Year XL, 1998, Number 2 - Page 154

 

 

IDEOLOGY, UTOPIA AND RELIGION
 
 
Foreword.
 
It is well known, to most people at least, that there are two conceptions of the term federalism which, while having many points of contact, nevertheless present substantial differences.
The first — the classical and better known view, which some call “Hamiltonian” because it inspired the founding fathers of the United States — is of essentially liberal matrix, with the doctrine of liberalism as its premise and background. Its specific objective is not to propose a general idea of man, of society and of the state, but to suggest a scientifically valid means of replacing the rule of violence in relations between states with the rule of law, by overcoming state sovereignty: limited, but not cancelled, in a political order characterized as much by a real unity of the whole as by a real autonomy of the parts.
Parallel to this conception there is however another, primarily of French origin, which is presented as a genuine philosophy, and as such claims to possess a global response, as far as this is possible today, to all the fundamental political problems — and not only to those of order and peace — which plague humanity. This is integral, or global federalism, of Proudhonian matrix, whose leader today is Alexandre Marc and whose organ is the journal — founded by Marc — L’Europe en Formation from Nice.
I in any case, having formed my views in the Italian federalist tradition, from Einaudi through Spinelli, Rossi and Albertini — which descends from the liberal federalism of the Federal Union and Lionel Robbins —, while recognizing various merits in Marc and his school of thought, remain ideologically, as well as sentimentally, bound to the Hamiltonian conception: and it was in support of this central thesis that in 1996 I participated in an international conference, organized by followers of Alexandre Marc and dedicated to the theme “Ideology, utopia and religion considered from the federalist point of view”. The paper I presented on that occasion is reproduced, with various cuts and some modifications, in the pages that follow.
 
Rudolf Bultmann: Demythologisation of Religion…
 
I would like to start with the distinction drawn a great theologian and student of the history of Christianity, Rudolf Bultmann, between kerugma and mythos. It is scarcely necessary to remind my listeners of the essence of this conception, so well known is it. In approaching a religion, and in particular Christianity, the historian’s analysis and the philosopher’s judgement must distinguish, and clearly separate, what really constitutes the profound and eternally valid message (a system of moral teachings which the Kantian imperative has “rationalised”) from that which is, so to speak, the external clothing, the myth: a web of legends, tales and miracles, of superhuman qualities and deeds attributed to superhuman beings: a “wrapping” which, thanks to its hold on the imagination of the masses, has contributed decisively to the affirmation of the Christian religion, for example, and has constituted the indispensable “vector” which, in the west, has allowed it to acquire and its cultural hegemony.
From this starting point then, the tolerance towards religious beliefs proper to the democratic idea is justified and must be defended in the field of politics: a tolerance which became established in Europe in reaction to the crimes of intolerance which characterised the wars of religion during the Reformation and Counter-reformation. It is a liberal conception which Rawls[1] recently expressed in more general terms: the existence of reasonable but incompatible convictions does not undermine the functioning of a well-ordered society, as long as the latter is not seen as unified by its moral convictions, but by the principle of tolerance, so that the divergence of moral ideals and cultural horizons does not prevent recognition of the same rules of justice and the pursuit of the community’s interest before all else.
Herein lies the essence of liberalism, from this point of view, and I do not believe that federalism, one of whose fundamental inspirations is ecumenism, has anything to modify in this idea of tolerance, which is also its own.[2]
 
…and of Political Ideologies.
 
Bultmann’s theory referred to above — the roots of which can be found in Spinoza’s Tractatus theologicus-politicus — can be related to Raymond Boudon’s theory that successful ideologies are all based on a “scientific core” (the equivalent of Bultmann’s kerugma), from which a more or less all-encompassing myth is constructed, which forgets the limitations and the profound meaning of the message.[3]
Boudon thus shows, quite rightly, how the kind of demythologisation proposed by Bultmann in the religious field must be applied, mutatis mutandis, to political ideologies.
 
The Concept of Ideology.
 
