Year XLII, 2000, Number 2, Page 87

 

 

Federalism*
 
MARIO ALBERTINI
 
 
Introduction.
 
1. The general meaning of federalism is still uncertain in the current political culture. This is not the case for the traditional political ideologies. If we encounter, not only in the world of culture, but also in political life, a liberal, a communist, or a socialist, we generally observe that this person has a relatively clear idea of what liberalism, communism or socialism is. But if we encounter a federalist and ask him what federalism is, he will very probably be uncertain, unable to give a precise answer. And this translates into a serious weakness for federalist militants.
It is plain that reflection on the general theory of federalism — despite the abstract nature of the problem — is of the greatest importance to our battle if one considers the recent example of communism, which developed with an immense force in the last phase of European history. A fundamental characteristic of communism was that the party cadres really were well-grounded in Marxist culture. And even today, if a militant from a traditional bourgeois party — for example the radical party in France — is compared with a communist militant, a profound difference between the two is immediately apparent, because only the communist has a specific political culture of his own, a clear-cut opinion on the laws of how society develops etc., so that he is always able to give an explanation of what is going on. The importance of this is obvious, which must lead us to appreciate the fundamental role played by culture, including the aspect of general theory, in the political struggle.
Now it is a fact that there is uncertainty among us even as regards how we fit into political life. We participate in political life through federalism, we belong to a federalist organisation, and yet we have no precise idea of the meaning of federalism; and it is easy to see the negative effects this has on the effectiveness of our struggle. No-one can be blamed for this situation: it is the political culture of our century which has not yet worked out this subject clearly. But it is our duty to help clear up this confusion: certainly not by imposing a conception of federalism on militants by means of a congress decision, since in the field of culture everyone must have the greatest freedom, but by trying, through amicable discussion, to bring clarity to our ideas on the subject.
2. If we analyse the attempts at theorization which have been made so far, in the current state of political culture, we can isolate two conceptions of federalism, which incidentally it would be wrong to call theories, as they lack scientific rigour. On the one hand we have a conception which identifies in federalism the theory of a certain type of state, the federal state. It is essentially a juridical doctrine, concerned with studying the constitutional structure of the federal state, the distribution of powers between the central power and member states, etc.; it discards any other consideration as ideological, and therefore having no bearing on reality. In the context of militant federalism this was the prevalent doctrine throughout Spinelli’s leadership in Italy, where the other conception, Proudhonian federalism, has never taken on a precise shape, nor created any cultural tradition.
On the other hand we have an ideological doctrine of federalism, according to which federalism cannot be limited to the conception of a type of state, because this would only constitute a small part of its general meaning. It claims instead that federalism serves as a criterion to interpret many aspects of social, economic, moral, philosophical, and, within certain limits, even religious life. According to this conception, all sectors of human activity contain federalist aspects, facts which are explained by federalism. The father of this doctrine is Proudhon, and it is therefore natural that it is particularly widespread in France.
In my opinion these doctrines are both incomplete. The conception of federalism limited to the theory of the federal state takes no account of the fact that the state always rests on a social base which conditions its existence, and that the nature and workings of its institutions are determined by particular types of political behaviour. It is therefore impossible to comprehend the functioning of federal institutions if, as in Italy — and for us this criticism means self-criticism — the doctrine of federalism is limited to the theory of the federal state, with no theory of the social and political base which allows federal institutions to actually come into being and function.
On the other hand, the ideological theory of federalism, this global theory — integral, according to Alexandre Marc’s definition — that federalism is capable of prescribing how to act and think in all fields of life, is not in touch with reality, because it is so vast that it cannot identify precise forms of behaviour or definite realities. And indeed, this is what happens with Proudhon. All those with even a superficial knowledge of the Proudhonian tradition know that Proudhon has been exploited by the left, by the right, by the fascists, by the democrats, by the anti-democrats, and so on; and this precisely because his thinking has no definite link with reality. Depending on how one views it, Proudhon’s philosophy can justify the most diverse political positions.
3. It would take too long to discuss here the theoretical nature of doctrines like federalism, liberalism and socialism with the aim of identifying their logical nature as overall conceptions of political life. We can however quickly overcome this theoretical difficulty by attempting to re-think these doctrines in terms of behaviour. If we do not want federalism, liberalism and socialism to be vague and indeterminable conceptions, which anyone can manipulate at will, but theories which bring out precise data and make it possible to act according to definite precepts, we must first reduce them to definitions of a behaviourist type.
Liberalism, socialism, federalism etc. are certainly complex phenomena, with multiple aspects and characteristics, but there is no doubt that they ultimately consist of human behaviour. Hence if we want to avoid elaborating inexact theories, which speak of the state, society, freedom, justice and so on without actually referring to reality, we must make reference to ways of acting, to human behaviour. If this operation does not succeed, the theory remains vague precisely as regards its relationship with reality, in other words with the agents, nature and goals of human action, which can then be interpreted at will in the most diverse ways. And it goes without saying that if a theory is utterly inconclusive, it cannot be used as a criterion of knowledge and action.
To define a widespread and consolidated form of social behaviour it is necessary to divide it, from the analytical point of view, — not from the real point of view, because from this point of view any instance of behaviour is unitary — into three aspects: value, i.e. the goal to which it is directed, which explains the manifestation of man’s passions and ideals; structure, i.e. the particular form which the behaviour takes on in order to realize its aims; and a socio-historical aspect, i.e. the complex of historical and social conditions in which this behaviour can spread and consolidate; given that all behaviour which is goal-oriented and appears with a definite structure, is not outside history and society, but appears only in a certain historical and social context.
This is the criterion for our attempt to develop a general theory of federalism in the scientific sense. If it is possible to take the federalist culture, to place it within this schema, to identify a stable social form of behaviour, to identify its value, its structure and its socio-historical base, then evidently federalism will appear as the theory of an autonomous social energy, independent and capable of developing its own struggle.
 
The Value Aspect of Federalism.
 
