Fluxury by Sergio Benvenuto

Review of DESTRA E SINISTRA. RAGIONI E SIGNIFICATI DI UNA DISTINZIONE POLITICA (Right and Left. Reasons and Significance of PolJul/07/2016

          Norberto Bobbio is generally considered the philosopher-spokesman of the liberal Italian left.  He has, however, for some time been open to the arguments of those who believe that the left/right opposition is no longer adequate to express today's political scene.  In his concise work, published by Donzelli (Rome), Bobbio takes up a discourse with these "unbelievers" in what might be called the Great Paradigm (that is, the conviction that a Right/Left polarity predominates today).  At the end of his virtual debate, however, he concludes that that opposition should be maintained, and in particular, attempts to demonstrate why he considers his siding with the left to be still a sensible choice.

          The book became a best-seller in Italy, in part because of its timely appearance (during the recent election campaign), as the Right/Left opposition was revealed to be as crucial an issue as ever.  Bobbio is a gentleman, in whom a rare intellectual honesty is combined with an extraordinarily lucid style.  His particular enlightened Glasnost has, recently, become very attractive to a public bewildered by the subtleties of a certain contemporary political thought, characterized by a post-modern tortuousness.  The result is a desire for clear and distinct concepts.

          This book could thus be considered for the most part an invitation to discourse.  My response is to accept its challenge, as I side with those attempting to conceive of politics outside the Great Paradigm.

                 *      *      *

          Bobbio's analysis concludes that being of the Left coincides with a desire for more equality, while being right wing is backing a hierarchy, which is a form of inequality.  However, Bobbio very carefully avoids saying that the policies of the Left increase de facto equality.  He may admit that very often the Left has created new forms of inequality.  He limits his analysis to the area of founding principles without dwelling upon the strategies of applying them, simply attempting to define the "essence" of Left and Right, and not the concrete policies which manifest that essence.

          A leftist philosopher said "to be on the Left is more difficult than to be on the Right: because the Right does not betray, while the Left usually betrays and disappoints." What she meant was that "existential" applications of the Left's "essence" betray that essence. But can an "essence" incapable of embodying itself concretely be taken seriously?  Being philosophers does not exempt us from judging whether certain appealing programs are also feasible. In other words, is the extreme difficulty (or impossibility?) of carrying out a certain program a feature completely foreign to the real essence of this program? Or instead does this difficulty reveal in a roundabout way its hidden truth? 

          Following Bobbio's example, I will recall an episode from my childhood.  When, as a boy, I asked my father (a life-time militant socialist) what being a socialist meant, he responded unhesitatingly: "It means being on the side of the weakest".  Often, there is more unadorned (bare) truth contained in responses given to children than in most philosophical treatises.  At that point, I asked him what the basic difference was between Nenni's programme (Nenni was the leader of the Italian Socialist Party) and that of Jesus.  He answered: "Jesus was on the side of the weakest, but Nenni wants to take away from the strong to give to the weak".  In other words, Nenni was like Robin Hood.

          What now is the difference between saying that Nenni and Robin Hood were on the side of the weakest, and saying, as Bobbio does, that they wanted more equality?  Wanting more equality is a rationalization of the most infantile, and genuine, "giving to the weak".  This definition, being "weaker" than that of Bobbio, has perhaps the advantage that it in some ways avoids the rational criticism I offer below.

          France was recently thrown into turmoil by its youth in rebellion against Prime Minister Balladur's law (at least, according to them), which ensures employment to those graduating, however at a salary which is only 80% of the established minimum salary.  Now, is that protest considered "Leftist" because the government it contested is Right wing, or because of its egalitarian significance?  The rebellion was against the idea that anyone, at the beginning of his working career, should be paid 80% of the minimum adult salary.  Consequently, the demand was for more equality between youth and adults.  Up to this point, Bobbio appears to be right.

          However, Balladur had promulgated this law in order to attenuate extremely high unemployment among the young.  This attempt to reduce the rate of unemployment was not anti-egalitarian, if we assume that an individual with a below-average salary is less unequal than of an individual with no salary.  Among the causes for the high unemployment rate in Europe are union guarantees for employees.  Having created a protective veil around those who are employed, the guarantees discourage employers from hiring others, the result of which is an even higher rate of unemployment.  Protecting the weak often increases their weakness.

          If the criteria is egalitarianism, the distinction between right and left wing "policies" becomes less evident, because the real alternative is not between more or less equality, but (unfortunately) between two types of inequality; that is, between maintaining a high salary level for the employed by imposing unemployment on one part of the population, and reducing unemployment by lowering the salary level of the weaker sector of the employed.

