political revue


Year XXXVIII, 1996, Number 2 - Page 71



The End of Politics?
Many people argue nowadays that the state, intended as the organisation of a people on a territory for the pursuit of the common good, has entered irreversibly into a crisis. The process of globalisation is held to be undermining the territorial basis of human relationships, and removing an increasing number of functions from the state, transferring them to regional groups with weak institutional structures and to international organisations of a functional nature. At the same time, it is argued that the state is being replaced by a complex of global networks, through which, by means of the circulation of information, and the realisation of transactions and trade in services, interests of an exclusively sectorial nature are promoted, which will no longer find in politics, and in particular in democratic institutions, a moment of mediation. According to this view, together with the state, the very idea of legitimacy would be obliterated, to be replaced by a muddle of rules from different sources and contradictory in their content, which would mark the beginning of a sort of second Middle Ages for humanity, starting in its most advanced part. Institutions, as concerns their responsibility for pursuing the common interest, and borders, as the territorial demarcations of the exercise of sovereignty, would be replaced by an undefined situation of the diffusion of power, in which there would tend to disappear every unique and exclusive point of reference for consensus and every border between territorial areas in which relationships among citizens can be organised along precise rules.
This trend, it is argued, would be accompanied by an apparently opposite one, which would compensate for the indifference of the former trend regarding collective values and the social and cultural uprooting which it would bring about. This second trend is represented by an exasperated stress on real or presumed “community” identities, of an ethnic, religious or cultural nature, whose purpose would be to restore to individuals the sense of belonging to a group that is united by deep ties, and that is able to give each of its members the awareness of creating with the others a “we” that sets everyone free from the anxiety of loneliness and from the dizzying sense of responsibility. This is held to be the common denominator of the religious fundamentalisms which exist in some Third World countries, the closed communities that are undermining the unity of American society, the micro-nationalism of the separatist movements of Eastern and Western Europe, and the sects which flourish in all parts of the world. Yet these movements born in reaction to globalisation reveal in practice the same features of the trend which they believe to be opposing: and in fact they have no precise reference to a territory (and this is also true for the micro-nationalist movements which, because of the transient and contradictory nature of the “ethnic” pretensions they refer to, work exclusively as factors of disintegration for existing state structures and not as agents for the creation of new state structures); they do not even bother to consider the problem of elaborating their own idea of the common good, but confine themselves to fomenting the exercise of violence by stimulating instincts of a tribal nature; and they are therefore in their turn indicators of a serious crisis of politics and democratic institutions.
Therefore, on the one hand, the global information society, by its de facto overcoming of the state as the natural framework of the political debate with regard to the promotion of the general interest, would repress all dialogue which was not confined to the exchange of data for the promotion of particular interests; while, on the other hand, the development of the “community” phenomenon, in its various aspects, would deny the very legitimacy of the idea of the general interest, by subordinating it to the violent assertion of “identities” whose nature is unclear and which are unable in their turn to communicate.
Out of this would arise an ambiguous situation of “neither peace nor war” (since only a sovereign state based on a specific territory can guarantee peace and make war), but in which the disappearance of the very ideas of sovereignty and the common good would be the premise of the development of a widespread and generalised violence, which would be as (if not more) destructive than war among the states, and which would co-exist with the sterile and impersonal reality of the global information networks. In this way, we would be heading toward the end of politics.
In reality, behind the seeming objectivity of this forecast, these theories hide a very real rejection of politics and the state, a resignation to the progressive transformation of man into being the tool of his tools, the abandoning of any semblance of will to submit history to the control of reason, and the conscious option for chaos against all forms of peaceful and democratic order.
It is significant that these insidious trends, albeit in moderate and attenuated forms, are gaining currency also in pro-European circles, or at least in circles close to Europeanism. Many people tend to fall back on the idea that the construction of Europe is not a political problem but a technical one, which will not render the democratic mobilisation of citizens necessary, nor lie at the heart of damaging contrasts between different conceptions of the common good. The litmus test of this attitude is the strong resistance to recognising that the construction of Europe will bring about the foundation of a new state. It is this resistance which explains the definition of the European Union by one of its foremost champions, the eminent European Jacques Delors, as “an unidentified political object”. And it is this same resistance which underpins the widely-accepted theory, according to which in the case of Europe, the traditional opposition between confederation and federation would no longer have any reason to exist, since, in its definitive form, the European Union will represent a totally new political formation, which will be neither one nor the other. In this way the problem of sovereignty is made to disappear as if by means of a conjuring trick, since it is not ascribed to the national states (as would be the case if the Union were to become a confederation) nor to Europe (as would be the case if it were to become a federation). Yet along with sovereignty, the last point of reference of consensus, the bond represented by the awareness of belonging to a single community of destiny, and therefore the very idea of citizenship, are made to disappear. The logical conclusion of this tendency is the eclipse of politics as the pursuit of the common good and the end of democracy.
The federalists must be rigorous on this point. The Europe we are fighting for is a federal state. Its creation will therefore bring about a transfer of sovereignty and a radical change in the internal and external balances of power of the states that will be involved in it. Its realisation will undergo major opposition and will involve a hard and difficult struggle, whose consequences it would be useless and irresponsible to try and avoid with purely linguistic tricks.
This definition of our objective presupposes the belief that the current phase of the globalisation process, which has made it possible to think of scenarios such as that described above, marks without doubt a period of crisis for politics. Yet equally that this crisis is not the crisis of the state tout court, but of a historic form of state: the national state. Therefore the crisis of politics is not definitive and is not removed from the remedial intervention of conscious human will. Moreover, the United States of America has demonstrated that the federal organisation of democracy on a continental scale has been possible since the end of the 18th century. There is no reason why not to believe that the same thing should be possible today, first in Europe and then in other regions of the world, until the achievement of a world federation. Similarly, there is no reason not to believe that mankind, instead of abandoning itself to the brutality of tribalism, should be able, albeit through a long and difficult process, to organise co-habitation peacefully over a range of differently-sized territorial communities, in which all people can re-gain a deep sense of belonging based on the civil commitment of everyone to the solution of common problems according to the rules of democracy.
Certainly, in addition to its peaceful side, the state has a bellicose one as well. Where the state exists, there exists raison d’état, with the conflicts that this brings about. And the path towards the world federation remains long. Therefore, we must not forget that the creation of the European federation will be the beginning, and not the end, of a process, and that Europe will have to interact with other great continental formations, which will probably also progressively adopt a genuine federal nature, and each will have its own interests to defend in a context that will lack any mechanism for legally solving disputes. It is true that it will be possible to achieve federalism only on a world scale, and that its entrance into history will tend to render unstable any intermediate state formations, by keeping alive the flame of world federal government and limiting the excesses of raison d’état. In the same way it is foreseeable that the balance that the European federation will help to establish, also thanks to the constant increase of interdependence and to the generalisation of the awareness of the collective nature of security, will be more peaceful and stable than the current one, and that the division of the world into a few great federal blocs will strengthen that embryo of world government which is represented by the United Nations. Yet it is also true that awareness advances slowly through history, that the ties of interdependence which have always united the states among themselves (even if in different spheres and with different degrees of intensity in different historical situations) have never prevented wars, and that therefore any perspective of improving the world balance after the creation of the European federation does not authorise us to disregard Kant’s lesson that peace is the state, and that the establishment of perpetual peace presupposes the creation of a world federal state.
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