Year XLIV, 2002, Number 3, Page 235



Federalism and Raison d’État
One of the fundamental aspects of the theory of federalism developed by Mario Albertini is its proximity to the theory of raison d’état.
Inspired by Immanuel Kant and Alexander Hamilton, this connection is also very much alive in the founder of the European Federalist Movement, Altiero Spinelli; however, it is Albertini who provides the most compelling conceptual insights.[1]
It should be stressed that the theory of federalism is not totally identical to the theory of raison d’état: rather, the two converge in their understanding of politics, and diverge in respect of their evaluations of it. Specifically, federalists apply an understanding of the laws of politics based on the teachings of the theory of raison d’état to serve peace rather than the power of their state, as is generally the case among those who espouse Realpolitik. On the other hand, this complex relationship constitutes the primary distinction between the stance of federalists and that of internationalists and pacifists: though sharing a common value system (with peace the foremost value), there is less agreement on the means for achieving peace. Moreover, the realist’s clear vision of the laws controlling the acquisition and maintenance of power constitutes the conditio sine qua non for the federalist’s definition of a valid strategy for the concrete political struggle to attain peace.
In order to clarify these statements, it is necessary to review the fundamental teachings of the theory of raison d’état, which envision two main assumptions: the primacy of the state over society and the state sovereignty-international anarchy dichotomy.[2]
The Primacy of State over Society.
The basic assumption behind the paradigm of raison d’état goes along with the view that the state is the irreplaceable tool that makes possible peaceable coexistence amongst peoples within complex societies, in other words societies founded on the division of labour and a mercantile economy — which paved the way for the industrial revolution — whose roots date back to the European Middle Ages. Such societies are highly dynamic but structurally conflictual, and conflict can only be managed peacefully by means of a specific control mechanism. This entails the division of society into a small minority, that holds power and enforces the rules that are indispensable for peaceable coexistence, and a huge majority which is subordinate to this power. For it is the monopoly of force which — beyond the formal attributes of indivisibility, originality etc., constituting the material basis of the state’s sovereignty — allows the governing minority to enforce a universally valid and effective legal system and prevent society from self-destroying. Therefore this implies a class of people — the “political class” — whose specific job is to seek power. Often there is an underlying personal craving for power: however, there is also a corresponding social need since power is indispensable for society to reproduce itself.
The creation of a monopoly of force in the hands of a central authority, generally a monarch, required centuries of determined struggle, because it meant disarming the nobility and the Communes, and uprooting feudal anarchy. During this phase, the modern state strived — and in some ways is still striving — long and hard, to civilize the population it governed, the basic tenets of the process being the moral advancement that comes from accepting (and thus progressively internalizing) the relinquishment of the use of individual violence to safeguard personal interests, and the economic and social progress made possible by the certainty of law. This then was the backdrop against which the State underwent deep transformations driven by the emancipating ideologies rooted in the Enlightenment, which are liberalism, democracy and socialism. In actual fact, these transformations ushered in several additional factors that were crucial for the peace-making function of the state.
The state’s monopoly over legitimate force, i.e. the disarming of the individuals and groups making up society, is regarded as the first principle of statehood, a condition without which there would be a return to a war of all against all — a situation today described as “Yugoslavization”, or “tribalization”. This first element is supported by a second, represented by the rule of law: a set of checks and balances such as bills of rights, the primacy of law, division of powers, judicial independence, and so on, which are an integral part of liberal thought; mechanisms that serve to prevent the monopoly of force from becoming pure abuse of power — dictatorship — and being legitimated, thus paving the way for individuals to take up arms, and ultimately civil war from breaking out. Historically the third element is the participation of all citizens, men and women, in the making of laws and the control of government, a principle enshrined in particular in democracy, which then gradually developed as the industrial revolution made all social classes aware of their interests and rights. Without this element, those segments of society who have no influence over political decision-making are inevitably tempted to disregard the law. The fourth element brings the welfare state into the picture. Enshrined in socialism, its main focus is social justice. The perception that the welfare state’s overriding function is to keep the peace is based on an awareness that the market economy is partly the driving force behind human emancipation and thus the development of a modern, pluralistic and open society, and partly a ceaseless source of inequality, imbalance and marginalization. Such phenomena need to be effectively curbed by means of control and solidarity mechanisms enforced by public authority, otherwise the state is perceived as a power pursuing the interests of only one part of society instead of the general interest, thus strengthening the urge to resort to violence.
International Anarchy.
The basic assumption in respect of which the state is the irreplaceable tool for achieving peaceable coexistence amongst the members of society, then leads logically to the second fundamental teaching of the paradigm of raison d’état. Which is that it is in the dichotomy of state sovereignty-international anarchy that the structural difference lies between relations within the state and relations with other states.
So while the modern state may be characterized by a progressive tendency towards an advance of civilization within its borders, international relations between states in the framework of the modern European system of states which later ushered in the world system of states is very different. Whereas it is the central authority that disarms the individuals and groups that form the fabric of society, compelling them to resort to law instead of violence to settle their disputes, in relations between states not only is the use of weapons universal, but there is also a relentless race towards ever more powerful and efficient weapons. All states resort to the threat and use of force to safeguard their interests, with the smallest relying on stronger allies if need be. Insofar as the state not only obliges but also teaches its subjects to forgo violence in reciprocal relations, it also obliges and teaches a growing number of its subjects to take up arms and use force in international relations, and consequently, to mistrust populations who live over the border and to hate them in the event of armed conflict. Then when the state moves towards liberalism, democracy and socialism, the principles and rights that this development brings onto the scene are systematically set aside at times of actual or impending war, if not quashed altogether. Suffice it to mention secret diplomacy, state secrets, censorship, the strengthening of the central authority at the expense of local autonomies, which are all patent infringements of the most important democratic principles, but are nonetheless routinely resorted to by democratic states. The very principles of economic efficiency are disavowed when the state is called upon to flex its muscles in a trial of strength with other states. Take, for instance, state aid to manufacturing sectors that are inefficient but still regarded as strategically important.