1. The value aspect of federalism was identified, studied and introduced into the history of culture by Kant. Kant’s political philosophy is not very well known because it is obscured by the immense contributions which he made to the philosophy of knowledge. This does not remove the fact that his federalist philosophy (he elaborated a genuine federalist philosophy) has great importance. And it is above all to Kant, and to those who continued his line of thought, that I refer in this attempt to define the value of federalism.
The first step is to define the concept of peace, a concept which is always mystified both in the common consciousness and in political culture. It was Kant himself who, without perhaps being fully aware of the importance of his theory, was the first to demystify it. One must therefore begin with a very simple operation, as in any demystification. One has to ask oneself what peace is in its reality, in everyday life, in the conduct of each individual. In this understanding of it, peace is the possibility of leaving one’s house every morning to go to work without running the risk of being attacked, without even having to prepare to face this risk, because among our active social expectations is that of not being made the target of acts of violence. It is, in other words, the practically absolute guarantee of not encountering violence and therefore the possibility of going around unarmed. This is what allows us to think of everything except violence, in other words to behave only according to economic convenience, moral law and so on. If, on the other hand, at every moment there was the risk of meeting an aggressor, everyone would have to provide for his own defence, everyone would have to bear arms and think of his own security before thinking of his work or anything else. Society would fail, and there would be no development of technology, science, production, culture and so on. The basis of conduct would be violence even for the good, because even the mildest would have to use arms, or be ready to use them, for their personal defence.
The line of demarcation between these two situations must be clearly drawn. The first is marked by the lack of risk of being attacked, by the fact that everyone is secure without weapons. The second is marked by the permanent risk of being attacked, by the fact that no one is secure without weapons. Naturally in the second situation two cases are distinguished: that in which men are fighting each other and that in which they are simply in a state of vigilance because they expect to fight or defend themselves. There is no doubt that anyone, clearly placed before the three cases of these two situations, would reserve the term “peace” for the first situation, would call the first case of the second situation “war”, and would speak of an instance of “truce” in the second case. Nor is there any doubt as to the fact that the first situation is marked by the obligation for everyone to behave according to a legal order, by the existence of a state; while the two cases of the second situation are marked precisely by the lack of such an obligation, by the lack of a state common to all who enter into relations between each other.
All this is so clear that it may seem banal. Yet it serves as a touchstone for the demystification of the conception of peace and war in contemporary culture. It is enough, for this purpose, to bear in mind that the terminology which we have used only applies when one speaks of peace, (civil) war and truce in the context of a single political community, i.e. where war is an exceptional phenomenon, whereas it is by no means valid in the context where war is instead a recurrent, normal phenomenon, in the context of the sum of all states.
If we move from the field of internal politics to that of international politics, we find in fact that that which in the field of internal politics is called truce, here is called peace. In international politics we do not have the three terms I have used, we have only two: peace and war. Consequently, if not at war one thinks one is at peace. Consider that in the current situation of international “peace” anyone wishing to propose disarmament (unless purely for reasons of political propaganda) would be considered mad; that even the neutral states are not disarmed, on the contrary, often they are powerfully armed, as in the case of Switzerland and Sweden, because they are well aware that neutrality can only be defended by military power.
In international politics, therefore, the situation which we call “peace” is that in which all the states are obliged to base their conduct on violence. And this means that a significant proportion of each state’s budget is devoted to armaments, large sectors of scientific research are committed to designing ever more destructive weapons, and the citizens must always be ready to kill and be killed. To kill and be killed is a duty, a legal duty, a moral duty, and even a religious duty, if one can thus interpret the practice of bestowing the benediction on armies. The very rules of law, morality and religion, the most important rules which determine human behaviour, are therefore profoundly conditioned by the violent nature of relations between the states.
This situation presents two fundamental characteristics: the first is that in international politics there is no power above the states which can punish those who transgress the law; on the contrary, there is not even a law, there is no legal mechanism applied to human conflicts. Hence each state must preserve its own security, and whenever conflicts have to be resolved and a compromise is not found, they resort to war. The second — and it was Lord Lothian above all who highlighted this very simple fact, which nevertheless always remains in the shade — is this: whereas in internal politics any change in the foundation of relations between individuals or between groups is followed by a political, legal, economic or other adaptation and, in case of difficulty, the question is always settled in a peaceful manner by the law, the courts, the magistrate or the police, in international politics, on the contrary, modifications may also come about in the foundation of relations between states, yet there is no legal or state mechanism capable of peacefully realising the necessary adjustments, and it is necessary to resort to violence.
Violence is often hidden: when diplomats of two or more parties sit down around a table to settle a dispute, the discussion, which seems peaceful, is by no means so, because at an international conference table there are no legal or moral criteria behind the ministers or diplomats, but only power. Let us take the case of the Italo-Austrian dispute over South Tyrol: Italy is not a very big country and lacks significant military power, but it is still more important than Austria, which is very small, has neutral status, is not necessary to the Atlantic strategy, and has no possibility of exploiting a particular international situation of power, as in the case of Italy. Now, in the Italo-Austrian negotiations there are two ministers with their experts, all very respectable and well-balanced people, apparently disposed to peaceful dialogue, but in reality each one gambles on the power of his own state, and what decides the outcome of the conference is not the right of the South Tyrolean people to self-government, to speak German, since they are a German-speaking people, to have Tyrolean schools, just as their customs are Tyrolean. On the contrary, what decides the issue is relative strength. The question of law is perfectly clear: the South Tyrolean people have always been Tyrolean, have never been Italian, have never spoken Italian: it is right that they should have a South Tyrolean administrative apparatus which speaks the German language because the majority of them do not understand Italian. But this right, so obvious, is not applied, because what is at stake is a conflict between states which can only be regulated on the basis of relative strength. Since Italy is the stronger, South Tyrol continues not to have its autonomy.
Actually there are hundreds of examples which could be adduced where the semblance of peace hides violence. Now, if what we see in international politics were to happen in internal politics, no-one could call this situation peace; it would be called war, and the moments when one is not fighting would be called moments of truce in a permanent state of war.
The first operation of demystification which therefore has to be carried out to reach a satisfactory definition of peace is very simple. Kant himself did it: three terms have to be used (peace, truce and war) instead of just two (peace and war) in international as in internal relations. It must be understood that if conflicts are resolved on the basis of relative strength, if the conduct of men is based on violence, even if one is not actually fighting, this is “truce” and not “peace”. With three terms available everything is clear: we have never had peace in relations between states and we have only succeeded in building peace within the states. The latter have been continually extended and strengthened, and therefore the field of peace has been enlarged at the same time, but as long as we have different states, until all mankind comes under the embrace of a single state apparatus, there will be the possibility of war.
2. This conclusion seems so clear as to be considered obvious. Nevertheless, an examination of the literature on the subject reveals that the cause of war is not usually identified in the absence of a state order, but variously in the existence of psychological, economic or racial conflicts: conflicts between the nations are thus thought to be determined by man’s natural aggressiveness; by economic disparities; or by incompatibilities rooted in ethnic differences.