          And yet, the left wing sides with the young who demonstrate in the streets, against the anti-unemployment maneuvers of the government.  Why is this?  Because in this case the imperative to "be on the side of the weakest" prevails over rational ends "demanding more equality": being at any price on the side of the disadvantaged, even if their requests are contradictory and they do not contribute to resolving anything.  If the "people of the left" were as rational as Bobbio, then they would be not on the side of the protestors, but on the side of Balladur.  However, as I will attempt to demonstrate, being de facto of the Left--or the Right, for that matter--has nothing to do with rational ends.  Instead, it is a question of historical legacy; that is, of visceral quality, and visceral quality is never clear and distinct.

                     *      *      *

          On the plane of Bobbio's general imperatives, the difference between Right and Left is sharp.  However, some of us criticize the Great Paradigm not because we do not agree with the "explicit" categorical imperatives of one or the other: as "an ideal", increased equality would be approved by anyone.  But when, from the desire simply for more equality (the realm of ends), we pass to "creating more equality" (the realm of effects), fundamental definitions lose their impact.  Even should Bobbio be right, and the "essence" of being of the Left simplified to mean exclusively the desire for more equality, the Left would in any case have to provide proposals apropos of other values as well: liberty, economic well-being, fraternity, etc.  And the same would apply to the Right.  Real human beings do not live in one dimension exclusively, but in many.  No political project can therefore be limited to simply calling for "more equality", or "more liberty", or "more green".  It must also be clear about what priority it gives to other ends or other values.  And when the attempt is made to combine 'more equality' with other values (that is, when the abstract enunciation of ends becomes concrete political decision), everything becomes just a bit less clear.

          In the meantime, however, isn't Bobbio's conclusion that the essence of the Right can be reduced to "not" wanting more equality just a transverse way of confirming the Left's bad opinion [by] the Right?  In his essay, Bobbio avoids making value judgments, limiting himself to a descriptive examination.  However, the orientation of his description is influenced by his own leanings, or affinities (and it would be ingenuous to think that it could be otherwise).  For many convinced Left wingers, being of the Right reveals an evil nature, while having a Left wing heart means having a heart, full stop.  And then, how could wanting to perpetuate inequality among men be considered as anything else but evil?   Obviously, as we know through empirical evidence, militants of the Left can also be selfish and small-minded, while altruistic and generous individuals can also be found in the ranks of the Right.  In response to this, however, the man or woman of the Left will resort the 'self-deception' theory; a good person belongs to the Right only because he is naive enough to deceive himself as to his own ethic.  However, attributing bad faith or stupidity--or both--to the adversary is a psychological reflex as old as the humanity itself.

          Actually, the Left has succeeded over time in creating a certain suspicion of the wickedness of the Right.  As a result in Italy, for example--with the exception of the neo-Fascist party of Fini-- virtually no Italian political force explicitly declares itself to be "of the Right".

          On the other hand, someone of the Right does not generally perceive persons of the Left as being wicked so much as being unfair.  For these individuals of the Right, being leftist is an envious revenge of the mediocre against the capable.  When Clinton won the elections, in the United States the following quip made the rounds of conservative circles: "Clinton would choose "only" capable and competent persons as administrators, even white males".  The Right's "character" will inevitably be convinced that the Left's "heart", in its desire to level out everything, does not give according to merit.  In other words, much of the "right wing character" (with the exception of the totalitarian fringe) would not identify with Bobbio's implicitly "Pink" definition.  The Right would define itself as the champion of liberty.  Thus, it should have come as no surprise that the name chosen by the centre-right parties for the 1994 election campaign was "Pole of Liberty".  Clearly, the Left, under the name of "Progressives", negated that the liberty of the Right was true liberty, just as the Right negated that the Left was really progressive.  Opposing poles predictably reject the self-definitions of their adversaries.  I am convinced that Bobbio's--eminently negative--definition of the Right is unacceptable to thinkers of the Right.

          In fact, Bobbio himself admits that the Great Paradigm does not embrace the entire the political arena.  Another fundamental value is liberty: "There are liberal and authoritarian doctrines and movements on both the Right and the Left" (p. 80).  Bobbio proposes a quadripartite classification of the political panorama which would combine two variables; Right/Left on the one hand, and Liberal/Authoritarian on the other.  We would thus have an egalitarian and authoritarian (Jacobin, Stalinist) Left, an egalitarian and liberal (Liberal Socialism) Centre/Left, a non-egalitarian and liberal (Liberal Democratic) Centre/Right, and a non-egalitarian and authoritarian (various forms of Fascism) Right.  In this view, the strongest opposition would be between the Centre and the Extremes.  Bobbio also mentions the fact that, besides liberty and equality, there are at least two other values--prosperity and peace--possibly influencing the structuring of the political arena.

          He does not, however, evoke the eminently classical value of fraternity; perhaps because that value is even less than liberty suitable to the Great Paradigm.  For the various types of Fascism, fraternity is a national concept, modeled on warrior camaraderie.  The Christian version of fraternity is Universalist, and theology based--just as Socialist fraternity is Universalist and based on worker solidarity.  Other movements, however, such as the various forms of liberalism, have not been overly generous about giving space to fraternity.

