Year LII, 2010, Single Issue, Page 15



Francesco Rossolillo’s Contribution to Federalist Culture
The two volumes in which Giovanni Vigo recently collected the fundamental writings of Francesco Rossolillo,[1] who died on February 24, 2005 at the age of 67, bear witness to the enormous value of Rossolillo’s contribution to federalist culture, which was bound up with his incomparable militant commitment to the struggle for a European federation. The questions that most deeply occupied Rossolillo were: the course of history and its relationship with political action, revolution, the meaning of popular sovereignty, European federalism and its relationship with territorial planning, the strategy of the fight for a united Europe, and the role to be played by the federalists; he also analysed and interpreted the major political and cultural events that a federalist militant must be able to come to grips with if the national perspective is to be replaced by the federalist one. These writings, which appeared between 1960 and 2005, provide essential support to anyone striving to gain a full understanding of the extraordinary intellectual and political experience, still very much alive, of those federalists who had Mario Albertini as their guide. To provide readers of The Federalist with a taste of this work, I will endeavour in the following pages to illustrate, albeit necessarily schematically, one of what I consider to be Rossolillo’s essential contributions to federalist thought. To do this, I must start by defining precisely one of the key aspects of federalist philosophy developed by Altiero Spinelli and Mario Albertini, so that I may then try to give an idea of the important leap forwards that, in my view, Rossolillo subsequently made.
Spinelli is the founding father of federalism understood as an active political philosophy, i.e. as a theory that can be translated into a concrete, political commitment aimed at changing reality. As Norberto Bobbio pointed out,[2] the author of the Ventotene Manifesto is indeed responsible for the quantum leap made by the idea of European federation, that is, for transforming it into an out-and-out political programme. In other words, it was he who established an organic link between the theoretical clarification, extremely penetrating and far-reaching, of the reasons why a European federation is necessary and the precise political-strategic and also organisational principles that must guide a political movement whose objective is to realise supranational federalism.
On the theoretical side, Spinelli’s ideas[3] may be summed up essentially in his view that the building of a European federation should take precedence over efforts to move the nation-states towards liberal and democratic values and social justice. He regarded the building of peace through the European federation — seen as the first historical milestone of, and driving force for, the ultimate objective of world federation — as the unavoidable path of historical progress. Basically, Spinelli concluded the debate begun earlier by Luigi Einaudi and by the British federalists at the time of the two World Wars, who had identified the historical crisis of the system of sovereign nation-states as the root cause of the evils of the contemporary world.[4] Reducing the concept to very simple terms, the crisis of the nation-state stems from the contradiction between, on the one hand, the expanding world of industrial production that, being characterised by an increasing level of supranational interdependence, creates a need for states of continental dimensions and thus constitutes a force for the unification of mankind, and, on the other, the narrow and historically superseded dimensions of Europe’s nation-states. It is, fundamentally, this contradiction that gave rise to the World Wars and to Nazi totalitarianism, which must be seen as the structural elements, fundamental and interlinked, of an attempt to impose a hegemonic-imperial model as a solution to the problem of European unity. Whereas the system based on absolute national sovereignty prevented the achievement of socio-economic and political progress in Europe, the collapse of the power of the European nation-states opened up the way for their peaceful unification, which, according to Spinelli, must be pursued as the primary political objective, and thus take priority over efforts to reform the nation-states internally. Unless the condition of international anarchy can be overcome, through the founding of a European federation, the states’ inadequacy vis-à-vis the basic supranational problems and the endemic conflicts that go hand-in-hand with absolute sovereignty will inevitably undermine any liberal, democratic and social progress, and allow new and terrifying catastrophes to wipe out civilisation. Hence the new dichotomy — declared in the 1941 Ventotene Manifesto — between the forces of progress and those of conservation, a dichotomy that does not reflect the traditional division between the wish for more as opposed to less freedom, equality, and social justice within the single nation-states,[5] but rather the line that separates the defenders of absolute national sovereignty from those who would like to see absolute national sovereignty overcome through supranational federalism — the only system capable of managing, democratically and peacefully, the interdependence generated by the Industrial Revolution.
Spinelli’s theory on the supremacy of supranational federalism over the objectives indicated by the modern world’s great emancipatory ideologies (which, from the Enlightenment onwards have pointed out the path of mankind’s progress) is, as already mentioned, combined with a political-strategic-organisational argument that clarifies the conditions necessary to ensure that the struggle for a European federation can be conducted in a pragmatic way (in other words, overcoming the essentially utopian approach that had up until that point prevailed). To convey its essence, this argument (already largely contained in the Ventotene Manifesto but refined by Spinelli in the immediate post-war years in order to get the fight for a European federation effectively off the ground) can be summed up in the idea that the democratic national governments are, at once, both instruments of and obstacles to European unification.[6] They are instruments in two ways. First, the peaceful and democratic building of European unity (as opposed to the hegemonic imperial unification of Europe) must obviously be based on decisions freely reached by democratic governments. Above all, however, there is a powerful and enduring historical factor that favours the European democratic governments’ pursuit of a policy of supranational unification: the fact that the structural crisis of the nation-state presented them with a clear choice, i.e. to “unite or perish”, and therefore created a deep-seated need to guarantee lasting peaceful cooperation as a condition for continued socio-economic, civil and political progress. However, while, from this perspective, the democratic national governments may be seen as instruments of European unification, they also clearly constitute obstacles to it, given the structural tendency of power (already illustrated by Machiavelli) to perpetuate itself. Achieving democratic and effective European unity means building a federation and, therefore, transferring a substantial amount of power away from the national institutions into the hands of the supranational ones. It is thus to be expected that the classes in whose hands national political power lies will tend obstinately to hold onto this power and will be inclined to favour confederal forms of international cooperation rather than supranational federalism.
