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Gerardo Castillo Ceballos. Gerardo Castillo Ceballos, School of Education and Psychology of the University of Navarra.
The eternal return of "bread and circuses" politics
Certain authoritarian leaders have always tried to keep the collective leisure of the masses active, because as long as the people are absorbed in the spectacle, they forget their personal problems and remain passive in the face of the abuses of power. The conformism of the people increases if they are granted favors of subject welfare.
Today, in the face of the coronavirus crisis and the confinements, the most urgent and priority in some countries is not to improve health, but to bring back soccer and its fans to the stadiums. The "bread and soccer" strategy is inspired by the "bread and circuses" of the Roman Empire. For example, in Spain the people are being given "bread", in the form of a minimum living income, and "circus", with the return of the professional soccer league.
The phrase "panem et circenses" (bread and circuses) was coined by the satirical poet Decimus Juvenal, who lived in the city of Rome between the 1st and 2nd centuries AD. In his 'Satire X' (77-81) he criticizes the corruption and decadence of Rome, including a strategy of populist politicians to win the votes of the poor: giving them cheap food and entertainment with circus performances. Juvenal laments that the people have acquired the habit of receiving favors from politicians, thus renouncing their rights and duties as citizens.
The Roman circus was a spectacle, not a sport, but it generated passions comparable to those generated by soccer today. A comic cartoon expresses it very well:
-I am the happiest man in the world.
-Have you found work?
-No. But the national soccer team is already in the round of 16.
Niccolo Machiavelli accepted the policy of deception and seduction of the people denounced in Juvenal's 'Satires'. Machiavellianism is a way of proceeding with cunning and duplicity. In 1531 the Italian political philosopher and writer published his masterpiece, 'The Prince'. It is a series of advice to "princes" who aspire to perpetuate themselves in power, including the following three: the end justifies the means; politics has no relation to morality; never try to win by force what can be won by lies.
Some of today's rulers copy the behaviors condemned by Juvenal and proposed by Machiavelli. The people are no longer invited to the circus, but they are deceived with shows of all kinds subject on television. And bread is not distributed as before, but through subsidies under the pretext of social financial aid policies.
Another example of the fact that this policy is still in force is that large sectors of the population remain distracted from fundamental issues, while they are content with something to eat (guaranteed social income) and are entertained by frivolous shows and trash television. The recent work by José A. Ruiz 'Futbol, pan y circo: la metáfora patriótico-deportiva en España' (Soccer, bread and circus: the patriotic-sports metaphor in Spain) is very symptomatic. The message of this essay is the following: such is the symbiosis between professional sports and politics that today contemporary political history could be rewritten according to sporting events.
Currently, the citizens who benefit from subsidies are not necessarily the poor; they are also those who demand equality not justified by effort and merit. They are usually losers who call luck to what is constancy and chance to what is self-discipline and sacrifice. Personally, I like soccer, but not its instrumentalization in the service of commercial and political interests. I think that in the face of a pandemic, the most urgent and priority is to improve health, not to bring back soccer.
The "populists" consider that it is necessary to do away with representative democracy, since it makes it difficult to stage their "bread and circuses" strategy. For this reason they opt for a model of "direct" democracy. If they are asked if what they pretend can be achieved, they do not hesitate in their answer: we can. This denotes a voluntarist attitude based on what is desirable or pleasant to imagine, instead of relying on evidence and rationality. agreement I agree with Sergio Escorial's diagnosis: "In a democratic society like the Spanish one, in plenary session of the Executive Council 21st century, and with the highest illiteracy rate leave in our history, what is happening with the citizenship can only be understood as a 'pandemic of lack of ethics'". It is true that we need a bailout, but perhaps, even more than the merely economic one, we need a "moral bailout".