political revue

Year LXII, 2020, Single Issue, Page 144



Federalism and Human Emancipation*






1. Truth and Decision. 2. Scepticism and the Theory of the “End of Ideologies”. 3. The Contradiction of Scepticism. 4. Structuralism and Hermeneutics. 5. History as an Approach to the Norm.

1. Truth and Decision.

Whoever decides to get involved in politics for a better world — and not with the sole purpose of winning reputation or power for himself — for this very reason makes a double profession of faith, however much he is aware of the fact. He must believe that the word “better” has, at least potentially, the same semantic content for all men, both for his contemporaries and for those to come, in other words applies to situations which are closer than the present one to a model of society based on values shared by everyone. This means he must believe in the existence of absolute values.

At the same time he must also believe that these values tend to be realized progressively in history, because whoever fights to change the conditions of society cannot imagine that the results of his efforts, in the concatenation of events, might in turn be the cause of irreversible involutions or regressions along the path of human emancipation, which would happen if history were a riotous and casual succession of contradictory and, in other words, meaningless events.

He therefore finds on the road to his Selbstverstandnis, in his reflection on the reasons for his commitment, the connected problems of truth — in the widest meaning of the term, which denotes the absolute nature of values — and the meaning of history. And he must then encounter and face up to scepticism, which denies both.

The choice of life of what Kant called the moral politician[1] therefore implies a philosophical option. On the other hand, this choice represents the only possibility of founding a philosophy able to escape the perils of scepticism. Philosophy is the discipline which investigates the foundations of experience (although it sometimes reaches the conclusion that there are none to be found): it is a radical science, because it takes nothing for granted. Being a search for foundations, it lacks foundations itself. The immediate data of consciousness from which to start meditation do not exist. Everything is mediated, so much that Husserl’s philosophy, which proposes building the whole structure of thought on the immediateness of experience, paradoxically deciphers its structure only at the end, as a result of the complicated process of transcendental reduction.[2] This is the reason why the beginning of philosophical meditation is always a problem. Philosophy, being a radical science, is a circular science, in which the starting point, considered from within the science, is always arbitrary, and coincides with the end.

The circle can thus be broken only from outside, precisely thanks to an active stand with respect to one’s time, which determines the starting point of the philosophical reflection, thus avoiding falling into arbitrariness. Because if it is true that the ending point of philosophical meditation coincides with its starting point, the arbitrary nature of the latter affects the whole train of thought.

The fact remains that in this way the need for non-arbitrariness, for foundation, is transferred from philosophy to the existential choice which represents its precondition. Herein lie the roots of the coincidence of the search for truth with moral commitment, according to which it can be affirmed that truth is both the norm of knowledge and the norm of action (verum et bonurn convertuntur). And it is a fact that no judge nor criteria for judgement exist to decide which existential choice is serious, and which casual and arbitrary, except the success of the project in which it takes shape, be it in the more or less long, or extremely long run. But as success only comes at the end, and can be reaped by others, the only immediate confirmation can derive from a rigorous confrontation with one’s own conscience, as far as it allows one to affirm, like Luther, hier stehe ich, ich kann nicht anders.[3]

This essay is then addressed only to those who have already found a meaning for their life in a certain type of political action, or who are unwittingly looking for it. Certainly, this is a limitation. But a limitation which belongs on the one hand to philosophy in general, whose assertions are never for everybody, but always only for those who are ready to understand and accept them. And which on the other hand does not mean to be definitive, because it is tied to a stage of the historical development in which men’s projects are not yet compatible and mutual understanding is still not universal. The privilege of whoever believes in truth is that of being able to imagine a future in which all fences have been removed and everyone will be able to address himself ideally, when writing and speaking, to the whole of mankind.

2. Scepticism and the Theory of the “End of Ideologies”.

The philosophies of arbitrariness and unscrupulousness which prosper in our time each in their own way question the idea of truth. The suicidal temptation of the human spirit to destroy its very foundations by denying itself all legitimacy is as old as the history of thought. The history of philosophy has a curious spiral-shaped movement, which leads it to ponder over the same problems, although at ever higher levels of sophistication (certainly not of theoretical vigour). The central themes of those philosophers that call themselves “post-modern”, or who refer to structuralism or hermeneutics, are after all the same as those of the Sophists and the Pyrrhonists: the relativity of knowledge, the impossibility of giving it an objective foundation, and thus the legitimation of arbitrariness.

In effect, when the “post-modern” philosophers claim that there can only be partial truths, they are making an obvious or aberrant assertion. The truth of something lies partly in the thing itself, and in part in its relationship with the rest of reality. This means that the entire truth of the smallest part of reality lies in the totality. The truth is the whole, and the whole is unknowable. The search for truth is an unending task, an unendliche Aufgabe; and every time we make an assertion we are perforce expressing a partial truth, which as such is never wholly true, but essentially provisional. But acknowledging this does not exempt us from the duty of continuing the search for truth, of laboriously proceeding towards the comprehension of a totality which, being out of reach, is nevertheless concretely present as Aufgabe, and imposes on us a norm we must follow.

For the “post-modern” philosophers[4] the theory of partial truths instead means that every assertion has in itself the criterion of its truth which depends on the linguistic conventions which are in turn arbitrarily adopted — and that it is therefore meaningless to pursue, albeit without losing awareness of the necessarily partial nature of one’s task, one single truth, in other words the comprehension of one world through a coherent thought. Thought, according to them, is not guided by any norm which is internal to it, and therefore it is essentially arbitrary. And the correlate of an arbitrary thought is an infinite multiplication of worlds devoid of relations with each other.

In politics modern scepticism has taken the shape of the theory of the end of ideologies.[5] Its deep meaning is that men can no longer avail themselves of criteria to direct their lives within the context of historical and social reality, except that of accepting it as it is, and of possibly committing themselves only to changing a few marginal aspects, which do not undermine its global structure. The degree of conservative degeneration which political thought has now reached is revealed in a particularly insidious way in the attempt to pass off as totalitarian the effort to understand the essential characteristics of the historical and social situation of the time and to single out the institutional bottlenecks to be acted on so as to allow the progress of mankind’s emancipation process. The search for truth therefore is not only supposed to be meaningless, but also to betray the hidden will to impose a political and social system through force. Only those who renounce thinking are really free.

3. The Contradiction of Scepticism.

That scepticism confutes itself has been proved since the very beginnings of the history of philosophy. “If every representation is true, as said in an argumentation ascribed to Democritus by Sextus Empiricus, so is the assertion that not every representation is true, inasmuch as it exists as representation, and thus the assertion that every representation is true becomes false”.[6] The fact remains that scepticism always rises again from its ashes, and at all times presents philosophy with the task of redeeming the idea of truth.

Scepticism has two origins. The first is of historical and social nature, and therefore contingent. It is to be sought for in the cultural atmosphere which is created in those phases of history in which the process of human emancipation seems to stall and thus the criteria for the orientation of action and thinking capable of imposing themselves on men by their own force come to be lacking. In these circumstances the philosopher is strongly tempted to exchange his own inability to find the way to truth with the very impossibility of finding it.

The second lies in what is for Eric Weil[7] the essential alternative man has to face: the one between discourse, in other words reason, and violence. Scepticism is the attempt to place discourse in the service of violence, and it always reappears in the history of philosophy because non-reason is a choice which is perpetually offered to men, and against which, in as much as one considers it a pure category, no rational argument can avail because the criterion of violence is violence itself.

But violence fights reason also on its own ground, making use of its instrument — language — but denying its criterion — truth. And it is a fact that, if we deny all the objective criteria for determining the truth of an assertion, or the compound beliefs and orientations which makes up a culture, the only criterion for establishing who is right (and it is the problem for all those who use language to make assertions) becomes that of whoever prevails on the other independently of the truth-value of his discourse or culture, in other words of who has more power. Not without reason do the philosophies of scepticism so often resort to cultural terrorism to impose themselves. On the other hand, they cannot openly confess their instrumental character with respect to violence, for the very reason that they present themselves as discourse, but they lay, explicitly or implicitly, the claim to be accepted because of their intrinsic validity, that is, their truth. Therefore they irremediably remain prisoners of Democritus’ contradiction.

4. Structuralism and Hermeneutics.

This contradiction affects scepticism in all its manifestations. For the structuralists, for example, the categorical structures — those called epistémè by Foucault[8] — of different periods and cultures represent views of reality which are absolutely irreducible vis-à-vis each other. Any intercultural dialogue is therefore impossible — or would in any case be a pretence because every culture would interpret the other according to its own code, which is not translatable into that of the other, and consequently would not understand it at all. However, the structuralists are forced to make an exception for themselves. Foucault thought he possessed the faculty of understanding others’ epistémé. And when Levy-Strauss studied the Amazonian Indians’ culture, learnt their languages and discovered the meaning of their kinship relations and derived from his observations the consequence that they were totally heterogeneous systems with respect to Western culture, in actual fact he was claiming to be above both the former and the latter and was attributing to himself the exclusive privilege of understanding all of them.

More insidious — because less naive — is the approach of other philosophical trends, such as hermeneutics. The latter does not propose to pursue the truth, but simply to listen to tradition, to the echoes which reach us from the past, adopting an attitude which certainly intends to comprehend, but in the manner of aesthetic comprehension. Hermeneutics, then, assumes contradiction, acknowledges itself as the philosophy of ambiguity and multiple truths and at the same time considers itself one of them, thus apparently becoming hardly accessible to any questioning. But the fact remains that, at any level of theoretical sophistication, the contradiction inherent to relativism cannot be overcome. In actual fact, whoever is aware of being immersed in contingency, or of being enclosed within the horizon of a culture or language, places himself in an observation post which goes beyond contingency, or that particular culture or language. Whoever is wholly inside a horizon is not aware of it, because to know one is inside something one must be able to see its boundaries and therefore to realize there is something beyond. To be aware of swinging one must have an immobile reference point. This obviously does not mean that one has to know what is on the other side, or to be able to describe the immobile point. But knowing there is something beyond the boundary justifies the task of finding a content for the idea — at first only formal — of truth.

5. History as an Approach to the Norm.

What sense is there anyway in speaking of comprehension outside the horizon of truth? Comprehension, in whatever way it is interpreted, cannot be separated from the idea of an affinity between who understands and who is understood, from the idea of a common ground. This common ground, which every time has to be laboriously sought for, but is found only because it is already in existence, is in fact the truth, as a norm the validity of which is independent from the points of view of whoever understands and whoever is understood, and which acts as a link: between experiences, languages and cultures.

But the idea of a norm which is immanent to history implies that history itself be the process of realization of the norm. The validity of a norm requires the existence of a judge who finds it and applies it. If the norm is assumed to be transcendent, the judge is God (through his representatives on Earth). If instead transcendency is disregarded (which does not mean excluding it, merely acknowledging that it is a matter of faith) and at the same time history is denied a meaning, assuming that today there is no agreement on the content of the norm, it becomes impossible to single it out, and therefore the assertion that it exists loses all legitimacy and one falls back into scepticism and arbitrariness. Nor can it be claimed that every man has within himself the norm in a virtual state, because if today it is formulated in different ways, and there is no reason to believe that tomorrow everybody will formulate it in the same way, it remains unknowable, and therefore without effect. It is only thanks to the idea of the meaning of history that history itself becomes legislator and judge, as it is mankind that discovers along the way and applies — step after step, and at the cost of withdrawals and sacrifices the norm of truth and the good through the realization of a universal agreement.