          Bobbio gives examples of political interpretations which avoid the Left/Right opposition, citing Sorel, who admired both Mussolini and Lenin.  That reference, however, is more in the spirit of the exception which proves the rule.  And yet, he lived in Italy, a country where for half a century the Catholic Church and the Christian Democrats were politically dominant, always intent on escaping inclusion in the Great Paradigm.  Wotylism particularly succeeds in doing this: on the level of private moral and cultural values, the position of John Paul II could be classified as ultra-conservative, and on the economic-social scale a predication in favour of egalitarian, fraternity and pacifism (his masterpiece was Solidarnosc, the workers' movement based on solidarity).  Bobbio is quick to see the "centre" as a side product of the Great Paradigm, which would confirm rather than attenuate its distinction.  Many forces proclaim themselves as Central in order to avoid the dictatorship of the Left/Right dichotomy.

          In his book, The True and Only Heaven, C. Lasch (1) demonstrates how a great deal of the ethical-political tradition of Anglo-America was "populist" and unbending to the Great Paradigm.  This tradition, which lasted up to the time of Martin Luther King, was always hostile to the world of business and the capitalist market.  However, it was also deeply conservative on the cultural level; it was in any case the type of tradition of which Rousseau was the precursor.

                    *      *      *

            At any rate, the manner in which Bobbio tailors his conceptual bed of Procustes in order to fit into it the rich variety of Left and Right is admirable.  And, at this point, I will limit myself to expressing a nagging doubt as regards that vehicle.  I will attempt to demonstrate that the political arena, also in Europe, cannot be rationalized--and I will demonstrate it in the most rational manner possible.  Reason will not always and inevitably demonstrate that the real is rational: it can as easily demonstrate that the real "is not" rational.  But then, hasn't reason been used to establish reason’s limits since the time of Kant?

          In fact, I would say that:

          A) Not all the political forces usually classified as Left can be identified with the request for placing priority on increased equality: just as, inversely, some egalitarian movements are not part of the Left.

          B) Also in currents of thought advancing egalitarian and so-called left-wing programmes, other values (liberty, justice, fraternity, peace, economic well-being, authenticity, emancipation, innovation) have proved to be no less determinant.

          C) If, from categorical imperative, equality is reinterpreted to become an ideal conditioned by the realization of other values, the Right/Left opposition tends to become attenuated.

          Individuals who "in principle" accept the programme of more equality for citizens, may "de facto" accept anti-egalitarian measures in order to protect other values they consider no less important (such as liberty, economic well-being, justice, etc.).

          D) If a series of measures aimed at producing equality were put into practice, we would find ourselves faced with results which are paradoxical, "perverse".  These pragmatic paradoxes (not therefore clearly logical) of equality (and liberty) end up deforming the Left/Right axis.  A pluralistic vision of society as a network of relationships renders problematic any linear policy attempting simply to adapt means to "absolute" ends.  The means will inevitably have a retroactive effect on the ends.

          E) The concept itself of equality, seen through a lens of pragmatic rationality, is revealed as polysemic; in particular, juridical and social equality are not homogeneous.

          F) It is necessary to accept the idea that political identities (and therefore, not only those of the Great Paradigm) cannot be reduced to rational options beginning with well defined values, but must be assimilated above all to ethnic affinities, in that they are complex and cannot be reduced to a single dimension.

          G) Finally, the historical success of a paradigm must not discourage the philosopher either from criticizing it or from eventually making innovative proposals.

          I should now like to examine these points one by one.

                  *      *      *

A)      Not all Left-Wing Movements are Egalitarian

          I find it difficult to see the "essence" of the proposals of the Greens or a large part of the libertarian galaxy, for example, as corollary to Bobbio's imperative for "more equality".  The nucleus of green ecologism is concerned with general well-being, or the "quality of life", as it is generally described, and not with equality.  The Greens accuse polluting factories of poisoning both the rich and the poor.

          In a recent article, cited by Bobbio, Massimo Cacciari implicitly accepts the idea that the Left pursues more equality, but even he associates that context with the "quality of life", thus "ecologizing" Left wing tradition.  "I cannot live well if others do not (...) I cannot feel that my life is "decent" if the same fundamental conditions I enjoy are not guaranteed to others (...).  Equality is a component of the quality of life". (3)  (However, the trouble is that the Right as well promises to improve the quality of life.)

          As to the Libertarians, they broke with the Marxists at the time of the First International because they saw as their main adversary the authority of the State, not Capitalism.  The anarchist is against the State also when it becomes a "social State" intent on redistributing wealth in a more equitable way.  As his name implies, in the "Libertarians" the freedom requisite prevails over the need for equality--in a different sense however than the liberty of the "Liberal Socialist".  I do not believe that the difference between Libertarianism and Liberal Socialism can be reduced to a disagreement over means which have common ends.  As we will see, the liberty of the Liberal is quite different than libertarian liberty.

