Year XXXV, 1993, Numero 2 - Page 87

 

 

 

THE FORMATION OF A COMMON THOUGHT
 
 
One of the most commonly-recognised objectives among federalists is the need to elaborate a “common thought” for theoretical problems, political analyses and choices of action. This is in some respects a “banal” requirement, being a characteristic of any group which works on a common project. Yet the actual difficulties which arise in the process of transforming this objective into reality suggest a need to analyse the concept and its various implications more deeply, with the aim of rendering “common thought” the concept of common thought itself.
For the sake of clarity I make a distinction between common thought and collective thought. The former should be understood as the result of a cognitive process, the latter as the cognitive process itself, based on the participation of many subjects who co-operate in the pursuit and elaboration of this thought. The fact that collective thought leads to common thought depends on the method and evolution of the cognitive process, both as regards its subjective and objective features.
 
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In general, the cognitive process must be based on dialogue; on this topic it is worthwhile considering some of Karl Jaspers’ comments: “To bring men to liberty means to bring them to converse with one another. This remains bound up with illusion, however, if there are mental reservations which are not put into words – reserves upon which, inwardly breaking off communication, one draws back – if converse amounts, in fact, to a concealment, a mere gesture of giving, and the exercise of cunning. Genuine dialogue between men is without restraint and holds nothing back. Only in the complete openness of both parties does truth develop in community....
In fact, however, no one is in possession of truth as final and absolute. To seek for truth always means to be ready for communication and to expect communication from others in return. With the man who desires real truth, and therefore also communication, one can, ipso facto, speak openly on every subject; he can do the same himself, and in such a manner as neither to injure nor spare him who really wants to hear. The struggle for truth in liberty is a loving struggle.”


[1] And Jaspers continues: “It has become the decisive hallmark of the scientific man that in his researches he seeks his antagonists, and that he seeks most ardently for those who call everything in question with concrete and clearly defined ideas. Here something apparently self-destructive becomes productive. And it is the hallmark of loss of science when discussion is avoided, even declined, when thought is confined to like-minded circles and destructive aggressivity turned outward in vague generalities.”[2]
The two key words in these passages on dialogue are truth and science. Indeed, those who aim at the elaboration of a common thought, in whatever field or cognitive sphere, need to tend towards the achievement of truth. Truth does not mean the absolute overlapping of thought and reality, an impossible goal for the human mind, but rather knowledge that is socially shared. In the realm of scientific thought, truth represents all the knowledge shared by the community of scientists within a given paradigm.[3]
 
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This definition should hold for every field of knowledge, yet it is well known that the development of scientific methodology and its application still present gaps and shortcomings in those spheres of knowledge which are particularly influenced by ideological thought, or at least the predominance of subjective influences. Politics is one of these fields: although politics in particular requires a maximum of lucidity and “scientific” methodology in the elaboration of its analyses and in its choices (given that it is one of the factors which can create or destroy the framework within which human potential can develop), it is one of the most vulnerable sectors, since in it both the search for “truth” and the search for means (power) for its affirmation have always co-existed.
In examining the process of elaborating thought and political choices, a distinction has to be made between politics as power management and as, in Mario Albertini’ s term, “active thought”, in other words innovative and revolutionary thought.
In the former, common thought derives inevitably from compromises and mediation between competing or opposed interests. And since in normal politics the struggle for power is fundamental, it is not so important to reach and speak the truth as to obtain the necessary support to accede to power, regardless of the means (naturally taking into account that there are reasonable limits beyond which it would be counter-productive to go). The Machiavellian aspects of politics, which are nevertheless associated to an ethical attitude (the ethics of responsibility, as theorised by Max Weber[4]), are bound to remain until humanity becomes a rational global community, with a world federation. We can not know if this aim will be achieved or not, but we must believe in its possibility if we want to give significance to our federalist choice.
It is precisely by placing ourselves in this perspective (the perspective of working to exit pre-history in which irrationality still prevails, so as to enter into history, where rationality will predominate) that we can start to experiment, by means of “active thought”, with a “new way to make politics”, based on real common thought, the fruit of rational dialogue.
We cannot know in advance if this attempt is destined to succeed completely (yet nor should we underestimate the positive effects that an idea exerts, even one considered only as a regulatory idea, which is approached asymptotically). Nevertheless we know for certain that our movement’s features have always been somewhat different from those which exemplify traditional political parties; this has considerable consequences, including as regards the possibilities for knowledge. Since we do not seek to win and exercise power, but to create a new power (a new state), we are not (or at least we should not be) conditioned by the pursuit of support in the traditional sense. The federalists should aim at support not for the movement itself, but for its ideas. Clearly the political parties also elaborate ideas and formulate projects, but the need to turn support into votes often compels them to employ means of persuasion that have more in common with demagogy than the demonstration of the truth of their ideas and the suitability of the means to achieve them. The prerequisite for elaborating common thought lies instead in the search for “truth” as the only source of strength for the success of ideas or projects: the strength of truth consists in the fact that it is potentially valid for everybody.
 