The Sense of History

1. The Two Dimensions of History. 2. Interpretation. 3. Sense as Tension. 4. The Context. 5. Comprehension and Event.

1. The Two Dimensions of History.

Whoever meditates on his relationship with the past cannot deny the obviousness of the observation that history is an objective process of which we ourselves are the result. We are made by history and to history we owe the language and the conceptual instruments with which we think of our past, and which each of us finds already there when we are initiated to the life of reason. Whoever is struggling to change reality cannot disregard the need that his project be historically mature, in other words that the conditions for its feasibility pre-exist in the world, as the result of a process which is wholly independent from his action. Whoever deluded himself that he could change reality without being aware of this need would be a dreamer, whose efforts are doomed to fail.

On the other hand, if it is true that history is there, is an object for our comprehension, it is also true that the history of historiography proves to us how it is an object which changes under the historian’s gaze. The Rankian illusion of describing the past as it really was — wie es eigentlich gewesen — has vanished forever. The past as it was cannot be freed from the subjective dimension of interpretation. It is enough to remember how the image of the past is radically transformed depending on the selection the historian makes according to his interests within the infinitely vast and complicated tangle of even the infinitesimal part of events which is accessible to our knowledge; or on the one he makes among documents according to his personal conviction of their credibility; or on any conditioning imposed on him by academic specializations (historical, political, economic, social, philosophical, artistic, etc.); or finally on periodization, which has so much influence on the perspective in which past events are placed.[9]

Man’s relationship with his past is therefore marked by a deep contradiction: it is true at the same time that we are made by history and that history is made by us.

2. Interpretation.

This is the contradiction around which the debate on the nature of interpretation revolves, and which elicit two opposing answers, both of which unsatisfactory.

The first is the realist answer, which today is enjoying its moment of splendour above all in the field of musical interpretation. It is the illusion of performing ancient and baroque music wie es eigentlich gewesen, as it was performed during the times of the composer (with the same instruments, the same acoustics, even the same imperfections). It is an illusion which does not take into account two essential factors. The first is the impossibility of recreating today not the musical instruments, but the cultural and social atmosphere of the time, eliminating the screens created by centuries of evolution in taste and in the means of fruition of a work of art (it is impossible to recreate the courts of the German 18th century princes or of the Hannovers, or the occasions which led people to listen to music and conditioned their way of perceiving it, nor on the other hand can we destroy compact discs). The second is the fact that the aesthetic intention of the artist, beyond the literal text, is always eminently open, is a proposal entrusted to the sensitivity of those to come, and therefore cannot be locked up in the cage of a rigid interpretative formula.

The other answer is that which considers the text purely as a pretext, and the interpretation as an original work of art. We have all too often been afflicted by outrageous theatrical performances, where classical texts are “reinvented” by the director, for it to be necessary to give any examples. Today this irresponsible attitude towards the text is philosophically legitimated by the theorists of “deconstruction”, for whom “reading is transformation”.

For Derrida[10] “every sign is the sign of a sign”. His refusal of the “metaphysics of presence” means that language is a “system of references”, in which every sign always refers to another sign without ever being able to define the presence of what is signified, in other words of what the author of the text actually wanted to say. The author goes. The text remains as pure succession of signs which, not referring to a presence, that is, to a controllable reality, are reduced in the last instance to their materiality, and as such are totally available for the whims of the interpreter. Derrida does not deny the inevitability of the desire for the presence, but claims it is a desire that cannot be fulfilled.

In actual fact, for the term “interpretation” to find its correct meaning in the universe of discourse of literature, art, law and history, the two poles of the sign and signification must both recover their legitimacy. One must escape the dilemma between the position of Heidegger,[11] according to which the truth is already there in its entirety and is simply waiting not to be interpreted, but revealed, and the comprehension of the past is only Wiederholung, repetition, complete identification with the event, and the opposite one of Derrida, who in the name of the sign, “deconstructs” reality: two positions, it must be noted, that although they start with opposite premises, reach the same conclusion, that is the suppression of meaning. For Heidegger, in fact, the truth is in the not in the relationship between discourse and the thing, it is something which simply happens, and in which therefore there is no tension between sign and signification. Its identification between philosophy and poetry underlines what for him is the exclusive relevance of the materiality and sonority of the sign.[12]

3. Sense as Tension.

What has to be recovered is the dialectic nature of interpretation and meaning as tension towards truth. It is the tension which appears in the meaning of the verb semainein used by Heraclitus in the famous fragment in which it is said that the Delphic oracle “does not say nor hide, but means” (oute legei oute kryptei, alla semainei).[13] The act of meaning does not realize a static relationship of correspondence with the object. Correspondence is a limiting concept, to which whoever is in search of truth and, beyond him, the whole history of culture, come closer through signs, those which make up discourse, and which reason must make use of: signs which do not say nor hide, but provide signals or clues. Besides, truth revealed in its entirety, no longer mediated, and therefore partly concealed, by signs, is undescribable. It is totality, and as such is incompatible with the determination of the sign: omnis determinatio est negatio. The fact remains that discourse finds its legitimacy as search for the truth. That of the presence, of parousia, to return to Derrida’s terminology, thus remains an unsuppressable need. But it is a need which explains all the history of philosophy, science, religion and art, and that cannot therefore be lightly dismissed, by simply declaring it unsatisfiable. Even if it is agreed that the search for truth is a laborious and endless process, doomed never to fully achieve its aim, there must however be a criterion to establish whether the pilgrim is going in the right direction, whether he is approaching his goal or going further away from it, even if the goal is known to be unattainable. The ultimate meaning is the idea of the reason of parousia, of the presence of the totality which is revealed without the mediation of language; but it has itself represented in the world by (imperfectly) determined meanings, to which the signs of language refer more or less faithfully, so as to justify the attribution of a truth-value to every sentence. The fact remains that the signification, as representative of totality, is always in excess with respect to the sign, so that the relation of the second to the first is, rather than a relation of correspondence, a premonition, the correctness of which must be verified in the future. “The rational meaning of every proposition, Peirce writes, lies in the future”.[14]

4. The Context.

The march of mankind towards truth, however many and however long the wanderings, the returns, the stops along the way, is and can only be, progressive. This characteristic corresponds precisely to the dialectic nature of meaning, which is revealed in the tension between the single sign (or significant event) and the context. It is a fact that every part of a text (or a chain of significant events) can only be fully understood at the end, when the relationship of the part with the whole, which is an essential component of the meaning, can emerge. The founder of hermeneutics, Schleiermacher, writes that “Even within a single text, the single element can be understood only by starting from the whole; for this reason a correct interpretation must be preceded by a rapid reading, to get an idea of the whole”.[15] But it is just as obvious that the meaning of the context cannot be understood independently from the individual elements which make it up, because the context is formed by its elements. A rapid preliminary reading always proceeds from the beginning to the end, and consists of reading words. The individual words, or the single events in a meaningful process, therefore, have a meaning in themselves — albeit imperfect — and await completion by a reading of the whole text, or the course of the whole chain of events. If this were not the case, nothing could be understood, because everything is at the same time context with respect to its elements, and element with respect to the wider contexts in which it is included. And the context of all contexts is totality, which is never accomplished and therefore is unknowable as such. If comprehension is possible, this happens because in every word and in every event there is a premonition of the context and thus, in the last instance, a premonition of totality.

When referred to history, which in the human world is totality in its development, these considerations lead to the conclusion that the basic structure of historicity is the dialogue between the historian and the event and, more in general, between men and their past. On the one hand it is true that it is the context, in other words the chain of subsequent occurrences, that gives a meaning to the event; but the latter in turn is not a lifeless object: it prefigures the context, even if in an open manner. The event and the historian, the past and the present are therefore of the same nature, they are links of the same chain, and they establish a dialogue with each other, although the historian is in a privileged situation because he comes after and, having at his disposal a wider context, he can understand the event better than those who were its protagonists (while the protagonists have the privilege of living more directly the open nature of the event).

5. Comprehension and Event.

It must not be forgotten that, if it is true that the historian has at his disposal a wider segment of the historical context to interpret the event, he is not however outside the context, as the reader of a book could be. He is in the context, he is part of history, he is situated. This means that his comprehension of the past is not independent from his links with reality, from his interests and projects. Verstehen ist selber Geschehen — to understand is in itself to occur, Gadamer writes.[16] Just like the event, the historian is not pure intellect, but Dasein, and therefore lives at every moment in that mode of being which is at the same time attention to the present, retention of the past and tension towards the future (gewärtigend-behaltendes Gegenwärtigen in Heidegger’s terminology in Sein und Zeit).[17]

The historian thus does not place himself, with respect to a past event, as a subject towards an object, but in a relationship of continuity of meaning. The misunderstanding according to which it is possible to be in a position of pure intellection with respect to the past is a consequence of the division of social work which, by creating the role of the academic, gives rise to the illusion that theory and practice, the understanding of the past and the active planning of the future can be separated. In actual fact, the historian is but a specialized organ of society as a whole, whose life has one of its essential dimensions in the relationship with the past.

The various past and present historiographical trends express the different configurations which the relationship with the past takes on in the view of those forces which, by confronting one another, make up social dialectics. Not without reason the big changes in the prevailing trends of historiography have always followed the great political transformations of real history. To consider event and historical consciousness as parts of the same significant chain thus implies a tendential elimination of the distinction between theory and practice. The truth as the norm of knowledge tends to coincide with duty as the norm of action and the search for truth with mankind’s march towards its emancipation.

Therefore the truth is at the same time something to be sought and something to be made, which is achieved by understanding and is understood by achieving, and history is the process through which mankind becomes its own truth by becoming aware of it.

Truth as Agreement

1. Truth as Verstandigung and Peirce’s “Community”. 2. Criticism and Comprehension. 3. The Historicity of Truth. 4. Violence in History. 5. Violence and Dialogue.

1. The Truth as Verstandigung and Peirce’s “Community”.

But what does “to become one’s own truth” mean? For as long as truth remains an ideal which is pursued but not achieved, it postulates the existence of an object of thought, which is outside it and to which it must try to adapt itself. The adaequatio intellectus et rei is in the first instance the criterion of truth. And it is a criterion which already points out that the search for truth is the opposite of the arbitrary expression of one’s personal excogitations. It presents whoever ventures into it with the experience of a harsh confrontation with the “thing”, with a reality which is beyond and outside us, which is certainly not produced by whoever thinks, but on the contrary strenuously resists comprehension. It is the painful experience of the fatigue of the concept.

On the other hand it is also true that, just as thought only exists for the object, likewise the object only exists in thought, and that the same judgement on the adaequatio of an assertion to a thing is at the same time an assertion, and therefore is itself internal to thought. So it is true that there is no objective criterion to determine in each particular case the nature of the object.

The same problem and the same apparent contradiction appear in the context of moral philosophy. It is true in fact that ethical reflection cannot exclude the subjective form of the voice of the conscience, or the categorical imperative. But the categorical imperative must have an objective content, without which it becomes Hegel’s conviction, the uncontrollable assurance of one’s good faith, which can be used as an alibi for any iniquity. And this content can only be given by public morality, by Hegel’s Sittlichkeit, which the individual finds already there in social life.[18] Moreover, the autonomy of the categorical imperative and Sittlichkeit are two terms both necessary to give a meaning to moral reflection and at the same time contradictory. It is true, in fact, that Sittlichkeit is the essential reference point that allows us to avoid arbitrariness in our choices and moral judgements. But it is just as true that it is the place of conformism and conservatism. Just as the autonomy of the moral command is at the same time the principle of arbitrariness and the place in which the contradictions of the existing system of Sittlichkeit become self-conscious and the conditions for overcoming them are created.

