Year LI, 2009, Single Issue, Page 12



Mario Albertini’s Reflections on Kant’s Philosophy of History and its Integration with Historical Materialism*





Kant’s writings on the philosophy of history, despite being the work of one of the greatest philosophers ever, have received little scholarly attention, and had not even a fraction of the impact, in cultural debate, that his theoretical writings have had. Even nowadays, when there is considerable awareness and extensive discussion of cosmopolitanism, and Kant’s writings are sometimes referred to from this perspective, there is still a tendency to ignore the complexity of the general ideas he raises. The idea of the course of history, which is at the heart of his political writings, is now actually rejected by modern political-cultural debate (far more so than it was around thirty years ago, when historical materialism, at least, with its strong empirical references, was accepted or certainly discussed); the question of the meaning of history and of the human condition, and the idea that it might be possible to identify a thread of progress not only material, but also moral, in the process by which mankind builds his world, are today considered too general, and thus useless or erroneous, and in any case remnants of cultural approaches now superseded. In fact, no one, other than Albertini, has ever set out to highlight the similarity between, and complementary nature of, the ideas of Kant and those of Marx. Albertini, instead reflected at length upon the fact that the two raise similar issues and questions, and that the answers they produce, albeit on different levels, can be integrated with one another.


The Limits of Marx’s Theory of Historical Materialism.


In his attempt to get to the protoscientific crux of Marx’s materialistic theory of history, Mario Albertini, having highlighted its contradictions, set this theory within the framework of Weber’s Idealtypus; in this way, historical materialism, understood as a model to be used for probing, exclusively and retrospectively, the determinisms that underlie man’s historical-social reality, emerges as a powerful instrument for studying historical transitions from one mode of production to another, phases in which the relations of production, the productive forces and the means of production all change radically, ushering in a new stage in the coexistence of men.

Even after this clarificatory exercise,[1] however, there remain many gaps in Marx’s theory which have to be filled in and then incorporated before the intuitions the theory contains can become instruments really capable of contributing to a profound understanding of the historical and social situation. There emerge three points, in particular, that need to be looked at in depth: first, the idea of a deterministic movement of history, leading mankind towards complete freedom and equality; second, the idea of the mode of production as a dynamic phenomenon in which the constant emergence of new needs, creating a continuous spiral of mutually dependent changes, modifies the system constantly; and finally, the concept of ideology.

The idea of a deterministic movement of history destined to culminate in a final stage in which all men will be free and equal is, for Marx, a sort of assumption, a necessary condition central to his entire analysis that, precisely because it is postulated, he does not explain further. The concrete basis of this determinism, whose empirical mechanism Marx identifies, is the evolution of the mode of production. But since his analysis at no point explores the role of freedom in the historical process, it is impossible to see why this particular value, and condition, should constitute its culmination. Ultimately, then, within the framework of the elements that Marx takes into consideration, the final step in the course of history remains unexplained, and indeed impossible to explain, given that, for it to be plausible, it would have to be made clear how (by means of what mechanism) it will be achieved, and also to have some idea of what the “realm of freedom” will be like. This is the reason why Marx refrains even from outlining the conditions necessary for the realisation of the final stage of history, preferring instead to leave it in a sort of utopian limbo.

Similarly, the theory (in itself enlightening) of the mode of production as a constantly dynamic process contains inconsistencies that must be overcome. As already mentioned, the constant evolution of the mode of production is due to the continuous emergence of new needs following the introduction of new means of production (which, let us recall, are both physical and mental, and thus also include political and religious ideas, laws, etc.). These new needs, in turn, bring about changes within the mode of production, i.e., in the productive forces and in the relations and means of production that develop. Marx thus pinpoints the general cause of the dynamism that characterises the historical process, but is still unable to explain the single changes constantly occurring within a given mode of production. Indeed, if we consider carefully the conceptual instruments that the theory of historical materialism puts at our disposal, we can see that they allow us to appreciate the best empirical viewpoint from which to analyse historical-social reality, starting with the fact that men produce their own means of subsistence, and also to highlight both the interconnected nature of all the aspects of the historical-social sphere, and the fact that these aspects must be compatible with the maintenance and development of the production system as a whole; further, they show us that when the elements making up the system are no longer compatible with each other — in particular when the social composition of the population no longer corresponds to the needs of the mechanism of production, or to use terms more similar to Marx’s, when there emerges, between the relations of production and the productive forces, a level of incompatibility that demands out-and-out revolutions (in the broad sense of the term) — then the whole system is undermined, triggering a crisis which brings the end of the old equilibrium and the birth of the new one. In this way, the determinisms underlying the transition from one mode of production to another are clearly shown, making it possible to see why there emerge profound global changes in demographic dynamics and the social composition of the population, and transformations at institutional level, in the law and in philosophical and religious ideas, etc. (even though the latter are never rigidly determining factors, but rather changes that render the means of production compatible with the new mode of production.[2])

What these conceptual instruments do not explain, however, is the nature of the concrete changes leading to a global transformation. As an illustration of this point, one need only consider the evolution of European society over the centuries, from Roman times to (and including) the modern age, which took place entirely within the ambit of the agricultural mode of production, and, for this reason cannot, by definition, be attributed to a change in the mode of production: clearly, the specific causes of the profound changes that occurred over the centuries cannot be explored only within the general framework of historical materialism, but must also be sought on a specifically political, economic, sociological, or cultural (etc.) level.

Therefore, the whole theoretical structure of historical materialism is weakened by the fact that it can identify the element of necessity driving epochal transitions, whereas it is unable to grasp the essential conditions determining all the other changes in the historical process (in other words, it is weakened by the fact that the idea of determinism on which it is built remains, for most of the time, undefined). This fact indeed led to much uncertainty, both in Marx and in his successors, and, among other things, it paved the way for the success of the version of historical materialism in which the mode of production is confused with the economy, and the economy becomes the foundation “structure” for the other levels of human activity, which thus constitute the “superstructure.” This formulation, as Albertini demonstrated, runs deeply counter to the whole system of Marx’s theory and leads directly to a dead end, precluding, among other things, a true understanding of politics, philosophy, religion, art, etc., which (if the idea is applied with even a minimum of coherence) are reduced to mere epiphenomena; against that, it certainly has the advantage of concealing the fact that historical materialism is a theory that is not able to explain most of the social and political transformations that take place before us, doing no more than provide a general framework in which to set explanations for all that occurs in the long intervals of time that separate the moments of transition from one mode of production to another. By attributing the transformations taking place within a given mode of production to this one sphere (the economy) — which, like all the other means of production, is in continuous evolution —, one conceals, with a contrivance, not so much a gap in Marx’s theory as, quite simply, a point that needs to be incorporated. And as a result the whole edifice of historical materialism is rendered unusable. This is why it is essential to try and establish whether the transformations behind the evolution of the mode of production are in some way attributable to determinisms still to be discovered and, if they are, how these can be investigated.