For the federalist struggle, this situation, characterising the problem of European unification, has three fundamental implications.
The first is the absolute need for the formation and sustained action of a political subject that, being entirely independent of the governments and national parties, has the capacity to push them to do that which, spontaneously, they are unable to do, in other words, to move beyond the internationalist-confederal limits of their European policy. There thus has to emerge an active federalist force that has supranational federal unification as its sole objective. This must be a force that strives for the union of all those who, despite differences in their ideological inclinations (which will nevertheless fall within the spectrum of the emancipatory ideologies), share this objective; that has a supranational structure (so as to be able to impose a single programme and a single discipline on all Europe’s federalists); and finally that is able to mobilise public opinion despite remaining outside the struggle for national power.
Second, as regards the procedure for achieving European unity, the federalists, rather than having recourse to the usual intergovernmental conference method, must insist on a democratic constituent assembly (drawing inspiration from the Philadelphia Convention, which, in 1787, drew up the Constitution of the United States of America — history’s first federal state). The protagonists of the IGC approach are representatives of the governments; their decisions, taken by secret vote, must be unanimous and their proposals (draft treaties) ratified unanimously by the states involved in the unification process. In this system, instances of nationalistic resistance can prove an obstacle to coherent and decisive federal outcomes. A supranational constituent assembly, on the other hand, is made up of representatives of the European citizens (who, having experienced the impotence and inadequacy of the nation-states, are mostly in favour of an effective and democratic union); conversely, its decisions are transparent and taken by majority, and provision is made for their ratification by majority. All this makes federal outcomes possible.
The third strategic line for the federalist struggle, identified by Spinelli, is to exploit the contradictions thrown up by the European integration that the governments are forced, by the structural crisis of the nation-states, to pursue. Indeed, because the tendency of power to perpetuate itself leads to inadequate functionalist and confederal choices and indefinite postponement of federal unification, European federation is not the automatic outcome of the integration process. This process feeds serious contradictions that manifest themselves mainly in inefficiency and a democratic deficit. The inefficiency derives from the fact that the institutions of integrated Europe, which, ultimately, are founded on decisions reached unanimously by the national governments, are weak and have shown themselves to be incapable of functioning adequately in testing times, when the problems to be tackled are particularly difficult. This means that in critical situations the advances achieved in more favourable times are thrown into question. In this context, the continued failure to meet the expectations generated by the ongoing process of European integration generates frustration that could, and should, be transformed into support for federal solutions. The democratic deficit, on the other hand, is linked to the fact that, in the absence of genuinely federal institutions, crucially important decisions are referred to supranational level, in spite of the fact that no fully democratic system has been created at this level. This state of affairs is bound to produce unease within democratically-oriented parties and sections of public opinion, and this, again, is a sentiment that could be directed towards the idea of a supra-national (i.e. federal) form of democracy. Therefore, the federalist strategy, implemented through the exertion of pressure stemming from a mobilisation of the citizens, must be to strive constantly to exploit these inherent contradictions of European integration and the critical situations to which they inevitably give rise, in order to trigger a democratic constituent procedure and, through it, obtain a European federal constitution.
This, essentially, is Spinelli’s federalist position and it is important to underline that it was the innovative and watertight nature of his argument that provided the foundations for the creation of a political movement (the European Federalist Movement, MFE) that, entirely independent of the traditional political organisations, succeeded not only in assuming its own personality and role, but also, by leading a supranational European front, in having a real influence on the process of European unification.[7]
Our next step is to consider Mario Albertini’s fundamentally important development of Spinelli’s position. Indeed, by adding to and probing several aspects of Spinelli’s arguments, Albertini too made a decisive contribution to the advance of the federalist battle.
Summarising his contribution,[8] it can be said, first of all, that it reflects a deep commitment to the building of a truly and permanently autonomous federalist political force, in other words a force capable of steering all Europeanist organisations, but also all the Europeanists present within parties, socio-economic organisations and the cultural sphere, in the direction of an effective battle for a constituent assembly and, from that, a European federation. Albertini, who in 1960 replaced Spinelli at the helm of the MFE, was, on both a theoretical and a practical level, the moving spirit behind this drive for federalist autonomy that, in very essential terms, is based on three principles: one political, one organisational, and the other financial.[9]
The first principle, that of political autonomy, is illustrated by the refusal of the body of militants leading and managing the MFE to identify with any single national party. This choice allowed them, at opportune moments, to establish extremely useful relationships (collaborations and tactical alliances) with the democratic parties, yet without ever jeopardising the movement’s complete autonomy. The second principle is related to the selection and training of militants. The main concern was to avoid the conditioning influences to which a cumbersome and costly administrative apparatus would have exposed the movement; indeed, had it had such an apparatus it would inevitably have depended largely on external funding in order to survive. It was thus decided that all federalist militants should be “part-time” militants, in other words, individuals with jobs of their own that guaranteed them economic independence but that also left them sufficient free time to devote to their federalist activities. In this way it proved possible to create an inexpensive organisation that was thus totally immune to pressure or coercion by political or economic forces. The third and final principle is that of the movement’s financial autonomy. Indeed, when the MFE was established it was made clear that its members would be self-funding. What this meant, in real terms, was that MFE members were always aware that their federalist work would never bring them financial reward and, indeed, would likely cost them money. This understanding, which immediately became the financial basis of the MFE’s autonomy, did not preclude it from receiving external funding, but it was established that such funding would be used above all, to pay for specific actions. Meanwhile, the organisation’s permanent structure has always run on its “own resources”, a fact that has strengthened its impermeability to external influences.