At this point it becomes necessary to ask whether that of overcoming the opposition between subject and object within the sphere of knowledge and in that of action, through a process in which they become and acknowledge each other as the same thing, should not be considered tout court as the unendliche Aufgabe of the search for truth.

But the elimination of the opposition between subject and object can only take place through the substitution, as criterion of truth, of the adaequatio intellectus et rei with the Verständigung, that is, of the agreement between subjects-objects which, through rational dialogue, elaborate a common vision of the world and by doing so promote the process of emancipation of mankind.

This can be achieved, in an indefinite future, in Peirce’s community, that is, in a way of living together in which opinions will be expressed and freely evaluated, without the screen of prejudice. “So, Peirce writes, those two series of cognition — the real and the unreal — consist of those which, at a time sufficiently future, the community will always continue to reaffirm; and of those which, under the same conditions, will ever after be denied”.[19]

The achievement of truth thus becomes a process through which men create a world dominated by discourse, in which violence is suppressed and free rational communication among men is no longer impeded by any type of screen. But it is an agreement that will be achieved only at the end of the process. At this ideal final stage of the development of mankind the complete identification of theory with practice will be achieved because, when the object has vanished forever, mankind will advance exclusively through mutual persuasion and politics will turn into the art of rhetoric and into the paideia of Plato’s Republic. Full legitimacy will be acquired by what Vattimo calls “the rhetorical horizon of truth”,[20] because truth will coincide with the pithanon, with what is convincing.

2. Criticism and Comprehension.

It must be emphasized that the idea of an agreement among reasonable men is a dynamic concept. The agreement is something which must be constantly recreated because the search for truth is an endless task, in the pursuit of which the frontier of knowledge moves further and further forward. The ideal of Verständigung cannot therefore be separated from the idea of criticism, which is in fact internal to dialogue, and is the prime mover of its advance. On the other hand criticism cannot be separated from comprehension. In a dialogue every statement which refers to a previous statement of the interlocutor always goes beyond it, and therefore denies it, and so degrades it to an object. But it can do this as it understands it, and thus preserves it. The Habermas - Gadamer controversy[21] on the primacy of one pole or the other in truth often appears to be the juxtaposition of two unilateral views. Gadamer, like all the exponents of hermeneutics, thinks of comprehension without criticism because after all he does not believe in truth; Habermas, like all the exponents of the Frankfurt school, seems to think, at least at some stages of his meditation, of a criticism without comprehension because he does not believe in history as the history of the emergence of truth, and is convinced that the abstract ideal of truth is visible from the beginning in the totality of its determinations.

Now truth certainly does exist from the beginning, but only as a formal idea, and it develops only in history, progressively revealing its concrete content. Therefore it is true that criticism is carried out by applying universal criteria of judgement to a statement, or to a situation. But these criteria must not for this reason cease to be determined historically: otherwise whoever practises criticism does not understand the object because he does not share its historicity. The mediation between positive phenomenon and universal criterion is thus the historical process, as tension towards the achievement of universal values in history. If this mediation is lacking, if there is no common reference framework, comprehension is reduced to a kind of sympathy or philological curiosity, a dreamy conversation among the deaf, in which in reality nobody understands anything because everyone has his own criterion of truth, or has none at all; and criticism becomes the sterility of the simple negation, for which what is historical is false simply because it is historical, that is, not absolute, and which condemns itself to go unceasingly along the monotonous roads of negative dialectics instead of stimulating the object of criticism to evolve towards its universal idea.

3. The Historicity of Truth.

If comprehension without criticism leads to scepticism, criticism without comprehension leads to dogmatism and intolerance. An example of this, in paradoxical contrast with the theories he professes, is Popper’s work,[22] with the superficiality and sovereign easiness with which he tries to liquidate in a few lines great philosophers such as Plato, Hegel or Marx. This derives from the fact that his approach does not consider the pole of comprehension. Therefore he does not place himself in history, but measures other people’s theories according to a non temporal standard which in turn escapes criticism and cannot therefore be falsified. In Popper’s philosophy the negative — falsification — is far more important than the positive — truth. But it is the very search for truth, of which the process of falsification is only a methodological instrument, which makes man a different creature from animals: pantes anthropoi tou eidenai oregontai physei — all men by nature aspire to knowledge: this is how Aristotle’s Metaphysics begins.

Falsification is merely the consequence of the dissatisfaction which the insufficiencies of truth transmit at the stage of historical development it has reached. But it must not be forgotten that whoever is concerned exclusively with pointing out the contradictions and lapses in another’s opinion, instead of trying to understand it with the aim of reaching an agreement, is merely a nuisance, certainly not a scientist or a philosopher.

The philosophy of falsification intended as basic structure of knowledge does not historicize itself, and thus doing does not feel any sympathy, that is comprehension, for other people’s theories, the sympathy which finds its justification in the fact that both theories, the one that judges and the one that is judged, have their origin in the common ground of history.

In reality no theory is ever actually falsified (and in this Kuhn comes much closer to the truth than Popper).[23] Science, and knowledge in general, proceed by replacing the previous theories with theories having a greater explicatory power. The former, however, retain some content of truth, without which the successive theories would never have been elaborated. This is the reason why Plato is still profoundly true and up-to-date. Man emancipates himself in the course of history because truth grows on itself. If every falsification were radical, it would make tabula rasa of all the previous theories and observations on the subject, and every time things would start all over again. The only truths handed down from ancient thinkers would be those that nobody has ever bothered to falsify, instead of being, as they are, the dawn of a knowledge which in subsequent history has continued to be enriched and determined. They are therefore still truths, and it is their very auroral nature — the continuity between the meditation of the ancients and ours — which makes reading them such a deeply involving experience.

4. Violence in History.

It is a fact, however, that today the identification between truth and pithanon does not exist. Of course, to deny the link which unites them would be to bar oneself from the search for the meaning of truth. Moreover, Aristotle, although he distinguished clearly between truth and common opinion, admitted the close ties between them. He considered two types of reasoning valid: the demonstrative (apodeixis), which argues starting from the first truths or from assertions deduced from them, and the dialectic, which argues starting from opinions accepted “by everybody, or by most people, or by wise men and, among these, by all, or most of them, or the most famous and the ones enjoying the most prestige”.[24] Shared opinion is therefore placed at the same level as truth.

But the complete identification between true and convincing takes place at the very limit. If they were completely identified “now”, it would be impossible to avoid two types of contradictions. In fact, as virtually no assertion is shared by everyone, “most people” might not coincide with the “wise men”, thus making the criterion of truth indeterminate. On the other hand, the concept of “wise man” presupposes the idea of truth which one wants to define with it, and thus leads to begging the question. In today’s reality therefore there can be conviction without truth and truth without conviction. It is enough to remember to what extent, especially in politics, conviction is a prerogative of demagogy, discourse is manipulated through violence, consensus is reached through ideology, here meant as false conscience. This type of consensus must therefore be kept carefully distinct from the one realized through an unbiased dialogue among equal men. Only the latter, when it becomes general, can be identified with truth. But its realization lies in the future.

But what prevents Peirce’s community from being realized now, in other words during the course of history instead of at its end? The truth is that history is not a text. It certainly has a sense, and in this aspect it is useful to compare the interpretation of the facts of history with the reading of a text. But it has not got one single author who creates it from beginning to end on the basis of an idea, and who can go back to the beginning to re-elaborate it, make clear its connections, balance its composition, eliminate its contradictions and obscurities. History is not the translation into words, or figures, or notes of a project (although the process of writing a text or of artistic creation certainly does not amount merely to the reproduction of a mental model). It is rather the process of emergence of sense from matter, from chaos, or from nonsense.

That of historical development therefore is not only the dialectics internal to sense, but it is also that of the relationship between sense and nonsense. This is the theme on which Habermas has focused above all.[25] He insists on the fact that a wide area of human action is of a non communicative nature as it refers to aspects of reality which are impermeable to dialogue, and which can be called from time to time nature, war, power, need or folly. It is that pole of the dialectics of reality which on the one hand is opposed to communication, but on the other represents its material foundation, just as the body, with its materiality its inertia and dependence on the laws of physiology is the home of the individual expression of reason, which dies with the death of the body. The nonsense cannot therefore be eliminated, because its elimination would involve the elimination of sense.

Habermas emphasizes that these aspects of reality must be tackled with monological procedures, such as instrumental action, criticism of ideology, strategic interaction.

The process of the progressive evaporation of the object cannot therefore be the process of its disappearance, just as it cannot be that of the dematerialization of the subject. Moreover, all the philosophical attempts at reducing nature to spirit have failed. It follows that technology as man’s control over nature, and its continuous development — although it must be a sustainable development — remains an essential condition for the advance of the process of human emancipation. Thus Peirce’s community will anyway have a material basis, represented by the work of the men who will be part of it and that of all the previous generations, and its existence will depend on that of its material basis.

But the progressive replacement of the monological approach to reality with dialogue is quite conceivable when the former involves the use of man’s violence on man. Both manipulation (on the side of conservatism), the criticism of ideology (on the side of progress) and strategic calculation (on both sides) are tied to the persistence of violence and destined, with its disappearance, to be replaced by dialogue. It is still therefore legitimate to conceive of the history of mankind’s emancipation as a process — certainly endless, but destined to go through well determined stages — in which needs tend to dematerialize, becoming more and more cultural needs, in other words communicative, work is reduced and is left to machines, war disappears and even the premises for folly come to be lacking, in a peaceful and egalitarian society.

Within this more limited context, the obstacle to the realization of Peirce’s community is violence, and the history of its realization is the history of the elimination of violence. And as violence is impermeable to dialogue, it is inevitable that overcoming violence implies the use of monological procedures, which also belong to the sphere of violence. Concerning this, Habermas underlines with particular insistence the emancipating function of the criticism of ideology. It differs from the criticism internal to dialogue because whoever uses ideology to justify his power is considered inaccessible to persuasion. Dialogue, in fact, — to go back to an above-mentioned point — is not characterized because the conversing subjects have the same opinion from the start (otherwise it would be idle talk) but because they are animated by what Apel — in opposition to Nietzsche — calls Wille zur Warheit, that is, by the sincere willingness to reach a common position, and therefore by open-mindedness to the interlocutor’s criticisms. Where this willingness and open-mindedness are lacking, the relationship becomes a relationship of power, and therefore belongs to the sphere of violence. And this is precisely the case of ideology, in which the error is not a dialectic aspect of the search for truth, but is external to it and suffocates it because it is functional to the preservation of power.

It cannot therefore be defeated by persuasion, but by the corrosive violence of criticism: violence can only be abolished by violence.

5. Violence and Dialogue.

All this does not avoid the fact that, as it would have been out of the way to go too further in the identification between history and text, so it would be to forget that history remains a process with a sense. If in fact criticism of ideology were only the relationship between who makes the criticism and who justifies his power with ideology, it would be completely useless, because it would not be accepted by its recipient. Its emancipatory function depends instead on the fact that it is addressed to an audience which is open to dialogue and comprehension, which has to be persuaded. Verständigung thus still remains the only criterion for verifying the truth of an assertion or of the correspondence of behaviour to the norm. The foundation of truth is always dialogical, and the monological approach to reality is founded in turn on dialogue, which anyway provides the verification of its results.

