Year XLI, 1999, Number 1, Page 10

 

 

Luigi Sturzo: From Autonomism to Federalism
 
RODOLFO GARGANO
 
 
Introduction.
 
Both in the political and in the human sphere, the life of Luigi Sturzo[1] was, in many ways, unusual; few are the outstanding individuals who, like him, are led by the evolution of events and by a sense of civic passion to become instrumental in the development of a new way of understanding, and of acting within, communities of peoples. Sicilian by birth but, following his ordination, soon mixing in the ecclesiastic circles of Rome, Luigi Sturzo was a witness to the constitution of the Italian nation-state, living through his country’s transition from kingdom to republic. He experienced the difficulties of government at local level and also observed the terrible events of the two world wars, events which rendered the question of a world government a pressing issue both in Italy and in Europe (where the dreadful experiences of Nazi-fascism and Bolshevism had made democracy and freedom the only legitimate way forward).
Sturzo’s life itself, which spans around three generations, appears to reflect this dual experience — indeed, his political activity can be divided neatly into two main periods, each lasting around thirty years; the first saw him concentrating with single-minded determination on the problems of local government and the second tackling, with the same tenacity and energy, the most controversial international questions. By the end of his life he had set his own seal on two major political achievements of the post-war period: the establishment, by the Italian constituent assembly of 1948, of a regionally organised state, and the start of the process of European integration. It is precisely this duality of Sturzo’s experience (in the smaller sphere of the local community and in the much vaster sphere of the global community, where the tumultuous political upheavals in Europe assumed a particular significance) that formed the conceptual basis of his interest in institutions able, overcoming the bureaucratic and centralised vision of the nation-state, to create a community tailor-made for the people. And so, both of these important choices made by the political class of the new Republic can be said to be based, albeit in part, on the main lines of Sturzo’s thought which, for a political analysis of Italian society, is still of great relevance today.
In the more general context of his commitment to world democracy, his support for the post World War II movement towards European unification can, in this regard, also be considered significant, giving substance to some of the assertions he made during the period of his exile from Italy. If we consider that the process of European integration actually originated (if we leave aside the general aspirations of Count Coudenhove-Kalergi’s Pan-Europa committee and the work and goodwill of Briand and Stresemann in the interwar years) from the meeting and shared feelings of three men, Adenauer, Schuman and De Gasperi, all members of Christian Democratic parties, then the intellectual oeuvre of the Sicilian priest who, for many years had represented the driving force and energy behind a new approach to politics which combined an elevated, ethical sense of duty with an admirable determination to establish new political orders, emerges as particularly significant.
Through Luigi Sturzo, in part due to his extraordinary life — he founded a Catholic political party, became involved in the struggle against fascism and was subsequently obliged to seek asylum in Anglo-Saxon countries — the search for and conceptual exploration of new social foundations, with the emphasis on freer and more democratic institutions, took on a very broad significance, a significance which, for Italy in its laborious transition from the First to the Second Republic, still remains. Certainly, Sturzo’s progression from autonomism to federalism, like his support for European unity, is not free from ambiguities and contradictions: this however does not justify the attitude of many scholars and commentators on Sturzo’s copious works who, with notable exceptions, prefer to ignore these aspects of his thought[2] which, nowadays more than ever, is highly topical and relevant, and serves both as a warning to those who are all too ready to back unconvincing institutional makeshift solutions, and as a stimulus for those genuinely striving to improve human societies.
 
Southern Italian “Anti-stateism”.
 