Going beyond all this, however, Albertini’s great insight was to see that this autonomy (political, organisational, and financial) enjoyed by the MFE actually stemmed from its cultural autonomy, which he went on, brilliantly, to define. He realised that only a strong cultural motivation (together with a strong moral compass of course), in other words, only the absolute conviction that the federalist doctrine (compared with prevailing political ideas) really did have something new to say — something of real value, capable of furthering understanding of the historical situation —, could, in fact, sustain a long-term, often burdensome and difficult endeavour, conducted not for power or financial reward, in a number of militants great enough to constitute an independent federalist force with the capacity to influence reality. The remarkable contribution of Albertini was to provide a detailed theoretical analysis of federalism that highlighted this motivation and enriched, beyond measure, federalist thought. It is, at this point, important to consider, albeit briefly, the two most significant results of this theoretical analysis.
First of all, Albertini levelled a radical criticism at the concept of nation.[10] Indeed, developing some of Proudhon’s ideas, he showed that nations are not entities that pre-date the nation-states, but rather an ideological reflection of people’s sense of belonging to the states, bureaucratic and centralised, that emerged in continental Europe in the wake of the French Revolution. In short, according to Albertini, the sense of nation that is prevalent in populations was not a premise for the formation of the nation-states, but rather a consequence of their creation, and of the creation of political programmes designed to impose unity of language, culture and traditions across state territories. The result of all this was the systematic destruction of spontaneous nationalities, in other words, of the sense of belonging to natural communities (meaning the territorial dimensions of individuals’ birth, life and death — the nations in the etymological sense of the term), and the transfer, to the state, of the individual’s sense of belonging, in order to create the exclusive loyalism characteristic of the nation-state, and, therefore, the basis of aggressive foreign policies.
By criticising the idea of nation, Albertini was trying to overcome a major limit of the political ideologies — liberal, democratic and socialist — held by the democratic political parties of Europe. These ideologies are universalistic and therefore, in principle, favourable to supranational unification. At the same time, however, they tend to mythicise the nation-states, which are seen more as “natural” institutions, in that they are founded on “pre-existing” nations (but as pointed out this is an ideological self-mystification), than as historically determined and thus historically supersedable institutions. Thus, in a structural sense (but also because of the tendency of national parties to cling on to the power they hold), these ideologies tend to interpret supranational power more as cooperation between nation-states than as the overcoming of absolute national sovereignty.
It must be underlined that Albertini’s theoretical work — his demystification of the ideology of nation — constitutes a hugely important development of Spinelli’s federalist thought. Indeed, although Spinelli’s ideas revolve around the concept of the historical crisis of the sovereign nation-state and what he considers the instruments and concrete political actions through which to pursue the overcoming of this institutional system, the founder of the MFE actually failed to provide a scientific criticism of the idea of nation, which is its ideological basis.
In addition to this important contribution to federalist thought, Albertini made another even more significant one, which also overcomes a limit in Spinelli’s argument. As shown earlier, Spinelli’s main theoretical line is his idea that the struggle for supranational federalism should take priority over efforts to transform the states internally, i.e. to move them towards liberal, and democratic values and social justice. This idea implies that federalism is the answer to the crucial challenges thrown up by the historical process driven by the late Industrial Revolution, and it thus indicates the path of historical progress in a period coinciding with the weakening of the forces unleashed by the great emancipatory ideologies born of the Enlightenment. However, this vision is accompanied by an excessively narrow idea of the federalist doctrine, which Spinelli sees essentially as the theory of the federal state, in other words as a constitutional method allowing the peaceful coexistence of a group of independent and coordinated governments. This framing does not really match up to the conviction that federalism represents the path of historical progress. This latter affirmation, to have a solid basis, needs to be supported by a definition, in the body of federalist doctrine, of the specific guiding value of federalist engagement and of its relationship with the values upheld by the emancipatory ideologies from which federalism is descended. The doctrine should also contain a clear and strong vision of the historical process, which brings out the value of federalism as a valid political response to the crucial challenges of our times and indicates the conceptual instruments that can be used to tackle, in a rigorous manner, the problem of understanding the historical process. Here, once again, Albertini, showing great insight, offers clarification, arguing that federalism, far from being merely the theory of the federal state, is itself a fully-fledged political ideology and thus on a par with liberalism, democracy and socialism. Federalism, however, not only contains, in the body of its doctrine, the fundamental ideas proposed by the modern world’s great emancipatory ideologies, it also manages to overcome their limits and to arrive at a more satisfactory understanding of the fundamental problems of our age.[11]
According to this vision, federalism, like the other ideologies, is characterised primarily by a value: whereas liberalism has freedom as its ultimate objective, democracy has equality, and socialism social justice, the ultimate objective of federalism is peace. And peace is not an alternative to these other values; on the contrary, it incorporates them at a higher level, given that the elimination of international anarchy (which implies the subordination of all other values to the need for state security) is the essential condition for the full expression of freedom, equality and social justice; in short, for the possibility of eliminating all forms of subordination of men by men. In this way, Albertini takes up the fundamental political, legal and historical-philosophical ideas of Kant (the height of the Enlightenment), which have been made relevant to our times by the crisis of the nation-states and the growing interdependence of human action beyond national boundaries, of which European integration is the most advanced manifestation.[12] Albertini regards these phenomena as the premises for the pursuit of world federation, that is, for the realisation of perpetual peace. And he also adds, with searing clarity, that the overcoming of exclusive national loyalism through European federation would start to put an end to the culture of the political division of mankind, which implicitly legitimises the duty to kill for the nation, and indeed constitute an affirmation of the right not to kill, with a view to its full affirmation through world federation. The World Wars, the discovery of nuclear weapons, and the growth of international interdependence all suggest that Kant’s prediction is coming true: he believed, in fact, that only direct experience of the devastation of war, combined with mankind’s innate commercial spirit (implying the growth of interdependence), would induce states to renounce their “wild freedom” and submit to a common law.
