Year XL, 1998, Number 2 - Page 163

 

 

FEDERALISM AND CITIZENSHIP
 
 
The trend towards globalisation which, more than anything characterises the historical phase through which we are living is manifested, above all, in the easy access to information and ideas and in the increasing speed with which such information and ideas can be diffused — a phenomenon which is allowing more and more people to extend their circle of contacts and to widen their knowledge on a scale inconceivable until recent times. It would seem normal to expect all this to generate a heightened and more widespread awareness that the human race is a single community of destiny, as well as a greater level of understanding among peoples. And yet, the prevalent movement appears to be in the opposite direction. Never before has the political sphere been so rife with disorder, fanaticism, incomprehension and intolerance. Never before have the ideas of political philosophers been so inclined towards relativism and towards scepticism over the usefulness of dialogue.
On many occasions, we have, in this journal, expressed our view that this apparent paradox is rooted in the contradiction between the conducting of inter-human relations on a planetary scale and the stubborn determination to keep politics within the national sphere. Even states of continental dimensions continue to retain the closed and rigid structure characteristic of the national state, rather than to create a network (the structure most suited to the era of globalisation) which is increasing its knots and narrowing its meshes, to keep on growing in size and density. In the complex and changeable global society in which we live, the idea of society being ruled only from the centre is becoming less and less tenable as more and more centres of initiative spring up. And the state, in the forms which it has assumed in this last part of the twentieth century, is no longer equal to its role, either as an actor on the international political stage, or as a promoter of the common good at home. As the consensus on which such forms of state are based gradually dissolves, so too does the sense of solidarity which binds its people together.
 
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The success of Huntington’s theory of the clash of civilisations is explained by the crisis of the national state and by the effect that this crisis has had on the international equilibrium. According to this theory, the real protagonists of world politics are not states, but vaster and less well-defined entities, i.e., “civilisations”. While the success of this can be explained by the fact that it seems, initially at least, to take certain phenomena into account, (the role currently played in the world by Islamic Fundamentalism or that played in political debate, until a few months ago, by “Asian values”), it has implications of the utmost gravity. Huntington’s “civilisations” represent radically different visions of the world, and radically different views on what is meant by civil cohabitation. And these visions and interpretations, stemming from natural origins or being rooted in an ancient and profoundly internalised history, contrast one another, and render impossible the establishment of a common ground on which agreements might be reached. In Huntington’s view, the values of freedom, justice and democracy are unique to the “Western civilisation” and, as such, can never be extended to other cultural settings, as there exists no other cultural setting able to assimilate them. According to this view, therefore, there are “civilisations” which are sentenced for ever to obscurantism and dictatorship, and there exist neither universal values nor a communication-based community able to embrace, in a virtual sense, the entire human race: it is only on the terrain of violence that civilisations can encounter one another.
Ideas showing a certain affinity with this have emerged as a result of a growing awareness of the incapacity of the national state to guarantee, within its own confines, social peace, respect for the law, economic growth and social justice. Consequently, throughout the industrialised world, the sense of solidarity generated by a feeling of belonging to the fatherland is disintegrating, leaving in its wake innumerable alternative “identities”. Men and women, establishing a precarious ubi consistam, are able to delude themselves that, by identifying with groups based on race, ethnic, religious or gender affiliations, they can cancel out their individuality. As well as contributing to the accentuation of social closure and the growth of conflict, each of these groups, or collective entities, also provides an excuse for men and women to shirk the responsibilities imposed on them by the need for solidarity and cooperation. Here again, these different feelings of identity or belonging are, in the minds of those caught up by them, embedded in natural factors or atavistic affinities which render these identity-based groups impervious to dialogue and resistant to change. After all, the word “identity” itself suggests something which is not subject to change, something which remains true to itself.
A word of warning, however. These stirrings, or feelings of “identity”, are in no way linked with the black freedom movements in America, or with the movements for the emancipation of women, (at least in so far as the aim of such movements was to allow a section of the population — the object of discrimination — to achieve a status equal to that of the rest of society). The pursuit of “identity” is not a struggle for equality so much as an endeavour to strengthen differences — it does not strive for an opening up of sections of society towards one another but rather, to tighten its closure. By considering “identity” as the basis of truth, it shies away from rational debate. This is how, in America, the concept of political correctness arose, a concept which seems to justify and strengthen segregation, in particular spiritual segregation, and which has led to the emergence of morally unacceptable practices, such as university courses run by blacks on blacks for blacks, and books written by women on women for women, thus shifting the focus of attention away from what should be the fundamental imperative underlying the actions of every “moral politician” i.e., the obligation to work together to create a society in which whites and blacks, men and women come together in the pursuit of the common good.
 