In focussing their attention on this character of international relations, the theorists of raison d’état have based their entire rationale upon the concept of international anarchy. They argue that international anarchy is the structural situation responsible for the qualitative difference between the internal evolution of the state and the evolution of its international relations. In essence, international anarchy means the absence of government, i.e. of a supreme authority capable of imposing a valid and effective legal system. Such an authority became enshrined in internal relations when the central authority of the state began monopolizing power, but the same did not occur in international relations because of the large number of sovereign states, or rather of completely autonomous monopolies on power. Consequently, the society of states lacks the conditio sine qua non for effectively imposing the rules needed to ensure the peaceable coexistence of states, and the peaceful — legal — settlement of international disputes. A trial of strength between the parties is the only way to solve them, and all international law can do is to sanction such an outcome. War is invariably on the agenda and is always lurking in the background, even in peace time, because even in peace time states realize that war is a permanent possibility, and prepare for this eventuality.
In a situation like this, each state must practise a form of “power politics”, which does not strictly speaking mean an overly aggressive or violent foreign policy, but rather one that lives in permanent readiness to deal with trials of strength, from the mere threat to the actual use of force, and that consequently keeps on hand, and in extreme cases even, uses force, in the shape of armaments, alliances, and the rapid filling of power vacuums — sometimes even trickery and fraud. In the framework of anarchy that structurally characterizes the international scenario, the prime concern of those who rule over states is to ensure external security, in other words, to effectively defend the state’s interests in trials of strength involving other states, and withstand attempts by the latter to impose their will. And when the state’s security is threatened, what gets sacrificed to an extent commensurate to the menace, is the legal, ethical, political (in terms of the dominant political doctrines) and economic principles that are generally upheld when external security of the state is not menaced. The primacy of security is what explains the different evolution — within the European system of states — of island states, of which the paradigmatic example is Great Britain, versus continental states, of which the paradigmatic example is Prussia-Germany. In the case of island states, a favourable strategic position (i.e. no land boundaries to defend), has led to the successful development of more liberal and decentralized institutions; in the case of continental states, a security position that is structurally more vulnerable and precarious due to the need to defend land boundaries, which are easier to cross, has countered the expansion of liberal politics and favoured authoritarianism and centralization.
The concept of international anarchy reveals the structural absence of a valid and effective legal system and hence the supremacy of the rule of force in international relations. This explains how it is that within the State there is, in the absence of deep institutional crisis or even civil war, a certain degree of certainty and predictability in inter-human relations which, albeit within the limitations posed by the existence of an unavoidable sphere of lawless relations, is nonetheless qualitatively different to the structural fickleness of international relations. But this explanation, however, falls short of defining the international arena as chaotic, and dominated by ceaseless, irrational and unpredictable bickering between states, nor does it mean that the situation is totally devoid of order. In fact, right from the very start the theoreticians of raison d’état sensed the existence in the international arena of other structural elements, above and beyond the more general element of international anarchy, which curb the chaos in international relations and render its concrete developments somewhat more predictable. In an effort to clarify these additional elements and thus more easily predict the pattern of international relations, the advocates of raison d’état hammered out the notion of the system of states, whose salient features I will now illustrate.
The notion arises from the observation that relations of force between states have led to the formation of an iron-clad hierarchy, with the major powers at the top of the pile, i.e. the states with enough muscle and interests to protect themselves on their own, and the mid-sized and small powers at the bottom, i.e. those that must seek the protection of one of the great powers or the promise of their neutrality. This situation automatically implies that the fundamental decisions that shape the evolution of the international system are taken by the great powers, representing a minority among the world’s sovereign states. This group essentially governs the world: it sets the formal and informal rules by which international relations must be played. Clearly, this is not a legitimate government founded on the monopoly of force, much less a democratic form of government, therefore it is qualitatively different to the government within the framework of a sovereign state. In the European system of states, there were never more than six great powers at any given time: in this multipolar system, some saw their status slide, others disappeared altogether, only to be replaced by ‘new entries’. Conversely, the world system that emerged after the two wars was dominated until the end of the East-West conflict by two superpowers: the United States and the USSR, in a bipolar system. Today the situation is unsettled and very probably transient: there are monopolar aspects (i.e. the supremacy of the US) alongside tendencies towards multipolarism (the rise of China, India and the European Union — in addition to the fact that the Russian federation still harbours a massive nuclear weapons stockpile and possesses great and as yet unfulfilled economic potential).