The young Sturzo’s support for an autonomist view of relations between national government and local communities soon became evident and, it might be said, accompanied him throughout his life, fusing on the one hand with his “Southern Italianism” and on the other with an “antistateism” which continued to manifest itself even beyond the birth of the republic. Thus, in the years which marked the close of the 19th century, Sturzo launched a strong campaign against the centralist state, bringing up once again, this time from a Sicilian standpoint, the question of administrative decentralisation raised by the Catholic groups inspired by Giuseppe Toniolo and Roberto Murri. But Sturzo set the question of local government in the wider context of the special attention which, in his view, the new nation-state should be paying to Sicily and to the weakest classes of Southern Italy — the peasants and poor people of the area — and it was from this angle that he mounted his vigorous opposition to the “regionalist war” calling, as a matter of urgency, for true autonomy at municipal and regional level.[3]
In this context, the municipality (which, unlike the province, the region or the state, Sturzo considered a “concrete body”) plays a special role, and so this autonomism was, for a number of reasons, defined primarily as “municipalism”. Hence, in its local programme of 1902, the Municipal Christian Democrat Party of Caltanisetta makes a strong call for autonomy, even though this is to be understood essentially as autonomy in the financial and administrative spheres. On the other hand, Sturzo remained aware of the importance of the region which he rightly saw as the body best able to oppose the demands of the central power. On July 12th, 1903, in Pro e Contro il Mezzogiorno, he wrote, “This is the real issue: we are regionalists… a new Monroe doctrine, Sicily for the Sicilians, is the only basis on which to build a true Sicilian political movement… which, bearing the banner of administrative and financial autonomy, and characterised by its opposition to central government, would win the support of all the other parties”. And he added, “The proud Sicilians of yesteryear know that this is a land that was not born to serve — and yet through the cowardice of its sons, serve is what it has nearly always had to do”.[4] However, just two years earlier, declaring “I am in favour of the unity of the Italian state, but unashamedly federalist”,[5] he had written that the remedy for Italy’s ills (meaning, above all, the uneven fiscal burdens in different parts of the kingdom) “would be a carefully weighted regional and administrative decentralisation and a federalisation of the various regions, leaving intact the unity of the existing order”.[6]
One cannot fail to appreciate, in these passages, the ambiguities and inaccuracies inherent in Don Sturzo’s thought, and not only in the part in which he confuses administrative decentralisation with the federalisation of Italy: even more marked are the nationalistic overtones in his references to Sicily, which are incompatible with his support for an “administrative and financial autonomy” that goes hand in hand with a rejection of the idea of secession (when secession could surely be seen as the most logical objective of one with such clearly nationalistic leanings). While there can be no doubt that the Sicilian priest[7] never really considered promoting the cause of independence for the island, it is however quite probable that his indiscriminate use of two conflicting terms: decentralisation and federalism, can be attributed to his need to seem not to oppose the regime of the unitary state that emerged from Porta Pia[8] and not to place too much emphasis on questions of form (institutional issues) rather than of content (the urgent problems of the peasant classes). Indeed, in Sturzo’s view, it was the failure to resolve these very urgent problems which, more than anything, was responsible for the civil and psychological repression of Southern Italy.[9]
It must, of course, be acknowledged that Sturzo’s support for federalism, openly declared from as early as 1901, is also characterised by a certain vagueness that reveals his primordial affinity with Gioberti and the Neo-guelphs who, made in the same Catholic mould, were far less federalist than, for example, Cattaneo with his rigidly structured system of federalism. However, just as the apparent conflict between the terms “unitary” and “federalist” can be explained by the very nature of federalism, whose aim is, quite openly, to marry diversity with unity, so the call for both “decentralisation” and “federalisation” can almost be seen to reflect a logical or temporal succession of phases by which the local community might obtain the greatest possible degree of self-government while remaining, necessarily, harmoniously integrated with the higher level of government (central government). As far as the people of Southern Italy were concerned, Sturzo, at the time, could do little other than, in his indomitable fashion, show them the road they should follow, convinced, more than ever, that in local autonomy, coordinated at nation state level, they would find the salvation — civil, economic and moral — which they quite rightly sought.[10]
These reflections are, in a sense, borne out by the forcefulness with which Sturzo, at the third national congress of the recently established Italian Popular Party, propounded a new state order based oh the establishment of the regional authority as an “elective-representative, autonomous-autarchical, administrative-legislative body”:[11] Sturzo, in fact, viewed the region as a natural entity in which decentralisation and fiscal autonomy (the latter coordinated at national level in order to avoid manifestations of anarchy) might best be achieved. Indeed, the very concept of coordination was introduced as an essential element in relations between the different levels of government, from the single municipalities to groups of municipalities, and to provinces, all upheld by, and organised in accordance with a principle which in fact differs very little from that of federal government.[12]
In this context, the spirit which pervades the work ofLuigi Sturzo, not only in the first thirty years of his activity as a politician and local administrator, but also up until his forced exile from Italy in 1924, is his vis polemica against the centralising bureaucratic state which is at times expressed resoundingly and with remarkable bitterness. As early as January 1919, in his Appello a tutti gli uomini liberi e forti, Sturzo was saying: “At constitutional level, we want to see the replacement of a centralising state, which tends to limit and regulate all organic powers and every activity both civic and individual, with a state… which recognises that there are limits to its activity and which respects natural groupings and bodies — the family, classes, municipalities…”[13] And it is easy to see that Sturzo is referring, here, to something which is in fact of great topical interest today: the principle of subsidiarity which, always considered an essential aspect of federal systems, was recently introduced into Community law — a subsidiarity clause was introduced by the Maastricht Treaty on European Union[14] — and was seen by Sturzo as inevitable in a non state-controlled society.
Even during the years of his exile, spent in the United Kingdom and the United States, and until his return to Italy in 1946, Sturzo remained steadfast in these views, which were in fact strengthened by the Nazi fascist oppression of Europe. Indeed, Sturzo developed a deeply critical view of the nation-state. He wrote: “Everywhere the nation-state has been characterised by ever-increasing centralisation, on militarism based on conscription and permanent armies, on the use of the state school system as a means of creating national conformism…” whereas “…free economy and internationalism would have generated a much more rapid growth of cosmopolitan as opposed to nationalist feelings”.[15] Here, Sturzo not only stresses the importance of these aspects of the nation-state, (from the growth of bureaucratic centralisation to the deliberate blending of militarism with the state school system), he also underlines — with a touch of bitterness over the weakness of liberal and socialist organisations in the face of this State, as well as towards the Church which, fighting it, “was defeated” — the absolute contradiction that exists between nationalism and cosmopolitanism, between the sense of belonging exclusively to a given nation and the awareness of one’s membership of a common humanity which reaches beyond artificial national boundaries.
 
In Support of Internationalism and an End to Wars.
 
