In 1959, an angry Horkheimer wrote to his friend Adorno about a young Habermas to show his displeasure with the man who had just written a first essay on Marx in the new Federal Republic. Then he tells him: “The word revolution has been replaced – presumably due to your influence – by the phrase ‘development of formal democracy’ into material democracy and ‘development of liberal democracy’ into social democracy.” . The old intellectual came to identify the transformation that Habermas was promoting in Germany. Through her he collected the utopian energies and civic courage that had kept Herbert Marcuse alive and transferred them to the young German republic that with difficulty promoted a break with the Nazi past.
Today, more than three quarters of a century later, this transformation of the mythical revolution into the slow reform continues to be the most reasonable, prudent and mature horizon for our democracies, provided that it generates renewed energy capable of maintaining its utopian tension. Today, as in 1959, civic courage is required to defend it. The forces that oppose this process are complex and varied, but there is no shortage of those that are as obscure as those that railed against Habermas for demanding reparation and self-criticism from the thinkers who enrolled in the ideas of 1933. In any case, The most interesting thing about Habermas’ approach is that the process was always played out on the democratic terrain. It was necessary to go from a formal democracy to a material democracy; from a liberal, to a social one. But always under the aspiration of forming a society of adults, critical, autonomous, capable of not thoughtlessly obeying any order of power.
Habermas believed that the potential of democracy to sustain this process was immanent. It was enough not to end the modern process, whatever the wounds it had produced. His strongest belief was that taking the assumptions of liberal democracy seriously implied deploying it towards social and material democracy. Today in Spain and in the world this impeccably normative program is in danger precisely because of its intimate potential. The forces that oppose it are testing the limits of democracy, because they do not want its potential to begin to unfold in such a way that privileges, sufferings and inequalities are no longer considered ‘natural’. That is why we must not be deceived: what it is about is blocking as much as possible the democratic potential. And this means questioning as much as possible the existence of a citizenry capable of articulating a horizon of desirability beyond the bare factuality of what exists.
And that is what erodes the democratic mentality with fanatical assumptions, with the loss of faith in justifiable convictions, with a narrow sense of freedom as consumers, with the a priori acceptance of inequality as a natural fact, with a willingness to deny those results of science that do not interest -environment and vaccines- and to accept as indisputable those that come in handy -such as weapons technique, big data control tools, or the precepts of the economy. At the limit, it is about democracy being reduced to a minimum and its potential emancipators being frozen by an authoritarian mentality that imposes what exists as the only possible thing.
In these elections, and with increasing force, this duality between a liberal democracy that tends to be social and material, and a minimalist democracy sustained on a minimal sense of freedom, is confronted. Due to family circumstances I live halfway between Madrid and Valencia. And I can experience the differences in the political programs that these two versions of democracy represent in their own way. In Madrid I see above all that democracy is understood as a lack of inhibition in economic activity, with no other consideration than obtaining profit with cumulative aspirations. That is why a free hand is required on the four important fronts where new benefit niches can be reached: housing, education, health and care for dependents. Huge amounts of investment move there, ready to withdraw resources from family economies, which will decapitalize their assets and force them to go into debt and work in a completely brutal way, reducing as much as possible the free time of people in favor of the time they They will be delivered to production. In short, an increase in enslavement at the service of accumulation.
In Valencia we do not see all that. Of course, in the last eight years we have not known the shameful cases of corruption that made Valencia famous throughout Europe for its scandals. We have seen exemplary prosecutions that have revealed that Valencia was run by corrupt unscrupulous people. But the most interesting thing is his commitment to a productive way that does not have financial accumulation as its spearhead. In Valencia the excessive concentration process of Madrid is not known. The urban structure of an old kingdom of cities resists with solvency, and this generates a much more balanced daily life. This urban fabric relaxes the speculative processes of housing. For the rest, there is not such an enormous segregation in the educational system as in Madrid.
Nor is there a race to create university centers. Health showed its nerve in the pandemic, with a result that did not know the scandals in Madrid. The public aid policy for dependent people is much more developed than in Madrid and brings relief to many families. But, above all, the old tradition of the productive economy of the Valencian lands inclines the authorities to an incorporation into the productive fabric of Europe, and does not open the doors, as in Madrid, to capital flows from large international corporations. Here, the productive system is still aimed at industrial development and agricultural deployment and, therefore, takes into account the needs of the European citizenry, something that would receive a great boost if the Mediterranean corridor were decisively supported by the central government.
But it is not only about these material goods. The Valencian Government of the socialist Ximo Puig, with its partners from Compromís and Podemos, represents intangible assets of the greatest interest. I’m not saying that it doesn’t present some problems. But no one can doubt the constitutional loyalty of the Valencian Government, no one can doubt that it represents a defense of Hispanic plurality, no one can dispute that it offers a cooperative form that moves in the best spirit of a noble and sincere federation. In this sense, it represents by itself another way of understanding Spain that, without denying the usefulness of the State, urges its balance from the fiscal, symbolic and historical point of view, through policies sensitive to its constituent diversity.
I do not mean to say that the Valencian Government connects with self-conscious utopian energies. But, albeit in a limited way, it maintains a complex idea of democracy that has not broken its connections with the great ideals that sutured the wounds of peoples after the tragedies of the 20th century. On the contrary, it is becoming clearer every day that the Government of Madrid wants to get as far away as possible from this complex idea, wants to reduce it as much as possible from a narrow sense of citizenship and the institution, and that its will to erode the aspirations democracies is as intense as their surrender to the great interests of capital accumulation, which know no idea of limits in their attempt to take over the world and commodify the basic goods of human beings.