The concept of ideology, on the other hand, is a fundamental discovery in the field of human sciences because it brings to light the passive dimension of thought. Ideology is the self-mystification through which men justify, and render acceptable to themselves, the relations of domination and subordination on which society is based and that somehow reflect the extent to which the common interest can realistically be pursued in the framework of a given production system. Indeed, as long as social inequalities correspond to key roles in the maintenance of the production system on which the survival of the whole community depends, acceptance of them coincides, in fact, with the common interest of that particular society. Thus, men tend not to know the purpose they are really serving: often, in pursuing their own selfish interests or accepting, as natural, the existing power relations, they are actually functioning as cogs in a machine they are not even aware of and that produces results that do not correspond to their individual will. Starting from this crucial consideration, however, two questions remain: first, that of the origin of the need which men feel to mask the inequalities among them, justifying them or denying them through recourse to false theories; and second, that of the relationship that exists between passive and active thought (i.e., how it is possible for regressive and positive use of reason to coexist).

Albertini, in his quest to resolve these shortcomings in Marx’s theory, turned to Kant’s philosophy of history and, by carefully comparing and integrating the thought of the two authors, managed to develop several fascinating theoretical elements that undoubtedly make a major contribution to efforts to develop a scientific theory of politics, of which reflection upon the course of history must be an integral part.


Kant’s Philosophy of History.


Like Marx, Kant believes that history is moving in the direction of freedom, but that men are somehow carried towards this condition without their knowledge; in Kant, therefore, as in Marx, this movement of history is not free but somehow determined, and thus a sort of prehistory: everything that happens is attributable mainly to determinisms that individuals, albeit endowed with the faculty to exercise a degree of free will, do not control; this is not to say, however, that things happen purely mechanically, their occurrence predetermined and established a priori. Rather, the movement of “prehistory” is determined by the dialectic between these determinisms, still to be identified, and that small measure of freedom that is already active in men, and for this reason it already constitutes history (albeit distinct from true history, which being driven by freedom, is yet to come).[3] At this point we must recall that Kant does not reason on the same level as Marx, that is to say the level of the historical-social dimension of man’s existence: his is not the time for doing so, the production perspective not yet being accessible in late eighteenth-century Prussia; absent, too, in his approach, are the revolutionary view and urgency of Marx, whose times, instead, are ones in which it is feasible for individuals to act politically. For Kant, then, the problem presents itself on the philosophical level of “oughtness”, i.e. of reflection upon the form of processes, not their content; he works at the level of the construction of hypotheses and models that can furnish criteria for reflecting on events, but that cannot yet explain them directly; hypotheses and models that, providing clarification of the terms and concepts, make it possible to shed light on and develop the presuppositions underlying historical materialism.

With rigour, Kant, in exploring the human condition — and thus the course of history, which is the level at which answers regarding our state, our nature and above all our future, can be sought — tackles the following questions: How does history begin? On the basis of what mechanisms does it unfold, and towards what final stage? And what are its characteristics? There are, in particular, three essays in which he tackles these issues directly, and on which Albertini focused: Conjectures on the Beginning of Human History, Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Purpose and Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch. Once again, it is important to recall that Kant’s level of analysis in these writings — often read literally and summarily dismissed as texts typical of eighteenth-century literature — is philosophical, the level of the formulation of reasonable hypotheses; he is not analysing objective facts but conducting an analysis on a logical level in order to construct theoretical models able to give us the framework in which empirical facts can be understood.




Kant’s aim, in probing the question of the beginning of the history of mankind, is to identify (on a logical, not an empirical level) the first act in the transition from the purely natural world — mechanistically determined entirely on the basis of cause-effect relationships — to the world in which man emerges as a being endowed with the capacity to introduce into the process the hitherto unknown category of purposiveness. From this perspective, the first act in history coincides with the appearance of reason and with reason’s first act, which, in Kant’s analysis, sows the seed of freedom, inducing man to act on the basis of more than just his animal instincts; inducing him, for the first time, to go beyond the mere placating of physical stimuli in order to seek pleasure; inducing to arouse his senses through the prefiguring, in his imagination, of enjoyment that awaits him. Kant cites food and sexual activity to illustrate this point, and shows that reason, as soon as it manifests itself with these characteristics, forces man, ipso facto, to confront a series of problems: the problem of self-control and self-education (which does not arise in the purely instinctual sphere) and thus that of the realisation that he is master of his own destiny — an act that implies the dawning of an awareness of death, and of the fact that each individual has social responsibilities, starting with his own survival and the survival of his offspring. All this leads man to modify the way in which he relates to the natural world around him, which he begins to perceive a means to his ends. And this transition brings with it the need, in relations between human beings, for each individual to see all others, who have his same attitude towards the rest of nature, not as instruments to be used in pursuit of his own ends, but as his equals, that is to say as ends, too, rather than means.

Thus, from its very first act, reason reveals the whole of its plan, which is founded on the emergence of a purpose: indeed, reason, as it manifests itself, leads men to observe that they are not equal, but that they must be equal. This is the meaning of the unfolding of history, of man’s journey from prehistory to history: reason is freedom and equality, and the possibility of its affirmation depends upon the full affirmation of these values. Reason first appears in a natural setting in which instinct prevails, and which is thus mechanistically determined; this appearance marks the start of a very long process in which reason itself must progressively build its own world in order to create the conditions that will make it possible to control the role of instinct in human activities and human relations. As long as this process is incomplete, many aspects of men’s lives continue to be dominated by mechanical necessity and, in this context, reason and instinct coexist in a conflictual and dialectical relationship which is at the root both of mankind’s moral and cultural progress, and of the evils of civilisation. Indeed, until reason made its appearance, events unfolded naturally in a reality characterised by innocence and the absence of evil; man altered this situation, introducing a new, superior reality, based not on the naturalness of predetermined mechanisms, but on freedom and on the draw to achieve the one condition that can resolve his dissatisfaction with the state in which he finds himself: that of inequality among all men.[4] Abandoning this animal unawareness brings with it desires, and with them both the need for self-control and the vices that derive from the inability to achieve it, in other words, prohibitions and transgressions (the correct alongside the pathological use of reason).