          Many movements want more equality "de facto" without considering themselves Left wing.  Many religious fundamentalisms, up to a certain variety of Komheinism, preach more equality de facto.  However, the distinction between them is the refusal of bourgeois and "secularized" individualistic values.  Although these movements could be classified as "culturally Right wing", we could also say that the axis along which they are distributed is for the most part one of traditionalism/emancipation.  It is not by chance that the amusing label of "extreme Centre" was occasionally applied to Italian Catholic Fundamentalists.

          Peronist justicialismo was also explicitly egalitarian--and yet, it had nothing to do with left wing culture.  A similar discourse would also be valid for Ireland's IRA, the Arab Baath Party, and so on.  These and other varieties of populism would be more kindred to Fascism.  Therefore, there is a "culture of the Left" which extends beyond its egalitarian programmes.

          Take for instance the campaign in favour of abortion. Left wing movements are usually pro-legalization of abortion.  Movements against it are more often right wing.  In this case, however, it seems to me that the Left makes a pure ideal of the liberty and emancipation of women, and less of equality (given the fact that men do not abort...).  In fact, apropos of the comment made by Bobbio--and my father--the Left should logically be anti-abortionist, as the fetus is unquestionably weaker than the mother.  In this context, the anti-abortionists would be on the side of the weakest that is the conceived.  Consequently, the Left wing, as usual very sensitive to the rights of the handicapped, the retarded, the mentally ill, children, and even animals, appears here insensitive to the rights of the conceived.  And why should the rights of women prevail over the rights of the unborn child?

          Recently, I put this question personally to Bobbio, and he responded in his book (p. 15): "[The unborn child] is certainly the weaker of the two; however, the woman is weaker than the male who forced her, at least in the majority of cases, to become pregnant."  That response does not convince me, because it is applicable only to those cases (and I am not sure it is even in "the majority of cases") in which the woman remains pregnant following physical coercion--one of the few conditions which even many conservatives are willing to accept as a legitimate justification for aborting.  When feminists demand the right to abort, they are very careful not to limit the issue to cases of abuse by males.  The ideal of equality does not seem to be very relevant to this battle.


B)      Values Other than Equality are 'Fundamental' for much of the Left

          It might be interesting to ask some theoreticians of Communism if they identify with Bobbio's definition.  I was once a convinced Communist, and it is in that context that I will attempt to ascertain the agreement of my former Self with Bobbio.  For the young Benvenuto--as well as for the millions who thought like him--liberty was no less important.  It should be kept in mind that the works of Sartre were for decades extremely influential on the intellectuals of the Left, and his philosophy was one based more on a radical metaphysics of unlimited liberty than on egalitarianism.

          Although Bobbio does not include this eventuality in his schema, it is (paradoxically?) possible to be at the same time Jacobin, anti-liberale ("liberale" in Continental European political tradition is something more conservative than the American liberal) and anti-authoritarian.  Because our concept of "liberty" was not at all homogeneous with that of the liberal of the Left.  For the Liberale, liberty is the freedom to compete, and therefore to win and have more.  For us Communists, liberty was being free "from" competition, it was being able to satisfy our needs and express our deep individuality without having to overcome excessive obstacles, either due to economic poverty or censorship.  In more metaphysical terms, we might say that while the liberal wishes to be free to have more, the anti-authoritarian Communist wants to be free to be more.  Of course, we wanted the liberty to satisfy needs--creative as well as basic--available to all, and not only to an élite; we wanted an equal freedom-to-be for all, and not the simple equality respecting just individuals' freedom.  For example, what impressed us most about the condition of workers was not so much their low salaries (an elementary school teacher also is paid a low salary), as the fact that they were forced to spend their lives at boring and brutalizing jobs in order to survive.  We wanted them free also to read the essays of Bobbio or enjoy a film by Jean-Luc Godard, just as we "radical" intellectuals were.  As Marx ensured that this lack of liberty was connected to the inequalities created by capitalism, we also demanded higher wages for workers: however, that request for material equality for an incurable intellectual of that period would have appeared to be a means rather than an end.

          I presented the example of abortion above, and it is in this context that the Left embraces a "liberal" ideal which enters into conflict with egalitarianism.  "Pro-choice" movements aim to emancipate women, but the axis along which they are situated is one of autonomy/dependence; what is actually promoted is an increased autonomy of the woman, as regards the exigencies of the context within which she lives.  That emancipation does not however necessarily imply more equality.  A "spoiled son" becomes emancipated the moment he has the courage to become "more unequal", preferring to leave home to live in a garret, occasionally skipping a meal, rather than living in the ease and luxury of his father which the allowance his father gives him makes possible.

          But does it suffice then to say that the Left demands equality + liberty + emancipation?  At this point, we have dangerously slipped into pure clichés, which tend to be universally the same.  Who today admits to being contrary to freedom, peace, emancipation or honesty?