Federalism also has a characteristic structural aspect, the federal state being indicated as the form of organisation of power that makes it possible to overcome the closed and centralised structures of the nation-state. This can be achieved both below and above the level of the state: in the first case through the formation of truly autonomous regional and local bodies of government, and in the second through the creation of effective supranational forms of political and social solidarity. In addition, it is necessary to consider a historical-social aspect of federalism. Briefly, the overcoming of mankind’s division into antagonistic classes and nations creates the possibility of realising the pluralism typical of the federal society, summed up in the principle of unity in diversity; in this way, the historical setting is seen to be capable of allowing the realisation of a value through an appropriate power structure. Indeed, in federal societies, loyalty to society as a whole co-exists, in a non-hierarchical relationship, with loyalty to smaller territorial communities (regions, provinces, cities, districts). The fact that this social balance has been developed only partially in the federal societies that have existed to date has two explanations. First, the class struggle (which can be overcome only through the full development of the scientific revolution, and thus the overcoming of the proletarian condition) has caused the sense of being part of a given social class to prevail over all other forms of social solidarity, preventing other, deep-rooted strong bonds of solidarity from forming in regional and local communities. Second, the struggle between the states on the international stage (which can be eliminated only through the unification of the whole world, a process beginning with European federation) has resulted in a strengthening of central power at the expense of local powers.[13]
It is worth adding that Albertini, with regard to the idea of federalism as an ideology, also provides a highly convincing timeline of the phases in the development of federalist thought. The first phase, running from the French Revolution to the First World War, saw the affirmation, albeit only at the level of principles, of the concept of federalism as a cosmopolitan community, as a counter-response to the authoritarian and bellicose character of the nation-state. In the second phase, which began before the start of the Second World War, the criteria of federalism were used to interpret the crisis of the nation-state and of the European system of powers. In the third phase, which began after the Second World War and is still unfolding, we are seeing the conceptual schemes and political and institutional instruments of federalism being applied in order to solve the crisis of Europe.
The creation of a European federation thus emerges as the crucial event of our times, or rather as the first affirmation of the federalist course of history that will culminate in the full realisation of peace through the federation of the world. Federalism is thus called upon to play, in our times, a role similar to that played in the past by the liberal, democratic and socialist ideologies: through its development and affirmation of the culture of peace, federalism offers society a model capable of providing an answer to the greatest problems of our age (from the problems of global interdependence to security and environmental problems, which demand both an environment-friendly transformation of the economic model and a multilayer system of territorial government), and thus makes it possible for us, once again, to envisage the future, a future that the traditional ideologies, having lost their revolutionary impetus, no longer allow us to see.[14]
Albertini’s conviction that federalism is, in the sense we have seen, an ideology opens up a vast field for theoretical reflection and analytical endeavour, both of which are necessary in order to demonstrate that this conviction rests on solid and rigorous foundations. This is the field in which Francesco Rossolillo conducted his intellectual work: the concept of federalism as an ideology, which he helped enormously to clarify, is, indeed, the main thread running through his writings. In my view, the most important aspect of Rossolillo’s contribution, which I will here highlight, is his effort to develop a position on the question of the course of history and its relationship with political action, which is indeed the title of his most important essay and also the title given to the collection of his works.[15]
It must first be made clear that the course of history and its relationship with political action is a question that the concept of federalism as an ideology cannot avoid treating. If one is convinced that federalism represents, in technical and practical terms, the direction of progress, i.e. of the advance towards a better world, then one must develop a criterion for judging what “better” and “worse” mean, so as to be able to establish what progress actually corresponds to. To do this, one must, first of all, reject relativism and recognise the existence, as a crucial point of reference, of absolute values founded in the essence of the human person, thereby linking progress with the idea that history should be progressing inexorably (albeit asymptotically and with periodic backward steps) towards the realisation of the values that make up the essence of the human person. If this is clear, then the crucial task becomes that of tackling this whole question, which lies firmly in the realm of philosophy, in a convincing and rigorous way. In this regard, Rossolillo, through his reflections, made a contribution that federalists cannot ignore and whose essential lines I here attempt to present.
