Democracy and its values in pandemic’s times (Roberta De Monticelli)

venerdì, 17 Aprile, 2020

A short set of axiological questions for an inquiry into our future

1) Remarks on recent events

An alarming fact about many decision-makers and/or public opinion leaders in this time of crisis has been their apparent inability to subject their communications to the spirit of the axiological principles on which the constitutional charts of liberal democratic countries are based. The principle of democratic sovereignty implies the highest possible degree of transparency, clarity and consistency in the information a government owes to the public, concerning the reasons why a given measure should be suggested or imposed, in view of the public interest. This principle has been significantly neglected by several governments in Europe, where the public has been regarded much more as a mass of irresponsible, spoiled children suffering no rules, than as autonomous rational agents, whose consent must be gained by good reasons. The following analysis aims at highlighting in more detail the axiological sources of a democratic civilization that even the worst emergency should not lead its rulers to neglect.

A general remark: governments are naturally inclined to prioritize Efficiency over any other value inspiring public policies. This leads many persons today to alarming appraisals of totalitarian regimes such as China’s. However, if the gravity of danger concerning Public Health truly implied putting aside all other axiological principles except Efficiency, there would have been no deaths in China, or considerably less. Now a) the number of deaths appears to be considerably higher than the one officially registered; b) The same choice has been responsible for a violation of Transparency so radical as to have caused, or at least to have fostered, the exponential growth of the contagion locally, and its global spread.

An example of an arbitrary, not axiologically examined trend in governmental communication has been presenting Protection as the only value priority shared by the people now. There is, of course, a sense in which this is legitimate in the given circumstances. However, Protection can be granted by public services, in particular Health Services in coordination with the whole medical profession, only if other co-essential values are respected and implemented, such as Transparency, hence granting everybody the most extensive and most accurate access to the available factual truth and the best existing scientific knowledge. Even more needed would be, in similar circumstances, Clarity, Consistency, and Context-Sensibility on the part of governmental spokespersons.

Mutatis mutandis, all of the axiological principles of a democratic constitution should be examined as to the impact they could suffer from arbitrary prioritizing Efficiency – or, even worse, paternalistic (or maybe functionalistic) views implying increase of heteronomous behavior on the part of citizens. This point is even more worth considering, as history proves that each crisis tends to cause extraordinary renewals of the intellectual and moral settings to cope with a changing world. Yet such renewals presuppose that spontaneity and creativity, the intellectual and practical daughters of freedom, are not overly constrained. For example, WWI fostered Women’s Emancipation, because of the unreplaceable role women played in the economic and civil life of societies during the war; WWII fostered such spectacular and revolutionary worldwide events as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the constitutionalization of human rights in European democracies, and the welfare state.

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