To make this point clearer it is worth first finding a better definition of the meaning and import of the word “ideology”. In harmony with those numerous, if not innumerable authors who have laboured over this problem,[4] ideology can be defined as a “holistic” conception which, starting with a genuine nucleus, resorts to arbitrary generalisations and ends up forgetting the limited and relative nature of this truth, arriving at an all-encompassing vision of society and of history. It thus becomes one-sided, reductive and finally false, whatever the causes — as a rule at least partially subconscious — of such a distortion: simple ignorance; class interests (Marx); or a will for political power (Cassirer).
Ideology is therefore a conception which lacks consciousness, i.e. a clear awareness of the meaning of philosophy, which is defined by Georg Simmel as the interpretation and construction of the world starting from a particular point of view, in other words a personal vision of all that is. This implies a consciousness of the relative nature of all philosophical systems, none of which is capable of an exhaustive, once-and-for-all explanation of reality in all its aspects, and which therefore is wrong if it makes any such claim, however valid it may be in what it has to say in relation to the specific problem, time and place in which it was conceived and to which it remains bound.[5]
 
The Risk of the Myth…
 
Ernst Cassirer, whom we quoted above,[6] rightly warns us against the danger, still a constant threat today, of the shift from the rational nucleus to the mythical generalisation to which there is an almost irresistible tendency to resort whenever there is a lack of scientifically appropriate means to resolve serious difficulties facing society and the state. (Cassirer, in the conclusion to his work, quotes fascism and Soviet-style communist-socialism as examples of the revival of such a “mythical” mentality, of such a regression to primitive and “magic” stages: today one might add Islamic fundamentalism). A grave danger not only in the socio-political field, but, more generally, within what the Germans call Geisteswissenschaften, or the humanities (not that the natural sciences are immune to it).[7]
Hence the importance of every mise en garde against what Boudon called the “perverse effects” which ensue from over-ambitious projects of social reform, whose results are often contrary to the intentions of their authors.[8] It is important, as I was saying, to bear in mind the distinction between what Boudon rightly calls “the scientific nucleus” of a theory, and in particular of a political project, on the one hand, from that which, on the other hand, is nothing but arbitrary illusion and wishful thinking.
 
…Exorcised by Alberto Mochi.
 
At this point I would like to bring out of oblivion the thinking of an Italian author from the first half of this century, who published his most important work in France and in French.[9]
The physico-chemical sciences, he observes, have been able to reach the level of objectivity associated with them since the days of Bacon and Galileo because of their foundation on rigorous experimentation: this rigour consisting first of all in the precise definition of their object, which Mochi calls the “presupposition” of each science. (We note in passing that with this concept Mochi, who has remained entirely unknown, anticipated Kuhn’s theory of the fundaments of science by almost half a century:[10] except that Mochi calls “presupposition” what Kuhn was to call “paradigm”. The power of what comes from the United States and is written in English!...)
But Mochi did not stop at this explanation of the objectivity of the natural sciences. These sciences, he observes, have the possibility to experiment without limitations, and for this very reason, theoretical progress in these sciences is independent of its practical applications. It is quite another matter in life sciences, beginning with medicine. Here every experimentation without limitation being either immoral (human vivisection) or impossible (in the field of sociology), the progress of every science depends, and often closely, on the progress of therapeutics — and in general, on practical applications (an objection which Mochi directs particularly against the sociologist Vilfredo Pareto).
For this reason, the politician must proceed with the same prudence as the doctor, always based on the confirmation of experience: in other words applying what Mochi — a doctor and medical philosopher[11] — calls “minimum effective intervention”. This is the course taken by the doctor to treat the patient’s most serious complaints, a course which Mochi calls the “fundamental problem” (indicazione vitale), since improvement in this area is the prerequisite to overall improvement. Here it is the practical results which guide science and for this reason, he adds, the social sciences cannot but remain closely connected with moral judgements.
Each historical era has its own “fundamental problem”: writing in the forties (Civiltià: i termini di una crisi, published in 1947), Mochi identified it as international anarchy. For Mochi, the first step to take was the realisation of a European Federation, a theory which he found convincingly confirmed, in terms particularly consonant with his own philosophy, in the works of Lionel Robbins on this topic, in particular Economic Causes of War and Economic Planning and International Order.[12] We note in passing that in this sense and within these limits, the “Hamiltonian” idea of federalism is without doubt of more immediate priority.[13]
The alternative, Mochi continued, was decadence: wherever man fails to adapt the environment to himself and ends up adapting to the environment, society deteriorates morally, in a vicious circle whose disastrous consequences, I might add, are also feared by such recent authors as Alain Minc and Umberto Eco, speaking of a new mediaeval period.[14] The same happens when, on the contrary, the attempt is made to modify the foundations of society, without the preliminary check of experience. The failure of totalitarianism and the disasters it has caused are definitive proof of this. Under the illusion of “enriching and liberating man” one succeeds only in “enslaving and mutilating him”.[15]
 
