Reason and Justice: the party of a left that rediscovers its roots

A boock that develops a broad reflection on the role that the political forces that define themselves as “left-wing neoliberals” assume today.

The book dates back to two years ago, but I think it is important to re-read it here, in view of the European elections, in which the author is running as a candidate with her Bündnis (BSW, Bündnis – Vernunft und Gerechtigkeit), founded just at the beginning of 2024, but which the polls already show at 6% on the national average – with a peak of 23% in the Land Sachsen-Anhalt – above Die Linke, stable at 4.5% and well above the liberal-democratic FDP (3%). BSW has just reached 18,000 subscriber signatures compared to the 4,000 needed to present the list.

  In Italy, it is unfortunately still impossible to vote for BSW, because, as Lucio Caracciolo rightly said, the European elections today only serve to measure the balance of power within national parties and coalitions. A sort of very expensive mega survey (not by chance carried out with a pure proportional system). Thus, the EP makes and unmakes majorities and legislates without the public opinions of individual states being able to exercise effective democratic control, consequently leaving the field open to lobbies.

Who in Italy knows the names of the Latvian or Estonian European commissioners, who also contribute to determining our national policies?


Nor does there exist a left-wing formation comparable to the BSW in our country. Drawing a parallel between Italy and Germany, the PD occupies the political space of the SPD, the AVS roughly corresponds to the German Grüne and Linke, while the Calendian left of “Action” largely insists on the area of the Lifestyle Linke, which is the main target of Wagenknecht’s book. The M5S, whose position has no precise boundaries, still functions as a “lamination tank” for the floods of discontent. It is perhaps here, in this magmatic basin that a political movement similar to the BSW could arise, capable of giving meaning and objectives to a force that wants to cultivate a progressive perspective with solid cultural foundations.

Born in the GDR in 1969, philosopher and economist, Sahra Wagenknecht played in the Freie Deutsche Jugend, the youth organization of the SED. Already leading member of the Linke, her separation is due to obvious disagreements on the political line. The book, whose German title “Die Selbstgerechten” was translated in the Italian edition with a periphrasis, “Against the neoliberal left” and which I would personally translate as “The Complacents” (naturally about oneself), develops a broad reflection on the role that the political forces that define themselves as “left-wing neoliberals” assume today.

An episode narrated almost at the beginning of the text vividly reflects the heart of the matter: in August 2020, Knorr announced that the classic Zigeuner Sauce (“Gypsy sauce”), for obvious reasons of political correctness, would be called Paprikasauce Hungarische Art (” Hungarian-style paprika sauce”). Big win for woke progressives. It’s a shame that at the same time, the 550 employees of the Knorr factory in Heilbronn were subjected to working conditions that were far worse than the previous ones (Saturday working, reduction in starting salary and block on increases).


So here is at work what in the book is defined as the “Lifestyle Linke” mentioned earlier, that “gentrified” left, which no longer spends itself on social cohesion (Zusammenhalt), on recovering the sense of a common belonging (Gemeinsinn), for the reaffirmation of the central role of the national State in key sectors such as, for example, healthcare and housing, but which has retreated into its well-equipped urban fortresses (the “left ZTL”, one might say in Italy) and ended up being essentially the party of the Akademiker, as the author calls them, of guaranteed classes, concentrated on the front of individual freedoms, cosmopolitanism, civil rights, gender theories, more on the defense of diversity than on the fundamental issues of social justice and the fight against inequalities.

Such an attitude has left the field open to the “uncultivated”, populist and nationalist Right, growing throughout Europe (see most recently Portugal) not so much for the concrete solutions that proposes but for the ability they have to offer a Principium individuationis to the masses increasingly consisting of the poor and marginalized and often also the small and middle classes, who fear for their future and feel threatened with relegation in the social ladder due to the uncontrolled developments of globalization.

Wagenknecht also addresses scathing criticism, for example, to the “apocalyptic” protagonists of “Fridays for Future”, who appear to be completely insensitive to the economic-social issues of the transition, to the Grüne, dogmatic holders of an abstract “Good” of the planet, but above all to the neo -social democracy like Schröder who, with his “Agenda 2010” and Harz IV, dismantled the welfare state and made millions of workers more precarious.


Yet it is before everyone’s eyes that the “magnificent and progressive fortunes” of globalization following the explosion of the Soviet bloc turned out to be very different from the optimistic “End of History” and the planetary triumph of freedom and justice. After just over a generation, we can only note the disappearance of politics, swallowed up by an unbridled liberal economy, the birth of enormous and uncontrolled supra-state powers and the stratospheric growth of inequalities.

In Italy, for example, where wages have been stagnant since 1991, 5% of the population holds 46% of total wealth; forty years ago, the ratio between worker’s salary and manager’s salary was 1:45; in 2020 the ratio increased to 1:649.

Wagenknecht’s Gegenentwurf (“counterproposal”) is that of a left that goes back to doing its job, that goes back first and foremost to talking about work and welfare and that regains the representation of the weakest classes, of workers and employees, as well as business capital, today seriously threatened by unbridled liberalism and uncontrolled processes of economic “financialization”, as well as by the expansion of global monopolies (the Big Five, at least two of which, Apple and Microsoft, have a balance sheet much higher than that of Italy).

We often speak of ours as an “open society”, but if it is true that the walls of the old poleis have collapsed, it is equally true that the internal walls have increased enormously, with the consequent loss of the Gemeinsinn that the author talks about in the subtitle of the book. The different social strata no longer “hang out” with each other; the high meets the low only when they use them for subsidiary and low profile activities (delivery of parcels and food, personal assistance). Furthermore, there is an ongoing phenomenon of feudalization of social relationships, in which the families to which they belong increasingly determine the future of their children. Nor should the phenomenon of the so-called poor work, which extends throughout the OECD area, be overlooked: those employed increase in number, but the availability of resources decreases.


Take back control is the title of a paragraph in the book (p. 295), the victorious slogan of Brexit.

Accused of having founded a sort of left-wing AfD, the author underlines the need to regain democratic control of European decisions, today left to the Brussels bureaucratic elites and shareholder lobbies and consequently to defend national specificities. Hence his vision of a future European political union in a framework that is not federal (a single large European “Super-state”), but confederal, which, within the future European state entity, safeguards the historical-political physiognomy of the individual countries, since the national states are the only ones capable of producing authentically social policies.

Stranger to the mainstream, Wagenknecht lucidly tackles burning issues such as that linked to immigration, which risks undermining social cohesion and in front of which the Akademiker’s Lifestyle Linke tends to adopt neo-enlightenment and moralizing attitudes, neglecting the impact that reverberates especially on the less favored classes of the individual European national communities.

The alternative, according to the author, is the mere survival of a strongly minority left, a fig leaf of the shame of a wild and destructive liberalism.

Claudio Salone

Professor of ancient literatures, Rome -