Sturzo’s years in exile provided him with further food for thought with regard to the questions of internationalism and a world government. In fact, the autonomism debate inevitably prompted, also at international level, a deeper examination of issues connected with the totalitarian state established by the Nazis. Particular attention was paid to the possibility that the international community might, in the pursuit of the of universal disarmament and the elimination of the “right to make war” (also embraced by the programme of the Popular Party), be able to limit the power of states. Indeed, on the basis of its being an organisation at suprastate level, Sturzo fully supported, in principle, the establishment (on the initiative of President Wilson at the end of the First World War) of the League of Nations, even though he could not help drawing attention to the “organic deficiencies” in its statute which was caught precariously between the renewed independence of the single states and the authority of the League. In Sturzo’s view, “…the League of Nations has less authority than a Medieval emperor who could, at least, count on the strength of his own particular kingdom and enlisted armies; it has less prestige than a medieval pope whose political responses did at least have the weight of religious authority, rendering them a force strong enough to bring down kings and release subjects from their vows of loyalty”.[16]
According to the Sicilian priest, the surest way to strengthen the position and confirm the status of the League of Nations was, in a constant and assiduous effort to achieve peace and harmony among peoples, to listen to public opinion in democratic states: in line with this, if it was to establish a new order in international politics, the League needed to be founded on regional federations of states, each formed on the basis of a certain socio-economic homogeneity among its members.[17] Sturzo was, nevertheless, aware that the main problem lay in the “right to make war”, and that elimination of the same depended closely on the coercive force of an organisation like the League of Nations. Bitterly, he wrote: “In states, all the citizens are unarmed and only the public power is armed; in the international community all states are armed and only the international authority is not. In this situation, there can be no such thing as coercive force”.[18] However, Sturzo had to recognise the practical difficulties underlying this statement of principle: he found himself faced with the same dilemma that Kant, before him, had tackled and failed to resolve when he reached the conclusion that perpetual peace could only be guaranteed by subduing the “lawless freedom” of states, submitting them, in a universal federal union, to the dominion of law in interstate relations and eliminating, at root level, war and international anarchy. Not being fully acquainted with the federal mechanism, (even though it had been set out in The Federalist Papers, written in defence of the federal constitution of the United States of America and published in 1787), Kant, unable to resolve the problem of the relationship between federal powers and the powers of the states, was induced to speak of the danger of federations evolving into empires.[19] In the same way Sturzo warns against the birth of a superstate that could come to stand for “intolerable hegemonic domination”,[20] thus revealing his failure to appreciate fully how the “antagonistic dualism of reason and force can fully be overcome through their synthesis into the rationalisation of force itself… and how the law of victory which is the law of pure force can be replaced by a judiciary and social law, which is the law of reason”.[21] The need to establish a binding institutional link between states, and subsequently a legal system proper (that of a federal state) represented, in fact, the indispensable condition for the elimination of the “right to make war” to which Sturzo stood opposed and for the realisation of the internationalism and end to wars to which he was committed.[22]
According to Sturzo war is a voluntary decision, it is neither an ineluctable fact nor an inevitable occurrence: in fact, “…there exists no conflict between states that cannot lead to war, and there is no conflict that cannot, more or less satisfactorily, be resolved through pacific means”.[23] In line with this view, Sturzo, in several articles published in Paris in 1937-38, in clear and uncompromising terms points the finger of blame at the ruling classes of the European nation-states shaped by Fascism. Sturzo preferred, ultimately, to call for a re-emergence of the Christian spirit of brotherhood in support of governments, failing to recognise international politics itself and the persistence of sovereign entities like the states as the structural cause which in fact favoured international anarchy and created the premises for war. And yet, in December 1926, he had risen up against the dogma of the absolute sovereignty of the state, declaring expressly: “We refuse to accept the concept of the absolute and unlimited sovereignty of the state”.[24] While Sturzo had, with reference to the national sphere, specifically denounced stateism and put forward concrete proposals for the limitation of the powers of the national government through the institution of regional authorities, on an international level he still hoped for a moral revolution which would lead states, albeit gradually, to renounce the right to make war: “And so states will no longer have recourse to violent means, being able instead to practise the arts of persuasion and coercion; no longer will they harm innocent people… they will strive to win over to their side the majority of the Council or Assembly and obtain the favourable judgement of the courts of arbitration”.[25] However, he soon became aware of the inadequacy of moral obligation[26] and, particularly in view of the necessary inclusion of Germany in a new European organisation, felt compelled to in explicit terms recourse to the federal principle and the creation of a European federation.[27]
 
Regional Italy and a Federal Europe.
 