The existence of the great powers constitutes a structural cornerstone in the framework of international anarchy, and brings an albeit general element of order into international relations, in particular between large and small states. Balance is another essential element, and it can be seen governing relations among the great powers; it also adds an element of order. By stating that balance has been underpinning relations between the great powers, what is really being said is that there is an enduring condition of relatively equal force among the great powers dominating the European and world system (as well as among the city-states of ancient Greece and 15th century Italy). Such a situation prevented any one state from rising above the others, and therefore implied the automatic quelling of any hegemonic ambitions through the formation of a coalition of several great powers against the strongest state and its allies, or simply through the opposition of one power against the other in the case of a bipolar system. However, though the mechanism of balance was clearly not enough to repress international anarchy, with its violent and belligerent manifestations, it was able to curb them. Widespread wars have broken out only when the scales have been tipped by a major power unleashing its hegemonic impulses, whilst when balance reigns there have been long periods in which wars were absent or limited. It has been thanks to balance in the European and world system that the great powers have been able to preserve their independence, and that a pluralistic system of sovereign states has thrived, even going so far as to allow midsized and small powers to enjoy a limited degree of autonomy.
Any discussion of balance between the powers cannot overlook the views of realists about the sea change brought about by the of atomic and nuclear weapons. The quantum leap that these weapons of mass destruction, including an increasingly lethal array of chemical and bacteriological weapons, have determined in international anarchy’s relentless pursuit of ever more efficient armaments, has led to a radically new form of balance. What has developed is a system of deterrence, known also as the balance of terror: a situation in which all-out war between the great powers would be a collective suicide, leading to such total destruction as to wipe the human race from the face of the earth. But while the rational inconceivability of all-out war has not eliminated relations of force between the states or war on a limited or local scale, it has shifted the accent of national security from defence to weapons control and the prevention of war. Essentially, relations between the great powers now feature a new factor: solidarity for the sake of common survival.
Scientific progress has brought about another history-making consequence: environmental interdependence. This means a situation where a growing number of decisions that are within the realm of each state’s sovereignty, including the decision to wage war, can lead to catastrophes of continental and global proportions, and ultimately jeopardize the survival of life on the planet earth. The situation also demands solidarity for survival, which translates into the need for growing international cooperation and increasingly stringent regional and global accords to counter threats against all of humanity.
Besides the interdependence of states associated with the challenge to our common survival, contemporary realism also takes into account the influence on international relations of growing economic interdependence, associated first with the industrial revolution and then the technical-scientific revolution. In every state, the expansion of prosperity has gone hand in hand with the opening up of markets, and insofar as the rational inconceivability of all-out war is concerned, this has powerfully stimulated international economic cooperation.
Among the factors curbing the violence associated with international anarchy, it is worth noting that unlike states with authoritarian or totalitarian regimes, states with liberal democratic regimes, featuring an effective separation and a substantial decentralization of powers — or even a federal structure — are more unlikely to adopt a belligerent foreign policy, since the balance between the powers of the state hinders rapid decision-making and intervention at the international level. This by no means implies the existence of an automatic nexus between democracy within states and the overcoming of relations of force between states.
All the factors illustrated above tend to preserve the pluralistic nature of the international system, and to some extent discourage trials of strength; as such they have given rise to several significant phenomena typical of international relations, which need now to be pondered.
It must first be noted that the hierarchy between states and the balance among the major world powers constitute two fundamental structural elements in the framework of international anarchy, determining its transformation from a loose grouping of states into a system of states, or rather, an arrangement — as the word “system” suggests — featuring a certain order, and therefore generating relatively comprehensible and predictable concrete developments. Historically, the balance between the major powers, in particular, constitutes the factual condition that led the world’s states to recognize one another reciprocally and formally as sovereign states. In modern Europe, this permitted the rise and gradual spread of international law, along with its relative effectiveness despite the fact that it did not derive from a sovereign power. According to the paradigm of raison d’état, in point of fact, the rules of international law that states effectively abide by derive their factual authority not so much from the principle of pacta sunt servanda, which is essentially a value judgement, as from the fact that given a balanced scenario, where it is factually impossible to eliminate the sovereignty of other states, the main actors in the international system have had to recognize the need to coexist, for better or worse. Though not relinquishing power politics or war as a last resort, they have settled for regulating their anarchical coexistence by forging a special sort of law, one that justifies the routine use of violence and is subordinate to relations of strength and hierarchies between states. In short, though no sovereign power enforces compliance with international law, there is nonetheless a situation of power, albeit as unstable as the balance between the sovereign states, which largely amounts to the same thing. As to the forms of interdependence mentioned earlier, which developed within the system of states, these lie at the basis of international organizations like the United Nations; their development in the post-war period has been far more dramatic that at any other time. Expanding international interdependence — of which economic globalization represents the latest development — has indeed imposed increasing cooperation between states, and accordingly international law has acquired unprecedented quantitative and qualitative importance for managing major issues that cannot be settled by isolated actions on the part of individual states. The role of non-governmental actors in international relations has also become more relevant; these include multinationals and non governmental humanitarian and environmental organizations.
Many experts in international relations observe these phenomena and argue that the fundamental concepts of state sovereignty and international anarchy are increasingly unable to describe contemporary reality, since state sovereignty has become largely eroded and with it the very foundations of the qualitative distinction between international and internal relations. Advocates of the paradigm of raison d’état dispute that international organizations are dominated factually (and formally in the case of the UN Security Council) by the superpowers, adding that the role of the multinationals, though important, is still ultimately dictated by the power of the state they belong to, while the function of the NGO’s, in the framework of inter-state cooperation, does not challenge the rules of the game put in place by the great powers. Thus the states remain the leading actors in international relations, which are governed by force, unlike internal relations; all states in fact maintain larger armed forces than their internal security would warrant. If the state sovereignty-international anarchy dichotomy still stands, then one must ask how it is possible to reconcile the anarchic structure of inter-state society with the survival and progress of mankind. Does history’s agenda now call for the creation of an effective and democratic world government, and how can this be achieved? This question raises the issue of the federalist paradigm and how it encompasses and overrides the paradigm of raison d’état.