These observations by Kant, on reason and nature, which might initially seem rather obvious, actually provide crucial clarification, without which it is impossible to explain the contradictions inherent in the human condition, or to understand what reason is. Much of the irrationalism that dominates contemporary culture is rooted precisely in an inability to understand reason as a constituent aspect of human life and to explain its development, which has been highly unbalanced: whereas the study of natural phenomena has advanced to extraordinary levels, the level of politics and other human sciences — and together with them civilisation — lags way behind. Kant allows us to get to the crux of all these problems, because with his theory of reason as a faculty that develops through the course of history, taking shape slowly and laboriously over time, creating by itself the conditions necessary for its full manifestation, he shows us the reasons why society and the human condition are still characterised by a mix of reason and violence (and why it is still impossible for reason to eliminate violence from reality); and the fact that reason, as a natural faculty that manifests itself in life, is part of man’s nature and not just the sum of what it, itself, produces (which is what a large body of theory has tried to show, confusing reason with logic, or with science, etc., and thus getting caught in the vicious cycle that Hegel called “bad infinity” in which the subject is identified with its own object while, at the same time, the foundation of the latter is said to lie in the subject that produced it, and so on, infinitely).[5]

The Kantian idea that human history is the history of reason, in the sense thus far specified, also makes it possible to clarify some of the aspects of historical materialism that, for Albertini, presented theoretical shortcomings. First of all, it explains what, ontologically, man is: Marx characterises man empirically, identifying the action that distinguishes him from animals (his production of his own means of subsistence, by which he breaks the mechanical laws of nature and starts to build his own life); but Marx bases his ideas on an ideal type of man which, precisely because it remains implicit and unclarified, cannot be evaluated and is largely unstable, being attributed with different meanings in different contexts. In fact, Marx’s fundamental errors derive precisely from his fluctuating ideas on the nature of man: sometimes, erasing completely the factors of freedom and innovation (eliminating, with them, all scope for explaining that first act which constitutes man’s break with the logic of nature), he presents man as entirely determined by the production mechanism and its unavoidable logic, while elsewhere he implies that production does not account for the whole of human life.[6] Kant’s theory of man and of reason gets rid of these ambiguities, and makes it possible to avoid the trap that Marx’s materialistic theory fell into. The concept of ideology provides the best example of this: Kant explains implicitly, in some passages even anticipating Marx, the root of man’s need to hide from himself the persistent state of inequality among men, masking it with false theories. It is reason that prevents man from accepting and living easily with this reality, and that thus leads him to deceive himself in order to be able to tolerate it; and Kant shows us, too, that self-mystification, which is merely passive thought, does not exclude reason, but is the expression of its pathological use. Marx, despite clarifying the causes of the inequalities among men and the fact that, being the fruit of relations rigidly determined by the logic of the production system as a whole, they are independent of human will, nevertheless ends up, in the absence of an explicit theory of reason as a constituent human faculty, by taking ideology to mean all thought.

From this point of view, it is easy to see the complementary nature of Kant and Marx’s thought. Kant provides a clear theoretical framework which clarifies the role of reason in history and fills in the gaps that weaken Marx’s theory. Marx, on the other hand, highlights the empirical mechanisms that constrain the development of reason: the survival of society depends, primarily, on the maintenance of the mode of production of which it is, itself, the expression, and relations of production (the main source of inequality) can evolve only to the extent to which they remain compatible with the possibility of retaining the production mechanism; the transition to a subsequent system, compatible with a greater degree of freedom, is not voluntary, but depends on a development that, in turn, is governed by deterministic laws; the quest for complete freedom and equality cannot begin until a mode of production has been established that is free of need to conserve relations of subordination and oppression.




The intertwining of freedom and necessity that characterises history is further clarified by Kant in Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Purpose in which he also raises the general question of the unfolding of history. The fact that manifestations of free will (that is, human actions) follow universal natural laws is a clear empirical observation: while the single case is always unpredictable, regular patterns can be seen to emerge if we consider the whole picture (Kant cites the example of marriages in this regard, but the idea is valid for all areas of human action). In human actions, then, there is a concurrence of freedom and necessity that can be explained only if it is made clear, as it is by Kant, that man’s freedom is the freedom to become what he is: an animal endowed with reason whose biological makeup determines his scope for development. This is a development underpinned by the dialectic between instinct, determined ultimately by the impulse for self-preservation, and reason, which instead leads him to develop solidarity with other human beings (who are ends like himself) and to carve out some space for autonomous action, albeit within the context of a process largely shaped by determinisms to which he is subject. And reason, in man, rests on two pillars: one individual, because individuals are its real vehicles — the ones who actually think and act — and the other social, meaning all the institutions (language first of all) in which we conserve all that man’s reason has produced, in such a way that the entire patrimony becomes transmittable and the past reasoning of the whole of mankind can live on in each and every one of us.

It is fundamental to highlight this social dimension of reason, not only because this alone explains the reality of this human faculty, but also because it is only by avoiding the naive mistake of regarding reason as the exclusive prerogative of the individual that one becomes able to conceive of the coexistence of necessity and freedom in history. This coexistence, in fact, manifests itself in the social sphere; unless we can appreciate the fact that reason has a social dimension, the idea that the historical process unfolds according to natural laws will seem incompatible with the existence of individual freedom, making it inevitable to conclude that the only force driving history is chance (in which case any attempt to understand reality would have to be abandoned). When forced to choose, Marx, who was indeed trapped by this naive view, opted for the existence of a law of necessity, and in so doing completely excluded any role of freedom in history.

Kant has a name for the mechanism through which the dialectic between instinct and reason, which underlies historical development, manifests itself: “unsociable sociability.” Reason prompts men to associate with one another, because society is the setting in which they “feel able to develop their natural capacities,” but their selfishness leads them to compete with one another and to pursue, exclusively, their own interests. This conflict, which is destined to endure and to go on driving the historical process until such time as men have built a world in which reason can manifest itself fully and they can thus act freely, is the source of society’s evils, but also of men’s urge to act and develop their creative talents; art, philosophy, science, even the moral growth that is established through social and political victories (borne of the need to remedy the ills that men bring on themselves and on each other), are all the result of human endeavours prompted by the contradictory nature of mankind.

Through this concept of unsociable sociability, Kant thus identifies the type of antagonism that lies at the root of the evolution of history and is the means by which the culture that is paving the way for the world of freedom takes shape. Once again Kant, with respect to Marx, offers important clarification, because while it is true that Marx succeeds in identifying concrete antagonisms within society (the contrast between the productive forces and the relations of production), which are indeed vehicles of changes, he is unable to fit these changes into a general theory that goes beyond evocative references to explain how the affirmation of a single class, which acts in accordance with its own specific interests, can coincide with the realisation of universal values. In this regard, Kant, on the other hand, provides illuminating insight: in his view, the emergence of values (and their crystallisation in institutions that render their affirmation universal) stems from the clash between the selfish action of men and the concrete reality of reason; reason expresses itself through values, and when men are looking to remedy the ills they have brought on each other, it prompts them to seek and espouse them.