I begin by quoting a passage from the essay Federalismo ed emancipazione umana, which was written in 1990, but contains a declaration of the faith on which Rossolillo based his philosophical reflection from 1966 onwards. “Anyone who decides to become involved in politics in order to work towards a better world — and not with the desire to place himself centre stage or to gain power — makes, however consciously, a dual declaration of faith. He must believe that the word ‘better’, virtually at least, means the same for all men, both living and to come, in other words that it indicates situations closer than the present one to a model of coexistence founded on universally shared values. This means that he must also believe in the existence of absolute values. These beliefs must necessarily be accompanied by the conviction that the course of history brings the progressive realisation of these values, because to anyone fighting to transform the conditions of mankind’s coexistence it is clearly unthinkable that the results of his efforts within the chain of events might be the cause of irreversible regressions or backward steps in the process of mankind’s emancipation, which is what would be the case if history were just a tumultuous and casual succession of contradictory, and thus meaningless, events.”[16]
According to Rossolillo (who in this regard probes and develops points present in the teaching of Albertini), the basis on which it is possible to build a convincing position on the course of history is provided by Kant’s philosophy of history, which thus becomes an integral and fundamental part of the view of federalism as an ideology. What basically emerges from Kant’s reflections[17]is that the course of history — dominated by the tension between reason and instinct — is determined by the construction, in a process of endless progress, of a world based on reason and moral autonomy. The milestones of historical progress are: the creation of the state that, overcoming the wild freedom that characterises mankind’s natural state, eradicates within its own confines all violence between men; the republican transformation of the state, which in concrete terms means liberal and democratic progress; and peace, i.e. the elimination of violence in international relations thanks to the overcoming, through the federation, of the wild freedom of the states (that is, of their absolute sovereignty): this progress will make it possible to realise, fully, the republican regime — it will eradicate the problem of security as the primary concern (the rule of raison d’état imposed by international anarchy) — and thus to enter the realm of ends, in other words, the community in which all men will always treat other men as ends and not means, the condition in which the essence of man founded on reason and moral autonomy will reach its full expression.
The driving force of historical progress understood in this way lies in the dialectic between reason and instinct: in the language of Kant, historical progress is the fruit of a “design of nature” driven by the objective factor of “unsociable sociableness”. Briefly, to survive as a species men are obliged to enter into increasingly close and intense relations with one another, a circumstance that inevitably triggers conflicts and, at the same time, the need to overcome conflicts, again to guarantee the survival of the species. This is the source of the driving force of progress as it advances through the stages that will ultimately lead to its goal: perpetual peace.
As already indicated in reference to Albertini, Kant, too, provides explicit and truly enlightening insights with regard to the objective driving force for peace that derives from man’s unsociable sociableness. It is the combination of his commercial spirit and thus his growing interdependence (which implies both advantages and conflicts), spreading gradually to the entire world, with the increasing destructiveness of wars (which is linked to relentless scientific and technical progress) that ultimately sets mankind on the road to his own destruction and raises the need to realise a general and effective system of resolving conflicts peacefully.
As Albertini clarified, Kant’s philosophy of history brings out the essential structure underlying the vision of the historical process on which the idea of federalism as an ideology is built. Rossolillo, however, also sees a need to identify and shed light on the theoretical foundations of Kant’s view of history as progress. To do this, he analyses and clarifies the connection between Kant’s philosophy of history and his moral philosophy.
Kant’s moral philosophy is based, fundamentally, on the idea that while the a priori (transcendental) categories of pure reason constitute the irreplaceable basis of knowledge, the irreplaceable basis of moral obligation (of practical reason) is provided, instead, by the categorical imperative, or the duty to act out of duty itself, which, being the content of conscience, is non-demonstrable, but nevertheless a factor without which it becomes meaningless to talk of moral obligation and of morality. The categorical imperative, which encompasses three maxims of morality: the universality of the law, the duty always to treat men as ends and never as means, and the imperative to act in accordance with the “kingdom of ends”, is the basis of the theory of the supremacy of practical reason that Kant uses as his starting point for identifying, in Critique of Practical Reason, its three known postulates: the immortality of the soul, the freedom of the will, and the existence of God.[18]
According to Rossolillo, this approach is taken further in the final part of Critique of Judgement which reads: “The concept of the ultimate purpose is solely a concept of our practical reason; it cannot be derived from data of experience with a view to formulating a theoretical judgement on nature, nor can we apply it to our knowledge of the same. There is no possible use for this concept, other than in the ambit of practical reason according to moral laws; and the ultimate purpose of creation is that constitution of the world that coincides with what we are able to indicate as determined according to laws, that is, with the ultimate purpose of our pure practical reason, insofar as it is practical. Now, thanks to this moral law, which imposes this ultimate purpose on us, we have, from a practical point of view, which means that we can apply our forces to its realisation, the basis of the possibility, or realisability, of that ultimate purpose and therefore also… a nature of things that is compatible with all of this.”[19]
Kant’s argument, basically, is that morality and nature (or rather morality and history, understood as the process whose unfolding creates the conditions allowing morality to emerge) tend to co-exist. According to Rossolillo, then, there is a fourth postulate of practical reason that, albeit not made explicit, coincides with the idea that history is endless progress towards the formation of a world in which the full meaning of morality emerges: were it otherwise, moral obligation would be stripped of its reason for being and destined to sink in the meaninglessness of a world devoid of significance and prospects.