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At this point, let us consider how to set about making practical and effective what we have defined above as the requirement to be satisfied by experiment.
First, a distinction should be made between 1) subjective aspects and 2) objective aspects of the cognitive process.
As far as 1) is concerned I make a further distinction between a) psychological problems and b) individual problems of power. By psychological problems I mean the difficulty that all of us have to “forget about ourselves” while working together to elaborate common thought and to focus only on “things”, on the objective (in other words, on “truth”). Even disregarding narcissism (which nevertheless is often encountered in more or less hidden forms, and varying degrees of acuteness), there can be no doubt that the instincts of psychological and spiritual self-preservation can make it difficult for all of us in certain situations to renounce our personal thought, either as being our own or as the result of a difficult process, at the end of which one feels satisfied and fulfilled for having arrived at a “calm area”.
I believe that all of us are aware that this potential conditioning exists, yet it can be difficult (though not impossible) to recognise it in ourselves or, once so recognised, activate defences against it.
It is easier to defend ourselves against problems connected to the will to impose our own thought for personal power reasons. This may be based on a hypertrophy of the ego and hence be linked to the above-mentioned conditioning, but, in as much as “will”, presents elements of greater awareness, due to the fact that the objective is not cognitive and its fulfilment implies strategies and tactics which inevitably make clear to us and to others the instrumental use of thought.
As far as 2) is concerned (objective aspects), we can introduce the discussion with the following assertion: “you know what you want to do”. This means that we can achieve contact with reality (i.e. elaborate a policy which is suited to the challenges to be faced and able to win unanimous approval) only if we have opted for active militancy. Hence, knowledge can not be separated from the new political behaviour, defined by Albertini as “active political thought”, which is not a technique to interpret reality, but the instrument with which to change it. This thought is active in as much as it comprises a value, is aware of the structures needed to achieve it, and identifies the historical moment when the value can be realised.
Starting from these concepts which integrate thought and action, it is possible to elaborate a general policy guideline in its theoretical, strategic and tactical aspects. Using these concepts as a basis, we will be able, as Albertini once again points out, “to control the direction of the course of history”, in other words to exercise the only “power” which is compatible with our revolutionary choice and which distinguishes us from those who are slaves or conditioned by the nature of the current political system, the division of the world into sovereign states.
These assertions are obviously only the prerequisite for giving substance to our thought in its theoretical, strategic and tactical expressions; nevertheless I hold that such assertions are essential if we seek to achieve the requirement of a common thought.
As concerns the method of cognitive process, a) it must be based on the equality of all militants. On this point it should be noted that equality does not mean that all of us are equally equipped to face whatever problems lie ahead of us: there are individuals who by virtue of age, education or profession may have greater abilities in certain fields than others, and these should be exploited; but clearly all militants who have opted for federalism with conviction and moral determination, and who abide by the regulations of the Statute regarding the inseparability of thought and action, are qualified to participate actively in all forms of elaboration (theoretical etc.) or at least to be aware of (and by consequence to influence) possible deviations from our moral, political and historical roots.
b) In the formation of common thought we should be aware of the fact that politics is a moral choice; rather, it is the moral choice par excellence, in as much as it aims at the common good. Yet, at the same time political ethics nowadays still reveals an obscure union between good and evil, in so far as what Weber called the “ethics of responsibility” still prevails, in other words the cold calculation of means, which includes even the use of deception and violence to achieve certain goals. In this event politics is tributary of morality, since in terms of the ethics of responsibility an act is “good” if its end is good, but it is not yet moral politics. Morality and politics will only coincide when power belongs to everybody and the pursuit of the common good does not comprise “violence”; hence in the world federation.
What connection is there between these considerations and the problem of elaborating a common thought? The ethics of responsibility implies considering people also as a means and not only as an end, and it is precisely this malign aspect which is at issue. To achieve our goals we cannot totally avoid this aspect (despite rejecting physical violence as a tool of political struggle), hence we should analyse the world’s current power situation, take it into account and coldly exploit any opportunities which enable us to exercise hegemony over other forces in the field.
However this same mechanism must be rejected for our internal matters. Our political choice is the only one in which the struggle for power makes no sense, since we do not seek power; hence it is the only one in which it is possible to practise the so-called ethics of principles, according to which every person must be considered as an end and not as a means. Common thought can flow only if this principle is shared by everybody, since only on the basis of such a principle can the equality of all be asserted and is it likewise possible to free ourselves from those self-deceiving aspects of thought which impede communication.
On the other hand, if this principle is not shared (and practised) by everybody, a perverted mechanism will inevitably be triggered off, due to the fact that our choice is not a religious one, in which bearing testimony and the example of rigid respect for values is important, regardless of the consequences of such behaviour. Our choice being a political one, the ethics of principles can not in every case nor in every situation be held to be the only moral principle, and can not be so considered above all when the survival of our organisation or its potential to act are endangered. For this reason, also on this front (as well as the cognitive one) we can but think of our experience as an experiment which mayor may not succeed, depending on the awareness and responsibility of all of us.
We should avoid being unduly proud and claiming that our group has no need for a process of self-education. Rather, we should consider that whereas the process of self-education on a societal level as a whole can avail itself of the instruments of legal institutions (coercive laws), this does not apply to us. It is for this reason that our task is difficult: that which we succeed in being, in thinking and doing depends solely on our success, or otherwise, in sharing (each of us through independent, individual choice) certain principles and putting them into practice.
c) The formation of thought should be based on the collective contribution of militants. This does not mean that the analyses and resultant final decisions should consist of adding up everybody’s contributions. On this point, it is worth drawing a comparison with the concept of the general will elaborated by Rousseau when examining the foundations of democracy: “There is often a great difference between the will of all and the general will; the general will studies only the common interest while the will of all studies private interest, and is indeed no more than the sum of individual desires”.[5] If during the formation of thought everybody can (and must) say everything that they think may contribute to knowledge and to its translation into action, the desire to “contain everything” inside the thought which has arrived at its final elaboration (based on the idea that only in this way is thought truly common), is entirely unrelated to the way in which science proceeds and to the aim of reaching the “truth”, but even more simply this intent introduces a foreign element: the desire not to injure anyone’s feelings. However, this subject is dealt with by the above comments of Jaspers and those on the subjective aspects of the cognitive process.
d) If we start from the consideration that, being a revolutionary avant-garde, our cognitive and practical task implies the introduction of “the new” into reality, we must be able to distinguish between on the one hand investigating in all directions, considering all the stimuli offered by the historical changes that take place in the course of history, and assessing their potential, leaving thought free to investigate and meet the challenge of reality, while on the other hand, “systemising” thought itself in an established cognitive system which is able to translate into policy. Not separating these two levels creates confusion and an inability to communicate.
e) It is necessary to reflect that it is easier to reach unanimous approval of the theoretical aspects of a general policy guideline than its strategic and tactical aspects. This can be explained by the fact that the latter are more subject to influences outside our common cultural heritage. Indeed, it can happen for example that disorientation conditions our strategic role when events that are out of our control seem to banish us to the sidelines and leaves us feeling powerless. It is equally possible that such a disorientation leads us to believe that the most important thing is to assert our presence and existence with the traditional instruments of political propaganda, which often condemn without proposing alternatives, criticise without being constructive, and boil down to empty squabbles or vain political showmanship. We can not allow ourselves to fall into this trap and the way to avoid this danger lies in giving a common meaning to the concept of the “role of a revolutionary avant-garde” (control of the direction of the course of history on the basis of active political thought).
 