Perpetual Peace and the World Federal State.
We stated at the outset that the distinction between federalist theory and theory of raison d’état lies not in the cognitive aspect, about which there is substantial convergence, but rather in the evaluative one. The value guiding theorists of raison d’état is security, and thus the power of their state, since they cannot conceive of eliminating international anarchy. In short, they view the plurality of absolute sovereign states not as a stepping stone in history’s development, but as the journey’s end. This reflects an ideological prejudice of a nationalistic nature which holds, through different arguments according to the various trends forming the tradition of raison d’état, that the principal driver of progress lies in the plurality of sovereign states and hence in their contentious relations. Conversely, the value guiding federalists is peace and thus the conviction that at this historical juncture of our advanced industrial revolution, commitment towards human progress is indissolubly linked with concrete commitment towards non-violent international relations. Fuelling this belief are the enlightened thoughts on peace contained in the political-legal writings of Kant and in his philosophy of history, which need to be briefly alluded to here.[3]
First of all, Kant explains clearly what peace is, based on a realistic vision of international relations. Peace must not be mistaken for the mere absence of war. Such periods are simply phases of truce between wars because, as long as anarchical relations exist between states, and no higher authority exists to force them into lawful relations, war will always be the typical tool for settling international disputes on issues regarded as vital. War is therefore always present even when it is not being actively waged, because states use truce to prepare themselves not just militarily but also economically, socially, politically and morally for war. International anarchy cannot coexist with peace, which transforms relations of force between states into legal relations proper, making war structurally impossible by the expansion of statehood on a universal scale.
Secondly, Kant forges a vital link between the overcoming of international anarchy — the realization of perpetual peace — and the constitution of a republican system within the state. By this Kant meant what we today would call a liberal-democratic regime, and he believed that it represented a fundamental milestone in the development of the human race. On the other hand, he went along with the teachings of the theorists of raison d’état, who maintained that the existence of power relations between states makes external security a priority. This favours authoritarian tendencies and structures in the internal life of the state since these are better able to preserve and consolidate the power needed to survive amid international anarchy. Kant therefore realized that at times of crisis, liberal and democratic principles would be systematically laid aside in favour of raison d’état, i.e. the principle that security is the state’s uppermost priority.[4] It should be noted that this consideration applies equally to socialism, which at the time of Kant had not yet emerged as one of the modern world’s major ideologies: like liberalism and democracy, socialism has always viewed the raison d’état as a definite hindrance to the fulfilment of its demand for social justice, and hence to implement for the whole population the principles of liberalism and democracy. Kant had a realistic view of the despotic implications of power politics; he contended that international anarchy would need to be overcome to permit the full expansion of republicanism.
It goes without saying that the concept of perpetual peace elaborated by Kant at the end of the 18th century cannot be regarded as mere utopianism: Kant was acutely aware that it will take a very long time for mankind to mature sufficiently to realize perpetual peace. However, there is a real chance that it will materialize. On the one hand, history has witnessed the overcoming of anarchy in relations between individuals through the creation of a state capable of imposing respect of the law from within. Therefore it cannot be ruled out a priori that with further progress, international anarchy might also be overcome. On the other hand, displaying an extraordinary capacity to foresee the huge challenges of the 20th century that would eventually usher in supranational integration, Kant argues that such progress will be driven by the combined strength of two powerful historical forces. One is the development of trade, which will make mankind increasingly interdependent and thus multiply the opportunities for conflict, but also create a strong need for tools to peaceably resolve conflicts, which means enlarging statehood. The other factor has been identified as the growing destructiveness of war due to scientific and technological advancement, which will call for a determined effort to overcome the phenomenon of war to escape the fate of collective self-destruction.[5]
It has to be stressed that Kant’s enlightened thoughts on the need for supranational democratic unification were not matched by a clear vision of the institutional system required to achieve this goal. Though making reference to federation, the German philosopher had no first hand knowledge of a federal state, the first example of which came about with the drafting at the Philadelphia Convention of the Constitution of the United States of America in 1787, and whose theory had been elaborated in particular by Alexander Hamilton.[6] According to this theory, the federal state — which attributes to central government only the tasks deemed as essential for maintaining political and economic unity (foreign policy, defence, currency and, in general, the economic decisions needed to preserve the unity of the market) and leaves the federal states the utmost autonomy — is the only institutional system that allows democratic participation to be organized on a continental and possibly even global scale; in other words, the only system that can unite democracies without the drawbacks of a centralized state. So the federal state is the constitutional structure that can realize peace based on democratic government, by subordinating all of the world’s states to an authority capable of replacing relations of force with relations based on the law.
Having reviewed Kant’ s thoughts on perpetual peace, we can now say that one of the most qualifying aspects of the MFE’s federalist theory is its ability to follow through and render his thoughts relevant to today’s world. Albertini picks up where Spinelli left off, demonstrating with unparalleled and uncompromising clarity that peace has become the supreme goal of the political struggle in the era of the ‘second’ industrial revolution and of the transition towards the scientific revolution, and that federalism is the institutional tool for attaining this goal. In particular, Albertini convincingly argues that the European Federation must be regarded as the first and most significant milestone on the path towards world federation.[7] To grasp the significance and clarity of this theory of federalism, which brings together the realism of the theory of raison d’état with the pacifism of Kant, I draw the reader’s attention to a specific point that is of central relevance to the matter at hand: federalism’s critical stance on internationalism and the capacity to transcend it.
