Year XXX, 1998, Number 1, Page 28
FEDERALISM AND POLITICAL THOUGHT OF CHRISTIAN INSPIRATION*
If we carefully analyze the development of political thought of Christian inspiration, we discover a whole complex of positions which interweave, sometimes directly and in other cases only indirectly (but with equally significant results), with tendencies and fundamental principles which belong to federalist practice.
First of all, the fundamental question of peace must be stressed, which is at the centre of the political thought and action of Christian Democrat parties.
Federalism maintains that the threat to peace comes from the present international anarchy, that is from the fact that international relations still belong, in a certain sense, to the prejuridical sphere of the state of nature, to a power relationship tempered by a system of agreements and treaties, but not yet by law. Substituting treaty with law is the keynote of federalism.
Although we must distinguish the development of specific political programs from the affirmations of the Church, we cannot ignore the fact that for several decades, since Europe was bloodied by two world wars, the concern of the Holy See has been directed particularly to the problem of how people could live together in peace, justice and positive development. These documents are well known, and here we may mention in particular all those who do not limit themselves to calling for a change in the soul of man — without which all real attempts to improve the condition of mankind is vain — but instead stress the need and urgency for a different organization of relationships between states and between people, with the creation of a world authority capable of exerting effective power that will rise above the current tensions and build lasting peace.
Even if the exact words “federalism” and “federation” are not used, certain documents of the Vatican II Council (Gaudium et Spes), the encycles of John XXIII and Paul VI, the latter’s paper to the UN in 1965 and the speeches of John Paul II (on various occasions, and especially for the annual Day of Peace) recall the underlying thought of federalism. Even before, Pius XII, in speeches in 1957 (to the delegates to the Congress of Europe, promoted by the European Movement, to the Parliamentarians of the ECSC, to delegates at the Frascati Congress of the Italian section of the Council of European Municipalities), expressly referred to the Holy See’s interests in the efforts to build a federation since the end of world conflict, to the “healthy way” followed by those states which accepted the principle of delegating a part of their sovereignty to a supernational organization and to the need to “build a Europe in which a vast and solid majority of federalists exist, favourable to the principles of true personalism”: several times the appropriateness of “developing a strongly effective propaganda in favour of the federalist idea was underlined, thus accelerating the decisions of the governments and offering them the support of democratic public opinion”.
More recently, in certain countries bishops or episcopal conferences, concerned with problems of peace and disarmament, have invoked the creation of an “authority” capable of putting an end to the jealous sovereignty of the individual states.
Three threads link Christian Democrat political thought with the fundamental search for peace, and, therefore, with the ideas of the limitation of sovereignty and defence of the “human person”: three objectives which are part of federalism for many reasons.
To see evidence of the first point (peace and the limitation of national sovereignty), it is enough to recall the pages of Jacques Maritain in Man and the State (Chicago, Chicago University Press, 1951) and his speech during the meeting of cultures at UNESCO, in April 1966. Referring to the need to organize a global “political” society, Maritain stressed two fundamental conditions. “The first is the definite renunciation of the idea or the idol of the sovereignty of the state, of the idea of this mortal god, as Hobbes said, which was born in the mind of Jean Bodin in the sixteenth century and which is called the sovereign state.” The second condition is to awaken in all thinking men, both governors and governed, a real consciousness, always present and active deep in the heart, of the general welfare of man. In Man and the State he wrote: “A federal solution will appear as the only way for Europe and for Germany.” But — he added — “after the bloody annihilation caused by Hitler’s dreams, there will have to be deep and decisive changes before we come to a federal solution acceptable to Europe and the people of Germany liberated from Nazism and the Prussian spirit, a European federation that is in which a plurality of German states could take part, consistent with the diversity of their cultural heritages, and in which all the member states would accept the limitations of sovereignty required by organic and institutional cooperation.” Only in this idea is there any hope for Europe and Western civilization, according to Maritain.
This is summarized in the premise: “The thesis that we maintain is that a federal Europe is inconceivable without a federal Germany and a federal Germany is impossible without a federal Europe. These two aspects of the problem seem inseparable.”
Even if we consider the question of Europe in itself — added Maritain — we must state that “the federal idea, in its real sense, is valid for the whole of Europe”, and means “limitations on the sovereignty of all the countries that make it up and common good will”.
In his A travers le désastre (New York, La maison française, 1941) Jacques Maritain spoke of the “historical ideal of a federation of free peoples”. Such an ideal, which up to now has been unrealizable because of the old structures of “a socio-political global regime founded on selfishness and jealousy”, would “probably become reality” once Nazism was defeated. The concept is taken up again in Messages 1941-1944 (Paris, Hartmann, 1947) which Maritain broadcast on American radio during the war.
It seems opportune to recall here two thoughts of Luigi Sturzo, the founder of the Partito popolare italiano, who had to go into exile during the Fascist dictatorship in Italy. In an essay which he published in the book L’Italia e l’ordine internazionale (1944), on the future League of the United Nations, discussed in the Teheran meeting in 1943, he contests the phrase which appears in the text, “the sovereign equality of all the states which love peace”. “The sense is not clear”, he writes, “because it could mean that the sovereignty of every state must remain intact in the League of Nations”. Sturzo continues: “It is nice to recall the precedent of the United States. When the confederation of the thirteen states was founded, it was laid down that all of them should remain sovereign states with all the powers which had not been explicitly transferred to the confederation. What was bound to happen, happened. The confederation was left with no powers, without enough money to guarantee its public debt, without authority and without an army to defend it from the rebellious movements of every single state. After about ten years, the founding fathers got together in Philadelphia with the aim of formulating a Constitution which would permit the United States to continue. The sovereign rights of the individual states over taxes, the army, tariffs and interstate questions of both the states and the central government were transferred to federal bodies, and thus the United States were born.