A Way Out: Karl Mannheim.
 
This rule developed by Mochi, of prudence on the basis of a careful assessment of the situation — the exact opposite to immobilism — must in my opinion now on the one hand be completed by what Karl Popper has written on “non-falsifiability” as a fundamental criterion of objective and scientific truth, and on the mistaken nature of historicism, when it claims to possess the key to grasp the laws of history and predict the future of mankind;[16] and on the other hand, be related to Karl Mannheim’s conception of Ideology and Utopia,[17] which, while theorising the still one-sided, partial and limited nature of every historical interpretation as of every political project, nevertheless, in relation to the latter, admits the possibility, for a freischwebende Intelligenz, of overcoming one-sided positions and proposals in a new dynamic synthesis, thanks to the independence of this intelligence from conditioning by the political struggle. Thus the function which Mannheim entrusts to such a learned class, as an American sociologist has remarked,[18] is comparable to the function which Hegel attributed to the “absolute Spirit” and Marx to the proletariat. Perhaps, as another interpreter of Mannheim remarks, one has here the realisation of objectivity, the foundation of politics as science.[19]
Such “freedom” of the man of culture from external conditioning is however always relative and could not alone guarantee the and scientific validity of the political projects it elaborates. Hence the importance, or rather the indispensability, of completing this conception with Mochi’s “philosophy of prudence”, if I can call it thus, which puts us on our guard — here too, fifty years ahead of its time — against the “perverse effects of social action” later denounced by Raymond Boudon, and calls us back to graduality and to factual evidence.
 
Lessons for Federalist Doctrine.
 
This conception should constitute an important chapter in the doctrine of federalism, and in particular of integral or global federalism. The fundamental inspiration of this federalist philosophy is to avoid every monism, every all-encompassing and one-sided conception, every arbitrary mutilation of reality: certainly federalism opposes to these conceptions the constant search for an organic synthesis, and for a unitary vision of the diverse aspects of society and of the various individual vocations; but always conserving the difference and the distinction — and recognising the autonomous value — of each man and woman. It is in this sense that federalism constitutes an anti-ideological conception, and a vaccine against every ideology intended as a totalitarian vision, which sacrifices the richness and pluralism which constitute the value — and the essence — of human beings and of any society worthy of the name. And this is precisely the position that has always been put over by Alexandre Marc.[20]
This clear and coherent position in the field of doctrine then must be matched in the field of political forward planning and action — even more decidedly and ex informata conscientia than has been done so far — to the, in my opinion still original and practically unknown contribution of Alberto Mochi, so well completed, as we have seen, by that of Mannheim.
In other words, recognition of the global nature of problems (in reality tout se tient), and therefore of the unduly one-sided nature — or even the falsity — of every partial and non-organic vision, does not mean that such a “globalization” must also characterise action. Revolutions, total and immediate changes, realised independently of any confirmation of experience (and of the general consensus of competent opinion) risk producing the opposite effect to that hoped for.[21]
 
Conclusion: Against Revolutionary Utopianism.
 