Rossolillo also seeks to combine Kant’s position with a more adequate vision of the role of conscious human action in the historical process. Kant indicates that the tendency of history and morality to converge is the result of a natural design (which exploits the unsociable sociableness of men), but he fails to specify the point at which the human person, prompted by a moral imperative, intervenes. This is a limit that can be attributed to the historical period, given that Kant was developing his philosophy of history at a time when the active role of men (and thus of men’s moral obligation) in the historical process was only just beginning to emerge (the French Revolution indeed provides the first example of this). In short, given that it made its appearance with the Enlightenment, the experience of men actively seeking to change the world was yet to become widespread. By this we mean the experience of trying make the world progress by applying, to society, a political philosophy, i.e. the liberal and democratic ideologies (and also the socialist one in its embryonic form). Indeed, the material basis of this experience lies in the Industrial Revolution, which was not even on the horizon during Kant’s lifetime.
 Therefore, Kant’s philosophy of history leaves a large gap between moral obligation and the historical process. Moral obligation is understood only as absolute morality (the categorical imperative), as it had yet to be appreciated how morality can, through the conscious action of individuals, become an agent of historical change.
Rossolillo maintains that this limit of Kant’s theory can be transcended by combining Kant’s philosophy of history with the moral theory of Max Weber, who introduced the distinction between absolute ethics (or the ethics of principles), and the ethics of responsibility.[20] The latter, unlike the former (which imply obeying the call of conscience regardless of the consequences of the resulting action), imposes the pursuit of an end, and thus the need to take into account the possible and predictable consequences, in relation to that end, of any actions taken. It reflects the fact that with the arrival of the Industrial Revolution man acquired the possibility (non-existent in the framework of the previous modes of production) of mastering reality, and thus of trying to determine it.
The ethics of responsibility may thus be seen as the means through which moral obligation becomes an agent of history and, as such, a conscious instrument of its progressive development. Like the morality of conviction before it, it has a view — even though in Weber, who had a relativist Weltanschauung, this does not emerge — of history as indefinite progress towards a better condition: precisely because of its affirmation that (within defined limits) the end justifies the means, it raises, primarily, the problem of the basis on which to justify ends that forfeit the purity of the categorical imperative; for this reason, it must inevitably be accompanied by a rigorous view of the historical process as indefinite progress towards a better condition: “We are in fact aware that the consequences of our actions will, in turn, have other consequences that will escape our control: if we thought these further consequences would be degenerative (at least definitively degenerative), and thus that the course of history were casual, we would never be morally legitimised in transgressing the imperatives of the ethics of principles, in uttering even a single lie, in the name of an ultimate purpose that, in the historical chain of events, might, in its turn, become the cause of catastrophes, wars and pain.”[21]
This view, whose substance I have endeavoured to show, of the link between Kant’s philosophy of history and his moral philosophy — in particular of the progressive concept of history as the fourth (implicit) postulate of practical reason — and of the way in which Kant’s ideas can be integrated with Weber’s distinction between the ethics of principles and the ethics of responsibility, constitutes, in my view, Rossolillo’s fundamental contribution to clarifying the concept of federalism as an ideology. He offers a close examination of an aspect of the federalist philosophy that, while still requiring further work — federalism is, Rossolillo himself recognised, an evolving philosophy, a task far more than a result[22] — nevertheless represents an essential basis for those striving to arrive at a full understanding of the central role of federalism as a response to the challenges presented by our age.
A final remark. An argument like the federalist position according to Albertini’s school, which rejects relativism and thus believes in the existence of an essence of the human person (the basis of absolute values), in the quest for truth (on which no one clearly has the monopoly), and in history as indefinite progress towards a better world (which implies neither determinism, nor simplistic optimism), is in stark contrast to the currently extremely widespread tendencies towards forms of relativism, scepticism, or “weak thought” that see totalitarian overtones in all attempts to achieve global historical-social understanding and, therefore, in any view of history as progress. These tendencies, in reality, are a passive reflection of the crisis of the great emancipatory ideologies, of the inability to understand that, in the wake of the exhaustion of revolutionary impetus of these ideologies, it has become possible to understand progress, and, in a tangible way, to pursue it, through an ideology that overcomes this loss of impetus and indicates peace as the supreme political objective of our times.[23]

[1] Francesco Rossolillo, Senso della storia e azione politica (vol. I, Il senso della storia, vol. II, La battaglia per la Federazione europea), edited by Giovanni Vigo, Bologna, Il Mulino, 2009.
[2] Norberto Bobbio, Il federalismo nel dibattito politico e culturale della Resistenza (lecture given in Milan in 1973 on the occasion of the thirtieth anniversary of the foundation of the European Federalist Movement), published in Altiero Spinelli, Il Manifesto di Ventotene, Bologna, Il Mulino, 1991.