 These theories neglect the elementary fact that economic, psychological or racial conflicts exist both between individuals from different states and between individuals of the same state, but within states they do not provoke war, except in the anomalous case of civil war. It can therefore be said that the various psychological, economic or ethnic conflicts can be the occasion for the outbreak of war, when war is possible, but if there is a state order able to resolve them peacefully they cease to be the cause of war: the true cause of war is therefore the absence of a state order.
All this permits us to demystify another very widespread myth, which was unfortunately even adopted by a great Pope, John XXIII, according to which the affirmation of peace is the fruit of good will, while war is caused by ill will. Those who support this theory may be asked a simple question: if peace in relations between states is the consequence of good will, or of faith, does the same principle also apply in relations between citizens within a state? In reality ill will is continually manifested in relations between the citizens of a state too, but in these cases the police and the courts intervene, i.e. the state authority which controls the repressive, judiciary apparatus, etc. It would never occur to anyone in this case to maintain that peace depended on good will. Yet on the other hand, if the question is transposed to the field of international political life, people tend to assume this point of view.
It should not escape notice that this discussion, which may seem rather theoretical, on the contrary has immense practical importance: those who want peace and believe that war depends on psychological, economic or ethnic conflicts, will concentrate their efforts in the struggle to eliminate such conflicts. Those who believe that peace depends on good will to one’s fellow man will imagine they can help solve the problem by preaching fraternity, understanding between peoples etc. And in so doing they will achieve nothing. The precise definition of the situation which we want to attain is therefore of great practical importance, because to realize a value it is necessary to have a precise idea of the conditions which make its realization possible.
3. The identification of these logical connections: state order — peace, and lack of state order — war, also allows us to judge another group of theories, which have had notable historical importance: those in which peace depends respectively on the attainment of freedom, democracy and social justice. When liberalism was establishing its presence and winning its battle against political and economic feudalism, it was believed that if economic and political freedom were successfully established, there would be peace. Indeed, Benjamin Constant and a large number of other political writers of that time maintained that the commercial spirit, individualism, economic and political freedom would necessarily produce peace, because individuals would have no interest in making war. This too, in the final analysis, is a theory of peace based on good will, and history has proved it false. The same happened with democracy. When democratic ideas gained acceptance, mobilizing minds and winning their battles, the great democrats thought that if the state were controlled by the people, since the people is peaceful by nature, the states would no longer make war on each other. But in reality this did not happen, and we have even witnessed instances of peoples being exalted by war. Marxism, finally, considered that peace could not be attained through individual freedom, since individuals are selfish and their conflicts of interest inevitably generate disputes; nor through democracy, which is only formal and does not give people the actual possibility of deciding their own destiny; but rather through collective ownership of the means of production, social justice, and economic equality. Only in this way, it was maintained, are the peoples truly in charge of their own state apparatus, and therefore of their own fate; and by nature (here we have the return of the democratic theory) the peoples do not fight amongst each other. But in this case too experience has shown that relations between communist states depend on their relative strength, as with non-communist states. It is a fact that China and the Soviet Union are two great antagonistic powers, and it is a reality that the relations which exist between the Soviet Union and its satellites are determined by relative power.
These observations allow us to demystify what is false in the hope of obtaining peace through freedom, democracy or social justice. But, while the theory that war derives from psychological, economic or nationalist conflicts is completely false, the theory that it derives from the lack of freedom, democracy and social justice contains some truth. If the realisation of peace requires a legal order, a state encompassing the whole human race, only when freedom, democracy and social justice are assured will that law, and the state which enforces it, be stable and un-contested. These are not sufficient conditions for peace, but they are certainly necessary. Therefore peace on the one hand, and democracy, freedom and social justice on the other, are values which depend on each other. Peace must indeed be sought for its own sake: it is a specific value which has its own specific form, the universal state, the universal legal order, but a universal legal order cannot be attained without the realization of freedom, democracy and social justice everywhere. All these observations allow us therefore not only to confute erroneous theories, but at the same time to see the relationship between peace and the great values of social and political life.
4. To complete this schematic analysis of peace we must also examine its significance in relation to the human condition in general. And here too Kant has made statements which to me seem definitive.
It is a fact that, as long as international politics remains in its current state, i.e. until federal relations replace relations between sovereign states, human conduct will always be fundamentally based on violence. This results in a series of consequences: the most general, and most terrible, is an unconscious and widespread acceptance of the double truth theory. The state, the political class and the cultural world constantly appeal to the traditional values of European society, i.e. Christianity, respect for mankind, brotherhood, since without these values European civilisation would not even exist. But the same state, the same political class, and the same culture uphold the theory that one must be prepared to kill and be killed. In the citizens’ consciousness, from the primary school desk until the end of life, even through the ceremonies of public life, the great models of moral life, the great saints, those who sacrificed themselves for others, the men of peace, all those who preached understanding, are obscured by the model of the warrior hero, the fighter. If one seeks out the true social values which emerge in school one discovers that it is not Saint Francis who is imprinted in a child’s heart and mind in primary school, but one of the military leaders in which every country’s ancient and modern history abounds. We are therefore faced with two truths which are not compatible: either one or the other holds. But both are professed, and hypocritical zeal becomes a characteristic inseparable from authority.
If relations between sovereign states are replaced by federalist relations and a situation is created in which all conflicts between people are resolved through the law, violence is abolished, for it no longer has the chance to manifest itself. And then, as Kant himself says in Idea of a Universal History from Cosmopolitan Point of View, the only remaining guides for men’s action will be morality and reason. Peace therefore, by eliminating violence from human relations and letting man’s moral and rational behaviour emerge, makes possible the full realization of man’s true essence.
The idea of peace applied to the human condition gives us a sufficiently comprehensive and positive representation of what the great revolutions hoped to achieve, the “leap from the reign of necessity to the reign of freedom” of which Marx speaks. He merely predicted this stage of society in which all men will be free, but did not describe or explain it. Now, this positive, demystified reflection on peace, and the analysis of its meaning in relation to the human condition, give us a clear, comprehensible and positive representation of the final stage in the political evolution of society, which therefore acquires the definite form of a goal to be reached. This is a result which neither liberalism, democracy, nor socialism have been able to obtain, and which only emerges in Kant’s analysis of federalism.
At this point there remains only one question to deal with in relation to peace, the value aspect of federalism. If we accept the expression “universal state order”, “universal legal order” without having highlighted the value relationship which exists between peace, democracy, freedom and social justice on the one hand, and the human condition in general on the other, we do not yet know precisely what we are dealing with, because a universal legal order can be two things: an empire, or a world federation; a unitary state which embraces all the human race, or a federal order, i.e. a universal power which does not destroy the powers at national level. Yet if we bear in mind that there can be no peace without freedom, democracy and social justice, it is clear that this universal state cannot be an empire, which to keep itself in power would have to centralize power strongly, to the point of becoming necessarily totalitarian; but will have to be a world federation, i.e. a universal legal-state order, built on the foundations of freedom, democracy and social justice.
 
