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Daily Brief Geostrategic thinking

The indelible signs of ‘banal’ evil

We dedicate this reflection to Liliana Segre, Italian senator for life. Yesterday Liliana presided over the first sitting of the Senate in which the new President, Ignazio La Russa, was proclaimed.

Segre’s speech was very profound and very political. One who has experienced first-hand the dramas of totalitarianism is a witness to be listened to with a complex ear. Human evil, in the midst of the 20th century and in the heart of Europe, went beyond any possible consideration of violence, becoming banal.

But banal does not mean superficial. Has the world of today overcome the totalitarian temptation? While it is not fair to superimpose past experiences with the reality of the present, it is crucial to emphasise two considerations.

The first concerns the return of ‘radicalised identities’. When the sense of nationhood becomes nationalism, there is a significant problem. In today’s world there are returning, just look at Russia, cravings for historical revenge that are ‘vented’ through a terrible and ‘linearly banal’ war. When one wants to erase a sovereign state reality, and the existence of a people, democratic alarms must be sounded and the resistance of the oppressed (in this case, the Ukrainians) must be helped, even militarily.

The second consideration is that democracies must wake up from the slumber of their own certainties. For too long we have regarded democracies as the ‘realm of the good’ and today we discover them to be internally fragile and immersed in a very precarious global context. Beyond political debates, a strategic process of deep self-criticism of democracies is urgently needed.

We all call for peace and security but, as we argue in these pages, these cannot be achieved through the current ruling classes’ linear choice to militarise the world. On closer inspection, it is the easy choice, completely antithetical to that need for responsible freedom that the victims and survivors of the banal totalitarian madness of a few decades ago bequeath to us.