Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore

Crisis of democracy

The Western democratic society is facing a state of crisis due to the growing mistrust towards institutions, which takes the shape of a progressive estrangement from politics, the disintegration of parties in their traditional sense and the emergence of forms of “electronic democracy”. The main consequence is the formation of populist political movements which, in contrast with representative democracy, claim the active participation of the community in the political life without any form of intermediation, in the name of a sovereignty of the people that reappraises the theories developed by Rousseau and put into practice by Robespierre. Inevitably, the undoing of this system puts humanity in front of critical issues that bring back fears from the recent past, such as that of the Second World War and of National Socialist and Communist dictatorships, born from the bottom of society as people’s movements and then degenerated into authoritarian systems of control. Uchronic literature definitely goes into this direction, showing fictitious historical realities that follow the narrative logic of “what if”, where changes in the history of humanity lead to a different present from the current one and in which nightmares and hidden fears of a regression to a dictatorial society take form. Traces of uchronic narratives can even be found in Ludovico Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso, in which Moors lay siege to Paris (in real history, they were stopped in Poitiers), while modern dystopian and uchronic literature finds its cornerstone in classics of the twentieth century such as Brave New World (1932) by Aldous Huxley, 1984 (1949) by George Orwell, Fahrenheit 451 (1953) by Ray Bradbury (re-adapted by the 2018 HBO television movie of the same name) and Philip K.Dick’s The Man in the High Castle (1962), which narrates an alternate history in which the world is dominated by the Axis Powers and has recently been adapted by Amazon Prime Video into a TV series. Alternative timelines are also presented by Vladimir Nabokov in Ada or Ardor. A family chronicle (1969), a novel that imagines Russia’s domination over the world; The Emerald (1974) by Mario Soldati; The Plot Against America (2004) by Philip Roth (which inspired the 2020 HBO limited series of the same name); 11/22/63 (2011) by Stephen King (adapted in an eight-episode series for Hulu in 2016). TV series too have shown a growing interests for both uchronic and political dystopian narratives through series such as For All Mankind (Apple TV +, 2019-), where the course of history is assumed in the event that the USSR won the space race, and Years and Years (BBC One/HBO, 2019), in which Donald Trump is re-elected for a second term and all the worse possible apocalyptic scenarios (overpopulation, migration crisis, environmental threats, economic instability, the triumph of populism, planning for the extermination of the refugees) materialize. The degeneration of religious fundamentalism is addressed in Margaret Atwood’s The Hanmaid’s Tale (1985) and in the popular TV series of the same name (Hulu, 2017-), where a military theocracy subjugates women to transform them into sexual slaves to carry high officials' children. Political dystopias are no strangers to Middle-Eastern cultural production, as exemplified by the novel Utopia (2008) by Egyptian author Ahmed Khaled Tawfiq, an allegory of the Arab Springs that degenerate into a society divided between rich, isolated and protected communities and a mass of poor people living in utter squalor.