The Structural Aspect.
 
1. Now we must turn to look at the second aspect of what I have proposed to call “federalist behaviour”, in other words to give a broad outline of the structural aspect. This analysis takes place in a context different from the previous one. If we want to analyse the value of peace in the current historical phase, we must analyse a “model of behaviour”, because peace does not currently exist. We cannot examine given facts, but only imagine how people should behave in order to have peace. This therefore was a rational analysis allowing us to define the model of behaviour which, once realized, would correspond to peace.
In contrast, the analysis of the structural aspect of federalism, which concerns a type of organization (naturally, whenever one speaks of an organization one speaks of certain people who act in a certain way, of particular consolidated forms of human behaviour), is based on facts, since federations exist, and it is simply a question of studying them.
To present the most interesting elements of the structural aspect of federalism we must consider the birth of the first federation in history, the American Federation. In North America, during and after the War of Independence, two tendencies emerged regarding the organization of political life on the Atlantic coast: the defenders of the sovereignty of the thirteen states which had rebelled against Great Britain and fought the war, and the defenders of the Union, who upheld the need to attribute sovereignty to it too to preserve the unity of Americans which had developed during the war.
The former considered that to ensure the union of the American people it would be enough for the thirteen states to pursue an amicable policy of collaboration, and that for this a weak apparatus of a confederal type would suffice, like that which had functioned during the war against Great Britain. But this was an illusion, and the merit of the authors of the Federalist, Hamilton, Jay and Madison, but also of Washington, and of all the other supporters of the Union, was to understand and make others understand that the unity of the Americans could not be guaranteed by a simple confederal mechanism, in other words by the good will of the states. Hamilton, in the eighth chapter of the Federalist, the most important text in the history of political thought as regards the theory of the federal state, clearly demonstrated that the so-called laws of a confederal union are only recommendations, because those who make the “law” do not have the power to enforce them. In America this is precisely what happened: the confederal Congress did indeed issue orders which were supposed to apply to all the states, but then each of the latter, whenever a particular interest was at stake, took autonomous decisions to remove itself from the financial and military obligations imposed by the confederation. Hamilton explained in his essay that in this case the common institutions, whose task should be to express a political line, giving political, strategic and economic directives for common action, are actually no more than bodies for the settlement of disputes arising between the confederated states.
To understand this clearly it is after all sufficient to look at what happens in the Common Market, which is a typical example of a confederal structure, even if limited to the economic sector: when a question arises on which the states have diverging interests, like the price of corn, the Common Market Commission does not set out to establish what price can allow the best agricultural policy for all Europeans, but to identify the price on which the French and Germans can agree.
What then is the substance of confederations, i.e. of all unions of states in which sovereignty does not belong to the union, but only to the member states? From the conceptual point of view — naturally from the empirical point of view there is a whole series of gradations — the political substance of a confederation is simply that of an alliance between states. It is, if you will, slightly more stable, slightly closer than an alliance pure and simple, but the political substance remains the same. This is demonstrated by the fact that the real foundation of confederations is the convergence of interests of the states which belong to it. As long as this convergence exists the whole apparatus works, the aim of settling divergences is reached, the recommendations are accepted. But if these interests begin to diverge, the confederation loses its foundation and the whole apparatus idles.
The second point which Hamilton discusses in his polemic against the defenders of the absolute sovereignty of the states — against those who did not want to assign political power to the American Union — concerns the internal consequences of divergences of interest between states in a system of sovereign states. It is a very important point but often forgotten in political science and culture, highlighting the fundamental factor which conditions the internal structure of the states. Hamilton declared that if the Americans had not succeeded in founding a real union of states, they would have found themselves in a similar situation to that of Europe at that time, i.e. a system of sovereign states. Each state would then have felt the need to defend itself against the others to guarantee its own security. The consequence which Hamilton emphasized is that this situation must be recognised as the most important source of state authoritarianism. He demonstrated that the existence of several sovereign states of equivalent strength, having common territorial borders, produces two consequences for each of them: first that they must provide themselves with a strong military apparatus; and that consequently the axis of the general political balance and the spirit of public opinion are centred on military values, and models of authoritarian behaviour tend to prevail over models of liberal behaviour. The second is centralization, which does not depend on the mentality of the citizens, but is a necessity which is imposed on states whose security is continually threatened; to ensure their own survival they must provide themselves with a structure which allows rapidity of decision, indispensable for efficient defence, and must eliminate all potential centres of resistance existing within the country by progressively centralizing power.
All this becomes clear if one compares the history of the states of continental Europe with that of Great Britain. The latter, being separated from the continent by the Channel — not having territorial frontiers — did not need a large standing army; for this reason civil liberties and local self-government developed earlier in England than in any other state, and centralization progressed much later than on the continent.
In his attempt to make the American people understand the need to create a Union endowed with sovereignty, Hamilton had thus highlighted two important functional features of a system of independent and sovereign states.
Returning now to the birth of the American federation, it is interesting to note that the struggle between those who wanted the sovereignty of the Union to guarantee unity, and those who wanted the sovereignty of the individual states to defend pluralism and autonomy, was apparently insoluble, because at that stage in political culture, sovereignty was seen as indivisible and a state which did not have absolute sovereignty was inconceivable. Thus they seemed to face a radical alternative: either to leave sovereignty with the states and lose unity, or to give sovereignty to the Union and sacrifice the autonomy of the states, pluralism. No one at that time was capable of imagining the mechanism of the federal state. And in fact neither in the political culture of the eighteenth century in general, nor, in particular, in the proceedings of the Philadelphia Assembly itself, from which emerged the draft Constitution of the United States, is it possible to find a plan for a federal state. A way out of the impasse had to be found therefore by giving the Union the attributes of a state and at the same time keeping such attributes in the thirteen colonies. What happened in Philadelphia, i.e. the birth of the American federal state, was none other than a compromise between these two opposing tendencies. The most typical result of this compromise was the structure given to the two parliamentary chambers: the Senate was given a confederal structure, being composed of representatives nominated by the individual states in equal number (two) for each state, independently of their population; and the chamber of representatives a unitary structure, composed of deputies elected by the citizens in electoral districts delimited as to have approximately equal shares of the population, and therefore in variable number according to the number of inhabitants in the various states.
