Writing after World War II, political theorist Hannah Arendt wrote about the perils of totalitarianism. She argued that its essential feature was the atomisation of society, where intermediate associations are destroyed or usurped by the state. She was referring to basic social ties and structures such as families, friendship, religion, civil society organisations, professions, media, universities and the like.
Arendt was referring to totalitarian experiences under dictators such as Hitler and Stalin, but her writing proved to be prophetic on future totalitarian regimes around the world.
Pluralists like Arendt argued that the basic foundations of a democratic society included individual rights, balanced institutional arrangements with appropriate checks and balances and decentralised systems of government.
Can we say that Malta is facing atomisation? On paper we are a liberal democratic society, but the modes of governance under Joseph Muscat do point towards the process I am referring to.
One main feature of Labour’s electoral strategy is micro-targeting of voters through face-to-face and online methods. We all know how this was used aggressively before the 2013 general election through all sorts of promises and before the 2017 general election through the power of incumbency, and I would not be surprised if the government uses funds from the sale of passports to fund a hyper-version of the same power of incumbency before the next general election.
Labour also banked on laissez-faire construction practices, promising to enrich thousands but ignoring the cumulative and longer term impacts on the social fabric, transport, environment and the economy. Families who are not within the Labour orbit and would like legitimate permits are either seduced to vote red or are punished should they dare criticise the regime.
The management of the most mundane practices is supervised to ensure the electoral machine is fed
As regards civil society and the media, Labour clearly rewards those which support it directly or indirectly, and largely ignores others unless their pressure is so significant that the government would have to concede some inches. Associations are witnessing the dismemberment of procedures and the appointment of party apparatchiks on decision-making bodies, putting party interests before the common good.
Authorities are being led and staffed by Labour loyalists, and the management of the most mundane practices is supervised to ensure the electoral machine is fed. Within such a labyrinth, the individual may feel helpless and overpowered.
Migrants seeking a better life in Malta are scrutinised and micromanaged to be inserted within the system of patronage. As the practice goes, I will provide you with opportunities if you give me your vote.
Judges have been assigned judicial assistants on a position of trust basis, which effectively means that the former are being watched by appointees loyal to their political masters. How’s that for institutional autonomy?
The University of Malta, a bastion of free thinking, is risking take over by the government through a politically appointed board of governors which limits the power of the rector. A Mintoffian takeover of the University, if you like.
In the meantime, an army of Labour trolls harass people on the social media, sometimes even exposing government critics publicly. The ultimate aim of this strategy is to intimidate them, to show them that they are being watched and tracked.
Key members of the Schembri-Muscat-Mizzi triumvirate are placed in strategic positions which oversee and decide on the sale of public assets, public procurement and contracts. In the meantime the Auditor General is being flooded by insignificant queries to investigate so as to elbow out more important investigations such as the Vitals scandal. By the time the latter would have been investigated, it may be too late.
Government is everywhere. It is the hand that feeds us and slaps us. The process of atomisation is taking place. Will it be too late once a critical mass realises the impacts of this malaise? The power is in our hands, as we may choose not to be seduced by the Muscat regime. We may choose to put the greater good before instant gratification.