C)      Values are (often) either in conflict or incompatible

          Another very delicate aspect is the relationship between the two imperatives of equality and justice.  Now, except for some fringe movements of Levelers, there is practically no movement of the Left which opts for absolute equality.  In the early days of Bolshevism, in Russia, there was often the attempt at a radical egalitarianism: everyone was given the same salary.  However it became clear quickly enough that that egalitarianism was unfair: the individual who practically worked himself to death had the same stipend as the idler.  The Left therefore admits unequal compensation, but demands that these inequalities be fair.  The definition of Bobbio, in fact, should be modified as follows: "one can be considered Left wing when (s)he admits equality only if it is a just inequality."  However when and where is inequality just?  There is nothing more problematic.  Is it unfair for an entrepreneur to earn twenty times more than his workers do?  Ten times more?  Twice as much?  I fail to see the logical basis for any quantitative response.

          During the 1980s, the Left was seduced by the theory of justice of John Rawls. (4)  In the 80's the street posters of the Italian Communist Party often showed an over-abundance of terms like "justice" and "fairness".  Rawls, ingenious in his definition of social justice, attempted to overcome the contrast between the two imperatives of "more equality" and "more economic well-being".  A society was fair or just when the inequalities were justified by the necessity to raise the level of living conditions "first and foremost" of the weakest components of society.  The rational reconstructions of Rawls, and of Bobbio as well, satisfy some of those intellectual demands, but unfortunately only intellectual ones.  It is a pity that Rawls fails to provide any pragmatic yardstick for measuring the degree of fairness of any specific inequality.

          In a private conversation, Professor Bobbio told me that justice is linked to the satisfying of needs.  In a hospital or a charitable institution, the administration rightly provides each according to his needs.  In fact, the original model of "satisfying needs" is more the affective life of the family than the hospital or senior citizens' center.  However, is it possible to say that a mother cares for her child through a sense of justice?  We can't, if by justice we mean giving to each according to his merit, because a mother nurses out of love and not because her infant deserves it.  And should the child be left an orphan, can the state's care of the child be considered justice?  In this case, the state recognizes the citizen's right to survive.  However, this right can be recognized also by someone of the Right.  Is the difference that the Right helps the weak or needy "for the sake of charity", while the Left helps the weak and needy "through a spirit of justice"?   That difference between justice and charity is in fact problematic.  The justice of the Left would appear to be a simple rationalization of caritas.  (In the Middle Ages, "caritas" meant non-sensual love: the love of God, of our fellow man, of the Church.)  Could being of the Left mean wanting to do the good without love?

          On the one hand, the Left justifies inequality if it is the sort that can be considered just, and on the other it claims more equality in the name of justice.  It would be just to give to each according to his needs, not according to his merit: but then, it is admitted that giving to each according to his merit is a fact of justice.  Also, on the plane of elementary principle, the Left must absorb a point of view "of the Right", "meritocracy".


          Every definition of founding principles cannot ignore the fact that any society -even primitive tribes in Borneo or Hoxha's Albania- has some hierarchy. The Left and the Right can prefer, at most, one type of hierarchy over another. Today, what I would call social-liberal-democratic societies (that is, our Western societies) base their hierarchies on "merit" and on heritage. In Italy, for example, Berlusconi's power is based essentially on his entrepreneurial merits, and Agnelli's (the owner of Fiat) on his heritage (he is the scion of a great wealthy family). To the degree that the Left insists on rewarding merit rather than heritage, it accepts de facto the Right's ideology. It is true that generally the Right and Left do not agree about what to reward as "merit". The liberista (free-trade) Right, for example, values mostly the merit of market skills; but other types of the Right want to give non-market figures such as the priest, pastor or Army general a higher place in the hierarchy. It is not true that this divergence about criteria of "merit" between Right and Left is reducible to a divergence about equality, as Bobbio says. Both Right and Left accept inequality: at most, their divergence is about whom ought to receive some privileges. Today, for example, the Left tends to give privileges to avant-garde and elitist artists, while the Right tends to give privileges to representatives of the old moral order, like sports coaches and nuns.

          Therefore, on one hand the Left justifies inequalities only if they are considered just, while on the other hand it claims more equality in the name of Justice. It would be fair to give to everyone according to his/her needs, and not according to personal merits and skills: but eventually the Left agrees that giving according to individual merit or skill is a matter of justice. So that, even at the level of founding principles, the Left must take on a "meritocratic", "rightist" point of view.