When Luigi Sturzo returned to Italy in 1946, he was greeted by a country that was, in some ways, fundamentally different from the one he had left twenty-two years earlier. Following the collapse of fascism, the very structure of the state had been thrown into question once more, the relative strengths of, and relationships between, the political parties in existence at the time of his exile had altered and new balances had emerged. Sturzo soon found himself cast in the difficult role of polemicist and critic — one whose voice for the most part went unheard, particularly by the leaders of the Christian Democrat Party which had replaced the Popular Party at the end of the Second World War.
In fact, with the advent of the republican Constitution, which pursued a rather decentralised model of a unitary state, it appeared that the advanced form of local autonomy which had represented one of Sturzo’ s main concerns since as far back as the days when he edited the journal La Croce di Costantino (“Constantine’s Cross”) might at last become a reality. And indeed, as maintained by Gaspare Ambrosini as early as 1933, the regional state that emerged from the work of the Constituent Assembly seemed to go a long way towards realising the autonomistic demands advanced by the Venice programme. In the face of the many trivial objections and criticisms that were raised by self-interested critics of the regional institution, Sturzo, in a number of articles published by influential newspapers in the period from March to May 1947, and in his 1948 writings The Region in the Nation, defended with vigour the choice of the Constituent Assembly. “Cattaneo and others — Sturzo writes — were not looking for a federation of fine and wonderful states (the idea of the Neo-guelphs was soon abandoned); they were opposed to a uniform and centralised state; instead, they wanted a state which was, from a structural point of view, unitary and from an organic point of view, regionalist… This does not mean replacing the unitary structure of the state with a federalist structure: it means, through a regional electorate and through regional representation, giving the people a voice that is real, effective and free”.[28] And to those who claimed he wanted to dismember Italy through federalism, Sturzo replied: “Our ‘region’ cannot be regarded simply as a territorial district, like the département in France. Our ‘regions’ must represent a middle way between France’s départements and Switzerland’s cantons. Our ‘regions’ will never be sovereign states like the Swiss cantons, limited only by the confederal authority which unites them; neither can they be considered simply as départements in which only, and all, the authority of the state holds sway”.[29]
In truth, one cannot fail to acknowledge that it is, to a considerable extent, due to Sturzo’s work that the Italian Constituent Assembly decided to opt for a regional state, thereby overcoming reservations and opposition rooted in a decades-long tradition based on the supposed superiority of a centralised bureaucratic state in the Napoleonic mould. There had already been a break with this tradition in 1946 with the introduction of the Statute of the Sicilian Region, a statute which is recognised by many to embrace, in parts, clearly federalist ideas.[30] And even though the inevitable absorption of the functions of the High Court by the Italian Constitutional Court (therein provided for) provoked indignation and bitterness in Luigi Sturzo among others, it is nevertheless a fact that the Statute of the Sicilian Region can still today be seen as the expression of a region which enjoys an advanced level of autonomy, comparable to the Spanish region of Catalonia.
While the Sicilian priest’s efforts to obtain recognition of the need for real autonomy for local communities is universally acknowledged, there is less awareness either of his unreserved support for the movement towards European unity (stemming from his reflections upon the international community during his years in exile) or of his strong desire to witness the birth of a European federation. Writing in Il Popolo in April 1948, Sturzo is entirely in favour of European unity in a federal form and indeed asks: “Is the Europe of today going to prove more fortunate that the Europes of the recent, or more distant past? That is the question that we federalists of 1948 should now be asking ourselves”.[31] Moreover, two years earlier, Sturzo had already written: “With effort and determination, Europe must become one, strengthening the moral and material ties between peoples which underlie our current civilisation”. The same sentiment is expressed with even greater clarity in letters dated 1939: “In 1914, we were supposedly fighting the war to end all wars: today, it might be said that we are fighting for the federation of Europe, and the stake is Europe’s international position: we are faced with a choice between federation or the dominion of nationalism in alliance with Bolshevism”.[32] As Sturzo saw it, what is more, the post-war economy could never be “strictly national”. Instead, it had to be “federative”; all forms of autocracy between different economic units would, being “by definition antifederative”, have to be done away with as federation “requires an open, not a closed economy”. And expressing this view, he focused on Europe: “A United States of Europe — he wrote in 1929 — is not a utopia, only a long-term ideal involving many stages and considerable difficulty. Financial restructuring, through the definitive settlement of all war debts, is the first thing that is needed, followed by the restructuring of the various currencies. This will lead to a review of customs restrictions in preparation for a customs union, leading gradually to the elimination of all internal barriers. The rest will follow”. And, after the war, he added: “We want an independent and federate Europe. If the East is to remain totalitarian, then European federation will start from the West…”[33]
Despite his advanced years, Sturzo (through letters, messages and articles) joined in the debate of the issues and problems laid bare by the process of European integration: he joined Spinelli’s European Federalist Movement,[34] put his name to the Petition for a Federal Pact manifesto drawn up by federalists in 1950, and sent a message of support to the founding congress, at Geneva, of the Council of European Municipalities whose legitimate wish it was in the process of European integration to represent the voice of all the communities of Europe. Having been made a senator for life, Sturzo sent a message to Paul-Henri Spaak on the occasion of the congress of the European Movement held in The Hague and was harsh in his criticism of Mendés France when the treaty for a European Defence Community was thrown out by the French National Assembly.[35] By 1957, the European Economic Community had been founded, and Sturzo entrusted the “new society” with the task of looking southwards — of striving for “Arab pacification” and, in more general terms, for the establishment of “a European economic and cultural policy… in the Mediterranean” area.[36]
 
Conclusions.
 
