Techno-sovreignism and return of the State: the “New Normal” in the Covid-era
“The end justifies the means” – Machiavelli’s most famous false quote contains, inverted in a moralizing form, the heart of his discovery. Politics is not a simple flow, chaotic indeterminacy, irregular and indistinct struggle for power, but it is, in reality, the search for an articulation between things in their redundant, opaque complexity and their organization, their orientation.
The intuition to whichMachiavelli gives shape is that the rudder of things can be at least partly conducted, because politics is precisely the interstice between the ends that become the object of struggle – and also of public deliberation – and the concrete ways to pursue them.
This idea crosses and defines modernity. It is a question of turning things into levers that can in turn allow us to navigate, to decide in which direction to turn: to the right, to the left … and it is an interesting historical fact that it is precisely the word State, in the form of an action carried out in a perfect participle, to be chosen to represent this short circuit between things that change and the action on thingsso thatthey change.
Without means there is no point in debating ends. Operative action is the implicit condition of the political. In this sense we understand how the legitimacy of modernity rests on the promise of control, even before that of change or progress.
A decisive ambiguity appears here. Identifying sovereignty as the place of autonomy of the politician, the rudder of a caravel at the mercy of the waves is transformed, thanks to the alchemical work of the jurisconsults, into a lock, into a dam capable of orienting the waves. The state becomes the leverthat lifts the world, but what is its point of support? And how can this legal form guarantee the grafting of power over things?
It is precisely this aporia that is exploding in our hands.
In his last formidable writing, published shortly before his death, the philosopher Bruno Latour exclaimed prophetically, quoting Oedipus: “because the city, you see for yourself, is carried with too much force by the waves at this moment!” and continued: “The difficulty is that we do not have a clear authority or organism to refer to… In the interregnum there is no authority to which we can turn. We are waiting.”
The social sciences, history, philosophy try to define in various ways this period of radical and confused transformations, in which geopolitical rivalry produces an extended war, the pandemic fragments the pace of globalization, the climate crisis blows up the table and the economy seems to throw us against a wall. In the era ofpolycrisis, of theend of abundance, in the interregnum thehypothesis of political modernity is crumbling.
But the car keeps spinning. The vertigo of our twenties takes multiple forms—it can be summed up in a simple idea that speaks to us individually and collectively: we have lost control.
Two parallel lives
In the intensity of current events we witness the development of two almost simultaneous political experiences, which would have constituted a perfect narrative framework for two lives of Plutarch.
On the one hand we have theleaderof a government with a strong majority, at the head of a historic party organic and secular part of the establishment, at the height of its political success, with a sovereign currency, wide margins of action, almost no binding treaty: the closest thing, formally, to the autonomy of the politician.
On the other hand, theleaderof a party without a structured ruling class, unexpectedly at the head of a weakened state with very narrow margins for maneuver, a heterogeneous coalition, strong external constraints.
On the one hand Liz Truss and her failure as rapid as it is spectacular – on the other Giorgia Meloni and the opening, still uncertain, of a new political cycle. Both tell us the same story symmetrically. The very narrow limits of politics, the frantic demand for control.
On the one hand, the long wave of the effects of the Brexit campaign and its obsessive slogan: take back control. As always, the success of a slogan is such because it condenses very different things into a simple form: economic downgrading, the end of protection, the dislocation of society, the resentful nostalgia for empire. After all, above all, the search for a new political temporality in the country at the center of the global acceleration of finance. “Take back control” prepares the “Make America Great Again“. A promise of a return that allows us to restore an almost messianic temporality, returning to the illusion of modernity. “The United Kingdom will be freer, fairer and more prosperous outside,” the current prime minister said. The frantic search for forms of autonomy has determined the dislocation of the action of the politician.
On the other hand, thetechno-sovereignist transformation of the line of Fratelli di Italia, the integration of ties accompanied, prepared during the electoral campaign: the geopolitical reorientation on Ukraine to speak to the diplomatic and military apparatuses of NATO, adherence to the euro, the rules to convince the eurocracy, the state apparatuses, capitalism and the markets. To control a crashing car it is better to be equipped withairbags, unloading the pressure on political and technocratic structures. Instead of change, promise conservation.
Giorgia Meloni seems to have understood what Helen Thompson, one of the most subtle scholars of contemporary politics, wrote: “this will be the new normal, until the political class realizes that crisis and not growth are the new norm and that the reality of the world is destroying the clichés of partisan politics and career ambitions at an ever faster pace”.
The Prince’s Mirror
When we talk to Weber about “politically oriented capitalism,” we are identifying the means, before the ends. To make the state machine work again, it is good to understand where it embarks…
The system that most impressively develops (but not for this reason more stable) the logic of political capitalism with the United States,Xi Jinping’s China, presents us with a distorting mirror: [the West] is facing three great intractable problems: the growing inequality created by liberal economics; the failure of the state, political decline and ineffectiveness of governance caused by political liberalism; the decadence and nihilism created by cultural liberalism.”
To answer, we will have to get out of this mirror.