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These approaches to, and conceptions of the modern historical reality are disturbing in so far as they constitute an acknowledgement that the differences between men represent the main factor within political debate, (so that it is only as a distinct zoological species that mankind can be considered a single entity). They constitute an acknowledgement as far as its historical action is concerned, the human race must be seen as a juxtaposition of “civilisations” or of “identities” (defined in the most diverse ways), none of which has anything in common with the others, but all of which are faced with the sole problem of how to ensure their social cohabitation with the other “civilisations” or “identities” and, when their relative strength allows it, how to dominate them. In this context, the role of the state is radically reduced — it no longer embodies values, these are now incorporated by the “civilisations”, or groups which share a common “identity”, each of which has its own, equally valid notion of what is true and good. This is the framework within which the ethical lives of men are shaped. While, in this context, the role of the state in the of international relations is secondary to that of the “civilisations”, domestically it acts as little more than a neutral mediator, seeking to maintain peace among the various “identity” groups, and to impose behavioural rules whose content can be dictated only by the balance of forces.
These affirmations are ominously reminiscent of several frenzied passages from Mein Kampf which expound the theory that race, being organic and natural, should prevail over the state which is bureaucratic and artificial. But this is, of course, a wild idea. History shows us that it was the state which was responsible for creating the political conditions required for the affirmation of such great and fundamental values as civil peace, freedom, democracy and social justice. However, states have so far proved unable to establish, at suprastate level, the rule of law which each have created, albeit imperfectly, within their own confines, (and because of this inability, they have been forced to resort to the barbarity of war in order to safeguard their existence), and it is certainly true that, in the course of their more recent history, they have been obliged to promote the ominous and mythical idea of the nation, in order to shore up their legitimacy in an increasingly unstable and violent international setting. However, let us not forget that the idea of state is linked irrevocably with the idea of citizenship, in other words, with the notion that all are equal in the eyes of the law and that all have a duty to contribute to the furtherance of the common good. Furthermore, it is impossible to acknowledge equality among the citizens of a state without implicitly acknowledging the equality of all people (in so far as all men are citizens of a virtual world state).
The state is not the product of any supposed natural affinity; rather it is based, ideally, on a social contract which has been freely entered into. And it is thanks to its particular nature that it has proven able to evolve during the course of history, to extend the sphere of solidarity, and to bring together different cultures and identities, allowing, as a result of their proximity to one another, new shared values to emerge. Of course, none of this can alter the fact that, in history, the state has been the perpetrator of the most evil deeds: but its shortcomings must be seen as an indication that the emancipation of the human race is still only in its initial stages. Indeed, because of the limitations due to the fact that this process is still in its infancy, it is only in the context of the state and of the struggle to modify the state (never outside this context, never independently of the state) that the values of civil cohabitation can be expressed and affirmed.
 
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The social contract is that act by which, to use an expression of Kant’s, the multitude becomes a people. There can be no state without a people. At this point, in order to avoid falling into the trap of believing that citizenship, like membership of a people (and of a state) is based on a repudiation of pluralism, it is important to recall the distinction between people and nation, (and likewise, between state and national state). In truth, the idea of “the nation” is a corruption of the idea of “the people”: while the latter implies a voluntary union of reasonable individuals who wish, together, to further the common good, the former is based on the mythical representation of a pseudo-religious, or a blood tie. Unlike a people, which can be defined as a community forged on the basis of its capacity for communication, (a community to which territorial boundaries are therefore nothing other than something which must be overcome in order to realise, in the creation of a world people, its fullest potential), a nation is united by all that which distinguishes it from other nations; in the case of a nation, the existence of territorial boundaries is fundamental to its very survival.
If this is true, then no contradiction can be said to exist between citizenship (meaning membership of a people) and any sense of “identity” (be it ethnic, linguistic, cultural, religious, gender-related or whatever). The concept of citizenship emphasises, as essential factors shaping the sense of human identity, both our common membership of the human race and the absolute originality of our individual personality: both point to the impossibility of considering the individual as nothing more than an expression of the characteristics which define the group or groups to which he belongs. In a state free from the idea of nationhood, all the “identities” can thrive alongside one another, it is accepted and understood that any behaviour which clashes with the universal duty to respect the freedom of others will firmly be repressed. To it must be added that if, rather than a mere formality, citizenship is destined to become the accepted basis of dialogue and solidarity, it will lead to a greater level of mutual understanding among men and thus to a situation in which differences between them are irrelevant, not only in the eyes of the law, but also in the conviviality of their social cohabitation. This is why, in the current phase in which we are living, characterised the mass migration to industrialised countries of peoples from vastly different cultural backgrounds, if it is true that the idea promoting the forced assimilation of these peoples must be forcibly rejected, then so must the idea that these migrants can simply be inserted into the society which admits them for, although this is hidden a mask of tolerance and respect for the culture of these newcomers, insertion really means nothing other than ghetto-like segregation. What is really needed is an attempt to further their integration; in other words, a process while fully respecting their specific characteristics and customs (providing these do not go against the basic principles on which the state is founded), urges and encourages them to play a more active role in the political and social life of the country to which they have emigrated, so that they might become an integral part of its people, improving the quality of social cohabitation through their cultural input.
The fact remains that the pluralism that constitutes the basis of freedom is more than just a sterile juxtaposition of apolitical identities which, being inward-looking and not at all open to one another, are unable to evolve. True pluralism stems from the political commitment and involvement of citizens, citizens who are stirred by common values and motivated by the infinite diversity of problems which emerge within a state whose territorial structure is complex and varied. It is in the local community, therefore, that true pluralism is to be found because, while still within the wider context of the issues which affect the community as a whole, it is in the local community that these problems take shape and in which opinions can be exchanged. This pluralism is certainly not a denial of the oneness of mankind, rather, it allows those whose circumstances dictate it to become fully fledged members of different communities, without having to feel an outsider in any of them.
Federalism is the only adequate political answer to the challenge of globalisation. Only federalism rises above the national state without, however, repudiating the notion of state — after all, a world federal state would be the absolute expression of federalism. It is only through federalism (by holding on firmly to the idea of the people, resisting both its degeneration into the idea of nation and attempts to break it down into countless closed, narrow and hostile identity-based groups) that the ideal of citizenship can be realised. By proposing an institutional scheme based on levels of government which allow local and global problems to be tackled together, federalism alone is able to unite equality and difference. In view of the growing sense of disenchantment which currently pervades the relationship between men and politics, federalism is today the only viewpoint which allows expectations to be re-oriented, hopes to be rekindled and fresh moral strength to be generated, once again embedding in history the fundamental values on which civil cohabitation is founded.
 
Francesco Rossolillo

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