                  *      *      *

          Everything becomes more complicated, however, when we must admit that in order to give to each according to his/her needs, wealth must be produced.  The Left usually does not promise more equality--that is, the elimination of unjust forms of inequality--at any price.  It guarantees that more equality will lead also to more economic well-being generally.  This has yet to be proven.  The Cuba of Castro is much more egalitarian than the countries with market economies; however, what it equitably distributes is poverty.  Now, the lesson of Communism, at the end of this century, is this: the market remains the best means for producing more wealth.  We could not be sure of this a century ago, before some countries had actually experienced Socialism.  Of course, there were some who had already intuited, but we have the proof of that only now.  We owe a vote of thanks to the Russians, Chinese, Vietnamese, Cubans, Koreans, Albanians, etc., for having served as guinea pigs for this vast historical experiment.  Thus, visceral anti-Communism has always been short-sighted: it was useful that Socialism be tested, in order to reveal its inherent short-comings.  (Of course, the believer can always hold that "real Socialism" which will defeat Capitalism has not yet been given a chance.  And I have no doubts that we will see other attempts at Communism.  The Revolutionary dream is too seductive to be discouraged forever by a few historical failures.)

          Thus, the paradox: in order to really help those in need (whether for the sake of Christian fraternity, Socialist justice, or conservative charity) society needs the market place; it needs competition.  However, the foundations of the market are the mechanisms of supply and demand, not the principle of satisfying the needs of all.

          Actually, the market is organized along the lines of a sports event: some win, while others are eliminated.  The market produces more wealth than any Socialism, through the "Darwinian" elimination of the least fit and the rewarding of the fittest, in other words, the strongest.  The Social-democracies attempted to combine the two heterogeneous processes: the accumulation of wealth "by the Right" by means of the market, and the subsequent redistribution "by the Left", giving priority to need.  In some of the wealthier countries permeated with Lutheran morality, such as Sweden, this game functioned well enough.  And yet, the tension between merit and need remains, because while the process of accumulating wealth and that of its redistribution are logically distinct and separate, in life they usually merge.  If two shoe factories are in competition, one will fail and its workers will end up on the sidewalk.  However, if a Socialist government goes on paying the salaries of the unemployed workers of the failed factory, it will also interfere indirectly in production.  The workers will inevitably come to the conclusion that it is foolish to kill themselves working to beat the competition when the unemployed take home almost the same pay they do.  In addition, to help the workers of the factory eliminated by competition, the successful entrepreneur must be taxed, with the result that he is prevented from profiting from his own success, which could cause him to transfer his investment abroad.  In other words, in a reticular, non-linear system--as any social system is--the redistribution of wealth (based on need) continuously interferes with accumulation.

          On the other hand, when the Right--at least the purely liberal Right, leaving aside the culturally conservative Right--preaches a pure market situation with a minimum of state control, there is the possibility of the emergence of a paradoxical process.  Pure mercantile competition, left to itself, actually tends to destroy the market.  The winner, by progressively eliminating all competition, tends to constitute a monopoly, which is the tomb of the market.  Also, by eliminating further competitors from the market, the pure market society tends to exclude the growing masses from its ranks--Marx was perfectly aware of this.  To put it more plainly, the hyper-Liberal society forces increasing masses to enjoy one freedom exclusively: the freedom to die of hunger.

          Therefore, in order to avoid destroying the market, the Right has adopted a series of the "egalitarian" measures of the Left; for example, social security, welfare, etc.  (As J. K. Galbraith put it: "A society must be progressive if it is to be conservative".)  These measures, interpreted by the Left as the protection of the needy, in a different key assume another meaning: they are the means of re-inserting individuals into the competitive process.  (Obviously, that competition would also include the competition between workers.)  The "social state", therefore--in thermodynamic terms--has the function of opposing entropy: the market tends to devour itself if the system remains closed.  However, the State, by throwing the "failures" back into the fray, keeps the system open, feeding the market and preventing the eventual monopoly of the strongest: that is, entropy.  In conclusion, a programme of the pure Left, and a purely Liberal free market, would lead to catastrophe; that is, to a general entropy, by destroying diversity and competition between diversities.



          In Italy today, praise is showered on alternation.  And yet, the alternation on the power between conservative and Left wing parties proves one thing: after a certain period, the electorate becomes discontent with any government they have elected and switch to the opposition.  Alternation is therefore the proof also of the fragility of the social-liberal-democratic society: any political force is revealed as being incapable of resolving the systemic paradox, for which reason the nation must, like a pendulum, oscillate eternally.  The significance of this is that the system will never overcome its own contradictions, and therefore will go on straining, first in one direction and then in the other.  However, that impossibility of resolving the contradiction--contrary to what Marx believed--also constitutes source of vitality of the system as a whole.

          Is the dilemma of the West then represented by the need to distribute less wealth in a more egalitarian way, or to accept a certain level of inequality in order to accumulate more wealth in general? It would appear so.  But then, isn't that also the eternal dilemma between Left and Right?  Yes and No.  (In fact, neither Left nor Right accept the dilemma as such, as they both nurture the illusion that production and distribution are two, independent factors.)  The Left is blind to the fact that by speeding up the process of increasing equality they risk impoverishing society as a whole, while the Right is deaf to the Marxian argument, according to which the progressive elimination of competitors ends up impoverishing society as a whole.