To give an idea of how the very men who had helped create it failed to understand this new political structure at the beginning, suffice it to note that Hamilton withdrew, discouraged, from the Convention of Philadelphia, since he was quite convinced that a state in which sovereignty was divided could not function. Nor did Madison, who was nevertheless, as creator of the Union, more moderate than Hamilton, express himself in more optimistic terms in his famous report on the Convention. And yet, starting from this compromise, so disappointing for its makers themselves, the federal state was born. And very soon it was realised that this was a vital, working mechanism.
2. At this point we have the elements for the general outline of a theory of the federal state. The essential characteristic of the federal state is the division of powers between the federation and member states, which is how the division of sovereignty is manifested. The federal government is assigned those powers necessary for the existence of the whole, i.e. above all foreign policy, defence, and the broad outline of financial and commercial policy. All the remaining powers which concern the other aspects of social, economic, cultural life etc. are assigned to the states. Finally, there are further powers which are termed “concurrent”, and which are the concern of both the federal government and the member states. The most important is fiscal, which both must have because, by procuring the necessary financial means, it is instrumental for the exercise of the others. The general criterion is however that all powers not expressly assigned to the federal state are the province of the federated states.
All this is very clear, and corresponds to the theories of the federal state which can be found in every manual of constitutional law. But if one limits oneself only to highlighting the division of powers, there may be a lingering doubt that on every problem there is duality of decision. In this case there would no longer be unity, there would no longer be a community, and it is for this reason that some authors who have not gone into the matter sufficiently maintain that the federal state does not exist, that it is a fiction, and is actually none other than a transitional phase in the process leading to a centralized state. But the American experience, at least until Roosevelt, shows that the division of powers which is proper to federalism achieves unity of decision on every problem, even in the plurality of independent centres of decision-making: which proves the existence of a true community.
This is the formula which gives the clearest idea of the nature of the federal state. It lets us see that we have here a major shift from the traditional conception of the state. Both the federal government and the federated states in fact have exclusive power over their own constitution, and are endowed with sovereignty (even if only internal in the latter case). Both therefore have the attributes of genuine states. They thus give rise to a complex situation in that two different states co-exist in the same area, the federal state and the federated state, each with its own representation: each citizen has therefore dual citizenship. Clearly, for the traditional conception of the state the co-existence of two states on the same territory is a scandal. And yet it is a historical fact, and in North America it has eloquently demonstrated its capacity to live and function.
3. This plurality of centres of decision-making on the same area — while the unity of decision remains firm on every problem —, this division of representation and citizenship, is the first new aspect introduced by the federal state compared to the traditional structure of the state. But there are other equally new and interesting aspects which are highlighted by Hamilton’s Federalist. They concern the structures of executive power and judiciary power. These are two very important improvements, crucial I should say, for the theory of democracy, for the theory of the rule of law, and even for the theory of the constitutional state.
Regarding the first of these, in the Federalist we find a very precise and vigorous defence of the executive composed of a single person. If the executive is not composed of a single person there is no strong executive, and if there is no strong executive there is no good government, because good government is decisive and efficient in execution. This requires executive unity, which can only be ensured when a single person is responsible for it to the country. This was in fact the solution adopted in the Philadelphia draft, which became the United States Constitution. The responsibilities which in unitary states are assigned to the President of the Republic and to the entire Council of Ministers are concentrated in the President. Indeed, in the USA the heads of the various ministries are not answerable to Parliament, but only to the President, who oversees their work and holds sole responsibility to the nation for all the policies of the United States.
To maintain the virtue of this solution in Hamilton’s day meant battling against a very widely-held prejudice, that strong government was synonymous with authoritarianism, and democracy was guaranteed only by a weak government. Hamilton fought this prejudice, saying that weak government meant a government incapable of governing and therefore of staying in power. If this equation of weak government and democracy were really valid, the democrats would have had to acknowledge defeat at the outset.
On the other hand, Hamilton’s opponents on this issue emphasized a real danger: that strong government could degenerate into dictatorship. Their fears, based on the political experience of the European states, were anything but unjustified. An omnipotent executive, in unitary and centralized states like those of Europe, has so much power in its hands as to be able easily to subvert the will of Parliament and reduce the judiciary, the weakest of the three powers, to a tool for the implementation of its aims. In a unitary and centralized state, therefore, the traditional division between executive, legislative and judiciary powers vanishes if one puts the executive power in the hands of a single person, and therefore the alternative is between weak government and lack of democracy.
This simple argument gives us the means to understand certain fundamental aspects of the constitutional history of France, Germany and Italy. In the history of these three countries a constitution has never lasted more than about twenty years, because, as unitary states, they have always found themselves faced with this dilemma: either to renounce the strength of the executive or to give way to dictatorship. This latter possibility was exactly what happened each time a country found itself faced with a serious problem. The classic example comes from France, whose history presents a regular alternation between democracy and dictatorship. The tendency in a democratic regime to leave the tasks of government to the administration ensures that, when there really is a need to act, to govern, to have a real executive, a strong personality appears, silences the factions and imposes his authoritarian leadership. This is what happened with De Gaulle: there was a serious political problem, the Algerian situation; the Fourth Republic was not capable of taking the brave decisions which the circumstances required, and it was necessary to turn to the dictator. Fortunately he was a man of great stature, and France was able to preserve its freedoms, something which did not happen in Germany or Italy.
The case of the federal state on the other hand is entirely different. In it there is a much more effective division of powers than the simple division between executive, legislative and judiciary: that between the federal government and the federated states. To understand the importance of this difference it is useful to note the telling convincing comparison drawn by Proudhon between the traditional division of powers in a unitary state, theorised by Montesquieu, and the division of labour within a factory. Like the latter, the former is a purely functional division, because it does not correspond to an equivalent division in society, in the sense that none of the three powers rests on a social base of its own. It therefore remains a purely formal division. On the other hand, in a federal state the division between federal government and federated states corresponds to a division in the political class, in the electoral apparatus and in the social interests — of which some concern the federation and some the individual states — in the groups into which these interests are organised. This gives rise to a balance of powers which is much steadier and better-anchored in society, which allows the co-existence of freedom and of the unitary executive. The omnipotent President of the United States, who would be a dictator in a continental European state, unitary and centralized, in America finds an obstacle to his power in that of the states. This barrier is now being weakened even in the United States, because the federated states are progressively losing vitality and autonomy, and for this reason the presence of the executive is making itself felt more and more. But in the classical period of American history, from the origins to Roosevelt, this type of balance worked, showing that a federal state which really is such, can have a strong and effective executive, without the slightest threat to the freedom of its citizens.