Federalism’s Critique of Internationalism.
Internationalism began to be espoused at the end of the 18th century — around the time of the French Revolution — by the prevailing ideologies that initiated processes of deep change in the structure of the modern state. Liberalism, democracy and socialism (including both varieties, social-democracy and communism) can all trace their philosophical origins directly or indirectly back to the emancipating and universalistic thrust of enlightenment.
There are two main aspects to the internationalistic component of these ideologies: the first is cosmopolitanism, according to which it is impossible to consider the values of liberty, equality and social justice as principles valid for only one country and its domestic domain. Since these values are intrinsically universal, their realization at the national level can only be regarded as a necessary step towards their extension across Europe and the world. The second element is the theory of the primacy of internal politics, as referred to international relations and the causes of war, and thus also the means for realizing peace. According to this notion, war essentially depends on certain structures typical of states, therefore when such structures are overcome, the elimination of war and the development of a system of enduringly peaceful relations between states must necessarily follow.
Liberalism, democracy and socialism take a radically different view of the domestic structures they regard as the basis of political power, and the structures that can override it. In essence: according to liberal beliefs the fundamental cause of war lies in aristocratic-absolutist politics and mercantile-protectionist economics; consequently, the emergence of representative governments elected only by the well-to-do, along with the division of powers and the growth of international trade should quell the belligerent tendencies of states. Democracy sees the cause of wars in the authoritarian character of governments and hence views peace as the automatic result of establishing popular sovereignty. Socialism, lastly, regards modern capitalism’s exploitation of workers as the ultimate cause of imperialism and war, pointing to the struggle for social justice as the key to dissolving antagonism between the classes and at the same time ensuring peace; for social democrats, social justice brings the welfare state into the liberal democratic picture, while for communists it means completely abolishing private property of the means of production and subsistence to the people, and introducing the dictatorship of the proletariat. But apart from these differences, the internationalistic approach shares the conviction that a world made up of liberal, and respectively, democratic, socialist and communist states, would be steered by liberal and, respectively, democratic, socialist and communist ideas and therefore this would stamp out phenomena associated with power politics and caused by the as yet incomplete or non universal fulfilment of the principles of internal organization of the state as affirmed by those ideologies.
Federalism is a far cry from this approach, which essentially sees foreign policy as a function of domestic policy.[8] In terms of values, federalists are cosmopolitan for two reasons: because they believe in the universality of democracy, which, to be effective, must blend with liberalism and social justice; and because their guiding value is universal peace. It is, indeed, federalism’s ability to fully appreciate the teachings of political realism that distances it from internationalism, in terms of the former’s identification of the institutional tools necessary for achieving peace, and of the concrete political action — the strategy, in fact — with which to strive for it.
Federalists realize that power politics and the anarchical structure of the society of states are inextricably intertwined, and as such they acknowledge the fundamental autonomy of foreign policy with respect to domestic policy. Therefore, it is their view that the priority of external security represents an insurmountable hindrance to the full attainment of democracy. Hence, the conviction that peace requires far more than struggles inspired by internationalist ideologies that aim primarily to bring about domestic change, while on the international front they are represented organizationally and institutionally at the level of civil society by international associations, and at the level of inter-governmental relations, from the League of Nations to the United Nations. International anarchy must, instead, be quashed by federal ties that eliminate the absolute sovereignty of the state.
The superiority of the federal over the internationalist approach is not only a question of faith: history since the French Revolution also proves it. In fact, as regimes have come and gone, either naturally or following revolutions, the European (and thus the world) system of states has taken many different turns both internally and internationally, but one thing has remained unchanged: the tendency of the political classes to consider external security a priority above and beyond all else, and to behave according to the dictates of raison d’état, irregardless of the ideological affinities shared by different states. This general consideration needs to be qualified with regards to contemporary democratic internationalism. But first several points have to be clarified. To start with, while democracy in the past has clashed, sometimes quite aggressively, with liberalism and social democracy, today there is a common tendency in the industrialized world to believe that the democratic system must necessarily incorporate liberal principles (as a guarantee against majority rule) and the welfare state (as a condition for all citizens to be truly free and equal). The basis of this convergence — which admits differing opinions and hence tolerates clashes between progressives and conservatives who nevertheless do not dispute the democratic system as their common home — lies in economic and social progress, which may have failed to overcome conflicts between the different segments of society, but has certainly resolved the existential conflict between opposing classes. Secondly, democratic internationalism today enjoys a dominant position worldwide: following the collapse of soviet communism there is no significant internationalistic alternative to democracy. Thirdly, democratic internationalism is the only true dialogue partner of federalism, which has traditionally opposed totalitarian leanings both towards the right and the left.
Having cleared up these points, it needs to be emphasized that federalism’s critical view of democratic internationalism does not imply a belief that the success of the democratic regime is irrelevant with respect to the issue of overcoming international anarchy. Quite the opposite: the inescapable condition for effective federal relations between states is — as mentioned earlier — their democratic nature, both because the federal state is a constitutional system capable of extending democratic government over an ever increasing area and ultimately the entire world, and also because an authoritarian or totalitarian power that will not accept limits internally, cannot accept them externally either, unless imposed by force. But in this case we would have an empire and not a federation.