Kant also goes a step further than Marx, identifying the objective towards which history, in spite of itself, is advancing. His treatment of this question, unlike Marx’s, does not simply amount to a call for the crucial leap forwards that will project mankind into the “realm of freedom”; rather, it is an outlining of the conditions that will allow this to become a real possibility: the building of “a civil society that upholds the law universally”. Only upon the establishment of a “perfectly just civil constitution”, supported by a power that is irresistible (irresistible because, also being perfectly just, it is capable of realising the general will and of respecting the interests of all, and as such, is disliked by no one), will it become possible for all human faculties to develop to their full potential. In this context, the individual, as an unsociably sociable being, does not change; it is society that, through its institutions, becomes just and creates the conditions that allow everyone to pursue their own interests while respecting the freedom of others. In a measure commensurate with the elimination of relations of domination and privilege, man’s instinct ceases to manifest itself violently (in a broad sense, through the use of oppression or abuse), because such behaviours are no longer necessary or even “normal,” and his competitive spirit instead finds expression in a framework that exploits the creative potential it harbours, but curbs its destructive impulses. The perfect civil constitution thus brings about that total coincidence of interest and duty that constitutes the only guarantee of the law’s efficacy; in this setting, men can behave in a wholly moral way, because this is the realm of ends, in which all men are each other’s ends and no one is anyone else’s means.[7]

In this way, Kant sheds light on many points that Marx leaves obscure. Inasmuch as it fails to describe the final stage in the historical process, and to identify the element, present from the start, that indicates the direction in which history is moving, Marxian theory is forced to assume that the final leap forwards will coincide not with a change in the behaviour of men, but with an out-and-out transformation of the nature of men, who will stop being wicked and selfish, and will no longer seek to exploit others; in this way, the theory argues, it will become possible to achieve the equality and freedom of all. Although this situation is not theorised by Marx, many of his followers have taken it to be an obvious consequence of what he indicates. This utopian idea that men can be transformed has played an important role in communist thought, and many campaigns mounted by communist regimes have been justified on this basis.

Kant is clearly aware that mankind’s journey towards this new stage in his existence is bound to be long and complicated (far more aware than Marx, who often seemed to believe that the communist revolution meant to carry men into this new dimension was imminent). The realisation of a perfect civil constitution in fact depends on the meeting of a series of difficult preconditions: there has to be “a correct conception” of its nature, as well as “great experience tested in many affairs of the world” and “good will prepared to accept the findings of this experience”: in short, man needs to acquire the tools necessary to produce and perfect a legal doctrine capable of curbing all dishonest impulses, including those of the individuals who govern or who hold positions of power; he needs to learn from his own constant mistakes, and finally reach a point at which he feels he has no alternative but to make this crucial leap forwards; at the same time, there must evolve a sense of civic responsibility so strong that every citizen inevitably assimilates the principles and values on which civil coexistence must be founded.

Only when these conditions are met does the establishment of a “perfect civil constitution” become possible, and this must clearly come about on a global level: for a universally just law to be established, violence must, in fact, be eliminated from all social relations, because as long as there remains even just one area in which relations of force still prevail, violence will continue to be an instrument that is both necessary and justified. The mechanism forcing men in this direction is, once again, the one that has led individuals to renounce their “unrestricted freedom” in order to live under a “law-governed civil constitution”, that is to say, the need to check the evils generated by the state of war of all against all (and by its consequences). Similarly, with regard to large societies and states, “nature has thus again employed the unsociablesness of men… as a means of arriving at a condition of calm and security through their inevitable antagonism. Wars, tense and unremitting military preparations, and the resultant distress which every state must eventually feel within itself, even in the midst of peace — these are the means by which nature drives nations to make initially imperfect attempts, but finally, after many devastations, upheavals and even complete inner exhaustion of their powers, to take the step that reason could have suggested to them even without so many sad experiences — that of abandoning a lawless state of savagery and entering a federation of peoples in which every state, even the smallest, could expect to derive its security and rights not from its own power or its own legal judgement, but solely from this great federation (Foedus Amphictyonum), from a united power and the law-governed decisions of a united will”.[8]

Once again Kant’s analysis emerges as complementary to Marx’s: historical materialism allows us to see that the precondition for fully realising the requisites outlined by Kant is mankind’s reaching of a stage in the mode of production in which the foundations for global interdependence have been laid and, moreover, in which there is no longer any need for relations of production that are necessarily — by their very nature — founded on inequality, and thus no further need for a mystifying ideology that theorises the power relations existing within society; equally, the stage reached in the mode of production must be one compatible with the equality of all men and one in which culture can have the transparency of reason and encourage respect by all towards all.

However, the merit of Kant’s model, compared with Marx’s theory, is that it identifies the ground on which the way is paved for the final leap forwards, which, forced by the contradictions of international politics, takes place within the sphere of the institutions and of politics. Marx, therefore, uncovers the underlying mechanism, i.e. the incessant evolution of the mode of production, and shows that incompatibility between productive forces and relations of production lies at the root of all revolutionary transitions; but responsibility for the final solution falls to politics, which in this regard enjoys relative autonomy and adheres to its own logic, a logic which can be understood only in the light of the raison d’état theory.

As regards the criticisms aroused, now and in the past, by Kant’s indication of the world federation (as the condition for resolving the problems of peace and the freedom of mankind), Albertini points out that Kant’s vision can be properly evaluated on one level only: that of plausibility. Kant does not present future history as fact, but rather constructs a model, based on an extrapolated series of empirical elements and tendencies seen in the events of the past; from these he identifies a general trend on whose basis he develops a theory of the evolution of history: a theory that must subsequently be verified on the basis of fact. But we are — let us be clear — in the ambit of the working out of a model, which, even were it to find confirmation in the trend that has manifested itself to date, cannot necessarily be taken as a valid basis for predicting the future. As Marx points out, our knowledge is limited to the past, to things that have already happened; when we consider the future, we are working out concepts, we are not dealing with history, and we are not in a position to raise the question of the concrete realisation of the prospects we formulate. All we can say is this: if men do ever manage to solve the problems of peace, freedom and justice, this achievement will be due to their having created a world federation, the setting in which it is possible to establish a perfect civil constitution. Vice versa, until they succeed in creating, at world level, the irresistible power referred to earlier, they will not be able to find any radical solution to these problems.


The Philosophical Project of Perpetual Peace.