          On a purely pragmatic plane, we might say that the Left/Right axis, instead of indicating an exclusive opposition, outlines two united, unanimous sides of the same medal: Left and Right constitute a balance of sorts and, consequently, the elimination of one of the two horns of the dilemma would lead to catastrophe.  The famous alternation therefore explodes the myth the Left/Right opposition, revealing their interdependence.  It is stylish today in Italy to criticize "associativism": the de facto former collaboration between governments and oppositions.  However, alternation is diachronic associativism rather than synchronic associativism; it is tantamount to running with the hare and hunting with the hounds.  Consequently, in advanced democratic societies, the center usually wins, resulting in an alternation on the power of very similar forces.  The centre intuits that the politics of the Right and the Left are no more than abstractly opposite, and subsequently both contribute to the homeostasis of the system.

          When I say that, essentially, the centre always wins, what I intend by "centre" is something more extensive than the median section of the linear Left-Right axis.  I intend the whole range of political options in a global society, or sphere, often tending to expand in all directions, along multiple axes, of which the Right/Left axis represents only one.  The Centre is the force occupying the core or nucleus of the sphere, isolating all the peripheries.  Conceiving of Western society as polarized by the Great Paradigm is equivalent to thinking that Euclidian geometry is the exclusive instrument for describing reality: when we know that non-Euclidean geometries are simply suited to describe certain areas of reality.  In politics as well, many geometries are necessary.

          In conclusion, we could consider the ideologies of the Left and the Right as Cunning of Systemic Reason.  Someone could seem them as ideologies in a Marx's sense: false consciousness.  They are convinced of being opposed, when actually they collaborate in perpetuating the homeostasis.  And if the system is perceived in its entirety, it would be difficult to continue believing in the excellence of one or the other of the two poles.

          In any case, we attempt to create this (unstable) balance also in private spheres.  In family relationships, we are--fortunately- never exclusively Left or Right.  How could we claim, in that context, to be Left when we give our children everything they ask for, without asking anything in return?  Or that we are Right when we tell them that they must shift for themselves and not count on our help?  In fact, a good parent will never be exclusively one or the other: if a child's every "need" is satisfied automatically, we mis-educate her, spoil her.  If, on the other hand, we refuse to help her, we are being inhuman, severe, and selfish.  Like a balanced parent, a society must also become balanced, in the direction of the centre, adjusting its aim, oscillating between the naive generosity of the Left and the cynicism of the Right.


D)      Egalitarian and Emancipating Politics are usually "Paradoxical"

          The growing skepticism over the Great Paradigm can be attributed to an important change in thinking today.  That change consists of having finally questioned of the "classic" assumption that in human actions there is a corresponding of intention on the one hand and concrete consequences on the other.  At the basis of the conviction that we should all be either more to the Right or more to the Left, is a philosophy of the linearity of human actions: having a project (a) in mind which, once the adequate means (b) are found, leads to the result (c) (planned by (a)).  When to someone from the Left it is pointed out that the majority of Left wing forms of governments in the world have created little increase in equality, the usual response is that the project (a) is valid, but that the methods (b) have not yet been found.

          However, the present tendency is to view the social fabric as an intricate network in which the circulation of goods, messages and actions proceeds in a reticular fashion.  It is only logical then that language should be increasingly  "systemic".  We speak of input and output; that is, we assume that between deliberated action (input) and the final consequences (output) there is no linear relationship.  We know that what we do enters into the "black box" of society; that is, we can observe what results, but are unable to control the connections.  The transparency that all classical thought assumed between cause and effect has disappeared.  If a connotation of good is to be given to an action that absolutely does not imply that the effects will be good, and vice versa.  This is the version of modern thought of the ancient tragic irony denouncing the vanity of the enlightened actions of king Oedipus.  The criticism of the Great Paradigm is a corollary of this epistemological disenchantment.

          Think of the famous example of the island, where the number of foxes and hares fluctuates in a cyclical process.  The hares are systematically eaten by the foxes until their number is radically reduced, at which point the foxes--deprived of their principle source of nourishment--begin to be decimated in their turn, by hunger.  The decrease in the number of foxes then makes possible a new proliferation of the hare, consequently supplying a new food supply for the foxes, which once more begin to flourish...  And thus the cycle has been repeated, for centuries and centuries, unless catastrophe did not intervene from outside.

          In the social system, the Left sides with the "hares" and proposes the elimination of the "foxes".  However, if this were realized, the hares would reproduce out of all proportion, and soon enough food would once more become scarce on the island.  A cruel struggle for food would develop among the swollen population of hares, with result that the cleverest would survive and the others die of hunger.  In other words, the traditionally lethal role of the foxes would be taken over by the hare population itself, in an increasingly tough competition for decreasing resources.  A systemic view provides a modernized version of the fable of the belly and the limbs of Menenius Agrippa.  However, the conclusion is a bitter one; some of the hares must inevitably succumb, the problem is in deciding which.  In fact, the individual qualities necessary for the hare to escape the clever fox are different than those required if it is to prevail over other hares in competing for food.  The "hares of the Left" have ultimately failed to come to the aid of the weak; they have simply substituted one group of the weak with others, and one group of the strong with others.