[3] See: Lucio Levi, “Altiero Spinelli, fondatore del movimento per l’unità europea”, in Altiero Spinelli and Ernesto Rossi, Il Manifesto di Ventotene. Preface by Eugenio Colorni, introduction by Tommaso Padoa-Schioppa, Milan, Mondadori, 2006; Piero Graglia, Altiero Spinelli, Bologna, Il Mulino, 2008; Sergio Pistone’s introduction to the anastatic reprint of Il Manifesto di Ventotene, edited by the Consulta Europea del Consiglio Regionale del Piemonte, Turin, Celid, 2007 (4th reprint).
[4] See: Altiero Spinelli, La crisi degli Stati nazionali, edited and with an introduction by Lucio Levi, Bologna, Il Mulino, 1991, and Lucio Levi, Il pensiero federalista, Bari, Laterza, 2002, English transl., Federalist Thinking, New York, University Press of America, 2008.
[5] It must be underlined that Spinelli is quite clear on the historical convergence of the liberal, democratic and socialist ideologies in the modern democratic state, which must also be both liberal and social. However, he overcomes the limits of the internationalism typical of these ideologies, which tend to see peace between states as an automatic consequence of the affirmation, within them, of liberal, democratic and socialist principles. On the federalist criticism of internationalism, see, in particular: Lucio Levi, L’internationalisme ne suffit pas. Internationalisme marxiste et fédéralisme, Lyon, Fédérop,1984; Id., “Internazionalismo”, in Enciclopedia delle Scienze Sociali, Rome, Istituto dell’Enciclopedia Italiana, 1996; Corrado Malandrino, Federalismo. Storia, idee, modelli, Rome, Carocci, 1998.
[6] Cf. Altiero Spinelli, La crisi degli Stati nazionali, edited and with an introduction by Sergio Pistone, Bologna, Il Mulino, 1989.
[7] I refer readers to my writings: The Union of European Federalists, Milan, Giuffrè, 2008 and “Altiero Spinelli and European Unification”, The European Union Review, n. 1 (2009), where I underline, in particular, that the fundamental advances of the process of European integration are also linked to the fact that it proved possible, by introducing some aspects of the Philadelphia model, to limit the exclusive monopoly of the governments with regard to the constituent function.
[8] Between 2006 and 2010 the full works of Mario Albertini were published in nine volumes: Tutti gli scritti, edited by Nicoletta Mosconi, Bologna, Il Mulino. Nicoletta Mosconi also edited two volumes collecting some of Albertini’s most important writings: Una rivoluzione pacifica. Dalle nazioni all’Europa and Nazionalismo e federalismo, Bologna, Il Mulino, 1999.
[9] In this regard, see, in particular: Francesco Rossolillo, “I rapporti fra politica e cultura nell’esperienza del MFE italiano”, Il Federalista, XXVI, n. 1 (1984); Il Movimento Federalista Europeo, pamphlet published by CESFER, Pavia, 1986; L’organizzazione della lotta federalista, pamphlet published by CESFER, Pavia, 1986; Sante Granelli, Movimento, partito o gruppo di pressione?, pamphlet published by CESFER, Pavia, 1993. Also: Lucio Levi, Sergio Pistone, Trent’anni di vita del Movimento Federalista Europeo, Milan, Franco Angeli, 1973; Sergio Pistone, “Il passaggio della leadership del Movimento Federalista Europeo da Altiero Spinelli a Mario Albertini”, and Giovanni Vigo, “Mario Albertini: l’azione militante”, in Fabio Zucca (editor), Europeismo e federalismo in Lombardia dal Risorgimento all’Unione Europea, Bologna, Il Mulino, 2007.
[10] Cf., in particular, Mario Albertini, Lo Stato nazionale, Milan, Giuffrè, 1960 (last ed. Bologna, Il Mulino, 1996), French transl., Lyon, Fédérop, 1978; Id., “Idea nazionale e ideali di unità supernazionale in Italia”, in Nuove questioni di storia del Risorgimento e dell’unità d’Italia, Milan, Marzorati,1961; Id., “Per un uso controllato della terminologia nazionale e supernazionale”, Il Federalista, n. 1 (1961); Id., Il Risorgimento e l’unità europea, Naples, Guida, 1979. For a framing of Albertini’s criticism of the idea of nation in theoretical and political debate on this topic, see Sergio Pistone, Friedrich Meinecke e la crisi dello Stato nazionale tedesco, Turin, Giappichelli, 1969, and Lucio Levi, Letture su Stato nazionale e nazionalismo, Turin, Celid, 1995.
[11] Cf., in particular, Il federalismo e lo Stato federale. Antologia e definizione, Milan, Giuffrè, 1963, republished with updates as Il federalismo, Bologna, Il Mulino, 1979 and 1993; Id., “Vers une théorie positive du fédéralisme”, Le Fédéraliste, 5, n. 4 (1963); Id., “L‘utopie’ d’Olivetti”, Le Fédéraliste, 7, n. 2 (1965); Id., Proudhon, Florence, Vallecchi, 1974. See also the chapter “Il federalismo come ideologia”, in Lucio Levi, Il pensiero federalista, cit. and Flavio Terranova, Il federalismo di Mario Albertini, Milan, Giuffrè, 2003. It is pointed out that the concept of ideology is used in this context not in the sense of a self-mystification (which dates back to Marx), but rather in the sense of a political doctrine, i.e. an active political philosophy that is geared at change and thus at the progress of human society.