By the time of his death, in Rome on August 8th, 1959, Luigi Sturzo was seen by most people as a “survivor”, a bearer of ideas and a representative of interests which no longer coincided with the new aspirations of a political class which had come through the fascist period and was now getting ready to govern the new Italian republic. And yet, if it may be said that the Luigi Sturzo of the post World War II period still showed the same political and moral fibre that had sustained him in his time as a local politician and as leader of the Popular Party, as well as during his years in political exile, then this was certainly not at the expense of an ever vigilant attention to, and deep involvement in the realities of daily life (a legacy of his time as a shrewd politician who never lost sight of the concrete aspects of a problem). Instead, as far as scholars, at least, are concerned, two things emerge as significant: one is the way in which, while remaining true to certain convictions, he constantly adapted his political ideas to the changing political scenario, and the other is his remarkable ability to find new routes and new ideas designed to bring about the concrete realisation of the aspirations he held most dear.
The most important of Sturzo’s unwavering convictions undoubtedly centred on the peoples of Southern Italy, and in particular, the people of his beloved Sicily; peoples whose acute need for deliverance he recognised and supported passionately. He did not believe that a higher degree of social, economic and moral progress was something that could be donated from up high, but saw it, rather, as something which could be achieved only through the assumption, at the lowest levels, of responsibility for (and of the risks involved in) running, in full autonomy, the affairs of the local community. In this sense, Sturzo’s autonomism, (sometimes called municipalism, sometimes regionalism) conveys, if we except several isolated examples of verbal excess, something more than that which is conveyed by sterile and often abused slogans of a “national” or of a “nationalistic” character, which are nothing more than a prelude to the extreme forms of micronationalism and the secessionist views which the Sicilian priest always abhorred. Sturzo’s autonomism is to be seen as a community-based form of democracy, rationally chosen and founded upon the harmonious coordination of local governments with central government in the context of an overall vision which is substantially federalist and which, what is more, contains strongly moral and pedagogical overtones.
But, for reasons of a different nature, Sturzo stands for more than just autonomism and the struggle to institute, in a climate of freedom and democracy, lower levels of government. The advent of Nazi-fascism in Europe and the problems faced by the international community, viewed from the perspective of another ideal, that of a more just international order founded on the abolition of the right to make war, led Sturzo to reflect deeply, especially during his years spent in exile, on another aspect of human relations, in other words, on the way relations between states are regulated. And Sturzo’s views on this are quite definite: resolutely opposed to conflict, he is convinced of the negativity of war and of the absolute need to overcome war as a solution (even though this line of thought, leading inevitably to an acknowledgement of the hypothetical need to invest a superior international authority with adequate powers of coercion, raises doubt and confusion over Sturzo’s view first of the League of Nations, and subsequently of the UN, and renders contradictory and inadequate his idea that states could be pressed by a moral revolution into a renunciation of their right to make war).
On a first examination, therefore, Sturzo’s federalism, caught between narrow autonomism and moralising internationalism, may appear to lack precision,[37] while his interest in the process of European integration (upon which, due partly to his age, the Sicilian priest was not in a position to reflect in greater depth) could seem rather marginal. And yet, such appraisals are probably both flawed and lacking in generosity towards a man who was doubtless an exceptional individual, even among his contemporaries. One only has to think of the tenacity with which Sturzo tirelessly denounced the intrusive omnipresence and the supposed omnipotence of the state to realise that his work should be re-appraised and interpreted from a different, more complex angle: his whole life seen as dedicated fundamentally to a very precise struggle against stateism. In truth, his ceaseless campaigning for autonomy at local government level, like his efforts to win support, on a conceptual level at least, for abolition of the right to make war, cannot be seen as anything other than two inseparable expressions of a single and determined opposition to the Moloch-state, centralised and illiberal within and, on an international level, imperialistic and warmongering.
In this regard, Luigi Sturzo’s deep criticism of the nation-state, and of the nationalist ideal on which it is founded, his refusal to accept the absolute and unlimited sovereignty of the state, and his affirmed belief in the unshakeable contradiction between nationalism and cosmopolitanism placed him quite firmly in what can be regarded as an extraordinarily contemporary position: face to face with the problem, rooted in the experience of the French Revolution, of the centralised bureaucratic state, or better still, with the realisation that such a model of state stands totally opposed to the free and democratic society that he so dearly wished to build. Sturzo’s support for European federalism, which he saw as a step on the road towards the creation of a United States of Europe, is the logical culmination, and in a certain sense, the supreme climax of his long political career. But he must also be given credit for the way in which, in times of great change (characterised first by the deep crisis of the nation state and then by the rebuilding of new state institutions in the wake of two world wars), he proved able to fuse the difficulties of the poor with the problems of the ruling class, merging content (concrete problems) with form (institutional questions and those relating to the structure of the state) and marrying the merits and defects of the smaller (municipal and regional) sphere with those relating to the international community and to the relations between sovereign states.[38]
In this context, Sturzo’s war against stateism, waged it must be said in a positive manner — he advocated reform of the nation-state and the construction of a superior international order — is the keystone of the political approach of a man who sought always to marry the pressing need to unshackle the people of Sicily and of the Southern Italian region in general with a tenacious commitment to the greater good (freedom and democracy for peoples), all in the context of an overall vision of federal unity for Europe and universal peace at world level.
Sturzo failed, of course, to see that the very essence of the sovereign state superiorem non recognoscens is connected with imperialism and international anarchy and, at domestic level, with authoritarian politics leaning towards a rejection of local government: as a result, his frequent and clearly federalist notions remain devoid of substance and difficult to link together (scattered as they are throughout the pages of his copious writings). While Sturzo may have failed to recognise that the centralisation of powers at national level and anarchy in inter-state relations are rooted in the endurance of the absolute sovereignty of the state, a state of affairs to which federalism (more precisely, European federalism) is the most effective antidote, to his credit, he appreciated fully the gravely disruptive nature of the nation-state model of state, the precursor of the totalitarian state and certainly the antithesis of a free and democratic society. And thus, it is for his commitment to anti-stateism in the greater perspective of a European federation that this unusual Sicilian achieves his greatness and remains an example (and a source of inspiration) to those of us now who approach his work, still so highly topical and relevant today.


