NYU Florence. La Pietra Dialogues. Inside American Politics.

By Giuseppe T. Mazzone, NYU Alumni

This blog aims to explore relationships between the arts & diplomacy. Therefore, there’s nothing better than starting from Florence, Italy, a city at the heart of the Italian and European Renaissance, where natural and artistic beauty mix with pragmatic mercantile flavors and pragmatic political practice.

We start from the beautiful Villa La Pietra, a magnificent Villa built in the 15th century, on the hills dominating the Brunelleschi Dome on the way from Florence to Fiesole. Villa La Pietra was once the home of the Florentine Sassetti and Capponi families. More recently, it belonged to the late Lord Harold Acton, a historian of the Medicis’ period. Villa La Pietra belongs to New York University since 1994. We were there, mid-November 2014, as interested NYU Alumni, to attend a two day seminar on American politics organized by NYU Florence’s La Pietra Dialogues.

The seminar was open to the public and live streamed, showcasing traditional NYU hospitality and the University’s excellent use of modern technology. The conference focused on the recent U.S. mid-term congressional elections. In a few words: Republicans got majority control of both the House and the Senate in Washington DC; President Obama would act as a Lame Duck; Congress’s agenda would challenge the presidential agenda; however, President Obama might still make a compelling use of his executive powers; political initiative and the balance of power are at stake; American democracy is at work. What about the leading role of the U.S. in the international arena within the framework of the new “World Order”, just to quote the last, remarkable, book by Henry Kissinger, a master of American and international diplomacy?

Panelists offered their assessment of current political dynamics: bipartisanship; a clear-cut assessment of American voter behavior; trends and expectations; insights and perspectives; for the present and for the future, keeping the next presidential elections in mind. It was two days of clever and passionate debate; a frank exchange of views by and between a roster of excellent, carefully selected, panelists: journalists, academics, businessmen, pollsters, campaign managers, media communication strategists.

A panel discussion was followed by some open questions.

To date, democracy works, whenever and wherever it works, through citizens’ participation in the selection of their representatives, through votes cast in traditional ways. Voters, in a sense, are considered sovereign, in that they mandate their representatives and their representatives are accountable to them. What’s next? The open-minded debate we participated in between these highly skilled and truly experienced (and passionate) professionals of political campaigns gathered in Florence, lets us think, critically, that digital tech-evolution is paving the way for a true revolution, at least, in our open societies, in the way political consensus will be crafted, organized and channelled in the future.

Italy, at present, appears to be a testing ground where political movements arising from political online blogs, directed by clever technocrats with populists tastes (able to capitalize on the moods of people, citizens and voters), consistently gather online to build consensus and to make decisions, to select political candidates, to set a political agenda, to influence public opinion, even to dismiss elected congressmen from their own parliamentary constituency groups, and so forth. At stake, we see e-votes cast via e-blogs, as a form of e-democracy, which could lead to e-totalitarism? Let’s see and let’s discuss.

We would like to suggest that NYU, jointly with other interested institutions, closely follow, at all levels, this Italian experiment of direct-online social democracy …. which is likely to be exported beyond Italian political borders. Not simply to observe and study the social phenomenon, but to cleverly assess, for policy reasons, whether and how similar models could be crafted and successfully implemented in other societies, in Europe and/or elsewhere, leading to revolutionize our current political practices, while possibly undermining the institutional framework that governs our democracies. That’s all.

While descending from Villa La Pietra to the city center of Florence, we stopped by Palazzo Medici Riccardi, which hosts frescoes of the “Magi”, Caspar, Melchior & Baltashar, by Renaissance master Benozzo Gozzoli. A narrow chapel in a magnificent palace; the paradise of Italian artistic beauty, in the midst of political turmoils; a way to redress all negative thoughts – remembering Cosimo I and his nephew Lorenzo de’ Medici: merchants, bankers, subtle politicians and unique patrons of arts and culture.

We move from there. We move forward.

Originally published on Giuseppe Mazzone’s blog ‘Blazing World’













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