The third Kantian essay analysed by Albertini, Perpetual Peace. A Philosophical Sketch, deals with the state of organised peace. It is a difficult text to interpret because it is often contradictory. Also, it has a literary form that is unusual for Kant, opening with a preamble (a “saving clause… (by which) the author of this essay will consider himself expressly safeguarded… against all malicious interpretation”) whose ironical tone leads one to wonder in precisely what spirit Kant broached this topic (“the theorist’s abstract ideas, the practitioner believes, cannot endanger the state, since the state must be founded upon principles of experience; it thus seems safe to let him fire off his whole broadside, and the worldly-wise statesman need not to turn a hair.”) The text is structured rather in the manner of an international treaty, having a first section that contains the preliminary articles for a condition of perpetual peace among states, a second section containing the definitive articles, and then two supplements and two appendices.

In the preliminary articles making up the first section of the essay Kant famously echoes the classical canons of international law, citing the need for reciprocal respect among states and their pursuit of a policy of disarmament; for anyone wanting to take it literally, this first part could be read as confirmation, by Kant, that the state of permanent peace can be approached through the states’ acknowledgement of the international laws that govern their reciprocal relations. But, actually, it is difficult — also in view of the content of the rest of the essay — to give credit to this hypothesis, which runs counter to what Kant has always maintained, and indeed continues to maintain even in the very pages of Perpetual Peace,[9] which contain, among other things, the fiercest imaginable criticisms of international law (the fact that right cannot be decided by war and victory, and that a peace treaty cannot put an end to the permanent state of war which, moreover, cannot even “be pronounced completely unjust, since it allows each party to act as judge in its own cause.”) Thus, Albertini’s view is that this part is to be read as a parody, or rather, as a form of reductio ad absurdum: echoing the spirit of the clauses typical of international law (those clauses so beloved of the “practical politician” mentioned in the preamble), Kant brings out all their inconsistency and absurdity, reflected in the claim that in a situation of anarchy and permanent war, in which every state sees its own survival under threat, it is possible for there to be reciprocal respect founded on mutual trust and the introduction of a policy of disarmament, also underpinned by respect of the rule of reciprocal behaviour. In truth these articles seem to be preliminary articles not so much to perpetual peace as to reality as we know it.

Thus, the real preliminary article to Perpetual Peace is the first of the definitive articles contained in the second section, namely the one which states that “The Civil Constitution of Every State shall be Republican. Kant here lays down a crucial precondition: the value of peace cannot, in fact, be realised without the prior affirmation of the values of freedom and equality. Indeed, when Kant talks of a “republican constitution” what he has in mind is the pure representative democracy, a model which, irrespective of its particular form (parliamentary or monarchical), complies with the principle of the general will, and in which the people are the true holders of sovereignty; he is not therefore thinking of today’s highly imperfect democracies, in which power is still in the hands of elite groups and oligarchies that influence popular consensus. Thus, Kant prefigures a situation in which there emerges “the pure concept of right”: that is to say, law that realises the condition to which all men aspire — perfect law, which, in fact, is consistent with the freedom and equality of all (both legally-based), and for this reason, with peace.[10]

The situation Kant outlines is a crucial precondition, central to the possibility of establishing a state of universal peace, given that, until man succeeds in taking the essential step of freeing himself from injustice he will continue to lack the bases for putting an end to the state of international anarchy, that is to say, for drawing the states into a common “civil constitution”.




In the second definitive article, Kant instead deals with the idea of a “Federation of Free States” as a condition for achieving peace. As regards the formulations used, it is a highly contradictory article, in which Kant is inconsistent in his definitions. Indeed, initially he maintains that the states must enter into a “constitution, similar to the civil one”, establishing “a federation of peoples”; he specifies, however, that this could not be an international state, because this is a contradictory idea, since a number of nations forming one state would constitute a single nation.   And this contradicts the initial assumption, that is the right of nations in relation to one another.

A little later, on the other hand, struggling to conceive of the possibility of a state of states, he affirms that it is necessary for the states to form “a particular kind of league”, a “pacific federation” thereby creating the conditions necessary “to end all wars for good”. But in progressively defining the characteristics of this federation, he is brought back to the fact that “just like individual men, (states) must renounce their savage and lawless freedom, adapt themselves to public coercive laws, and thus form an international state (civitas gentium)”, which just a little after this he calls a “world republic”.

It is obvious that Kant is unable to form a clear idea of the institutional formula capable of meeting the need both to unite mankind and, in international relations, to replace relations of force with the rule of law. In his writings he approaches this problem rigorously and manages to get to the root of the question of peace, showing that the state of permanent war in which the states live is linked to the fact that the states, simply by failing to acknowledge a superior authority, constitute ipso facto a constant threat to each other (and will continue to do so until their entry into a common “civil constitution”) — therefore, peace can be guaranteed only through the creation of a universal power and universal laws. But the criteria available to Kant as he dwells on this issue are not sufficient to allow him to envisage a state of global dimensions. The only democratic model he can conceive of is that of the republic, that is, the model of a state founded on a single centre of power and a single level of political representation; a model quite unable to contemplate either the coexistence of many nations, cultures and traditions in a single state framework, or the possibility of governing a community that embraces the whole of mankind and a territory that comprises the whole world: the sheer distance between the centre and the periphery would rule out the possibility of exercising any form of control (unless drifts towards forms of imperial rule were accepted).

What Kant indeed lacks, because in his times it was still unheard of, is the federal state model. Even though the United States of America had already come into being, there was, in Europe at the time, still no awareness of its character as a unique institutional solution; actually, the originality of this solution is still not fully understood even today, given that it is often argued that the federal state is not a real state, and the federal state formula is applied more as a means of justifying forms of internal decentralisation than as a means of responding to the need to increase the size of the state. But the federal state is the answer to this need: in this type of state, power no longer lies, as it does in the classical model of the state, in a single centre, but in the constitution; moreover, there also exists a judicial power that is genuinely independent of, and unconditioned by, the government and serves as arbiter and guarantor; furthermore, the fact of having many levels of government, and thus of political representation, opens the way for the creation of a state of states in which sovereignty manifests itself not at the level of the central power, but at that of the constitution, which establishes the state’s multi-level structure. The sovereign people is a federal people of multiple identities, reflected in the constitution of which it, itself, forms the basis.

The federal model thus makes it possible to realise the “pure concept of right” that Kant already saw prefigured in the republican state, but that is actually affirmed only in the federal state, where law controls political power, not the other way round; in this framework, it becomes conceivable to eliminate the inevitable contradiction that arises in the classical model of the state when the predominance of the central power over all other institutions, being so marked, leads those in positions of power to be tempted, albeit temporarily, to set themselves above the other citizens. In the federal state model, the (federal) people is the holder of sovereignty through the constitution; this, together with the fact that this absolute supremacy of the people’s fundamental charter is guaranteed by an effective system of checks and balances, with the judiciary power that oversees the upholding of the law enjoying genuine independence, allows both the creation of pure law (to use Kant’s terminology), and the existence of a power that is perfectly just, and thus enjoys the highest level of consensus.