[1] Luigi Sturzo was born in Caltagirone on November 26th, 1871 to a family of country gentry who steered him young into religious studies. He was ordained in Rome in 1894. Returning to Caltagirone, he founded a weekly journal, La Croce di Costantino, and began working intensively with parish committees, mutual aid associations, and cooperative societies, eventually setting up a Catholic political movement which he led in local elections, himself becoming a provincial councillor and, in 1905, deputy mayor of Caltagirone. On January 18th, 1919, in Rome, Sturzo founded the Italian Popular Party, making his famous appeal “A tutti gli uomini liberi e forti” (to all strong and free men). As leader of the new party, his political activity, characterised by a clear anti-fascist and antisocialist stance, intensified. By the time of the party’s Venice congress in October 1921, he had already given definition to his main ideas on anti-sateism and on the need to protect the rights of local communities, and expressed his condemnation of Nazi-fascism and Bolshevism. Forced into exile in 1924 (acting on the advice of the Vatican) Sturzo remained out of his country for around 22 years, residing first in London and later in New York, further elaborating his ideas on the problems of war and international relations. He returned to Rome in September 1946, immediately becoming caught up both in the debate surrounding the new republican Constitution (particularly the part relating to the regional question) and, by joining Altiero Spinelli’s European Federalist Movement, in the earliest steps in the process of European integration. He died in Rome on August 8th, 1959. Of his many works, (now collected in Opera Omnia published by Zanichelli for the Luigi Sturzo Institute, a number in particular should be remembered: Popolarismo e fascismo (1924), La Comunità internazionale e il diritto di guerra (1928), Miscellanea londinese (1926-1940), Politica e morale (1936), L’Italia e l’ordine internazionale (1944), Nazionalismo e internazionalismo (1946), La Regione nella Nazione (1949), Politica di questi anni. Consensi e critiche (1946-1959).
[2] The scarce interest aroused by such problems among scholars taking part in the international congress on the work of Luigi Sturzo (held in March 1989, in Rome, under the esteemed patronage of the President of the Republic) was clearly evident. The proceedings of this congress are now collected in Gabriele De Rosa (ed.) Luigi Sturzo e la democrazia europea, Rome-Bari, Laterza, 1990.
[3] The expression ‘‘‘regionalist war” was used by Sturzo, writing in La Croce di Costantino on 12th July, 1903, in reference to the controversy over the promulgation of the Zanardelli decree on the reduction of domestic rail tariffs. For more on the autonomistic aspects of Sturzo’s “Southern Italianism”, see Francesco Renda, “Per una riconsiderazione del meridionalismo sturziano”, in Luigi Sturzo e la democrazia europea, cit., pp. 271-74.
[4] Luigi Sturzo, “Pro e contro il Mezzogiorno”, in La Croce di Costantino, 12-13 July, 1903, published in C. Petraccone (ed.), Federalismo e autonomia in Italia dall’unità ad oggi, Rome-Bari, Laterza, 1995, pp. 159-61.
[5] Luigi Sturzo, in La Croce di Costantino, Caltagirone, 22nd December, 1901, published in Id., Contro lo statalismo, (edited by Luciana Dalu), Messina, Rubbettino, 1995, p. 125.
[6] Luigi Sturzo, “Nord e Sud. Decentramento e federalismo” in Il Sole del Mezzogiorno, 31st March-1st April, 1901, published in Id., Contro lo statalismo, cit., pp. 120-21.
[7] Sturzo’s stance is widely confirmed not only by his view of Italian unification as a fundamentally positive process, but also by his repeatedly expressed aversion to, and apprehension over, the separatist designs that arose in Italy during the Allied occupation of 1945 and, finally, by his famous speech on New York Radio (“autonomia sì, separatismo no”). See Eugenio Guccione, Municipalismo e federalismo in Luigi Sturzo, Turin, S.E.I., 1994, pp. 22 and 32-3.
[8] C. Petraccone, op. cit., p. 158.
[9] This theme is also dealt with in Zeffiro Ciuffoletti, Federalismo e regionalismo. Da Cattaneo alla Lega, Rome-Bari, Laterza, 1954, pp. 94-5. For more on the problems of the autonomy of local powers, with reference to European experiences, especially in the area of welfare state and fiscal federalism, see Pierangelo Schiera (ed.), Le autonomie e l’Europa. Profili storici e comparati, Bologna, Il Mulino, 1993, and I volti del federalismo, (edited by) SPAI (Institute for the Study of International Politics), Milan, 1996.
[10] The relationship between the ideology of popularism, which has been considered to be, above all, the expression of the interests of a substantially pre-industrial peasant society, and the modern “rationally” centralised, industrial, bureaucratic state foretold by Weber, is a different thing altogether (see Norberto Bobbio, Profilo Ideologico del Novecento italiano, Turin, Einaudi, 1986, pp. 122-23). In any case, starting, in fact, from Sturzo’s autonomism, the grounds for supporting this view of the federal system as typically “pre-modern” or conservative in character (unlike a unitary state with its more innovative and progressive inclination) appear, especially given the considerably greater liberty and democracy allowed by a pluralistic society (like a typically federal society) in which the power is more widely spread, somewhat weak.