The other important improvement that federalism introduces into the structure of the representative democratic state concerns the judiciary power. This is the weakest of the three powers; it has neither the power of the purse (held by the legislative), nor that of the sword (held by the executive), by which men are governed. For this reason, in what is normally called the balance between the three powers, the judiciary has always played a very modest role in Europe. This does not mean that the judges have always sold themselves to the executive, but it is true that the latter has always been able to replace disobliging judges so as to have a judiciary which would accept and legalize its abuses. The judiciary power, therefore, has never effectively fulfilled the function of making the law prevail over the indiscriminate use of power by the other bodies of the state; and this is fatal in a unitary state, where the judge is only upheld by his own honesty.
In contrast, in a federal state the tensions between the federal government and the federated states which are manifested through conflicts of power, are resolved through a judiciary decision, backed up by one or more federated states or the federal government. In other words a convergence is realised, so that opinion and the network of interests which form in the context of the federal state or of the federated states, always align themselves in support of a Court which pronounces in matters of constitutional competence. For this reason the judiciary power functions as the indicator in the balance of powers established within the federal state.
In the federal state, therefore, the law achieves its true autonomy, which is suffocated in centralized unitary states. This finds eloquent confirmation in the history of the Anglo-Saxon countries on the one hand (including Great Britain, which is not a federal state, but nevertheless presents a strongly decentralized structure) and of the continental European states on the other. In the history of France, Germany and Italy the most prominent personalities, the national heroes, the “founding fathers”, are great politicians, heads of state, heads of government, party leaders, great revolutionaries, great warriors, like Napoleon, Bismarck, Garibaldi etc. In England and in the United States, the gallery of heroes of national history also includes judges. When we look at the history of the foundation of the United States, when we go back to the men who created their constitution, who won the battle to assign a certain order to the American constitutional structure, of course we find Hamilton, Madison and Washington; but also chief justice John Marshall. A great judge in the United States attained the same popularity, at least when the federal system was solid and functioning, as a great statesman or a great party leader, and even when the federal system began to lose vitality, when the Washington government began to take precedence over the state governments, Roosevelt still had to fight a hard battle against the Supreme Court.
There are two lessons to be learnt from all this. The first concerns the crisis of democracy. Today the crisis of democracy everywhere is the crisis of the executive: the need is felt for an executive which can govern states whose powers, particularly in the economic sector, grow from day to day; in other words an energetic and effective executive. This need can only be met by federalism. The second concerns the crisis of the rule of law, of the constitutional state, a crisis which can be disguised in Italy and in Germany, which do not yet have major responsibilities in world politics, but not in France, which is the most exposed continental European state, the one that must face the most serious political problems. For this reason in France the crisis of the rule of law has manifested itself very clearly: not only do the French have a constitution octroyée, in other words a constitution conceded from above and not given to the country by the people’s representatives in the Constituent Assembly, but they also have a head of state who stands above the constitution, and concentrates in himself the totality of power. It is evident that, if the law is not able to contain all the powers of the state within the limits which the constitution assigns to them, i.e. if it cannot express itself autonomously in society, one does not have a true constitutional state. For a state to be constitutional, the judges need to have a power in society that is real and not just formally sanctioned by the letter of a constitution; and they cannot have such power permanently except in a federal state.
We should also analyze all the transformations which take place in the federal state as concerns the population. To mention the most important, we may observe that in a federal state, none of the powers and political activities which have the capacity to form the customs and traditions of peoples, that complex of ideas and common models of behaviour which the Americans call “public philosophy” — in other words the powers governing education, religion, criminal and civil law, mass communication, etc. — are linked to central government, the centre of power which has control over the army and foreign policy. They are either exercised by non-political entities — very large American universities, for example, are private — or assigned to the federated states, which, not having relations with other states, have neither an army nor a foreign policy, i.e. do not have the apparatus of violence in international relations. Consequently these institutions do not function as channels for instilling in the citizens a warlike spirit and a will for power. They do not act on the citizens in a single direction, to bind them to the governing power and destroy in them all other loyalty. Thus, in the federal state a pluralistic people can take shape, what the Swiss call a “federal people”, or a people of nations.
4. It may be useful to end the analysis of the nature of the federal state with a historical sketch of the evolution of the forms of democratic government. In the beginning, the democratic experiment manifested itself in the form of direct democracy. In this, all the people had to meet in the square, the agorà, to deliberate, and consequently its territorial limit was fixed by the dimensions of a town. This limit being insurmountable, this form necessarily produced closed and bellicose groups, as shown by the troubled history of the wars between the Greek city-states.
The representative mechanism made it possible to extend democratic government to vast groups of cities, to give rise to modern nations. Unitary representation however also has territorial limits. It cannot allow the unification of an entire continent, because it is not able to adapt to the multiple social differences which inevitably exist in states larger than the modern nations. The representative mechanism too, therefore, gives rise to closed and bellicose human groups.
Federal government, on the other hand, with its division of representation, can unify vast, continental groupings; it can constitute the government, no longer of individual nations, but of groups of nations, and at least in theory can be extended to all of mankind, because the division of representation makes it possible to govern a community of practically unlimited size. In practice the North America of the end of the eighteenth century was larger than the whole world is today, if one takes account of the evolution of the means of communication; and yet the federal system was able, in a pre-industrial age, to unify the whole continent. All this makes it quite clear that the federal structure alone can bring about the political unification of the human race, and in this way fully realize the value of peace.
 