This “philosophy of prudence based on careful evaluation of the situation” fully deserves to be part of the history of European culture. The great political discovery of Europe in the modern era was — as has already been noted — the lesson it drew from the absurdity of fanaticism and the crimes of the wars of religion: the lesson of tolerance. Similarly the lesson which it must draw from the failure of totalitarianism in our century is that of reforming prudence. It is basically the same virtue as underpinned the affirmation of the natural sciences. “Test and test again” was the motto of the Accademia del Cimento and “Nullius in verba”, that of the British “Royal Society”, mottos which clearly express the philosophical arrière pensée of these academies, the new reforming idea, opposed to the sterile Aristotelianism of the later Scholasticism (though not, in general, to Aristotle), lost in the dogmatic somnolence of jurare in verba magistri.
The task is much more difficult in the field of political forward planning, where one must not only avoid the risks of the “perverse effects of social action”, but also determine what is, in Mochi’s words, the “fundamental problem”, the most serious evil to be extirpated first. And yet only at this price will utopia emerge from the mists of arbitrariness and enter the field of reason.
Kant said, in his Prolegomena, criticising the possibility of metaphysics as science, that the dove, if it were gifted with reason, could delude itself that in the void its flight would be easier and speedier. In reality, without the support of air, it could not even rise from the earth. Mochi invites us to similar modesty.
 