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In conclusion I believe that the foundation of real unanimity lies in clarifying to ourselves and reciprocally such concepts, which Albertini has repeatedly called to our attention and which are presented here as a contribution (without any claim to completeness) to the reciprocal “communication” of which Jaspers spoke, the foundation of liberty and truth.
Naturally, given that knowledge is an at times long and tortuous process, and having our own requirement to keep up with the pace of events, not as a mere academic exercise but in order to act, we can not envisage cutting ourselves off in isolation, like a student or scientist, even were it to be productive, until everything is clear to everybody. There may be issues, especially strategic ones, which require a choice; a decision as to what to do, regardless of whether it is deeply and knowingly shared by all. Clearly in this event a principle outside the “law of truth” must hold, and it can be none other than the principle which lies at the heart of the “rule of democracy”, which remains imperfect, but irreplaceable, in other words the rule of the majority, on the subject of which Habermas wrote: “...The majority and the truth do not necessarily coincide... But a decision taken by majority vote can be interpreted as a conditioned consensus of a minority that concedes its will to the majority, albeit with the reserve that the decisions of the majority are taken in conditions where opinions are both debated and public, and hence remain available for revision in the light of better arguments. In order for submission, albeit temporarily, to the will of the majority, the minority should not be expected to renounce their convictions (which they hold to be more valid). The minority simply needs to wait until it can convince the majority, in a free and public comparison of opinions, to opt for its own will... Without such a discursive procedure there exists no democratic formation of will.”[6]
These assertions clearly refer to traditional political dialectic and as such interpret the rules of an imperfect democracy which has yet to manifest itself as the general will. Yet, notwithstanding this, on the one hand it is a “practical” response to the “practical” need to take decisions, according to the concept mentioned above, and on the other it contains within itself, in the concept of “discursive procedure,” the rational need for truth as the fruit of an open, cognitive process that is never static, but capable of self-correction through dialogue.
 
Nicoletta Mosconi


[1] Karl Jaspers, The origin and goal of history, New Haven and London, Yale University Press, 1968, pp. 156-157.
[2] Ibid., p. 93.
[3] Thomas S. Kuhn, The structure of scientific revolutions, Chicago, The University of Chicago, 1962.
[4] Max Weber, Politik als Beruf, Wissenschaft als Beruf, Berlin, Duncker & Humblot, 1948.
[5] Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The social contract, London, Penguin books, p. 72.
[6] Jürgen Habermas, Die Nachholende Revolution, Frankfurt am Main, Suhrkamp Verlag, 1990.

 

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