The federal state in its pure form, which must by definition embrace the whole world, thus guarantees peace — understood both as the impossibility of war, and as the necessary condition for the freedom and equality of all citizens. Its institutional structure is compatible with a global democracy which offers men the instruments they need to start the new phase in their history that will be founded on their complete freedom. In the world federal state, politics somehow becomes a form of administration carried out in the interests of all citizens; it is no longer governed by rigid principles of raison d’état and it also stops being, at one and the same time, both an instrument of and an obstacle to the furthering of the process of mankind’s liberation. Clearly, as long as mankind remains divided into opposing states, and the raison d’état mechanism continues to determine political activity, the federal model will go on being reached only in part and being distorted by the relations of force that still dominate the world.[11] But this does not take away the fact that the federal state is, nevertheless, the only model that allows us to conceive of the possibility of increasing the dimensions of the state through the unification of the states that already exist, and thus of moving in the direction indicated by Kant. As Hamilton, too, recalled in the Federalist Papers, federalism, with its splitting of political representation, is one of the very few innovations in the art of government that mankind has achieved. The reason why contemporary political culture is still unaware of this, remaining stubbornly attached to the classical idea of the state built around a central power, is that the world has yet to see an example of federation that is the result of a unification of states that have renounced their exclusive sovereignty in order to create a new supranational state entity (an example, in other words, of how mankind’s division can be overcome and of the institutional model that can make this process possible). This is also the reason why Kant is not read and understood as a philosopher who laid the theoretical foundations of federalism, but is instead susceptible to incorrect interpretations that even transform him into a supporter of the confederation, which is glaringly false, given that Kant never endorsed the confederal solution; if he remained unsure about how to define the structure of the federal state, this is because he had no knowledge of its mechanism. In contrast, he is to be acknowledged as having presented with searing clarity the terms of the problem of peace, and its relationship with power and law.


Final Considerations.


These last observations, relating to contemporary political culture, provide us with a reminder that this culture is still, to a very large extent, trapped by a naive and misleading idea of international law — international law is mistaken for true law and not understood as a reflection of the existing power relations between states —, or slave to a false realism based on the dogma that mankind’s division into opposing states is a permanent condition that nothing can change. In spite of the fact that analysts and commentators are united in stressing that the worst contradictions of our times stem from the absurd situation of having a globalised economy in a world in which the dimensions of politics, being national, are inadequate to manage it (a phenomenon leading to an absence of democratic control of the processes that dominate and condition the life of everyone), no one seems prepared to look at the situation from a federalist perspective, even though, only sixty years ago, the federalist idea was very much the basis on which process of European integration was launched (actually, the lack of success of this process could be one of the reasons for the loss of faith in the federalist idea).

From this perspective, which highlights the failure of traditional political thought, Albertini’s reflections thus become even more important — if this is possible — than they were in the 1970s and ’80s, when he first formulated them. Summarising his indications very briefly, it can be seen that he deals with two main issues, and does so with remarkable clarity: one is the question of the need to build a solid political science and the other is the nature of the historical phase we are going through and the political prospects we face.

With regard to the first question, Albertini, through Kant, draws a clear distinction between the philosophical level, at which politics can be defined, and politics as a concrete and observable reality; he identifies the sphere of autonomy of politics and the type of determinisms it is subject to, which are precisely the issues it falls to political science to deal with. Kant explains clearly, first of all, that the historical process arises from the interaction between, on the one hand, determinisms linked to mechanisms of self-preservation and, on the other, reason, which slowly emerges and becomes established, changing the world as it does so; and this interaction is, indisputably, at the root of the co-existence, in history, of the freedom of individual actions and the necessity of what Croce called “the occurrence”. To study historical events, it is thus necessary to work out what determinisms, and thus what laws, explain their succession.[12] In this regard, Kant does not provide answers, but only raises the question, also indicating the lines along which to proceed when embarking on a scientific study of society. Marx, through his historical materialism, highlights the deterministic mechanism that underlies the whole historical process (i.e., the production-based mechanism that binds man-kind’s scope for development to the construction of a system that, by liberating him from need and from the struggle for mere survival, allows him to devote his energies to the development of civilisation) and, at the same time, sets out the real foundations for the growth of interdependence and, as a result of this, for mankind’s possible unification. He also makes it clear that the liberation of all men depends on the affirmation of a mode of production no longer founded on the division of roles, in society, into those who dominate and those who are dominated. Kant, given this basic mechanism, adds that politics is the field in which to expect the manifestation of the decisive contradiction (deterministic) capable of driving mankind to make the leap forwards into the realm of freedom: he thus highlights both the central role of politics as a sphere better able than other spheres of human action to favour the possibility of peace, and the need to develop a deterministic theory of politics, which starts from the assumption that men, collectively at least, do not freely decide their own destiny (instead try and build a solid political science starting from the false assumption that men are free is to enter a blind alley). Kant also specifies that the determinisms in the political field are linked to the logic of survival, both of power and of the states, confirming, albeit not explicitly, that the mechanism underlying politics in the “prehistoric” phase is determined by the raison d’état, and that it is on the basis of this doctrine that the foundations of a scientific theory of political action can be laid.

But, as Albertini stresses, a deterministic theory of politics implies the need to distinguish the field of political science from that of political philosophy: events (the fruit of actions that are not autonomously determined, because it is not the individual who determines the event, but the species), can be observed objectively; however, they can be understood only in the framework of an idea that interprets determinism as the expression of a process that is leading mankind in the direction of freedom. The philosophy of history, which shows the purpose of the historical process, is an essential instrument for explaining that which cannot yet be observed (the potential still harboured, internally, by the production mechanism and politics) and for conferring, through all that is not observable, order on events and a meaning on history and politics, identifying their inherent determinism. Only political philosophy furnishes a theoretical framework in which it can be seen that politics is driven by external forces and thus that political science is valid only as a deterministic science; and it is, again, political philosophy that explains why, since Machiavelli himself, the view of politics as a search for the common good has always co-existed with the view of politics conceived as a means of maximising power. Kant allows us to understand all this, showing that the underlying historical plan coincides, precisely, with the progressive affirmation of the former over the latter; but at the same time he makes it clear that this philosophy is not the stuff of science — that is has no deterministic and observable properties and therefore cannot be a basis on which to construct a scientific theory; it is, precisely, philosophy, and as such remains exclusively in the sphere of the rational and understandable.