[12] Cf. Immanuel Kant, La pace, la ragione e la storia, edited by Mario Albertini, Bologna, Il Mulino, 1985.
[13] It is underlined that in his work, clarifying the historical-social aspect of federalism, Albertini used a critical reworking of Marx’s theory of historical materialism and of the raison d’état theory, proposing, in particular, a synthesis of great heuristic value between the two approaches. In this regard, I refer readers to two essays by Luisa Trumellini, “Mario Albertini’s Reflections on a Critical Reworking of Historical Materialism” and “Mario Albertini’s Reflections on Kant’s Philosophy of History and its Integration with Historical Materialism”, published in The Federalist, 50, n. 1 (2008) and 51, n. 2 (2009). See also: Sergio Pistone, Politica di potenza e imperialismo. L’analisi dell’imperialismo alla luce della dottrina della ragion di Stato, Milan, Franco Angeli, 1973; Id. Ludwig Dehio, Naples, Guida, 1977; Id. Ragion di Stato, Relazioni internazionali, Imperialismo, Celid, 1984; Lucio Levi, Crisi dello Stato e governo del mondo, Turin, Giappichelli, 2005; Roberto Castaldi, Federalism and Material Interdependence, Milan, Giuffrè, 2008.
[14] The concept of federalism as an ideology has both points of contact and divergences with the concept of integral federalism (whose leading exponent was Alexandre Marc) which, as pointed out by Lucio Levi (Il pensiero federalista, op. cit. p. 126), must be recognised “the merit of starting, in the 1930s, a harsh criticism of the authoritarian aspects of the structure of the nation-state and of the ideology that supports it, and also a global reflection on federalism as an alternative to the crisis of our times”. On the other hand “its biggest theoretical limit is its failure, as a central concern, to work out the concepts needed to interpret the objective course of history… A federalist endeavour that refuses to settle for simply criticising (denying) reality, but that aims to succeed in its positive attempt to change the world must never allow itself to become detached from the real processes, but must participate in them actively in order to understand them. From this derives the requirement to define, within the ongoing historical process, objectives compatible with the historical conditions in of our times. Integral federalism is open to the same criticism that Marx and Engels levelled at “utopian socialism”, which, rather than seeking, within the historical process and its contradictions, elements favouring the affirmation of the socialist alternative, relied instead simply on the strength of ideas and of good intentions”. For an overview of integral federalism, see Alexandre Marc, Europa e federalismo globale, Florence, Il Ventilabro, 1996.
[15] Rossolillo’s essay Senso della storia e azione politica, Milan, Giuffrè, 1972, is republished in the collection of writings edited by Vigo. The topic treated in this essay is developed in many other writings collected by Vigo, and we recall in particular: “Considérations sur l’essai sur Lénine de Lukacs” (1966); “Quelques considérations sur le concept de sens de l’histoire” (1968); “Note sulla coscienza rivoluzionaria” (1970); “Il federalismo nella società industriale” (1984); “Il federalismo e le grandi ideologie” (1989); “Federalismo ed emancipazione umana” (1990); “Appunti sulla sovranità” (2001); “Il rivoluzionario” (2005).
[16] Senso della storia e azione politica, vol. I, op. cit., p. 657.
[17] In this regard, Kant’s fundamental essays are: Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Purpose; An Answer to the Question: ‘What is Enlightenment?’; Conjectures on the Beginning of Human History; On the Common Saying: That Might Be True in Theory, but it Does not Apply in Practice; Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch; A Renewed Attempt to Answer the Question: ‘Is the Human Race Continually Improving?’
[18] It must be specified that when Kant refers to God, what he has in mind in the rationalist theism of the Enlightenment, not the God-in-person of Christianity.
[19] Senso della storia e azione politica, op. cit., vol. I, pp. 45-46. On the overlap in Kant between the concept of the universal kingdom of ends and the concept of community, see Alberto Pirni, Kant filosofo della comunità, Pisa, Edizioni ETS, 2006.
[20] Cf. Max Weber, Politik als Beruf, a conference held in 1919 and published in the collection edited by Johannes Winckelmann, Gesammelte politische Schriften, Tübingen, J.C.B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck), 1958. In the Italian edition of “Politik als Beruf” (“La Politica come professione” in Il lavoro intellettuale come professione, Turin, Einaudi, 1948) the translator, Antonio Giolitti, renders the expression Gesinnungsethik (which corresponds to Verantwortungsethik: ethics of responsibility) with “ethics of conviction.” Rossolillo prefers “ethics of principles” despite realising that this translation, too, is imperfect, given that the expression Gesinnung does not denote principles considered independently of the men who believe in them, but rather the principles of someone. On the other hand, the expression “ethics of principles” does succeed in denoting, more clearly, an attitude guided by unconditioned obedience of a principle that does not take into account the consequences of the action; instead, in the ethics of responsibility, the subjective element of conviction is embraced.
[21] Senso della storia e azione politica, op. cit., vol. I, p. 49.
[22] Senso della storia e azione politica, op. cit., vol. I, p. 655.
[23] For criticism of relativist ideas that see totalitarian implications in any system of thought that aims to achieve a global vision or global emancipation, it is worth consulting Slavoj Zizek’s extremely valuable book In difesa delle cause perse. Materiali per la rivoluzione globale, Milan, Ponte alle Grazie, 2009.


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