So while democracy is the prerequisite for realizing peace, the fact remains that it does not automatically lead to this goal: per se, democracy does not imply the overcoming of international anarchy. It should be noted that this statement is not convincingly refuted by theorists of democratic internationalism, who state that throughout history most wars are between non-democratic states or waged by the latter against democratic states, particularly in the period after 1945, when, it is argued, a sort of “perpetual peace” came into being among democracies.[9] There are several weaknesses in these claims, which obviously deny the inseparable link between peace and the overcoming of the absolute sovereignty of the state: they overlook the existence of nuclear weapons, which make war between the great powers an inconceivable eventuality; the hegemonic power of the United States over other democracies since 1945; the fact that within the framework of American hegemony, Western Europe has embarked on a profound process of supranational integration (which we will explore later), characterized by the seeds of federalism and a level of interdependence such as to render a war between member-states impossible.
In reality, the failure to admit that democracy alone is not enough to obtain peace — solid federal relations are needed if it is to be perpetual — means that democratic internationalism remains a prisoner of nationalism, and accordingly, believes the plurality of sovereign states to be immovable.
Overcoming Internationalism in Practice.
Let us now examine how else federalism differs from internationalism, i.e. in the strategy for achieving peace. Internationalism seeks to pursue international co-operation as opposed to abolishing the absolute sovereignty of individual states, and as such views the mere existence national democratic governments as the fundamental tool for constructing peace. In brief, as national democracy develops and thrives, so does democracy at the international level. Conversely, federalism pursues supranational statehood, and as such views national democratic governments as a contradiction to the goal of peace. Such governments are both a means and a hindrance to the achievement of supranational federalism first in Europe and then in the world. Let us first examine this statement by Spinelli[10] which Albertini clarifies with great rigour by shedding creative light on the teachings of political realism.
If the peaceful federal unification of states requires Kantian republicanism, then it transpires that unification must be based on the free decisions of democratic national governments. Unification imposed with force by a hegemonic power cannot be peaceful, and must perforce lead to despotism. However, there is another reason why democratic national governments are indispensable actors in the process of European unification: they are structurally forced by history since the second world war, to implement a policy of European unification, insofar as the collapse of Europe’s national states implies a crucial choice: “unite or perish”.
If the foregoing argument implies that democratic governments are to be regarded as tools, they are also partly a hindrance to the creation of a European Federation, which is the only means for making European unification an irreversible process. Creating a European Federation does not just mean delegating powers to supranational organs while leaving the ultimate decision-making in the hands of national governments. It means transferring sovereignty permanently to a supranational state which will give national states a wide margin of autonomy, but will deprive them of absolute sovereignty. The structural opposition of national governments to this prospect is rooted in the law of the preservation of power. As the theory of raison d’état puts it, ever since Machiavelli, the holders and wielders of political power have had an inexorable tendency to preserve and strengthen it. What is at stake is not just a personal craving for power, though this may definitely be a factor, but rather the fact that political power — in the last analysis, the monopoly of legitimate force — is the necessary condition for the survival and evolution of society. Consequently, the law of the preservation of power also applies to democratic states which are always liable to slip into anarchy if the political power weakens, and is a major obstacle to the transfer of sovereignty even when the alternative is “unite or perish”. The structurally contradictory attitude of democratic governments towards supranational unification means that in the absence of a factor external to the logic of their behaviour, the only type of unification they will admit is one that does not involve the irrevocable transfer of sovereignty. Such a factor is represented by the intervention of a political actor capable of democratically forcing national governments, by leveraging the objective contradictions they harbour as a result of the historical crisis afflicting national states.
Let us first consider the objective premise for the transition to supranational federalism: the state of crisis that national states have reached, to the point where the only politically viable alternative is “unite or perish”. The cause of this situation lies in the collapse of the European system of states; the cold war combined with the pressures exerted by the hegemonic power of the United States over Western Europe paved the way for the process of integration with the community method. It is here that the formidable inertial force of the preservation of power manifests itself in the endless postponement of the federal solution — despite the Schuman Declaration. But this tendency is undermined primarily by two major contradictions generated by the transition from mere international co-operation to supranational integration.
The first is the precarious and inefficient nature of functionalistic unification. Though containing the seeds of federalism, community functionalistic institutions are characterized by the unanimous decisions of governments on fundamental issues. Therefore they are structurally weak and have proven to be unable to act effectively when serious problems arise. Hence the slow decision-making, continuous postponements, and precariousness of the European integration process, and the resulting frustration though this in turn can lead to an even stronger determination to support federalism. On top of the lack of efficiency, there is also a lack of democracy. On the one hand, functionalistic integration within the European community produces an albeit less than perfect supranational decision-making mechanism, along with a deeply rooted interdependence that, together, progressively deplete the decision-making capability of national democratic systems. But on the other, no fully developed supranational democratic system is in place, since at that level intergovernmental and technocratic procedures still very much prevail. The paradox, i.e. when there is a decision-making capability there is no fully democratic system in place, and when such a system is in place at the national level, no strategically important decisions are made any more — is destined to create growing discomfort among the advocates of democracy, be they parties or individual citizens. Such discomfort may erupt into a crisis ringing the death knell for democracy, but it may just as easily support the idea of supranational democracy.
