And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees.
Lk 3, 9
Election results in Italy have brought political instability and ungovernability. So read the headlines. Of course, some would say that political instability has been the order of the day in Italy since the fall of the Western fragment of the Roman Empire in the year 476. Yet Italy is still there.
More seriously, however, the current political stalemate in Italy has in part been caused by the appearance of a new populist protest party, the ‘Five-Star Movement’, which is fed up at the corruption of the whole political elite, the euro it imposed and the austerity policies of an unelected, German-style, technocrat Prime Minister, imposed by Brussels and the US. No-one should be surprised. The same thing has already happened in many European countries, where many others are also fed up with the democratic deficit of EU-imposed policies, not to mention mass immigration and yet at the same time mass unemployment.
‘A plague on both your houses’ comes from Italy, but it is universal. In France there is the Front National, which under its present leader is breaking the mould of the old identical left-right technocrats, who all come from the same elitist schools. In Greece a rather extreme political protest party called Syriza has moved out of the old and corrupt two-party system of left and right. In Great Britain the Independence Party (UKIP) is upsetting the old two/three party system and its public school boys. The old political mafia of Western Europe, shown to be incompetent by the financial crisis which it directly created but refuses to take responsibility for, is falling.
In Italy, the situation was made all the more complex – and corrupt – by the situation whereby for some fifty years after 1945 the right was kept in power, government after government, by corruption and US dollars, in order to prevent Italy falling to Communism. The corruption was guaranteed by a self-perpetuating elite, kept in power by mythical democracy. The democracy was mythical because the electorates were only ever given a choice between two self-interested and almost identical individuals, who between periodical elections did whatever they wanted, regardless of what the electorates may have wanted.
However, it is unlikely that anti-elite populist protest parties will actually bring a solution, at least not in the long-term. The underlying problem of Western Europe is debt and bankruptcy. For a generation and more, government after government in country after country has avoided the essential issue of debt. All political parties, including the new anti-elite populist parties, are quite unwilling to make the drastic cuts to budgets that all Western European countries have to make if they are to stave off ever closer bankruptcy in their ever closer union.
One of the essential weaknesses of Western so-called ‘democracies’, run by accountants, is short-termism. No political party actually thinks of national well-being, only of its own well-being – and survival through the next elections – so each party simply makes promises that it can never keep. As they say, ‘if it is too good to be true, it is’. No political party wants to do something openly and immediately unpopular – such as cutting State spending and employment by the huge amounts necessary if Western Europe (+ the USA + Japan) is to avoid a bankrupt future. So instead there is slow but inevitable decline.
Does this mean that austerity, in a far harsher form than even at present, is necessary? Does this mean that we approve of Thatcherite economics, that is, of economic egoism which panders to the basest and greediest instincts of humanity, to the idolatry of Mammon? Does this mean that we approve of an ideology which denies that society exists and has turned tens of millions into economic refugees, creating mass emigration and mass immigration, uprooting communities and destroying family life across Europe, East especially, but also West?
No. In reality, there are huge amounts of money in the world; it is just that so much of it is in the hands of very few. If austerity is shared by all, then that austerity can be bearable. What is unbearable is when the poorer half of society has to bear everything. Some kind of austerity is inevitable, but that does not mean, as in Spain and Greece and Italy, as in Latvia and Estonia and Hungary, that people literally have to starve and the young have to emigrate to Canada and Australia, if they can. Austerity has to be, but it also has to be fair.
Forty years ago, amidst the consumerist frenzies of 1970s materialism, the Russian writer Solzhenitsyn pleaded with the selfish Western world for ‘self-limitation’. What he meant by this was the necessity for it to distinguish between selfish wants and actual needs. Most Western ‘wants’, artificially created by manipulative advertising and publicity, are not what we need. Most of Western Europe, merely copying its US idol before it, has been living in a fantasy world of debt for over forty years. With the ‘revelation’ (at least, to some) that banks had been lending money which they did not have for much of that time, reality is now dawning. And that reality is past selfishness, because it never thought of how children and grandchildren would cope with the accumulated debt.
However, this ‘Third Way’ of self-limitation is not a political problem; it is a spiritual problem. And here is the rub. Self-limitation means repentance for greed and selfishness, acceptance of needs and rejection of wants. And that means a shift in values and a shift in ideology and a shift in the whole pseudo-democratic Capitalist Western system, a fools’ paradise. And this is not going to happen because the Western world agrees to it. But it is going to happen – because the Western world is rapidly coming to the point when it will have no say in the matter. A bankrupt has to live within his means, whether he wants to or not.