Andrea Chiti-Batelli


[1] John Rawls, Political Liberalism, Columbia University Press, 1993.
[2] It remains however to be seen what attitude one should assume before intolerant religious or political conceptions (not “reasonable”, to use Rawls’s words), or even aberrant ones (the Indian widow who must be burnt on the pyre of her dead husband, or more simply the Muslim girl who presents herself at a French school in a chador). In all these the liberal conception must defend itself, because otherwise it risks being eliminated: one should therefore not hesitate to practice rigorous intolerance of the intolerant, based on careful evaluation of the situation. The freedom which remains impotent before its enemies, fearing to contradict itself, ends up allowing its own annihilation; here, exceptionally, in dubio contra reum.
[3] Raymond Boudon, L’idéologie. L’origine des idées, Paris, Fayard, 1986.
[4] For a bibliography I refer to Terry Eagleton, Ideology: An Introduction, London and New York, Verso, 1991, a brief but fairly complete history of the concept of ideology and of the authors who have over the years, particularly in the last two centuries, contributed to its definition. See also Jorge Larrain, The Concept of Ideology, London, Hutchinson (and Athens, University of Georgia Press), 1979. A less succinct treatment (3 vols.) is found in Histoire des idéologies, ed. François Châtelet, Paris, Hachette, 1978. See also Michel Amiot et al., Les idéologies dans le monde acutel, Paris, Desclée de Brouwer, 1971 and J. Gabel, Idéologies, Paris, Anthropos, 1974. A short but exhaustive introduction, with bibliography, to the history of the concept of ideology over the last two centuries is found in Luciano Gallino’s Dizionario di Sociologia, Turin, Unione Tipografica Torinese, 1991, 2nd ed. (under the entry “Ideologia”). Particular attention is due on the one hand to Hans Earth, Wahrheit und Ideologie, Zurich, Manesse, 1945 (and Frankfurt, Suhrkamp, 1974, New York, Arno-Ayer, 1975, English tr. Stratford, California University Press, 1976); and on the other hand to Paul Ricoeur, in his three essays “Herméneutique et critique des idéologies”, in Démythisation et idéologie, ed. E. Castelli, Paris, Aubier, 1973; “Science et idéologie” in Revue de Philosophie de Louvain, May 1974 and “Idéologie et utopie”, in Proceedings of The Centre for Philosophical Exchange, 1976, vo1. 2, n. 2.
[5] Still on the subject of a definition of the concept of ideology, see Mireille Marc-Lipiansky, “Le fédéralisme est-il une idéologie?”, in L’Europe en Formation (Nice), winter 1992-93, pp. 41-64 (especially pp. 55-6).
[6] Ernst Cassirer, The Myth of the State (1946), New Haven, Yale University Press, 1979. It is no chance that one century later Karl Dietrich Bracher (Zeit der Ideologien, Stuttgart, D.V.A., 1982) manifests a concern similar to that of Cassirer, which I indicate immediately after in the text, expressed in almost identical terms.
[7] This observation is made by Klaus W. Hempfer, “Ideologienanfälligkeit und Relevanzverlust der Geisteswissenschaften”, in Aus Politik und Zeitgeschichte (insert in the weekly Das Parlament, Bonn), 3rd April 1992.
[8] Raymond Boudon, Effets pervers et ordre social, Paris, P.U.F., 1977.
[9] Alberto Mochi, La connaissance scientifique, Paris, Alcan, 1927; De la connaissance à l’action, Paris, Alcan, 1928; Science et morale dans les problèmes sociaux, Paris, Alcan, 1932. He also published in Italian the equally noteworthy Civiltà: i termini di una crisi, L’Universale di Roma, 1947. Mochi’s conception finds significant confirmation in Paul Ricoeur, Science et idéologie, quoted at the end of n. 5.
[10] Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, The University of Chicago, 1962.
[11] Alberto Mochi, Filosofia della medicina, Siena, Ticci, 1948.
[12] Alberto Mochi, Oriente comunista e Federazione europea, Florence, La Nuova Italia, 1950.
[13] According to Mochi’s way of thinking — which we share — one must therefore try to identify other “vital indications” for tomorrow, for example the joint control of closely inter-connected phenomena, which can therefore only be treated together, such as planetary pollution; the indiscriminate rise in the birth rate; the unemployment produced by automation; the North-South imbalance; the increasingly massive waves of emigration from what in Europe are called “non-EC” countries. This joint treatment implies, among other things, finding an economy which is not founded and reliant for its survival on indefinite growth (which in the long term is impossible, or indeed suicidal, in a planet with limited resources). In my view — as I have tried to show elsewhere — a “vital indication” which must soon come to the fore is the reform of the democracy of universal suffrage, which the formation of grand continental state units, such as the European Federation, will, I believe, render indispensable.
[14] What they say is summed up by Joscha Schmierer, Mein Name sei Europa. Einigung ohne Mythos und Utopie, Frankfurt, Fischer, 1996 (particularly pp. 188 and following). Let us add a less recent author, inventor of the expression “new Middle Ages”: Roberto Vacca, Il Medioevo prossimo venturo, Milan, Mondadori, 1971.
[15] These words are from Alexandre Marc (L’Ordre Nouveau, July 1933), who, even at the beginning of the Thirties had foreseen what could be observed de visu some ten years later.
[16] Karl Popper, La logique de la découverte scientifique, Paris, Payot, 1973 and Misère de l’historicisme, Paris, Plon, 1956.
[17] Karl Mannheim, Ideologie und Utopie, Bonn, Cohen, 1929; a more complete edition: Ideology and Utopia, New York, Harcourt and Brace (and London, Routledge and Kegan), 1953.
[18] R.K. Merton, “K. Mannheim and the Sociology of Knowledge”, in The Journal of Liberal Religion, Chicago, III, winter 1941; by the same author, Social Theory and Social Structure, Glencoe, The Free Press, 1957.
[19] Antonio Santucci, preface to the Italian translation of the work quoted above in n. 17, Mannheim, Ideologia e Utopia, Bologna, Il Mulino, 1957, 1965.
[20] See also for example, by Marc, “Tuer l’idéologie ou tuer l’homme”, in L’Europe en Formation, April-May 1974. Similarly, Mireille Marc-Lipiansky, quoted above in note 5.
[21] It is tempting to quote, in support of this theory which Mochi fully develops, the ironic… “demonstration” given of it by Paul Reboux, in his well-known collection A la manière de…, with his parodies of Jaurès and Tolstoy.

Share with