The Socio-Historical Aspect.
 
1. We now come to analyse the third aspect which characterizes federalist behaviour, the socio-historical aspect. This is essential, for no human behaviour which gives rise to a particular organisation of political relations can manifest itself without a basis in society and in a particular historical phase which allows it to spread and consolidate.
The current phase in American history raises questions which may provide us with clues concerning this aspect. Federal government is manifestly in decline in the United States. The USA is rapidly starting to take on the structure of a unitary and strongly centralized state. This process goes against the entrenched traditions and psychology of the Americans, which explains how a political campaign like that of Goldwater[1] which included a strong defence of the states’ autonomy, found a base in public opinion. This makes us ask: why was it possible for the American Federation to become established and prosper, keeping its structure intact for a century and a half, and why is it now in decline? The answer to this question cannot be found in federalist behaviour in itself, but should be sought in a comparison of the American society of then, which influenced the working of the federal mechanism, and the American society of today, which has influenced its decline.
The fundamental observation to be made here is that during the War of Independence, which sanctioned the Americans’ separation from the British crown, a de facto American unity developed. De facto, because from the institutional point of view there was division: the thirteen colonies, having escaped the control exercised over them by Great Britain, had acquired absolute autonomy and had become genuine sovereign states.
What was the basis of this de facto unity? It was undoubtedly linked in part to geographical factors, the fact that the thirteen states were relatively close to each other and territorially similar; in part to the stage of development of material relations of production, and their impetus towards creating a network of economic relations extending beyond the territory of each individual state. But these two factors alone would have created an extremely tenuous unity — taking account above all of the fact that in that period industrialization was only beginning, and communications were not yet greatly developed — were it not for the intervention of another, decisive unitary impulse: the war, the common struggle against England, which made a powerful contribution towards strengthening the Americans’ feeling of being linked by a common destiny. This common feeling was however not strong enough to destroy the Americans’ other loyalty, that which bound them to their particular state. On the contrary, this latter feeling of belonging was stronger than the former because it was fed by the diverse traditions of the individual former colonies, and because the individual former colonies already had the state apparatus within which the political process was played out, and within which the citizens were bound to these states, whereas their loyalty towards the broader American community was not supported by any institution endowed with real power.
A quite exceptional situation had been created in North America as regards the citizens’ feeling of belonging: there was a kind of bipolarity in the Americans’ minds, their loyalty was divided between the American community as a whole and their individual state, and these two feelings balanced each other. This gave rise to a complex society, a society of Americans within which there were the societies formed by the citizens of the individual states. A society, therefore, crossed not only by the normal economically-based divisions (producers, consumers, workers, bosses, etc), but also by territorially-based divisions. It can be called a federal society and the people who form it can in turn be called a federal people.
It is important to note, incidentally, that this socially-based bipolarization rooted in each individual must not be confused with the fact that everyone belongs contemporaneously to several social circles: I belong to Pavia, to the University, to Lombardy, to the Italian state. But there is no equilibrium between these social circles, because one of them, the Italian state, dominates absolutely: whenever a conflict arises between the fact that I am from Pavia, the university, or Lombardy, and the fact that I am Italian, as long as Italy remains a sovereign state, it is the Italian circle which takes precedence. And if I want to avoid this happening, I must, within certain limits, go against the law, which obliges me to put Italy before all.
Starting from these considerations one can draw an initial conclusion: the federal state was able to originate, maintain itself and live for more than a hundred years, giving a free and expansive life to the Americans, because there was a bipolarization of loyalty in the citizens, in society, which made it possible for this delicate mechanism to function. Social bipolarization on a territorial basis is therefore a kind of “behaviour” which characterizes federalism.
2. What has been said so far gives an initial idea of the kinds of human behaviour which are manifested in an area constituted by many states whenever the conditions we have seen are created in it. But for a sufficiently precise definition of the characteristics of federal society, we must also examine the conditions which prevent it, or impede its development.
Federal society is characterized, as we have seen, by the bipolarization of the citizens’ loyalties. Now, the development of a situation of this nature is entirely prevented by the presence of two conditions, one of a social nature and one of a political nature. The former is the existence of a struggle between antagonistic classes. The reason for this incompatibility is clear: federal society develops where territorially-based social divisions are strong enough to maintain an equilibrium between the citizens’ two poles of loyalty. For example, the citizen’s loyalty towards the state of New York must be strong enough to counterbalance his loyalty towards the United States. But if there was a struggle going on in the state of New York between antagonistic classes, this would inevitably destroy the citizens’ loyalty to their territorial community, because it would create profound divisions which would cross the entire nation, giving rise to a social watershed which would put the members of the same community in conflict with each other and would unite the members of different communities in the common battle. The bipolarity typical of federalist behaviour would therefore disappear, and the social base of the federated states, the source of their power, and therefore the possibility of counterbalancing the power of central government, would be lost.
The other absolute obstacle is military power. Wherever a state experiences the need to maintain or augment its military power, it undergoes a process of centralization of power. As a result, loyalty towards the small communities, those which do not have a military apparatus, disappears, the small communities themselves in fact disappear, and that multipolar character which is typical of federal society is lost. The reason for all this is evident: when a state is exposed to the constant danger of war in international politics, and must maintain a strong military apparatus to face it, the defence of the life, destiny and interests of the citizens and their families can only be assured by the group and by its power, not by the small disarmed community, which therefore loses much of its importance and its capacity to inspire loyalty in the citizens.