But this can take place because, in the human world, the germ of dialogue is inherent in violence from the very start, that is because sense — albeit embryonically — is in all relationships among men. Hegel had seen this in his Phenomenology of Spirit, when he had identified in the essentially communicative need for acknowledgement the cause of the outbreak of violence which leads to the dialectics of master and slave. Moreover, the approach to reality of any human being in any situation is never purely monological. It is enough to recall that the relationship between analyst and patient in the psychoanalytical treatment, which Habermas considers as a paradigmatic case of the monological approach to reality, is founded on the common use of language. It is true that the analyst, at the beginning, tries to find in what his patient tells him a meaning that is not the obvious and conscious one, but the one he expresses without understanding it, and that Mannheim called the interpretative meaning (Interpretationssinn);[26] but this happens with the purpose of creating a situation in which, after a series of imperceptible transitions, dialogue can acquire the fullness of transparency. It is enough to remember the function of propaganda (“psychological war”) in conflicts, through which each of the various parties tries to act upon man’s original faculty to communicate even to defeat the enemy in the most violent of human situations. Finally, it is enough to meditate on the fact that the very development of technology is the result of pooling knowledge and that its use cannot be thought of without collaboration among those who use it for a common purpose.

The State as Political a Priori of Communication

1. In the Beginning Was the Logos. 2. Provisional Truth. 3. The Universal Cmmunity of Communication. 4. The Ethical a Priori of Communication. 5. The State. 6. The State as Institution in Progress.

1. In the Beginning was the Logos.

The idea of history as emergence of sense brings us to that frontier region of knowledge in which the antinomies of reason appear. On the one hand, that of the sense in history is precisely pure emergence, because before it reveals itself in its place there is violence and chaos. On the other hand it is impossible to escape the idea that sense, reason, the Good, and the capacity to communicate have existed in man from the very beginning at the state of disposition (Kant’s Anlage), of which history is the progressive translation into action. Moreover, for what is potential to become actual the presence of a factor is required bringing about the passage from one state to the other. This factor for religion is grace. But for philosophy it is only a dark point, unresolved and not resolvable, just as the origin of the universe, the appearance of life in the history of the Earth, birth and death intended as appearance and disappearance of a conscience.

It is an obscurity with which we have to live. What still remains, though, is the fact that whatever the incomprehensible mechanism through which this happens, reason cannot emerge exclusively from violence. Already at the beginning of philosophical and political thinking, man was defined as zoon politikon logon echon. Therefore reason was already for Aristotle the distinctive characteristic of man as a social being. Thus it cannot but have had a role in the causation process which has brought mankind from the generalized violence of barbarity to the eve of the creation of a worldwide law order. If it is true that reason has been progressively — even if slowly — asserting itself in history, it is impossible to separate its assertion as a result of the process from its action as a cause of the process. Logos, intended as theoretical reason and practical reason, must thus have been present in man from the very beginning, even if its visible emergence in history may have resulted from accidental circumstances, like those imagined by Kant in his Conjecture, which anyway describes the hypothetical development of the process without explaining it. It is the problem posed by Meinecke in the introduction to his Idea of Raison d’Etat. If all history could be interpreted as a face-to-face confrontation between good and evil, he writes, the historian’s task would be relatively simple. “But scientific historiography, he continues, has overcome this gross dualism — although not dualism in general, because the polarity between spirit and nature continues inevitably to appear. But together with it also appears the disturbing, disconcerting and often upsetting experience that nature and spirit cannot be as easily separated from each other as friend and enemy in war, but are inextricably interwoven”.[27]

En arche en o logos therefore, even if at the beginning logos was confused with nature, and even if the mechanism of its progressive predominance over nature remains not understood. It is once again Meinecke who notes, with extraordinary poignancy, how in history “the raison d’état of the powerful is ennobled through imperceptible transitions, and becomes the joining link between Kratos and Ethos”, how the historical process continuously highlights “the transformation of natural instincts into ideas”. Meinecke refuses “the hasty answer of positivism”, “which explains these transitions by resorting to an ever better and more skilful adaptation to the objective of self-preservation”. “What is only useful and necessary, Meinecke continues, could never lead beyond the stable technique of animals and their social organizations. Beauty and Good can never be deduced from the pure and simple useful but they arise from dispositions independent from man, from the spontaneous urge to instil the spirit in what is only natural, to the transformation of the useful into the ethical”. “How a relationship of causality and an essential difference between low and noble inclinations, between nature and spirit in man can co-exist: this is precisely the obscure mystery of life” he concludes.[28]

2. Provisional Truth.

Besides, if it is still true that the definite truth of every assertion and the validity of every line of action lies in the future, in Peirce’s community, it is also true that Peirce’s future expands indefinitely, and the continuous widening of the context incessantly modifies the meaning of every event and the degree and manner of approval of every theory and every behaviour: and it is impossible to indicate a stage of historical development in which the consensus of the community will definitely determine what the truth is. Because waiting for the final verification cannot avoid being eternal, to prevent the idea of truth from being made vain, it must certainly be acknowledged that every assertion and every project contains an uneliminable component of betting; but also that it must be possible to make a verification, however partial and provisional it may be, at the present time. In other words it must be possible to read, in the single assertion or in the single project, an anticipation of its final meaning, which will coincide with what will be preserved of them in the endless series of successive Aufhebungen through which future history will proceed.

This partial verification to be sought in the present consists of an agreement of a certain number, more or less large, of our fellowmen, with whom each of us are in what Apel calls a community of communication (Kommunikationsgemeinschaft).

Of course, even this partial and provisional agreement could be lacking, and truth could dwell in a virtual community formed by a single man. But this could happen only for a relatively short period of time. And during this period, the only provisional verification of a theory or of a project can lie in the rigour — both moral and intellectual — with which man undertakes the confrontation with himself, as representative of a community which for the moment is only ideal.

The fact remains, however, that as long as there is a plurality of communities of communication, that in turn do not establish among themselves larger communities of communication, and in the last instance only one, we will live in a world of partial, and therefore multiple, truths as such not liberated from the violence of man on man.

3. The Universal Community of Communication.

But at this point the problem is posed: if the origin of the error lies in the plurality of communities of communication, in each of which men find the only provisional verification of the truth of their ideas and projects, the necessary condition for the conclusive verification of the truth of any assertion and of any volition is the fusion of everyone’s horizons into a universal community of communication, whose condition of possibility is moreover the pre-existence of a universal community of communication in embryo, which provides the common generative grammar thanks to which the barriers between cultures can be progressively overcome and the conditions are created for the search for a truth that is such for everybody.

4. The Ethical a Priori of Communication.

But the process of creating a universal community of communication must go through institutions. The human race, as it is made up of free beings — and therefore permanently confronted by the presence of radical evil — does not improve through the autonomous exercise of its rational faculties, but through the improvement of the forms of social life, i.e. the progressive establishment of law.

Karl-Otto Apel underlines that communication presupposes an a priori of an ethical nature: the duty of searching for truth together. For Apel too, it must be noted, truth invests the whole of men’s lives. “In the a priori of argumentation, he writes, lies the claim of justifying not only all the ‘assertions’ of science, but, beyond these, all men’s claims (even the implicit claims of men towards other men which are contained in actions and institutions). Whoever argues, acknowledges implicitly all the possible claims of all the members of the community of communication which can be justified with reasonable arguments, and forces himself at the same time to justify with arguments all his own claims towards others”. “The meaning of moral argumentation, Apel writes later, could be expressed in the principle — which is not new — that all the needs of men, as virtual claims, to the extent that they can brought to agree, through argumentation, with the needs of all the other, must become an object of concern for the community of communication”.[29] A community of communication thus exists wherever there are men willing to carry out the sacrifice of their individuality (“self-surrender” in Peirce’s terminology)[30] which is the presupposition of that search for a common ground which is truth.

5. The State.

All this is true. But if one wants to consider the ethical a priori of communication not as a purely formal requirement, but as an attitude existing in the world, it cannot be conceived of outside Kant’s civil constitution, in the absence of which men are removed from any moral duty except that of entering into a civil constitution, that is, into a social bond founded on law.

The moral a priori, Apel’s Grundnorm, therefore postulates in turn a political a priori. Morality — remember Hegel in his Philosophy of Law — intended as call of the conscience or categorical imperative, is purely formal and has no content or reality outside civil society, in other words of the state as “reality of essential will”, which is the condition for the existence of civil society. The state is thus the real a priori of communication, and the universal state is the a priori of universal communication.

In other words, the a priori of the community of communication is the way in which men organize themselves in view of pursuing common purposes. Whoever has had a political experience has been able to verify to what extent institutions condition the process of opinion making. The obstacles to mutual understanding are thus represented by the incompatibility among the strategies that the different organized human groups have to pursue to guarantee self-preservation and to promote their assertion. Moreover, for the very reason that men are no angels, it cannot be supposed that they are animated by the wish to find truth unless they are driven to do so by a common interest, in other words by their belonging to a community of destiny. If the knowledge of which the institutional conditionings are sought is the collective knowledge of historical reality, in other words the awareness that a people has of the direction it is going — which is the knowledge that founds all the truth-criteria of specialized knowledges —, the only institution which makes possible that Kommunikationsgemeinschaft which is the real subject of research is the community of destiny kat’ exochen, the institution of institutions, that is the state.

But the state is a two-sided institution. On the one hand, it is the framework within which the common good of citizens is pursued and peace is guaranteed through the creation of a legal order; therefore one in which discourse prevails over violence. Membership of the same state, lived from within, is thus the essential institutional condition for the formation of a common opinion on the important historical choices of a human community. On the other hand the state, as it is unbound by law, in other words sovereign, is the subject of war, and therefore the agent of violence in international relationships.

Concerning this, it is a good thing to observe that the definitions of the state as a legal order and as an instrument for the realization of the common good differ essentially from each other only until the juxtaposition between individual interests to be protected and collective interests to be promoted, and thus the juxtaposition between liberal state and social state, is highly significant. If the state were stripped of its violent and arbitrary aspect, and private and public interests tended to identify themselves in a realized democracy, protection of rights and promotion of the common good would identify themselves without residues in the idea of self-government.

Herein lies the core of truth contained in Hegel’s theory of the state: the state is not only the extrinsic condition for pursuing knowledge and observing of morality rules as it ensures peaceful human relationships within the framework of a guaranteed legal order, but it is also the essential foundation, whatever the citizens’ degree of awareness, of that deep identity of intentions, founded on a community of destiny, which represents the existential precondition of mutual understanding, and thus of the common search for truth or the bonum commune, which is the same thing.

The existence of a multitude of sovereign states, on the contrary, is the negation, at a higher level, of this foundation, and therefore condemns men to live in a world of multiple truths. And as every state has its own truth, it is only violence which can decide which of these should prevail over the others.

The state is therefore an institution marked by a radical contradiction: it is at the same time the affirmation and the negation of law, and of the criterion of truth. In international relations it is the agent and the cause of war, which is the negation of life, and therefore of all values, but it is at the same time, in the relations among its citizens, the guarantee of peace and law, and therefore of all other political and social values. While it arms citizens for war against other states, it disarms them in civil life. While it denies every criterion of truth in international relations, it represents the precondition of the search for truth in the relations among its citizens.