Compellingly, the political relevance of the “unite or perish” alternative has put national governments on a slippery slope, which does not invariably lead to a happy outcome — the alternative for sovereign national states could be a breakdown into micro-nations — but also concretely smoothes the way to abolish the system of sovereign states in Europe. For this to happen, a situation amenable to positive revolutionary change must go hand in hand with the intervention of a revolutionary actor capable of making the most of the possibilities that the situation offers. This actor is a movement for European Federation independent of national governments and political parties but with the ability to exert enough democratic pressure as to persuade them to act in ways that “go against the grain”.[11]
The teachings of political realism concerning the drivers of revolutionary change go back several centuries to the famous passage mentioned repeatedly by Spinelli and Albertini — in Machiavelli’s The Prince on innovators who introduce a new order of things, who must use force to achieve what they want, rather than merely pray for it. Because it is inspired by this tradition, the main thrust of the federalist argument on strategy states that the movement for European federation must be autonomous if it is to successfully pursue and achieve its objective. The three fundamental principles driving federalist autonomy, as theorized above all by Mario Albertini and implemented by the MFE under his guidance, lie at the political, organizational and financial level.
The first principle, political autonomy, is embodied in the formation of a movement, as opposed to a party. The purpose of the movement is to bring together the supporters of European federation — naturally within a supranational organization — irregardless of their ideologies (obviously excluding the advocates of totalitarianism) or social layer. Of course the struggle to conquer national power, which would become the fundamental aim of the movement for European federation if it set itself up as a party, would inevitably undermine the battle to transfer a substantial portion of this power to supranational institutions. Hence the refusal on the part of the core group of militants guiding and managing the MFE to identify with any national party. It has thus been possible, at crucial times, to establish invaluable relations of cooperation and tactical alliance with democratic parties, some of whose members have joined the movement, and at the same time safeguard federalist independence.
The principle of organizational autonomy concerns the training and selection of militants, where it is essential to steer clear of a burdensome and costly administrative apparatus that would inevitably exert an influence the movement, since it would depend essentially on external financial support for its survival. Hence the decision that all federalist militants must be part-time militants, with an occupation providing sufficient income to guarantee their economic independence but at the same time enough time to dedicate to their federalist pursuits. Thanks to this arrangement, the organization is low-cost, and therefore immune from any attempt on the part of political or economic forces to apply pressure or blackmail.
The third principle, lastly, is financial autonomy, attained specifically through the institution of self-financing. In concrete terms, this means that militants recruited by the Italian federalist organization have always realized that their work for federalism would never generate profits, but rather would cost them money. This approach has become the financial basis of the MFE, but it has not banned external funding — such support has been used primarily to finance specific projects, while the permanent structure of the organization has always relied on its “own resources”. This has constituted an additional safeguard against yielding to any form of outside influence.
But beyond its political, organizational and financial autonomy, the MFE rests on the most important foundation of all: cultural autonomy. Only the strongest cultural motivation, along with an equally firm moral conviction, and the knowledge that federalism truly has something new to say in terms of values and an understanding of the current historical juncture with respect to prevailing political thought, can forgo the motivations of power and money and fuel the often challenging and demanding long-term commitment in a group of militants large enough to build an autonomous federalist force with the strength to make a difference.
Cultural autonomy, for federalists, is grounded in the demystification of nationalism — a highly complex operation.[12] It is not just a matter of rejecting nationalism as a value choice incompatible with peace and cosmopolitanism, based on belief in the superiority of one’s own national identity over all others, thus justifying their oppression, and even going so far as practicing genocide. The demystification of nationalism also means an awareness that the dominant ideologies derived from Enlightenment (liberalism, democracy and socialism) are incapable of overcoming national sovereign states. These ideologies are universalistic and as such favourable in principle to supranational unification, but at the same time they mythicize national states, which they view as ‘natural’ institutions because they are based on pre-existing nations. They cannot see that it is states that create nations and not vice versa, nor do they consequently understand with any degree of clarity that national states are institutions that were historically determined and thus can be historically overcome. This self-mystification, which ultimately stems from a tendency to preserve power, structurally drives national democratic governments and parties to regard supranational unification as a form of close cooperation between states, rather than as an irrevocable hand-over of national sovereignty to federal institutions.
Assuming that the demystification of nationalism constitutes the basic foundation of federalist autonomy, then it must follow on the practical level that there is an urgent need for militant federalists to systematically denounce the limits of internationalism. They must also denounce functionalistic theories emphasizing the automatic nature of European integration without fully appreciating how strongly national powers can resist as they have not totally shaken off the grip of nationalist ideology, that disguises the true nature of political power. In other words, this also applies to pacifism, which sorely underestimates the issue of statehood in general, and is vulnerable to being instrumentalized by the tendency of absolute sovereignty to preserve itself. Of course internationalists, functionalists and pacifists converge in terms of shared values, and hence organized federalism also strives to involve them in the struggle to reach the goals of federalism. But to succeed, federalist activists must come to grips with the fact that these efforts are nowhere near enough to achieve the goal of peace: and it is in the very nature of federalism to overcome them. Otherwise, dialogue with internationalists, functionalists and pacifists might lead to a loss of identity and thus of autonomy for federalism.
So far we have considered the link between the need for federalism’s autonomy and the acknowledgement that democratic national governments are both a means and a hindrance to federal unification. This fundamental independent variable in federalism’s approach to strategy leads to a consequence of decisive relevance to the process for building European unity: to realize federal institutions, without which integration is inevitably precarious and reversible, the constituent assembly method must prevail over the diplomatic method of intergovernmental conferences.
