If democracy becomes «Capocracy»: the constitutionalist from Messina Ainis talks about his latest book


By John

He coined a mocking and terrible little wordwhich indicates a creeping and pervasive evil of our democracy. He made it the title of an essay and the foundation of a reflection which, despite brilliant writing and the gift of pun, draws a disturbing landscape of our institutional present, with specific fears for the future. He is Michele Ainis, from Messina, a distinguished constitutionalist and editorialist among the most appreciated (but also a writer – his novels are collected in the “Mirror Trilogy”, published by La nave di Teseo – with a predilection for Calvinian plots and Enlightenment dystopias of a smiling pessimism), and the essay is «Capocracy. If presidentialism will send us to hell”just released by La nave di Teseo (which he will talk about today in a meeting in Messina, organized by the Rotary club, at 6pm at the Royal Palace Hotel, talking with professors Giovanni Moschella and Antonio Saitta).

The theme is presidentialism, the strong point of the centre-right in government and almost reality: but “quasism”, as Ainis says, is a constant of the Italic spirit. Like the de-forming reforms, or according to the… Penelope model, the “decretism”, the local and very local pre-potentials, the ever-present fascination (despite the warning that comes from the very structure of our Constitution) for «the 'strong man”. And the spirit of the times, we see with alarm throughout the world, is towards “a mix of formal democracy and substantial autocracy”. And so? Would a reform of this kind be a leap into the future or a leap into the void? We talked about it with the Author.

Let's start from the end, from the betrayed Constitution. A betrayal “in fact”, and an ancient one at that. Is “presidentialism”, which has the spirit of the times as its father and the well-known Italian “presidentite” as its mother, part of those betrayals, or can it correct a drift?
«”Presidentism” is a betrayal of the models that the constituents had given us, because they had a horror of solitary power, of vertical power: they had experienced it first-hand with twenty years of fascism. They were certainly aware that no human society exists without some distinction between governors and governed, without a power structure, and they diluted power in collegial bodies, placing Parliament at the center of the system, and with the strong role of the parties, as they were once, aggregative realities (peace to their souls). But on the other hand this is not the only betrayal that the Italian Constitution has suffered, a bit like a beautiful woman, or a handsome man, much loved and much betrayed, since she was still an infant. In the 1950s, the Christian Democrat Scelba said that “the Constitution is a trap”. With the DC in government we had to wait a long time to implement some vital constitutional bodies: from the CSM to the Constitutional Court; for the Regions they even waited until 1970… To this day there are provisions of the Constitutions which have not been implemented, or which have been completely ignored: in the last chapter of my book I try to tell you about it.”

Tell us about this disturbing specter, which is already among us: the “capocracy”, or “de facto” presidentialism, patchy, from the life of the parties to the electoral laws, to the abuse of decree laws. After all, Italians have always liked “the strong man”, a Mister Wolf who “solves problems”, and today “immediate democracy” (which some political forces portray as , finally, truly respectful of the popular will). But you also note, with your usual taste for puns, that «Italians are for tyranny, but tempered by tyrannicide». How do you get out of it?
«Yes, it is true that Italians love “the strong man”, or recently “the strong woman”, and it is also true that we then turn them upside down, even metaphorically, just think of characters who have been very popular , from Craxi, to Renzi, to Monti, to Napolitano himself, who fell somewhat out of favor in the last period of his presidency. And so that joke, naturally only metaphorical, about “tyrannicide” is valid. I would say that in these times, not only in Italy, turning to the strong man, that is, to a savior who frees you from evil, is also a consequence of the fears that grip us, fear of wars, of climate change, which young people especially feel . Freud said that modern man willingly gives up a share of his happiness, and therefore also of his rights, in exchange for greater security. Then there is a paradox, because anxiety, the obsessive search for security ultimately generates greater insecurity. Just think of the quantity of new crimes introduced not only by this government. Someone has estimated that there are 35 thousand types of crime in circulation. This makes us more insecure: each of us can commit a crime without even suspecting it…”.

Who should the re-constituents, as he calls them in the essay, be? You underline several times the need to involve us citizens, who are ultimately the principals, as well as the end users, of every comma of the Constitution. We citizens are increasingly disaffected from participation: but is a democracy in which people vote less and less weaker or more mature?
«I believe that electoral abstentionism also depends on a feeling of despondency, in the sense that we have been prisoners for many years of electoral systems that do not allow us to decide a thing. Otherwise there would be no explanation for all that crowd and brawl of candidates who want their place in the sun on the list blocked by their party secretaries. As if the voter, and in reality this is the case, was just a spectator. This obviously discourages participation in democratic life and also participation in voting. As for what to do, I try to formulate a proposal which will naturally never be accepted: since there is a Parliament, which, even if not delegitimised, is weakened by the fact that one Italian in three did not go to vote for it, does not have sufficient auctoritas, I believe, to change the Constitution radically, and given that not even a Bicameral Parliament, which in the end is a dome of elected parliamentarians with blocked lists, can overcome this democratic gap, I imagined that it would be nice to do as they have done elsewhere, for example in Iceland, or to set up an assembly of non-parliamentarians, elected by proportional representation. Maybe there could be 75 gentlemen and ladies, as happened at the time of the Constituent Assembly (if possible with a few constitutionalists, who generally do more harm than good…) to whom citizens, associations and groups could turn to formulate proposals. Then this commission would have the task of drafting a draft Constitution and sending it to Parliament. Finally, I hope that the citizens will decide with the referendum.”

The first chapter has a dazzling incipit: «Presidentialism is like the bridge over the Strait of Messina». Someone down here would tell you that, instead, it seems that the magnificent and progressive destiny will now really come to fruition, and for both things…
«I really fear that work will begin on the Bridge, just as the parliamentary work on presidentialism has begun. I therefore fear that the first stone will be laid, or rather thrown on the heads of the people of Messina, and we hope not to have a landscape of rubble, as Messina has already experienced with earthquakes, and that this rubble does not also extend to the landscape of the institutions, already today far too earthquake-stricken…”.