6. The State as an Institution in Progress.

For this radical contradiction to be overcome, the state must be conceived of as an institution in progress, which has been realized up to now in history in imperfect forms, but which tends to overcome its own limits and to advance towards the realization of its idea, which is that of its full identification with the rule of law or with the idea of the bonum commune. It is a process in two stages, which are moreover strictly interconnected and do not have a relationship of strict temporal succession with each other. The first implies all states establishing within them an order founded on the acknowledgement of the values of freedom, equality and justice, in other words their transformation — at least tendential — into republics in the Kantian meaning of the term. It is an objective which is identified with the realization of liberal-democratic regimes and with the overcoming of the historical phase of class struggle. The failure to achieve this objective involves the persistence, in society, of situations which are objectively unlawful, as the existence of the oppression of man over man is in itself violence and causes in return the violence of the oppressed and excluded. The norms which legitimate oppression and exclusion therefore are not completely juridical, and the community they regulate is not yet completely a state.

The second is that of the overcoming of the world’s division into sovereign states. It is the condition for the elimination of violence in international relations. And it is at the same time the condition for the completion of the transformation of the existing states, deprived of exclusive sovereignty, into republics. Violence is in fact indivisible, and its use in international relations pollutes juridical relations within the states as the raison d’état, in the name of the very guarantee of the rule of law, at least as far as this is not incompatible with the survival of the community, obliges political power to adopt courses of action infringing the very same rule of law.

The problem to be solved, therefore, is the Kantian problem of making states, as well as citizens, enter into a legal order. The complete realization of the idea of the state coincides with the creation of a worldwide state as a federation of republics.

The World Federation

1. Truth and Democracy. 2. The Social Contract and the People as its Subject. 3. Natural Law. 4. Natural Law and Revolution.

1. Truth and Democracy.

The concept of history as the history of the realization of the idea of state in the shape of a World federation provides us with the conceptual instruments for reconsidering key concepts of political philosophy such as those of general will, social contract, people and natural law.

In the World federation, as institutional framework — and as such a necessary condition — of a universal community of communication, is revealed the democratic foundation of truth which Feyerabend mentions[31] — even if in a completely different perspective. At the same time, as truth is a theoretical and practical idea, the creation of the conditions which make the final verification of an assertion possible is identified with that of the conditions which make the complete formation of the general will possible, intended as unanimous acknowledgement and volition of the common good. The pursuit of the latter is identified with the pursuit of truth.

It is clear that, for this to take place, it is necessary, as Rousseau had seen perfectly, for the general will not to be reduced to the will of the majority, but to be unanimous. Until this takes place, popular will is not really general, and therefore is not identified with truth. Politics remains marked by the arbitrary aspect of power.

Moreover, Meinecke points out the deep ties existing between the exercise of power and the realization of the conditions which make dialogue as common search for truth possible. Power is a two-sided relationship. On one hand it is the imposition of the will of one or a few men on the others. On the other hand it is inseparable from the idea of consensus, which is in the final analysis the subjective presupposition of the common good. No man, no political class can rule, in other words have power over somebody, if his power is not based on the consensus of a more or less large part of the people ruled; consensus which is precisely granted according to the ability — real or supposed — of that man or of that political class to achieve — to a lesser or greater extent — the common good. The pure and simple brutal use of violence is never identified with the exercise of power. Whoever exercised violence against everyone would be rapidly eliminated in any society. Even the use of violence against someone therefore presupposes the consensus, silent or expressed, of a certain number of other members of the community. The art of conquering power is the art of ensuring for oneself the consensus of all, or the majority, of the members of the community, or of those who in turn have the consensus of everyone or of the majority.

Therefore, the more perfect the consensus which is its basis, the stronger the power. Contrary to what the common use of the term would seem to suggest, dictatorial regimes are the most fragile and short-lived form of the exercise of power.

In turn, the perfection of consensus is a function of three factors: a) its generality, b) its active character and c) its rational nature.

The generality of the consensus depends on the one hand on the diffusion of its presence within the community and on the other hand on the dimension of the community itself. The consensus solely of the majority — which therefore implies the exercise of coercion over the minority — although it is the foundation for by far the most advanced organization of social life that man has been able to produce up to now, leads to a weak and imperfectly democratic power. On the other hand, the consensus, even unanimous, obtained by a single fraction of mankind (a single state, a single party, a single group) is only imperfectly democratic because it is the instrument of the use of violence with the other states, parties and groups.

The active character of consensus depends on the motivations for which it is given. For as long as mankind, to guarantee its reproduction, has to resort to the division of labour, to face the challenge of scarcity, and until therefore politics remains the prerogative of a class of specialists, the consensus of those ruled will always be of a more or less passive nature. Ruled people are in fact concerned exclusively or predominantly with their individual projects, that is to carry out their job, and take part in the pursuit of the common good only in a very indirect and imperfect way, through the action of the invisible hand, in other words to the extent — wholly partial and unsatisfactory, and ever more partial and unsatisfactory the more the interdependence in the relations among men becomes accentuated — to which the common good can be the result of the composition of the divergent strategies having as their object the achievement of what the individuals believe is their own personal good. Consensus is then given only to the extent to which the rulers allow the ruled to pursue undisturbed their own interests, or promote them actively, and, to the extent to which this happens, it results in a kind of blank delegation.

Consensus therefore becomes more active the more time and need men have to concern themselves with the general interest. This is a tendency which today is increasing because, on the one hand, in the industrialized part of the world, the affluent society is imperceptibly depriving of meaning the very idea of individual welfare measured according to the possession of material goods and is leaving men an increasing amount of spare time, making it available for the pursuit of the common good; and, on the other hand, the increased interdependence of social relations, with its inevitable consequences — the threat for peace and the progressive degradation of the environment, and thus of the quality of life — show with increasing clarity that there is no other good for which to fight except the common good, and no other to do it except the pooling of everyone’s energy to save mankind from extinction or from the return to barbarity. An attitude of passive consensus towards a professional political class becomes more and more untenable under these conditions. The only activity with any meaning becomes the search for the common good. Consensus, even if through a process which is slow and full of contradictions, tends less and less to be a blank delegation given to one or more people, but to be the result of conviction of the soundness of decisions in which everyone has participated, and not to have any more its foundation in the selfishness of those who are quite happy that other exert power as long as they are not disturbed in the running of their own particular well-being.

Finally, consensus must be rational, that is, not founded on ideology. More simply, it must be founded on truth.

Power is intimately linked with truth (and therefore so is politics with culture) insofar as it is inseparable from the idea of the common good. But it is an equivocal link, which at the beginning is only virtual, or in any case partial, and becomes explicit with the advance of the human emancipation process, even if politics, up to the moment of its completion, that is of its suppression, remains the privileged place of mystification and violence. In the English courts of Shakespearian plays the only figure authorized to speak the truth was the jester, the “fool,” who paid for the right to speak by being the object of general contempt. It is a situation which reflects a profound reality: that, if it is true on the one hand that power without truth is a weak power, not a real power, it is also true on the other hand that truth without power, in other words unable to guide men’s behaviour, is not a real truth, if truth, to be so, has to become, by being shared by a growing portion of mankind, an agent of historical transformation.

But all this means that the birth of a truly irresistible power, in other words the realization of the idea of power, will coincide with its suppression. The realization of the idea of consensus (general, active and rational) coincides with the realization of the idea of self-government, in other words with the complete identification between rulers and ruled, with the voluntary execution on the part of the citizens of the rules they themselves have consciously assigned themselves.

The model of the World federation thus has a double relation with the ideal of dialogue. Thanks to its universal character, it eliminates all the institutional barriers which act as a screen for communication among men. But with it it realizes only a negative condition of universal communication. For this to be able to show in facts, it is necessary for everyone to feel invested with the responsibility of giving the concrete contribution of his participation in the achievement of the of the community in which he lives his everyday life, and with whose members communication takes place in an immediate and personal manner.

In this way, the unanimity through which the general will must reveal itself is not the result of an impossible addition of individual volitions with the same content, but it becomes the result of mutual persuasion through a permanent debate on themes which are familiar to everybody. Federalism, as it has been theorized by Albertini,[32] thus presents, in its complete realization, a cosmopolitical pole and a community pole, each of which integrates the other and gives it life and content. And the universal community of communication can exist only inasmuch as it is founded on the rational confrontation of a myriad local communities of communication, in which both the answers to local problems and the local contributions to the answers to problems which are set at the higher levels are elaborated, right up to the worldwide level. Peirce’s community is in actual fact a community of communities. The federal constitutional structure, founded on independence and co-ordination among the various levels of self-government of growing dimensions, guarantees the compatibility of the strategies of the communities at the same level within the framework of a global law order, and thus creates the necessary conditions of compatibility to prevent the barriers to dialogue from forming again.

2. The Social Contract and the People as its Subject.

The idea of general will is inseparable from that of social contract. But in our perspective this cannot be a conjecture on the historical birth of the state, nor a theory whose purpose is exclusively that of founding its legitimacy, and that therefore does not leave the sphere of speculation on the ideal state. It is instead an idea that acquires concreteness as it poses itself as the point of arrival of historical development, which thus becomes the history of the birth of the state. The social contract thus comes at the end, in other words when — violence having disappeared from the relationships among men — all the decisions through which the bonum commune is achieved are the result of the unanimous and rational agreement of the citizens.

But the idea of the social contract could not avoid being present in philosophical meditation from the very start. It is enough to remember the Socrates of the Criton, for whom the citizen was tied to the laws of the polis by such binding agreements (omologiai) as to compel him in some cases to sacrifice his own life rather than avoid their rule, however unjust they might be.

And as the social contract, although it is present as an idea right from the beginning, is realized only at the end, thus it is only at the end that the idea of the subject of the contract, that is, the people, is completely defined. Certainly, as the subject of the social contract, the people can only be the people of a state because it becomes what it is exclusively thanks to the contract; but as the contract is in progress, is imperfect until the end, the people does not coincide with the state, but is in permanent contradiction with it and represents the prime mover of its evolution. Herein lies the foundation of the constituent power of the people — as the liberal tradition claims from Locke onwards — not because it is a qualitatively different entity from a state degraded to a pure instrument, but because, as an active subject of a process, it is always beyond its objectivity, which is precisely the state, and, because of its not coinciding with it, represents the prime mover of its development. This is the justification of the concept of “people before and above the constitution” (against that of “people in the constitution”) which, according to Carl Schmitt,[33] is the ultimate foundation of the legitimacy of any state order.

For Eric Weil[34] the idea of people — insofar as it is not identified with that of state — is a purely negative idea, which is identified with the residue of unlawfulness which persists in the historical forms assumed by the state. On the contrary, the truth is that the people — insofar as it is not identified with the state — is not only negation, but also affirmation of a form of state closer to the model of the social contract, because the people does not identify with the state precisely as far as the latter — being still far from the realization of its concept — violates the law.

This assertion, however, must be circumstantiated. Historical experience, in fact, shows very clearly how impossible it is to define the boundaries of any people when one does not wish to make them coincide with those of a state. It is enough to remember the infinite succession of violences which must be attributed to the idea of “peoples’ self-determination”, due to the arbitrary character of the identification of the entity which must “self determine” itself.