The criteria of analysis furnished by Marx and Kant, for the simple fact that they define a philosophy of history and establish a few key points with regard to the founding of a scientific theory of politics, also help us to understand the particular historical moment in which we ourselves are living, and what mankind’s prospects are, in terms of his scope for political action. The industrial mode of production has now reached a very advanced stage, characterised primarily by very close economic and financial interdependence globally and by a level of scientific knowledge and technological capacity that prefigure the possibility of a profound change in the production system, in a direction that many analysts, since as long ago as the 1960s, have been calling “scientific”. Mankind could enter a phase in which production is based on the tendency to eliminate manual work thanks to the development of technologies that can replace manual activity in the workplace, a phase that would bring about a radical change in the social makeup of the population and thus progress for civilisation (by eliminating the structural need for the majority of the population to perform subordinate functions, it would lay the foundations for the “leap into the realm of freedom”.) Information technology and robotics may be seen to represent the first steps in this direction.

However, mankind today still wrestles with a grave contradiction in the form of the enormous global imbalances in development; it is a contradiction that, in the face of the deep and increasing integration of economic processes and of the financial and product markets, is unleashing fierce competitive tendencies that are devaluing the labour market and generating strong tensions in advanced societies;[13] this trend is seriously slowing down the evolution towards the “scientific” mode of production and is, for the moment, preventing the scientific and technological knowledge we already have from developing to its full potential.

Another factor slowing down this evolution is the inability of politics to govern the processes already under way. Even though financial and economic globalisation undermine the states’ prerogatives and plunge democracy into crisis, and even though mankind faces two potentially lethal global threats (global warming and the proliferation of nuclear weapons), politics remains trapped within the totally inadequate framework of the nation-state, while political doctrine is unable to pinpoint the solution — the gradual unification of mankind —, remaining, as we have said, unable to get beyond the model in which the people and sovereignty are embodied in the nation. The reason for this, as we have also said, is that the alternative model, that of the federal state, has yet to become an established historical reality: in some ways, man is already living in the situation, prefigured by Kant, in which the real risk of self-destruction could drive him to abandon his senseless divisions and create a global federal state. But numerous obstacles must be overcome before this can occur, given that we lack (to use Kant’s terminology again) “a correct conception” of its nature, as well as “great experience tested in many affairs of the world” and “good will prepared to accept the findings of this experience”: in other words, we are impeded by cultural and political limits, and by the still too many inequalities in the world. The logic determining these inequalities is likely to be enduring, given that its overcoming depends, largely, on the extent to which the dramatic shortcomings of politics can be resolved. As for politics, the dead end reached, both in the practical sphere and in the sphere of political doctrine, would soon be overcome were steps taken to create a federal state, at least in Europe, by those countries that, having started the unification process, also shoulder the responsibility for carrying it through to completion, thereby presenting the world with an example of a new form of statehood (rather than continuing to perpetuate the myth that an international organisation of sovereign nation-states is all that it is possible to achieve).[14]

Kant and Marx also teach us that nothing in the future of mankind can be taken for granted, that it is impossible to make predictions about it, and that while philosophy and scientific theories allow us to set out the problems with great clarity, and to identify solutions, they are not enough to ensure that these are implemented. Ultimately, the responsibility shouldered by men, together with their actions, remains fundamental, which means that they have to face up to the possibility of failing and of being unable to control the processes that they themselves have triggered. Today, the truth of this fact is particularly evident in Europe, where the responsibility for choosing to carry through, or not to carry through, the process of political integration on a federal basis, with all that this would imply for the future of mankind, is the Europeans’ and theirs alone.


* This article continues the attempt, begun in The Federalist n. 1 2008, to piece together Albertini’s ideas regarding the scope for introducing a scientific theory of politics. Albertini, as explained in the previous article (“Mario Albertini’s reflections on a critical reworking of historical materialism”, which readers are invited to consult for a more detailed reconstruction of this topic), developed these ideas in the political philosophy lectures he gave at the University of Pavia during the 1970s and up to the mid-1980s. In particular, my two articles use, as a reference source, the transcript of a complete recording of a series of lectures given in the academic year 1979-80 (the recordings of the first ten lectures are currently accessible in audio (mp3) format at the website of the Mario and Valeria Albertini Foundation,

[1] With regard to the current interpretation of historical materialism, Albertini showed, in particular, how it is misleading to think of the mode of production in terms of a structure (this structure sometimes suggested by Marx himself, and almost always by Marxism after him, to correspond to the economy) and a superstructure, the latter thought to be determined by this underlying structure and to include, for example, the institutions and culture (thereby reducing these to mere epiphenomena). In truth, the mode of production embraces all the aspects of the historical-social dimension, whose reciprocal interconnection is brought out by historical materialism, as indeed is their necessary compatibility with the overall production system, whose constraints, material, sociopolitical and cultural, are clarified. For a more in-depth analysis, see “Mario Albertini’s Reflections on a Critical Reworking of Historical Materialism” in The Federalist, 2008, year L, 2008, n. 1. pages 13-50, which also looks at Albertini’s criticisms of some of the most widespread interpretations of historical materialism, from the dialectical one to the one that sees the class struggle as the driving force of the historical process.

[2] For example, the industrial mode of production, in its first phase, was compatible with states of national dimensions, which could be centralised like the European ones or decentralised like Great Britain, or with states of continental dimensions, like the USA. But Russia, for example, also a state of continental dimensions, did not succeed in getting its industrial revolution off the ground, and the reasons for this lie in the specific characteristics of that country and its regime. Even today, states of continental dimensions coexist with very small states, and the fact that the difference between the two, in terms of the political weight they carry, is enormous, does not take away the fact that the small states, too, despite their lack of political influence and their dependence on the global power balances, nevertheless survive and often manage to guarantee their own inhabitants the same level of social development enjoyed by the inhabitants of large states. Thus, while historical materialism is able to explain the compatibility or incompatibility of certain forms of state with the mode of production, to highlight the connections between political forms and the social composition of the population, and to explain why these forms succeed or fail, or account for their transformations, there is a need for specific concepts in politics, economics and the other social sciences, which can furnish the criteria for analysing and understanding these phenomena.

[3] It goes without saying that, here, the terms “history” and “prehistory” are not used in the usual sense, but in the context of the indications provided by Max and Kant.