The method of a European Constituent Assembly, whose paradigmatic model is the Philadelphia Convention of 1787 which drafted history’s first federal constitution, essentially signifies three things: attribution of the task of defining European institutions to a parliamentary body which, unlike diplomatic conferences, deliberates in open sessions monitored by public opinion; decisions taken by majority vote rather than on the basis of the principle of unanimity (which constitutes the first rule of diplomatic conferences); ratification by majority vote of the project approved by the Constituent Assembly, and enforcement of the project only among the ratifying countries. The decision to adopt this approach stems not only from the principles of democracy but also from considerations dictated by political realism: essentially, when deliberations are reached unanimously and secretly by national governments and diplomacies, the tendency towards upholding absolute sovereignty is inexorably destined to outweigh the need for effective unification. Conversely, with the constituent democratic method, the approach favouring federal institutions would be incomparably stronger, because it would amplify the pro-European attitude already widespread among public opinion, especially in countries where the crisis of the national state is felt more acutely, and even among democratic parties with internationalistic leanings.
For these reasons, the strategic aim of the federalist has always been to compel governments to implement a democratic constituent process. The pursuit of this objective has not, however, weakened commitment towards achieving intermediate goals such as the creation of a European army, directly elected European Parliament, and European currency. But these goals served the purpose of bringing up some of the fundamental aspects of sovereignty, thus making the start of a democratic constituent process possible. In short, this is and has been a form of constitutional gradualism,[13] which has little or nothing to do with supporting functionalistic or sectarian battles; federalist support for functionalistic gradualism would, conversely, end up blunting the strength of federalism and weakening its ability to exploit the contradictions of functionalistic integration.
The shortcomings in terms of efficiency and democracy that structurally characterize European integration, as mentioned above, place national governments on a slide, and their exploitation is precisely what needs to be leveraged in order to force the implementation of a democratic constituent process. If this operation is to be carried out effectively, the existence of an independent federalist force is not enough: it must also be employed effectively. In such a context, the capacity to mobilize public opinion and therefore, to impose the priority of the alternative between those who are for the European Federation and those who espouse national sovereignty when disputes lead to acute crises and tensions rise in the national arena. This is a necessary part of the federalist strategy, and if it is lacking or inadequate, federalist autonomy becomes an end in itself: sectarianism.
To conclude, if one of the main features of the MFE’s concept of federalism is a balanced blend of idealism and realism, much of the credit is due to Albertini. Furthermore, this concept has fostered a militant commitment that is unparalleled in Europe (and the rest of the world, for that matter); upon it rests the enduring and unchallenged leadership role of the MFE in the federalist struggle conducted by movements for European unity.

[1] I discuss the broader issue of relations between the federalist doctrine of the MFE and the doctrine of raison d’état in “Raison d’Etat, peace and the federalist strategy”, in The Federalist, XLIII (2001), no. 1, to which I also refer for the bibliographic references. It must be stressed that this article refers, unless otherwise specified, to the contribution of Albertini.
[2] Cf. in particular: Mario Albertini, La politica e altri saggi, Milan, Giuffré, 1963; Id., Il federalismo, Bologna, Il Mulino, 1993; Sergio Pistone, F. Meinecke e la crisi dello Stato nazionale tedesco, Turin, Giappichelli, 1969; Id. (editor), Politica di potenza e imperialismo. L’analisi dell’imperialismo alla luce della dottrina della ragion di Stato, Milan, F. Angeli, 1973; Id., L. Dehio, Naples, Guida, 1977; Id., “Imperialismo”, “Ragion di Stato”, “Relazioni internazionali”, in Dizionario di politica, directed by N. Bobbio, N. Matteucci, G. Pasquino, Turin, UTET, 1990.
[3] Cf. Immanuel Kant, La pace, la ragione e la storia, edited by M. Albertini, Bologna, Il Mulino, 1985.
[4] In this regard, recall the clarification offered by Seeley (Introduction to political science, London, Macmillan, 1902) who stated: “the domestic freedom of a state is inversely proportional to the pressures exerted on its borders”.
[5] It needs to be stressed here that Kant was by no means a naive pacifist, and as such he regarded war as a determining factor in historical progress, driving governments to improve the living conditions of their subjects in order to strengthen their consensus for the power politics of the state. Kant also foresaw that increasingly effective armaments would eventually cause the purely destructive aspects of war to prevail, generating a crucial need to overcome them.
[6] Cf. Lucio Levi, “La federazione: costituzionalismo e democrazia oltre i confini nazionali”, introductory essay to the last edition by A. Hamilton, J. Madison, J. Jay, Il Federalista, Bologna, Il Mulino, 1997.
[7] Cf. Mario Albertini, Nazionalismo e federalismo, edited by Nicoletta Mosconi, Bologna, Il Mulino, 1999.
[8] Cf. Lucio Levi, L’internationalisme ne suffit pas. Internationalisme marxiste et fédéralisme, Lyon, Fédérop, 1984; Id., “Che cos’è l’internazionalismo”, in Il Federalista, XXXIII (1991), no. 3; “Internazionalismo”, in Enciclopedia delle Scienze Sociali, Rome, Istituto dell’Enciclopedia Italiana, 1996.
[9] Cf., for a realistic interpretation of this current of thought, Angelo Panebianco, Guerrieri democratici. La democrazia e la politica di potenza, Bologna, Il Mulino, 1997.
[10] Cf. Altiero Spinelli, Una strategia per gli Stati Uniti d’Europa, edited by Sergio Pistone, Bologna, Il Mulino, 1989.
[11] Cf. Mario Albertini, Una rivoluzione pacifica. Dalle nazioni all’Europa, edited by Nicoletta Mosconi, Bologna, Il Mulino, 1999.
[12] Cf. Mario Albertini, Lo Stato nazionale, Bologna, Il Mulino, 1996.
[13] Cf. Mario Albertini, Una rivoluzione pacifica, cit.


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