In actual fact the people adjust to its concept only when it coincides with mankind and therefore identifies in perspective with the people of the World federation. Before reaching this stage, the concept of people, when separated from that of state, remains an essentially vague concept, without boundaries and without an identity, which never corresponds to the criteria with which one wants to define it.

From this perspective, the only assertion which can rightly be made is that, before the unification of mankind, it will be legitimate to appeal to the people against the state only when the overcoming of the contradiction approaches the objective of a World federation, while it will be illegitimate to do so when the aim is the opposite one of the assertion or reinforcement of an alleged national identity.

This does not obviously mean that the population of the World federation should not be pluralist. The opposite is true. But pluralism does not mean segmentation of mankind into definite groups, which are therefore closed in themselves. On the contrary, pluralism means multiplicity of the terms of cultural identification of every single individual, in contrast with the exclusiveness of national (or micro-national) identification, and therefore the possibility for everyone to fully express, free from the imposition of uniform and artificial cultural models, its own unrepeatable individuality. And the institutions of the World federation will have to take into account this open and articulated character of the world population by articulating in turn into multiple and mutually intersecting levels of self-government, which prevent the formation of exclusive or prevailing loyalties, and therefore allow the world democracy to be founded on the consensus of free and reasonable men.

3. The Natural Law.

Just as the social contract has a subject, the people, so it has an object: the law as idea, in other words natural law. Habermas[35] points out how the theory of natural law has historically assumed two distinct forms. The first is that of the classic liberal tradition of the English-speaking area, for which natural law was in force in a mythical state of nature which existed before human relations were corrupted by power. The social contract, therefore, in this perspective, has no other function than that of guaranteeing the compliance with the norms of natural law, which the citizens must constantly watch to avoid the contract being violated through the establishment of despotism. Classic liberalism sees civil society as autonomous from the state, which is merely its instrument — susceptible to abuses of every kind — and attributes to natural law an eminent function of guarantee.

The second is tied to the Enlightenment tradition, for which natural law, like civil society itself, only exists in the state, whereas the state of nature is identified only with anarchy and barbarity. This is the concept which is the cultural basis of the French Revolution. It identifies the fights of man with those of the citizen, and therefore considers them as essentially political rights. Natural law thus derives from the nature of the social contract.

This second concept has a fundamental element of ambiguity because, if it is not placed within the context of historical development and is not seen as its formal point of arrival, it runs the risk of legitimating arbitrariness. If the social contract in fact is an irrevocable pact with which men permanently give up their wild freedom delegating power once and for all to a sovereign, natural law loses all autonomous content and identifies with the arbitrary will of the latter: non veritas sed auctoritas facit legem. The idea of natural law negates itself and identifies with that of positive law.

Actually, it is true that, for the idea of natural law to have a meaning, it is absurd to look for its contents in the relations that would have existed among men in an idyllic state of primeval nature, in which their sense of justice still had not been perverted by the oppression of man over man. But it is just as unacceptable to identify it with the non historicized idea of social contract, thus eliminating its opposition to positive law. It is true, therefore, that natural law is the content of social contract, but only as far as this is understood as the completion of the state’s evolution, as universal Verständigung within the institutional framework of the World federation.

It can certainly be objected that in this way, too, natural law loses anyway all its determinate content — just as in Hobbes’ concept — to identify with the will that establishes it. But the difference lies in the fact that here the sovereign is represented by the people, and the will is that of all and each, in which the identification between veritas and auctoritas is achieved. Moreover the fact that the idea of natural law is completely realized only at the end does not mean that it does not act in history as uneasiness and, confronted with a reality which in turn under various different forms denies it, it acquires a provisional, but determinate content, becomes project and ideology — in the positive sense of active vision of the future.

It is thus legitimate to affirm that natural law is at the same time an absolute idea independent from the stage of historical development, and as such purely abstract and formal, and a historical fact, with a content that changes in time, progressively approaching the idea. And it is only inasmuch as it takes on historical concreteness that it can assume the function of prime mover of the evolution of the state in its permanent attempt to adjust to its concept.

If instead the idea of natural law is totally removed from history and transported into the domain of abstract speculations on the ideal state, its theoretical function becomes only that of a sterile formal criterion decreeing the illegitimacy of all the existing positive law orders, characterized by an equally infinite distance from the norm.

4. Natural Law and Revolution.

A different concept of natural law involves a different concept of revolution. Those for whom there is no other law but positive law reject the legitimacy of any revolution, as it is a negation of the existing law order; even if they are obliged to acknowledge that, once it has been successful, a revolution establishes a new criterion of legality, admitting therefore that their faithfulness to the existing order has as its only foundation the permanence of the power which imposes it.

This attitude is diametrically the opposite of that of the classical liberals, for whom natural law is an eternal and supra-historical system of norms, which represents the object, defined once and for all, of the social contract. The violation by power of natural law thus involves a violation of the social contract and this in itself legitimates the revolution.

This is a theory which in itself hides the seeds of arbitrariness, because no state, as a concrete historical formation, realizes the abstract and formal ideal of justice. On this basis, any attempt at revolt in the name of arbitrary and indefinite ideals becomes legitimate. Simple negation which is the most comfortable and stupid of attitudes, because it gives people the illusion of being dispensed from the duty of thinking and seriously facing reality — is elevated to the dignity of revolutionary struggle, just as Trotzky’s puerile ideal of permanent revolution is legitimated. Just as Hobbesian conservatism does not see that the historically realized state — whatever its forms and stages of evolution — is not yet the state which fits its idea, so liberal irresponsibility runs the risk of making people deaf to the equally important fact that the historically realized state is anyway a state in progress, whose positivity is the expression of the degree of civil maturation of a people and is therefore infinitely superior to the irresponsibility of indeterminate negation.

The truth is that natural law is a powerful factor of historical evolution, but only inasmuch as it assumes itself historically determined figures, which allow it to question the existing legal order not on the basis of an abstract ideal but on that of a concrete project, which intends to replace the existing order with another more advanced one, which is however already virtually recorded in the facts. Nevertheless, for it to be legitimate to say that every historically active form assumed by the idea of natural law is more advanced than the system it is questioning, it must refer to an ideal, which acts as absolute norm. And this is why every historical revolution always seems to disclose to those who experience it the prospect of mankind’s final emancipation, of universal brotherhood; but on the other hand, to really leave a trace in history, it must also be able to outline an order which is definite and historically situated, and which represents a concrete alternative to the one which is being questioned.

The Revolutionary and His Morality

1. Reason in the State and outside the State. 2. The Revolution. 3. The Morals of Responsibility. 4. Dialogue in Revolutionary Action.

1. Reason in the State and outside the State.

History intended as history of the state can be interpreted as the permanent dialectic tension between two distinct figures of reason.

The first is that which appears in the institutions, and in particular in the state, or in the legal order in which the state tends to identify itself in its concrete historical configurations. Naturally it is an imperfect manifestation of reason, because the law is linked ambiguously to power. As we have already mentioned, Meinecke’s work is the clearest illustration of the radical laceration which has always marked the deep nature of politics. The ambiguous character of power has always been linked to the fact that, in the past, the degree of interdependence of relations between men has narrowed — and therefore falsified — the meaning in which the expression “common good” could be thought of, as it referred it to human groups which, because of the division of society into classes and mankind into sovereign nations, did not coincide with mankind in its entirety: to pursue the good of one of them thus meant — albeit to a different extent according to circumstances — clashing with the pursuit of the good of all the others, and therefore in most cases involved such an uncontrolled use of deception and violence as to restrict the area of the struggle for power to those individuals for which power as such was the first of priorities, whatever the means to be used for conquering, keeping and increasing it. The achievement of the common good consequently became a pure by-product of the struggle for power.

Nevertheless, some of the men in power have been able to conceive of grandiose designs, and to become a reference point for all the cultural and moral energies of a historical period. These are what Hegel calls weltgeschichtliche Menschen (cosmic-historical men), who identify themselves so completely with history that they do not even consider the problem of the price to be paid in moral terms for the realization of their design, in pursuing which the aim of extending their own power cannot be dissociated from that of promoting the common good.

The second form is shown through the forces which, by acting on the contradictions of the existing state orders, promote their progressive transformation into increasingly advanced settings, which slowly widen the area of dialogue to the detriment of the area of violence.

As a matter of fact, for all the first part of the history of mankind — which, albeit rather arbitrarily, we can say lasts until the French Revolution — reason as a factor of transformation has shown in history through the action of unconscious forces, whose objectively rational nature was traced back by Kant to Providence and by Hegel to the cunning of reason.

In that phase of mankind’s history conscious innovative reason could appear only in the public, but not the political form, of testimony, as in the cases of Socrates and Christ. For these two great figures of the history of reason the contradiction between power and truth was so radical that the truth for which they lived was able to assert itself, albeit through long maturation, only at the cost of their violent death. But theirs was not a political struggle. For Socrates,[36] in the Athens of his time, he who wanted “to fight for justice and keep himself alive for a while”, should idioteuein and not demosieuein, in other words he should have kept himself out of public life. And the essential relationship of Christianity with power is indicated in the command “Render unto Caesar the things which be Caesar’s, and unto God the things which be God’s”.

Otherwise, it is also true that the same testimony, to the extent to which, in the longer or shorter term, it influences the historical process, is rarely pure and can rarely be dissociated from elements of strategy. This ambiguity is particularly evident in Christ’s preaching, concerning which it has been possible to legitimately pose the question of whether it was only a testimony or also a revolution.[37] In any case, he himself made use of violence, chasing the merchants from the temple, and made a clear distinction between who was with him and who was against him.

2. The Revolution.

With the French Revolution a phase of the historical process starts in which the transformation of the institutions through conscious design and rational action becomes conceivable.

The bonum commune of mankind becomes a political ideal, and not only a philosophical or religious one. It becomes conceivable for the individual to take up responsibility for mankind’s process of emancipation and to identify this objective with the conscious result of his struggle, just as a political action becomes conceivable which looks for the source of its power to change reality in the appeal to reason. Thus the figure of the revolutionary is born, uniting in itself, although in an imperfect form, that unity of theory and practice which will be realized in perfect form only at the end, and which in history shows only at the level of the species. In contrast to the figure of the philosopher as official of mankind, according to Husserl’s expression[38] — who assumes an objectively conservative role because by confining himself to pure theory, in actual fact he abandons practice into the hands of the existing power — is the figure of the revolutionary as militant of mankind for whom interpreting and changing reality are the same thing.

It is true that today the bonum commune of mankind cannot be achieved yet because its institutional preconditions still do not exist, albeit — taking on a different shape each time — it has been the ideal reference point of the great liberal, democratic and socialist revolutions. Just as it is true that each of these revolutions, from being universal in its designs, has become national after seizing power. This is the dialectic at the root of the ambiguous term “ideology”, which denotes at the same time every great project of historical transformation and false conscience. It is an ambiguity which measures the distance which up to now has always existed between the idea of the common good referred to the whole of mankind and its partial and imperfect realizations in historical reality, and together that which exists among the ability of men to rationally project the future and the results of their action. But the growing awareness of the contradiction between values and facts today has become a factor which cannot be neglected in the analysis of the historical process, although the possibility of overcoming it looms far away in the future. Mankind — for the first time in history, and urged by the danger of self-destruction — is trying to take its fate into its own hands. Those who were objects of a design of Providence are becoming subjects of history and are little by little discovering that they are Providence.