Today there is only one alternative: either a League of Nations with its own juridical and political powers, with its own international police, and a contribution of armaments from every state: or an imperialistic supremacy (to give it its true name) of great powers which take on the responsibility of world order and direct protection, or protection by means of spheres of influence, of other states. None of the spectrum of possibilities we can think up between these two poles will be able to make either one or the other system prevail. We are in favour of a League of Nations with all the necessary powers to create a new order in the world.”
Sturzo’s arguments collected in the various volumes Politica di questi anni (above all for the periods 1946-48, 1948-49, 1950-51) and the messages he sent to the international congress of the Nouvelles Equipes Internationales (1950) and to the II Hague Congress of the European Movement (1953) are worth reading. We find the signature of Sturzo among those of the members of the international committee promoting the petition for a “Federal Pact” (1950).
But there is another aspect of this link between the philosophy of federalism and political thought of Christian inspiration: community personalism. Jean Luis Loubert del Byle in his book Les non conformistes des années ‘30 expressly states that the spirit of the thirties was in many ways anchored to a personalist concept and that it “found, after the Second World War, a direct posterity in federalism”. Henri Brugmans wrote in the journal Esprit (November 1948 No. 625) that “federalism is not only an original way of organizing international relations, but a complete doctrine, with its seeds in personalist philosophy, which attempts to concretize a certain conception of man and society”. Denis De Rougemont, one of the protagonists of European federalism, in his book L’Europe en jeu replies that the federalist doctrine is to be found above all in a certain philosophy of the person which simultaneously contains a denial of individualism and collectivism. “Political structures of a federalist nature, the only creators of peace, the only acts which can safeguard freedom within order” must be created. However “no European federation is possible outside the framework of a World federation. Neither peace nor future, however”, De Rougemont argues, “will arise except through the attempt to found a world government. And to do this the world needs Europe, both its critical sense and its inventive spirit.”
Among the many texts which we could quote with reference to this, particularly apposite seems the statement of Alexandre Marc (in his book Dialectique du déchaînement, Paris, La Colombe, 1961): “Federalism is a type of personalism. What inspires federalist humanism is not Man in general, but the Person”.
The conception of personalism is particularly linked to the name of Emanuel Mounier, and to the journal he founded in 1932, Esprit. From its outset Esprit was an international journal. In fact, Mounier and his friends always tried to go beyond the limited idea of the nation-state, a nation-state which is generally only a temporary stage in political development. What we are looking for — this expression is often used — is a “world democracy”. Europe could be the root of this. However, it must be said that, if we follow the political evolution of Esprit from a European point of view, we see a vivid contrast between the period before the war (the thirties) and after the war. It seems as if Esprit, having been favourable to unification as long as it was only an idea, became hostile to it as soon as it began to be fulfilled.
After the war — J.M. Domenach, one of his closest collaborators, writes — Mounier, who died in 1950, and his friends, remained faithful to their previous theoretical positions: they refused nationalism and explicitly defended the idea of Europe. But in the name of the ideal Europe, socialist and neutral, they were always against concrete efforts towards the building of Europe. During the strife over the EDC (1950-1954), they were very hostile.
A third link between federalism and the thought or the political philosophy of Christian inspiration is the recognition of the meaning and value of autonomies and the principle of subsidiary levels.
It is not necessary to recall here how political thinking of Christian inspiration has always refused the opposition of individual and state as the only poles and subjects of political organization, but has instead stressed the importance of an organic concept of society (directed towards the person) and the different levels and groups in which this develops: this represents a fundamental point in the philosophy of Christian social ethics. Thus the opposition to every form of centralism, the struggle for decentralization which is not bureaucratic but institutional, for the recognition of effective autonomies guaranteed by the Constitution. Hence the continuous effort to rediscover the meaning and the aim of the local community.
Thus came the formulation of a “principle of subsidiarity” which — in certain ways — recalls the federalist method (infrastate federalism). This is a principle which holds that tasks and responsibilities should not be taken on by the higher levels of government, when they could be more efficiently taken on by levels closer to the citizen. This principle protects autonomies but also encourages research for new institutional levels which go beyond the traditional states, when it is shown, as happens today, that certain problems cannot be resolved at a national level. This principle reveals the limitations of the centralized nation-state.
It is as well to recall that already in the Nineteenth century a German Christian thinker, Constantin Franz, had strongly criticized the nation-state, hoping for strong internal decentralization and a European federation, two complementary aspects of the same problem. “Since we are not nationalists”, he wrote, “we must assign precise functions to the communities within a country”; for the same reason he considered it necessary to develop the cosmopolitan aspect of federalism.
To conclude, we can state that the theme of peace is the connecting link between the political thought of Christian inspiration and that federalism which we call institutional or supranational, federalism as it applies to international relations. The link with personalism and the theme of regionalism and, more generally, of autonomies, involves the other meaning of federalism, which we could call integral, global or infrastate federalism.
*This is part of the report “Federalism: philosophical bases, historical experiences and political practice” presented by the author at a meeting organized by the European People’s Party, held in Vienna on April 23-24, 1987, on the theme “Doctrine of the Christian Democrat political action”.