An article by: Francesco Sidoti

For millennia and in all latitudes, every despotic authority has exercised absolute power over its subjects, treated them as slaves, and kept them helpless, in order to extort as much as possible. What we call a people was considered a herd, squeezed to the bone, tormented by famine and epidemics.

In the West, for more than two thousand years, the people have often had a good press, from the rallies of Pericles to the ancient “Senate and People of Rome” to the solemn “We the People” in the preamble to the American Constitution, culminating in the apotheosis of the Gettysburg Address. Christianity gathers and reinforces a specific folk culture that lives again in many contexts, particularly in the extraordinary pages of Tolstoy.

However, the people were also treated with suspicion, especially following the establishment of the new democracy after 1945, which was slowly entered by those who had been kept out before, from the poor to immigrants, from women to African Americans. The model of elite democracy, characterized by competition between elites rather than participation, was theorized by J.А. Schumpeter. In the land of Marat and Delacroix, Maurice Duverger wrote about “Democracy without the People” as early as 1954.

This viewpoint has been argued by S.M. Lipset in a masterpiece of right-wing political science: participation better not be overdone. It is not necessary for an unpredictable and unruly populace to go to the polls; all that is needed is a properly prepared electorate that guarantees polite competition between educated ruling groups. “Consociativism,” i.e., simply “conspiracy with adversaries,” is the most apt definition, where the performers may change, but the music must more or less always stay the same. The theater owner pays the musicians, so he chooses the music. Politics, sometimes balmy, is presented on stage; the voters are the audience, seated in an equipped and controlled room. If someone yells that a building is on fire, they’ll think it’s just a stunt show or that it’s a random crazy person.

2024 is an election year in Europe and the USA. Some predict that nothing will change, while others hope that everything will change. However, it is not the people who will vote. In fact, the electorate and the people are two separate and distinct realities. The people are a political and sentimental idea; the electorate is the concrete reality of the voters. The people must be interpreted and can express themselves by abstention and non-voting; the electorate speaks clearly. Voting does not reproduce the will of the electorate, but the opposite, in a sense: voting reproduces the ability of the elected to create their own electorate. Because the people arise from the bottom of the social ladder, while the electorate is a creation from above.

The people may be disillusioned and demoralized; at the same time, the electorate may instead be confidently reflected in the political class – also because it is largely its own construct: in salaries, pensions, schools, communication, tips, rules. Very large social groups are directly or indirectly privileged children of the power system, so they promptly confirm it in elections, with occasional mood swings.

Unfortunately, they say, another creature with uncertain contours has grown up; the people present themselves as an antagonistic entity. In the crowd’s view, it is a noisy agglomeration gathered around a simple flag: the will to survive against a mode of production that today in the West seems to be characterized primarily by arrogance, war, and the creative destruction of who knows what. Experiments on new humanity, from CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats, special loci in bacteria and archaea – translator’s note) to genome editing, in some ways seem like a rejection of that humanity.

In short, 2024 is an election year in both Europe and the USA, but the people cannot decide their new destiny. Trump, sovereigntists, pacifists, environmentalists, revolutionaries, extremists, communists, fascists should stay away from the remote control; if a systemic error allowed the impossible to happen, any unwanted winners would be brought to sanity by all rights and wrongs. Fixing exceptions and gaps is taken care of by a powerful unpopular device.

Perhaps there will be no more elections like the ones we had and will have in 2024. The rules and the roles played may change: this global multitude seems to some to be extremely spoiled, pretentious, brash. There are too many risks that the electorate and the people may coincide.


Francesco Sidoti