3. The Ethics of Responsibility.

The revolutionary phase of the historical process is destined to be followed by the federalist phase, in which violence will disappear from institutions and politics will become a free exchange of opinions among reasonable men. It wilt therefore be suppressed as such, identifying on the one hand with law and on the other hand with dialogue and paideia.

But today we are still in the revolutionary phase, in which rational political action certainly has its own space to appear, but in an institutional context in which division, oppression and mystification, in other words violence in Weil’s sense, still prevail. Revolutionary action must take this into account.

It is certainly true that in their global historical meaning revolutions are essentially cultural revolutions, as they replace the old paradigm with a new one, which changes the meaning of social life by introducing new cultural criteria for interpreting it, through the institutional changes they realize. But, considered from the standpoint of the revolutionary, who has to decide and act, history cannot be reduced to the history of spirit. He must ask himself the question of how to tackle the concrete violence that exists in the context he acts in, and which is — at least partly — impermeable to discourse. He cannot therefore refer to moral criteria which oblige him to adopt only ways of behaving that will become universal in the federalist phase, in other words to use the free confrontation of opinions between equal men as an exclusive instrument of political action, because his aim is to create the institutional conditions of the latter, which do not yet exist. This is Weber’s problem of the ethics of responsibility.[39]

The ethics of responsibility is not merely the acceptance of the ambiguous principle — on the basis of which any misdeed can be justified — of the legitimacy of the use of immoral means to achieve a moral purpose. Besides, in every enterprise that proposes to make mankind advance along the road to its emancipation through a process, every stage is at the same time end with respect to the previous stages and means with respect to the following ones. It follows that it is impossible to distinguish the end from the means clearly in revolutionary politics and therefore to justify, in the name of the ethics of responsibility, the immorality of the means by resorting to an end which is indeterminate as to the moment of its realization and content.

In actual fact, the ethics of responsibility does not justify anything. Precisely because it is the assumption of responsibility for the consequences of one’s actions, it is in fact an explicit a priori renunciation to any justification which is not the actual realization of a progressive political design. In other words, the ethics of responsibility is not an ethics of ends — meant as objectives which are present only in the mind of him who acts — but an ethics of results, with respect to which the subjective and uncontrollable moment of conviction, or good intentions, is quite insignificant. If this is forgotten, and the formula of the morals of responsibility is used without being aware of the gravity of its implications, it becomes an alibi to cover the morals of levity, the confusion of one’s convenience with one’s duty.

The ethics of responsibility rather expresses the dramatic awareness that there is no political choice in which evil does not hide, and that evil is also and above all hidden in the inertia that does not oppose the violence taking place outside us. It therefore implies that whoever acts politically to promote mankind’s emancipation should consider his action as the sum of its consequences, in other words should inscribe it in a strategic design and apply his judgement and moral will to the design as a whole.

4. Dialogue in Revolutionary Action.

It is therefore true that the ethics of responsibility refuses the axiom — contradicted by reality — that from good only good can derive and evil from evil. But to refuse it does not at all mean to believe that good cannot come from good and therefore that dialogue among equals for the common achievement of a result has no place in political life.

The opposite is true. Precisely because in history — which does not have a termination — everything is end and means together, reason in politics must be realized along the way: it must in other words be in the process, not only at the end of it. In revolutionary action therefore dialogue, persuasion, loyalty, truthfulness, spirit of solidarity, when used responsibly, that is, so as to make a revolutionary design advance, are not to be placed in the domain of the ethics of principles, but in that of the ethics of responsibility.

Obviously we must not overlook the fact that today politics is still intrinsically different from charity, or from paideia, and that what represents the difference is violence. Violence, in turn, is inevitable because the revolutionary’s action clashes with obstacles which resist rational conviction.

But the fact remains that reason, that is, dialogue among equals, in revolutionary dialectics plays an irreplaceable role. We have already seen that the objective of revolutionary action is that of a periodical reformulation of the social contract through the re-founding of the state.[40] And that every historical form of state is the expression of the degree of maturity reached by the process of evolution of reason. Indeed, the state is the way in which objective reason shows itself in history, so much that, as already mentioned, the only possible rational behaviour in a hypothetical condition of anarchy, i.e. absence of state, is that of abandoning it by entering, according to Kant’s expression, into a civil constitution.

Of course, in a politically divided world, rational dialogue can be carried out only within the institutional context of the existing states, and therefore only on themes which do not question their survival. Its rationality is therefore defined by precise boundaries (although the imperfect nature of the state opens breaches in those boundaries which allow reason to go beyond the state in the form it has here and now). There are indeed in history phases of crisis of the state, which are eo ipso also crises of reason, in which, as happened with tragic evidence in the case of Nazism and Fascism, dialogue is obscured and violence penetrates into all the recesses of civil life.

But not for this does the state stop being the expression of reason, even if of a reason involved in a crisis. The enemy which the revolutionary struggles against always presents an aspect which is — albeit imperfectly — rational, and therefore sensitive — even if only in part — to the lesson of reason. And this is why, when the revolution is successful, the old system falls first of all under the weight of its own contradictions: which undermine only a rational construction, and that only reason can explode.

It follows that, if mankind’s process of emancipation produces more and more rational forms of social life, so much that today in a part of the world the state corresponds more or less to the Kantian model of the republic, this cannot avoid affecting the forms assumed by the revolutionary struggle, which intends to make them progress further. The lower the content of violence of the state, the lower the content of violence of revolution. While in the 16th century murder was a normal instrument of political struggle, so much as to be theorized by the political scientists of the time, today, at least in the more advanced parts of the world, it no longer exists (even if it is practised in exceptional circumstances and in the shady borderline zone between politics and criminality).

This means that the intensity of the moral conflicts that the ethics of responsibility must face tends to be attenuated with the humanizing of political life, because it is one thing to kill and another to shout slogans during a march, even if both are manifestations of violence. The ambiguity of the relationship between good and evil, between violence and discourse, makes the progressive transition from one to the other possible.

In reality the dichotomy friend-foe — which so fascinates simple or immature natures — is quite inadequate to describe the revolutionary situation, in which whoever is fighting for the new order does not simply deny the form in which reason takes shape in the previous order, but only denies its limitations. And violence, which has always made its appearance in the great revolutions of the past, must be mainly attributed precisely to the limitations of the rational character of the old order. In fact, if it is true that a revolution opposes the present form of reason with its own virtual form which overcomes the limitations of the first, as they appear in its historically mature contradictions, it is normal for it to privilege the instruments of reason in the confrontation on whose ground it is superior to the existing order. And to the latter therefore remains only the choice between surrender and the use of violence.

Moreover, if reason were not in some way hidden within violence, if violence and reason were shown in historical reality at the pure state, like two polarities which are both impermeable to each other’s language, violence — brutal power — could not be stopped from prevailing, and mankind would never have lifted itself out of the state of barbarity. If this has not occurred, it is because in certain historical circumstances truth becomes power.

But reason, dialogue, communicative transparency are linked with revolution in another way. If it is true that, contrary to what the Plato of the Republic believed, it is not paideia which makes laws useless, but it is the laws that educate men, and that therefore to change men one must change the laws, it is also true that it is men, in their turn, who change the laws, and that therefore to change the laws one must change men. Reason coincides with the state only at the end, but, in the transition, to question the limitations of the historically existing forms of state through revolutionary action presupposes that reason can also emerge outside the state.

This does not mean that it emerges independently from the state, because the revolutionary design is defined exclusively by being in opposition with the limitations of the existing state, and therefore could not exist without the state. But it is still a manifestation of reason which goes beyond the state, and that is not therefore conditioned by the existing institutions, or is conditioned by them only as far as the latter have engraved on them the virtual image of their complete realization.

The bearers of this reason outside the state, or rather within the state in its future form, are the revolutionary groups. As such, they can survive and reinforce themselves only if the relations among their members are inspired by the values which give their project a meaning. Precisely because, for them, reason is not anchored in the state, against which they are fighting, their motivations must be rigorously autonomous, in other words moral, and their relations founded on dialogue and solidarity. If each of them should use his fellow revolutionaries — present and potential — as instruments, the revolutionary design would be destined to fail at the outset as it would be deprived of its only strength. The ideal of a world without violence must in a nutshell grow in the relations among those who are consciously committed to its realization. It is true that the ideal will be achieved imperfectly because men are not angels: but it is just as true that this is the ideal that must be constantly pursued.


1. On “Saying What One Thinks”. 2. Rule of Law and Incompatibility of the Concrete Moral Standards. 3. Progress and Responsibility.

1. On “Saying What One Thinks”.

The opinion that truth is subjective, that is, relative, has entered into the common way of thinking. The newspapers are full of the confessions of famous people who tell their own truth about something. The virtue of sincerity presented in this way acquires an ambiguous meaning. The duty of being sincere does not identify any more with that of telling the truth, but with that of saying what one thinks. But in this meaning the term becomes ambiguous because it confers an absolute value to the expression of one’s thought, whatever it is, to the detriment of the duty to think the truth. In actual fact, whoever in the name of sincerity expresses false, vulgar or wicked thoughts, does not accomplish an act of sincerity, but of falsity, vulgarity or wickedness. Morality does not command to say what one thinks, but to think before speaking, avoiding the expression of hasty judgements and arbitrary opinions. In reality sincerity, meant in its equivocal sense, can become superficiality, or indecency, or aggressiveness, or all these things together. Not for nothing boasting of always saying what one thinks is characteristic of silly and quarrelsome people. To be sincere in the true sense of the word means to carry out that laborious process of identification with reality — however one intends it — which involves renouncing the expression of one’s opinion just to prevail over others.

2. Law and Incompatibility of Concrete Moral Standards.

According to Kant, law is “the whole of the conditions in which everybody’s will can co-exist with the will of the others according to a general law of freedom”.[41] I think it is a wholly correct definition, as long as one considers that it is purely formal. It is therefore impossible, contrarily to what Kant thought, to construe, unless in abstract terms, the content of law starting from this definition. In other words, it can be established in abstract terms that everyone has a right to the protection of a private sphere, of property, of personal safety, of the free expression of one’s opinions, etc. But when it is a matter of establishing concretely the content of these liberties infinite difficulties arise, because, however one defines it, their protection, under certain circumstances, cannot avoid damaging what others think are their liberties. The content of law cannot therefore be construed starting from his concept, but must be established on the basis of the ethical standards which prevail in a certain society. If common standards do not exist, no norm can achieve the respect of everybody’s freedom, because in any case someone will feel that his freedom has been infringed by some behaviour that others consider legitimately appertaining to their own sphere of freedom. The norm resulting from this will thus always be the result of the prevarication of one part of society over the other, and therefore will only be imperfectly lawful.

This problem, which has always existed and has made the legitimacy of any legal order problematic, is becoming acute nowadays because the increase in interdependence and the consequent spreading of the awareness of the tremendous economic and social imbalances which exist among the various regions of the world give an irresistible impulse to the phenomenon of the migration of large masses of people from the poorer countries to the richer countries of the Earth, in this way putting incompatible cultures in contact with each other. It follows that the legal orders of the-developed part of the world begin to be put to the test by conflicts caused by ways of behaving which for some are the expression of moral and religious duties, or anyway are perfectly legitimate, while for others they are offensive, to the point of being legally punished (such as polygamy, or homicide for religious reasons). These contradictions were allowed to be underlined with academic complacency, as proof of the validity of the theories on the relativity of values and the incommunicability of cultures, until the contrasting ways of behaving which determined them were carried out by populations without relations among them (except for those guaranteed by some anthropologist who travelled back and forth between the Amazonian forest and Paris salons). On the contrary they have been causing dramatic problems since inter-ethnic contacts were established involving whole communities, that feel the values on which their identity is founded to be mutually threatened.

