EFP – Towards the European Forum in Rome -Alan Rowan

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in a Time of “Democratic Deficit”




The idea that
Europe actually needs inward immigration – and rather urgently – is not new.
Thus, for example, Zygmunt Bauman (2012)[i]
citing the then President of the European Foundation for Progressive Studies,
Massimo D’Alema, several years ago pointed out that the European population
could shrink over the coming 40 years by approximately 100 million due
primarily to falling birth rates.  In
this context, D’Alema argued, approximately 30 million newcomers would be
needed if the European economy is to avoid significant collapse and it’s
cherished standard of living is to be preserved. That the European population
is also aging, further complicates this picture. According to the US Census
Bureau’s International Data Base one in five Western Europeans were over 65 in
2014 – a figure that is predicted to rise to one in four by 2030 – thus placing
increasingly acute demands on the economy as a whole, as well as in particular,
on services like health and social care.

differences exist between countries (e.g. Ireland’s birth rate remains
relatively high), and within Europe migration is a further factor, there is
general agreement that Europe is currently facing challenging demographic
changes. In a context of global population growth, Europe’s population, and
particularly its working age population, is declining. Thus, one may wonder,
why is it that immigration today is generally seen as a great danger rather
than a welcome asset?

One answer
concerns the changing nature of the symbolic in a world of hyper-consumption.
Thus, on one side, we notice how the contemporary subject is increasingly
captured by a jouissance that isolates and fixes him to a solitary and
anonymous drive satisfaction, while on the other, symbolic structures and
values are weakened and loose traction. Here for example, political
institutions and governments, in a globalised, financialized and quantified
world, simply do not have the sort of importance or decision making power they
once had, and “global reach” on issues such as the rule of law, fair taxation
and the redistribution of wealth (including geographically) seem far away.

This has
created what one can call a “democratic deficit”. Namely, the alienation and
erosion of citizens interest in the political, low turnout at elections, a
weakening of bonds between people who share the same material environment, and
with this, the creation of psycho-social spaces vulnerable to colonisation by
extremist ideologies. Here traditional “party politics” increasingly evokes
apathy, even animosity, among a voting population who experience inter-party
politics more as a charade, a “self-interested game” on which one cannot rely, based
on minor policy differences that have little real impact on the structure of
most people’s lives. While the call for a new type of politics has been made,
and new political parties have emerged (e.g. in France and Spain) it remains
unclear if such developments, respecting a diverse citizenship, can lead to an
increased societal sense of shared cohesion and purpose – one that must
simultaneously be both local and non-local (i.e. have a global
perspective).  A crucial challenge here
of course, in any politics that seeks to reinvest the notion of “the common” or
common good, is that such a possibility also depends on finding new and
creative ways to operate, without and beyond appeal to the grand narratives and
master signifiers/semblances of previous times.

It is thus in
this context that one must situate the “othering” of the immigrant and with it
the contemporary forms of anxiety aroused by “the stranger”. Subjects today are
more isolated in a world where, as Lacan predicted, we see the rise of the
object to its social zenith accompanied by lives that are increasingly less
stable, less continuous, more “liquid” to use Bauman’s term. A key paradox here
is that the subject is both soothed and also made anxious by this ever-growing
abundance of industrial objects, and one can suggest, it is the overflowing of
this un-worded anxiety into the social bond that has the power to hook the
subject into a process that “others” the immigrant. At its most simple, the
unspoken for immigrant (e.g. socially and politically) becomes a reason, a
pseudo-explanation, for the subject’s unease, a target for the irreducible of
the death drive.

Gramsci, commenting on his experience of Europe in the 1930’s, wrote: “The
crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot
be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear”.[ii]
There can be little doubt that something of this crisis is with us again –
albeit in a contemporary form.

Bauman, Z. (2012). Times
of interregnum. Ethics & Global
Vol. 5, No. 1, pp 49-56.

Gramsci, A. (1971). Selections from Prison Notebooks. [Ed. &
Trans. Q. Hoare & G. Nowell-Smith]. P276,
Lawrence & Wishart,












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