[4] Kant explains very clearly (on this point correcting and completing the contribution of Rousseau, thus clarifying the substance of his thought, even though this is not the place to go into this aspect in any depth) how man, at the close of the prehistoric phase, attains his true nature, characterised by reason, building a world in which instinct (which man shares with the natural world, dominated by the urgency of survival) no longer has cause to manifest itself in a destructive way. Man’s nature does not change, in the sense that he remains a being whose essence (that which differentiates him from the rest of nature) is reason, but in whom animal instincts continue to be present: it is simply that in a world that creates the conditions in which all men are equal and free, violence tends — i.e., with the exception of single cases (pathological or special) — to disappear and totally moral conduct becomes possible, precisely because it is a possibility open to all. This situation of freedom and equality, which, precisely because it allows man’s true nature to manifest itself, corresponds to his true natural state, can manifest itself in full only at the end of the process; it is not, therefore, an idyllic state in which harmony based on innocence and lack of awareness reigns; rather, it is a condition in which reason exerts, all the time, a controlling function, serving to repress instinct, which at the level of the individual needs constant disciplining.

[5] Kant actually manages to be clearer than Hegel in his account of the fact that man becomes what he is, and that until he has created the conditions that will allow the full emergence of his nature as a being endowed with reason, then reason itself and instinct will continue to coexist and society will be characterised, above all, by abuses of power and by amorality. This mix of moral and immoral elements also characterises the institutions, which embody the results of civil progress and thus represent a driving force of further progress, but at the same time retain some violent and oppressive traits. In Hegel this mix is implicit and, precisely because it is not brought out clearly, remains obscure, in such a way that all human actions seem to be attributable to reason.

[6] In this regard, see the essay “Mario Albertini’s Reflections…”, op.cit.

[7] On this point, it is worth taking a brief and schematic look at the question of the moral behaviour possible in the prehistoric world. Weber, referring precisely to politics and to political action, pointed out that a moral code of behaviour cannot coincide with the absolute morality of principles, which is purely formal and independent of any empirical evaluation (it corresponds to Christian morality in its pure form, already prefigured by Socrates and subsequently theorised by Kant); this type of morality constitutes an essential stimulus and an essential guide, because it is the morality that leads to the emergence, in history, of values and ends; but for men it is, on a practical level, an impracticable morality, because it embodies absolute reason and refers to an extreme situation, in which life is pure form and pure spirit. In the concrete reality of life, it is impossible to act without having, as a point of reference, our knowledge of the advantages that our behaviours procure, not only for us but also for others; in other words, without having a utilitarian perspective (often summed up in the maxim “the end justifies the means.”) Privately, every individual applies this criterion in his own daily experience, knowing that only the means compatible with the moral end he has set himself are acceptable, but at the same time contradicting, continuously, the principles of pure morality: this is true of parents, who need to educate and protect their children; it is also true of doctors, who often have to use painful procedures to treat their patients, etc. The moral criterion that can guide practical life, which is made up not of form alone but implies physical reality and thus the constant need to control (and often oppose) instincts, emerges in the concept of responsibility, which directs our behaviour, both private and public. This type of morality, the morality of responsibility, is the one through which man — a partial being incapable of living according to the pure morality of principles — manages, gradually, to establish universal values in the world, and is thus what guides good politics — politics that pursues, ultimately, the general good of its own community. One of the signs of the gradual advance of reason in history is the fact that the morality of responsibility finds itself confined, more and more, to individual behaviours, as collective behaviours coincide, increasingly, with universal principles.

[8] Immanuel Kant, Political Writings, Cambridge University Press, 1991, p. 47.

[9] In this regard see, among the others, the passage at the start of the second section which talks of the fact that the state of peace must be instituted (the italics are Kant’s) and which develops, also in the note, the idea that the prerequisite of peace is the entry into a civil constitution.

[10] As Albertini notes, the fact that the extension of forms of law is the main tendency to emerge in the history of mankind is explained by the fact that the condition of peace is, for men, preferable to the condition of war, and law provides the instrument through which to create the possibility of peace. But until law is established and affirmed on a global level — this requires, first, the creation of a perfectly just universal power to serve as its guarantor — each state has no choice but to defend itself in order to go on guaranteeing that small measure of law that it has managed to establish internally, and thus necessarily involves its citizens in violent behaviours that contradict the law. In this way, law is unable to guarantee the behaviours that its various forms prescribe. Because, remaining imperfect in this way, it tends to be contradictory and subject to violations. Until law can rid itself of the causes that lead to its own violation, it will not be able to guarantee peace. What Kant prefigures with this insight, relating to the fact that law, in its pure form, is manifested in the republican constitution, is precisely the fact that peace coincides with a state of pure law in which there no longer exist, at any level of world society, the destructive forces linked to the persistence of inequalities.

[11] For a more in-depth analysis, readers are invited to consult the many writings of Francesco Rossolillo on these issues, now collected in his complete works, Senso della storia e azione politica, vol. 2, Bologna, il Mulino, 2009.

[12] It is here taken for granted that in talking of human sciences (history, politics, economics, sociology, etc.) and of the need to discover the laws that can explain events, we are always referring to intellectual tools able to sustain the specific investigation of concrete events, which are always the fruit of the dialectic between given determinisms and individual freedom (or simply choice), and thus need a theoretical framework of reference in order to emerge as understandable events. But only in their concrete individuality do they become knowable (as we have already said, echoing Marx, knowledge can be had only in retrospect, starting from the concrete event once it has occurred). For a more detailed analysis of this point see, again, “Mario Albertini’s Reflections…”, op.cit.

[13] See, in this regard, the editorial, “Politics at a Crossroads”, in The Federalist, 2008, year L, 2008, n. 1.

[14] The federal model also offers the answer to another challenge today facing representative democracy, i.e., how to ensure political participation in a society in which the majority of the population, lacking adequate channels for becoming involved and educated in the concept of responsible citizenship, delegates the control of power to a small elite. If in the past (when there were marked social divisions but a relative internal homogeneity within each of the different social groups), the traditional parties effectively translated the needs of society into political demands, which they organised, channelling them in the direction of forms of political participation, today, in the face of the profound changes that are taking place in society and in politics, it is becoming urgent to find new channels. In particular, today we are witnessing, on the one hand a fragmentation of society — which has eliminated the old frame of reference, based on social classes, which had allowed different specific interests to coincide with the historical affirmation of universal demands — and on the other, a voiding of the prerogatives held at the level of national government, as a result of the globalisation of the economy. Providing this second problem is overcome through extension of the sphere of the state to supranational levels, possible through the institutional structure of the federal state, then the possibility, still linked to the federal model, of creating autonomous and responsible sub-state levels of government that create true forms of participatory democracy in the basic and intermediate communities, emerges as possibly the best solution to the problem of forming a responsible and participating body of citizens. More on these ideas can be found in the writings of Francesco Rossolillo, in particular in “Città, territorio e istituzioni” and in the many essays dealing with the topic now collected in the first volume of Senso della storia…, op.cit.


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