In this situation the answer cannot be toleration, which is an attitude that cannot be held in the face of radical diversity, but only of relative diversity, within a framework of substantial homogeneity of the basic values. When we find ourselves facing behaviour that our civilization condemns as criminal, toleration identifies with complicity, and becomes criminal itself. It becomes a characteristic attitude of the privileged, who profess it in the safety of their mansions, while the beggars slaughter each other in the streets; and it disappears as soon as the gates of their mansions are knocked down. In any case, the preaching of toleration in reality shows itself to be quite useless, because conflicts are really solved through violence, even if it is violence dressed up as law.

The problems posed by the traumatic contacts between radically different cultures which characterize our time and will characterize much more dramatically the years to come do not have a just solution — that is, a solution which defends the sphere of freedom today felt as legitimate by both the parts involved. There will always be only unjust solutions, in other words with some content of violence, whatever its victims may be. Which does not prevent the fact that, on the one hand, the problem is posed by reality, and requires an answer; and that, on the other hand, there are answers which are less unjust than others, able to facilitate the evolution of social life towards situations compatible with a regulation really based on law, and not on force.

However, it certainly will not be Levy-Strauss’s philosophy that will allow the world to overcome the traumas it is about to undergo because of the more and more intense, extensive and frequent contacts among cultures that today are radically incompatible. The reign of law will not arise in societies which are divided into watertight compartments, in which cultural communities do not communicate — and where what is a duty for me is a crime for my neighbour; but when all the men in the world agree on the content each one’s freedom should have, in other words when there is a universally agreed system of fundamental values and, within this framework, the differences between cultures will not be perceived as violations of somebody’s freedom, but as an enriching factor for everyone.

Therefore, if on one hand law is the premise for a full universal Verständigung, on the other hand it is founded by a virtual agreement, which only awaits sanctioning by law to be completely realized.

An open and evolutionary policy can only really be conceived on the basis of the rational trust that a progressive and controlled approach between deeply different cultures is destined to lead, albeit at the end of a pathway paved with difficulties, to a universal fusion of horizons, in other words to the formation of a single system of fundamental values, without which — among other things — there cannot be any pluralism, which is a factor of cultural enrichment only if it is placed within the framework of a single communication community.

3. Progress and Responsibility.

According to Jonas[42] the idea of progress is incompatible with that of responsibility, as the latter presupposes that the future is uncertain and depends on the free decisions of men. It is a contradiction which is particularly evident in the world of today, which is concretely threatened with extinction unless mankind behaves responsibly towards the problems of overpopulation, exhaustion of non-renewable resources and pollution.

In my opinion, Jonas’s conclusions are groundless. What is radically incompatible with responsibility is rather a casual concept of history, which presupposes that the freedom of choice and action of the individual is completely annulled by the blind forces of violence and chaos. In this case the dimension of the future, which is that of responsibility, of foreseeing the consequences of one’s own actions, would be lacking.

Moreover, as previously underlined, the idea of progress does not belong to the sphere of theoretical reason, in other words is not drawn from the observation of facts, but is a postulate of practical reason, which must be accepted if one admits, in the sphere of politics, the possibility of free, and therefore responsible, action. It must be added that, in the particular situation of today, whoever is not sustained by the belief that the forms of men’s social life are destined to improve would lack any stimulation to struggle for stopping the planet’s process towards its own destruction. For these stimulations to remain and be reinforced, one must believe in reason. But reason is what unites men. To believe in reason therefore means to think that — through the institutions — it spreads and asserts itself. It means in other words to believe in the reason of the others, who together with us make history, avoiding the senseless sin of presumptuousness which consists in believing that responsibility, and therefore reason, concerns us alone while history — in other words the others — remains at the mercy of the blind impulses of chance. Which does not involve — it must be remembered — the negation of the presence of radical evil, without which man would be angel or animal, but the conviction that the fight between good and evil in the individual soul is destined to take place within the framework of increasingly advanced conditions of social life.

This is equivalent to saying that, while for the individual conscience necessity and liberty appear — and always will appear — as the terms of a contradiction, the march of mankind is guided by the necessity of liberty.

* This essay was published in The Federalist, 32, n.2 (1990), pp. 109 ff.

[1] Zum ewigen Frieden, p. 232 and ff. of V Volume of the Insel Verlag edition, Wiesbaden, 1960.

[2] This kind of problem is present in all Husserl’s philosophy. The problem of the radical nature of philosophy is specifically treated in the essay Die Philosophie als strenge Wissenschaft, published in Logos, Vol. l, 1910/11 (I.C.B. Mohr), while the relationship of philosophy with Lebenswelt is the theme of the Krisis.

[3] Here I am, otherwise I cannot do.

[4] See for all of them Jean-François Lyotard, La condition postmoderne, Paris, Les Editions de Minuit, 1979.

[5] The theory of the end of ideologies was born in America with the work of Daniel Bell, The End of Ideologies, New York, The Free Press, 1960.

[6] Quoted from Hermann Diels, Fragmente der Vorsokratiker, 1903, pages 258-59 of Vol. II of the 16th edition, edited by Walter Kranz, Dublin-Zurich, Weidmann.

[7] See above all the introduction to the Logique de la philosophie, Paris,Vrin, 1967.

[8] In Les mots et les choses, Paris, Gallimard, 1966.

[9] Concerning this see the essays by Herbert Butterfield contained in the volume Man on His Past, Cambridge, C.U.P., 1969.

[10] Jacques Derrida, De la grammatologie, Paris, Les Editions de Minuit, 1967.

[11] Martin Heidegger, Sein und Zeit, 1927, consulted in the Max Niemeyer Verlag edition, Tübingen, 1963, pp. 385 and ff.

[12] See in particular Der Ursprung des Kunstwerkes, in Holzwege, 1950, consulted in the 4th edition published by Klostermann Verlag, Frankfurt a.M.

[13] In Hermann Diels, Fragmente der Vorsokratiker, cit., on p. 172 of Vol. I.

[14] Charles Peirce, What Pragmatism Is, The Monist, 15 (1905), quoted from Philip P. Wiener, ed., Selected Writings, New York, Dover Publications, p. 194.

[15] Friedrich Schleiermacher, Hermeneutik und Kritik, 1838, quoted from Manfred Frank, ed., Frankfurt a.M., Suhrkamp Verlag, 1977, p. 97.

[16] Hans-Georg Gadamer, Rhetorik, Hermeneutik und Ideologiekritik, in Hermeneutik und Ideologiekritik, Frankfurt a.M., Suhrkamp Verlag, p. 69.

[17] Sein und Zeit, op. cit., p. 406.

[18] G.W.F. Hegel, Philosophie des Rechts, 1830. On the concept of Überzeugung see §140. On Sittlichkeit see §141 and ff.

[19] Charles Peirce, Some Consequences of Four Incapacities, in Journal of Speculative Philosophy, 2 (1868), quoted from Philip P.Wiener, ed., Selected Writings, op.cit., pp. 39 and ff.

[20] Gianni Vattimo, Dialettica, differenza, pensiero debole, in Gianni Vattimo and Pier Aldo Rovati (eds.), Il pensiero debole, Milan, Feltrinelli, 1983, p. 26.

[21] See in particular the above-mentioned essay by Hans-Georg Gadamer, Rhetorik, Hermeneutik und Ideologiekritik, as well as Replik, in Id., Hermeneutik und Ideologiekritik, op. cit. In the same volume see Jürgen Habermas, Zu Gadamers ‘Wahrheit und Methode’ and Der Universalanspruch der Hermeneutik.

[22] Popper’s philosophy of knowledge is contained above all in Logik der Forschung, Wien, Julius Springer Verlag, 1935, reviewed in successive editions up to the 9th, Tübingen, J.C.B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck), 1989, and in Conjectures and Refutations, London, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1963, consulted in the 5th revised edition of 1974. His critique of metaphysics is contained in The Open Society and Its Enemies, London, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1952, and The Poverty of Historicism, London, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1957.

[23] Thomas Kuhn, Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Chicago and London, The University of Chicago Press, 1962, and Id., The Essential Tension, Chicago and London, The University of Chicago Press, 1977.

[24] Topica, 100a and 100b.

[25] Jürgen Habermas, Zu Gadamers ‘Wahrheit und Methode’ and Der Universalanspruch der Hermeneutik, op. cit., in Hans-Georg Gadamer, Technik und Wissenschaft als Ideologie, op. cit..

[26] Karl Mannheim, Beiträge zum Sinn der Weltanschauungs-Interpretation, Jahrbuch für Kunstgeschichte, I (XV), 4, (1921-22), taken from the collection of essays edited by Heinz Maus and Friedrich Fürstenberg, Wissensoziologie, Berlin und Neuwied, Luchterhand Verlag, 1964, p. 91.

[27] Friedrich Meinecke, Die Idee der Staatsräson, 1924, consulted in the Oldenbourg edition, München, 1957, p. 10.

[28] Ibid., p. 13.

[29] Karl-Otto Apel, Das Apriori der Kommunikationsgemeinschaft, in Id., Transformationen der Philosophie, Frankfurt a.M., Suhrkamp Verlag, Vol. II, p. 425.

[30] Taken from Karl-Otto Apel, Das Apriori…, op. cit., Vol. II, p. 424.

[31] Paul Feyerabend, How to Defend Society Against Science, in Ian Hacking, ed., Scientific Revolutions, Oxford, O.U.P., 1981.

[32] Mario Albertini, Vers une théorie positive du fédéralisme, Le Fédéraliste, 5 (1963), pp. 251 and ff.

[33] Carl Schmitt, Verfassungslehre (1928), consulted in the 1983 edition published by Duncker & Humblot, Berlin, pp. 238-39.

[34] Eric Weil, Philosophie politique, Paris, Vrin, 1971, p. 159.

[35] Jürgen Habermas, Naturrecht und Revolution, in Theorie und Praxis, Frankfurt a.M., Suhrkamp, pp. 89 and ff.

[36] Plato, Apology of Socrates, 31 and 32-34.

[37] See for example Oscar Cullmann, Jesus und die Revolutionären seiner Zeit, Tübingen, J.C.B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck), 1970.

[38] Edmund Husserl, Die Krisis der europäischen Wissenschaften und die transzendentale Phänomenologie, Den Haag, Martinus Nijhoff, 1962, p. 15.

[39] Max Weber, Politik als Beruf (1919) now in Id., Gesammelte politische Schriften, Tübingen, J.C.B. Mohr (paul Siebeck), 1958.

[40] This idea is used as a historiographical criterion by Hermann Hintze. See the essay Staatenbildung und Verfassungsentwicklung, in Id., Staat und Verfassung. Gesammelte Abhandlungen zur allgemeinen Verfassungsgeschichte, Göttingen, Vandenhoek & Ruprecht, 1978.

[41] Immanuel Kant, Metaphysik der Sitten, page 337 of Vol. IV of the Insel Verlag edition, Wiesbaden, 1960.

[42] Hans Jonas, Das Prinzip Verantwortung, 1979, consulted in the Suhrkamp edition, Frankfurt a.M., 1984, pp. 245 and ff.

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