From all this one can conclude that federalism, as normal behaviour in normal situations, can develop when the division of society into antagonistic classes and the division of mankind into antagonistic nations has been overcome. If we bear in mind these two obstacles, and the consequences which can be drawn from them, we can understand how a federalist experience, however limited and imperfect, could be accomplished in the United States; and we can prefigure the historical situation in which federalism can become established in a stable and definitive way among mankind.
As regards the former case, we can note the manifestation of two exceptional situations in the United States (at least up to a certain point in its history). On the one hand, a strong attenuation of the class struggle, due to the fact that wages have always been higher than in Europe, as the availability of enormous expanses of free land incessantly demanded manpower from the urban centres of the East, holding back the formation of a large organized urban proletariat. Added to this, on the other hand, pioneering in the USA also fulfilled the function of attracting the most exuberant, brave and energetic sections of the population, those which in Europe found their natural outlet in proletarian agitation. These two characteristics of the economic history of America thus explain the attenuation of the class struggle and the fact that in America socialism, as a consciousness, as a theory, as a political party, did not develop. This permitted the formation of the social bipolarization of which we have spoken: the citizens of the state of New York have always been able to maintain a certain solidarity amongst themselves above the classes, which were not so strongly in conflict as in Europe; and to therefore maintain a strong territorial loyalty to their state. The same attenuation took place in the military field. The United States benefited (until the discovery of the most modern means of destruction, which are capable of reaching almost any point of the globe) from an insular situation. It bordered on states which were almost non-existent from the military point of view: Mexico and Canada, and was separated from Europe by the Atlantic. America’s security was therefore guaranteed without an army, without conscription, without all that characterizes a state with militarist traditions. The navy was sufficient to guarantee the security of the citizens, while equilibrium in Europe was guaranteed by the English fleet. For this reason the United States remained for a long time practically extraneous to international political life, at least in its military aspect. This made a particular public philosophy arise: isolationism, and with isolationism the idea that the Americans had a particular propensity to manage international relations not so much on the basis of contests of power but by law and dialogue. This was clearly false: to impute a type of behaviour to the nature of the American people, when it was actually due to the power of the United States, power determined by its geographical position.
The foregoing analysis also allows us to see why the federal experience which developed in the United States has been precarious and limited. Precarious because the advantages of its insular situation were cancelled by the modern development of armaments and means of communication. The consequences of this were that the United States became progressively more involved in the struggles of world politics, developing a powerful military apparatus and introducing conscription. All this inevitably meant that power became progressively concentrated in the hands of central government, resulting in the progressive depletion of the federal institutions. Limited, because in the United States, federalism, in a certain sense introduced prematurely from the historical point of view, has not really been the government of a community of consolidated nations.
The uncertain nature of the American people has meant that it has not yet been clearly understood that one of the fundamental characteristics of the federal state is that of being the government of a community of nations, and has obviously facilitated the transformation of the United States into a bureaucratic and centralized state, and of the American people into a genuine nation in the European sense.
But the conception which can be developed from the examination of the obstacles which impede the birth, diffusion and consolidation of federalist behaviour allows us not only to understand the precarious and limited federalist experiences achieved so far, but also to locate federalism, in its complete and definitive form, in the development of history. It is sufficient to apply what we have said: if there can be no bipolarization among individuals until conflicts between antagonistic classes and nations have been overcome, it follows that federalism, in its full and definitive form, can manifest itself only at world level, while at regional level it can manifest itself only in imperfect forms.
With federalism in its perfect form, there can be a full manifestation of cosmopolitanism on the one hand and communitarianism on the other: these will cease to be simple ideals of the few and become real social forces. Cosmopolitans have always existed. Cosmopolitanism is a philosophy, an attitude of mind which began with stoicism. Throughout history there have always been great minds who have been able to think beyond the divisions between peoples; even the Christian religious experience is a cosmopolitan experience. But cosmopolitanism has never become a social force: it has only been the ideal of the few individuals who anticipated the future.
The same can be said for communitarianism. There have always been those who have understood the nature of the community and who have fought to transform their societies into genuine communities. The last great cultural trend which expressed this state of mind was personalism, which proposed to transform man as he is, in conflict with other men, into one who is a brother to other men, enlarging the normal field of morality from the family (which in current societies is the only social circle in which human relations are marked by love and mutual respect) to a wider circle, the community. Today towns, even the small ones, which ought to provide the ideal testing ground for a communitarian experience, are not in fact real communities, in which each individual is a person — in the sense expounded by Mounier[2] — and in which everyone feels they share a common destiny. But if we imagine a situation in which all possible disputes are regulated by law, because it has universal application, in which therefore the state, authority, and religion do not legitimize violence, we can glimpse a real possibility of the communitarian ideal being realized, transformed into an operative force in society.


* This text is the transcription of a lecture given by Albertini, in 1964 or 1965. The text has been partly revised and corrected by Albertini himself, who however interrupted the work of revision, deciding not to publish it. We publish it now because, although it is clearly intended to be heard rather than read, we consider it a document of great importance, in which the analysis of federalism in its three aspects (of value, structural and socio-historical) is conducted with a breadth unequalled in Albertini’s other writings. Naturally some examples are tied to the politico-historical situation of the period in which the lecture was given, but in essence the text retains its full validity and relevance.
[1] Republican senator 1952-64, presidential candidate 1964.
[2] French philosopher (1905-1950), developed personalism.

 

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