our society to disengage from common affairs (to the delight of those who wanted to turn them into private affairs), in the indignation that stirred up almost everything and ultimately produced very little, or in the unilateralism that strained the Catalan question without offering a viable solution, there was nothing other than unresolved and entrenched problems, malfunctions of the political system that we had cynically accepted as normal. Societies can break down both because of an express will to do so and because of an unwillingness to solve the problems that lead to the breakdown. In politics, when there is a bad solution we should not necessarily conclude that there was no problem.
Partnerships can break down because of an unwillingness to solve the problems.
The first condition for addressing these problems is to respect a fundamental democratic prohibition: in a pluralistic society no one exclusively represents the whole of society, not even the whole of one part of that society (workers, the constitutional order, the nation, political values, women) even though we will all be convinced that we represent these interests better than our competitors. Without this distinction between thinking that we are the best and knowing that we are not the only ones, there is no democratic political culture to speak of, but only banditry, fanaticism and the will to exclude.
One of the effects of polarisation is that it replaces shared power with shared impotence.
The second condition is to shape broad political subjects. Strategic issues cannot be addressed without agreements and a spirit of integration. It is preferable to be worried that someone is missing than to be convinced that there are too many. Perhaps this is the fundamental weakness of our political systems and their powerlessness to solve the great gaps that cross us. One of the effects of so-called polarisation is that it replaces shared power with shared powerlessness. There is a confrontation that is very conservative in the deep sense of the term: that changes nothing, leaves things as they are and compensates for that incapacity with an inflamed rhetoric of change. We may live in a society that cannot re-establish unity through the imposition of one side, but neither does it have the political culture that would be necessary for an inclusive agreement.
The kind of governance that is required in this society of divides demands a broad outlook, a vision of the whole, a new institutional and organisational culture. Anyone who wants to seriously tackle the current social challenges will find in Jordi Sevilla’s book valuable indications for thinking about these new realities, a reflection that is the first step towards making the right decisions.