[11] Luigi Sturzo, Nicola Antonetti (ed.s) Opere scelte. Riforme e indirizzi politici, vol. V, Rome-Bari, Laterza, 1992, p. 35 onwards.
[12] Ibidem, pp. 47 and 61-5. For the definition of federal government as a system of independent and coordinated governments, see Kenneth C. Wheare, Federal Government, London, 1963. For more on federalism see also, Lucio Levi, Il Federalismo, Milan, Franco Angeli, 1987 and, more recently, Corrado Malandrino, Federalismo. Storia, idee, modelli, Rome, Carocci, 1998.
[13] Luigi Sturzo, Opere scelte. Il popolarismo, vol. 1, (edited by Gabriele De Rosa), Rome-Bari, Laterza, 1992, p. 40.
[14] Art. 3 b: “In areas which do not fall within its exclusive competence, the Community shall take action, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, only if and in so far as the objectives of the proposed action cannot be sufficiently achieved by the Member States and can therefore, by reason of the scale or effects of the proposed action, be better achieved by the Community.” The question of subsidiarity in the European Union has given rise to numerous contributions and in-depth analyses which include those of Peter-Christian Muller-Graaf “Subsidiarity as a legal principle”, in The European Union Review, Pavia, no. 1, September 1996, p. 75 onwards and Gianluca D’Agnolo, La sussidarietà nell’Unione europea, Padua, CEDAM, 1998. For a brief analysis of the principle of subsidiarity within the framework of the European Community in relation to possible developments of the Union and to the German federal experience, see also Rodolfo Gargano, “Il principio di sussidarietà nel Trattato di Maastricht e il federalismo cooperativo”, in La Fardelliana, Trapani, 1994, p. 157 onwards.
[15] Luigi Sturzo, “Lo stato totalitario”, in Id., Contro lo statalismo, (edited by L. Dalu), cit., pp. 84-5 and p. 86. Already, in 1924, he had written “The nationalist theory and system overturn moral values, denying brotherhood among, and freedom of peoples, to exalt the idea of nation as essentially good, and thus as an idol… in order to achieve the predominance of one people and the subjection or servitude of the others”. (Luigi Sturzo, Popolarismo e fascismo, Turin, Piero Gobetti editore, 1924, p. 304). For more criticism of the nation-state and more on the significance of cosmopolitanism as the opposite of nationalism, see also Mario Albertini, Lo Stato nazionale, (1959), Bologna, Il Mulino, 1997, and by the same author Il federalismo, Bologna, Il Mulino, 1993.
[16] Luigi Sturzo, Opere scelte. La comunità internazionale e il diritto di guerra, vol. VI, (edited by Gabriele De Rosa), Rome-Bari, Laterza, 1992, p. 11.
[17] On this theme see Gabriele De Rosa, “I problemi dell’organizzazione internazionale nel pensiero di Luigi Sturzo”, in Luigi Sturzo e la democrazia europea, pp. 5-25.
[18] Luigi Sturzo, La comunità internazionale…, cit., p. 11. And, in 1946, he added: “It is human experience which leads us to believe that men, in order to be organised, need as much of that rational element which induces us to accept the limitations of society as of that coercive element which prevents us from escaping them” (L. Sturzo, Nazionalismo e internazionalismo, Bologna, Zanichelli, 1971, p. 219).
[19] Cfr. Immanuel Kant, “Perpetual Peace”, in Id., Political Writings, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1991 (edited by H. Reiss); Id., La pace, la ragione e la storia, introduction by Mario Albertini, Bologna, Il Mulino, 1985; Mario Albertini Il federalismo, cit. Differently, in the sense that Kant stops at the confederation of states, bound by social pact and without a coercive central power, see Id. Per la pace perpetua, (edited by N. Bobbio), Rome, Editori riuniti, 1985, p. XVI. On the same theme, see also W.B. Gallie, Filosofie di pace e guerra. Kant, Clausewitz, Marx, Engels, Tolstoj, Bologna, Il Mulino, 1993, p. 29 onwards.
[20] Luigi Sturzo, La comunità internazionale…, cit., p. 7.
[21] Luigi Sturzo, ibidem, p. 8.
[22] This is Sturzo’s expression (ibidem, p. 61).
[23] Ibidem, p. 38.
[24] Luigi Sturzo, Lo statalismo, (edited by L. Dalu), cit., p. 55. And he went on: “we need to agree that the concept of the sovereignty of a state, understood in the true sense of the word (that is, its boundlessness both internal and external, and its self-dominion), no longer has any meaning, other than as a means of distinguishing between independent states and dependent states (like protectorates, mandated territories and colonies)” (L. Sturzo., Nazionalismo e internazionalismo, cit., p. 274).
[25] Luigi Sturzo, La comunità internazionale…, cit., p. 15. At this point, we cannot fail recall the words written by Alexander Hmnilton in The Federalist Papers: “To look for continuation of harmony between a number of unconnected sovereignties situated in the same neighbourhood, would be to disregard the uniform course of human events and to set at defiance the accumulated experience of ages”, Id., Il Federalista (edited by Lucio Levi), Bologna, Il Mulino 1998, p. 164.
[26] Indeed, just after the end of the Second World War he wrote: “…ever since the time of the First World War… we should have been creating, not a league of states, but a league of peoples. Still today, during and after the constitution of the United Nations, there has been a return to the idea of an international parliament, elected by the peoples of the associated states, which will have legislative powers, while the political, administrative and military powers will be held by the executive centre… it is up to civil individuals to make sure that reason holds sway over instinct, and accepting the value of moral law, that the blind faith engendered by force is surpassed. All this would be impossible in the absence of some form of international authority with the capacity to make laws, to defend justice and to make itself heard, even through force. Without force, any international organisation would be inefficient and clumsy” (L. Sturzo, Nazionalismo e internazionalismo, cit., pp. 225 and 329-30).
[27] Giuseppe Ignesti, “I problemi della pace e dell’assetto politico internazionale nell’analisi di Sturzo”, in Gabriele De Rosa (ed.) Luigi Sturzo e la democrazia europea, cit., p. 339.
[28] Luigi Sturzo, “‘La regione nella struttura dello Stato”, in La Voce Repubblicana, 28th May, 1947, (from the volume Politica di questi anni. Consensi critiche (dal settembre 1946 all’aprile 1948), Bologna, Zanichelli, vol. I, pp. 247-50).
[29] Luigi Sturzo, “Senato e Regione” in Il Popolo, 18th September, 1947, in Politica di questi anni (1946-1948), cit., pp. 294-99.
[30] On this theme, see (a volume which provides great detail) Eugenio Guccione, Dal federalismo mancato al regionalismo tradito, Turin, Giappichelli, 1998, pp. 71-4. For more on the rebirth of regional identity and the effects of regional identities on the institutional bases of the economy, see Ilaria Porciani, “Identità locale–identità nazionale: la costruzione di una doppia appartenenza”, in O. Janz, P. Schiera and H. Siegrist (eds), Centralismo e federalismo tra Otto e Novecento. Italia e Germania a confronto, Bologna, Il Mulino, 1997, p. 141 onwards, and Paolo Perulli (ed.), Neoregionalismo. L’economia-arcipelago, Turin, Bollati Boringhieri, 1998. For its repercussions on the question of European integration, see also Rodolfo Gargano, “La rinascita delle piccole patrie e l’Europa delle Regioni”, in I Temi, Cagliari, December 1996, p. 61 onwards.
[31] Luigi Sturzo, “La federazione europea”, in Il Popolo, 29th April 1948, and “I problemi dell’ora” (conversation with Cité Nouvelle Brussels correspondent), both now in Id., Politica di questi anni (1946-1948), cit., pp. 421-24 and 22-24 respectively.
[32] Luigi Sturzo, “L’Italia e la guerra”, in Il Mondo, New York, December 1939, cited in Id., Opere Scelte. La Comunità internazionale…, cit., pp. XVIII-XIX; L. Sturzo, “Economia del dopoguerra”, in People and Freedom, May 1940, and “Il problema delle minoranze in Europa”, in Il Pungolo, Paris, October 15th, 1929.
[33] Luigi Sturzo, “La federazione europea”, in Id., Politica di questi anni (1946-1948), cit., p. 423.
[34] Of Altiero Spinelli’s writings, see, in particular, The Ventotene Manifesto, Ventotene, The Altiero Spinelli Institute for Federalist Studies, 1988. On the process of European integration, see also Lucio Levi and Umberto Morelli, L’unificazione europea. Cinquant’anni di storia, Turin, Celid, 1994, and Luigi Vittorio Majocchi, La difficile costruzione dell’unità europea, with preface by Antonio Padoa-Schioppa, Milan, Jaca Books, 1996.
[35] Luigi Sturzo, “Europa oggi e domani”, in Il Giornale d’Italia, September 8th, 1954, now in Id., Battaglie per la libertà, Palermo-S. Paulo, Ila Palma, 1992, Vol. I, pp. 127-30.
[36] Luigi Sturzo, “La piccola Europa”, in Il Giornale d’Italia, July 24th, 1958, now in Id., Battaglie per la libertà, Palermo-S. Paulo, Ila Palma, 1992, Vol. 11, pp. 799-803.
[37] Reference is made, in particular, to Sturzo’s criticism of the League of Nations and of the international community generally which he sees as conceptually detached from the political project for European unity proposed by Spinelli’s European federalists; on this subject, see also Sergio Pistone, L’Italia e l’unità europea. Dalle premesse storiche all’elezione del Parlamento europeo, Turin, Loescher (ed.), 1982, p. 41.
[38] For more on Sturzo as a genuine interpreter of the crisis of the liberal state, see Sabino Cassese, “Quando la politica divenne arte senza pensiero. La crisi dello stato e Luigi Sturzo”, in Gabriele De Rosa (ed.), Luigi Sturzo, e la democrazia europea, cit., p. 278 onwards. Finally, on a wished for revival of Sturzo (viewed as a development which has so far failed to occur), see various authors, Chi ha paura di don Sturzo? Passato e futuro del cattolicesimo liberale, Fondazione amici di “liberal”, Rome 1996.

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