          Many no longer believe either in the promises of the Left or those of the Right, because it has become evident that any political decision, if it is to be effective, inevitably has its price.  It is necessary therefore to decide who will be the weakest--and consequently, those with whom the next "Left" will take sides.  But the promises of the Right for more individual freedom also have its price: more freedom for some usually means less for others.

          Now, what distinguishes the Left and the Right--as opposed to other ideologies--is their refusal to recognize the existence of that price.  Both repress, in other words, the paradoxes of political action inspired by certain values.  Admitting it would mean recognizing the non-visibility of political actions, and therefore the end of all demagogies.  However, can the Right or the Left survive without demagogy?



          But let us return briefly to the example of the recent rebellion in France.  Those young rebels are not so stupid as to be unaware of the fact that, if they cause the failure of a reform aimed at lowering the rate of unemployment, they will have what they have now: unemployment and not more equality.  And yet, they appear to prefer the present situation, and that "conservative" preference seems to us to be Left wing.  Why?

          Because many (Right, Left, or what have you) can accept an ill when its causes are anonymous, "systemic", without any traceable source, but cannot accept it when it appears to be the result of political decision.  This is a very common occurrence in political debate--one example of which is the debate on the legalization of drugs.  It would be reasonable to accept the opinion that the prohibition of drugs is probably responsible for the increase in their use, in that it encourages organized crime to invest massive sums in it.  However, although this argument is eminently rational, it inevitably fails to convince those opposed to legalization.  Why?  The reason could be described as ethical hypocrisy: "If my son must take drugs, then I would prefer for him to get it from a Mafia thug than a physician, or myself!"  Hence, also apropos the youth protest in France: "I have no idea as to how we can eliminate my disadvantaged position in a society with a high rate of unemployment; however, as that is how things are, I prefer to think that my disadvantage is due to 'structural' causes than legally sanctioned by the government". The same thing applies to the issue of abortion: the idea that the abortion has been performed legally by a physician would appear intolerable to somebody, even if--on the level of instrumental rationality--here as well, this one has to admit that legal abortion is the lesser evil. In other words, many cannot accept the fact that someone could decide to intentionally inflict harm (by paying lower salaries, supplying drugs, making abortions), even if they would agree, on a rational plane, that that intentionally inflicted ills could be the lesser evil.    But what is the reason for this preference?

          Precisely to maintain a linear paradigm, according to which "the responsibility" for the state of things can be easily attributable.  This tendency to find a specific agent as the cause of every ill is deeply rooted in the human spirit.  Systemic complexity is repugnant to many souls.  How many would prefer to think that they pay too much tax because the government is dishonest, rather than thinking that in advanced society expenditures must be inflated to cover the costs of welfare and prevention?  However, whenever the fact the ill would be difficult to eliminate is accepted, a political figure emerges protesting that "this ill must be partially accepted".

          French youth assumed it was protesting against a conservative government; instead, it was protesting in favour of a more fundamental conservatism, one of a philosophical nature, which would conserve the "linear political paradigm" according to which one and only one social agent should be attributed to any social aspect.

                *      *      *

          The objection could be raised that the Left demands the emancipation of the weakest.  The more radical Left refused the idea that the weak should be continuously assisted: its dream is a society in which the weak would be made capable of fending for themselves.  In this context, however, the Right would have little difficulty in demonstrating that systematic aid to the weaker elements renders them infantile rather than emancipates them.  (It is for this reason that the Communists have also regularly criticized social-democratic welfare.) 

          The weak have even less probability of becoming emancipated if they are urged to take up a campaign of claims against the strong.  Not everyone considers really mature a son who spends his life in conflict with his father: eternal claims are an adolescent version of infantilism.  A Rightist perceives something deeply "adolescent" in the Leftist; for the former, the road to emancipation can only be an individual one.  The dividing line, in other words, between Right and Left cannot be between emancipating the weak or keeping them under tutelage.  The Left sees emancipation as the result of collective action for demands, and the Right as the result of individual promotion based on personal, non-claiming efforts.

          There are paradoxes of emancipation.  The emancipated individual ceases being weak--and therefore the Left abandons him or her...  The modern Left has exalted the worker emancipation.  The trouble here is that the worker who is truly emancipated is one who succeeds in no longer being a worker!  The emancipated worker is the one who, perhaps as a result of activism in the Party, succeeds in earning a university degree, passing to the level of employee, or pursues a career in the Unions.  This is the paradox of the political intention of really give power to the worker.  If it were to become a reality, the worker would take advantage of it in order to stop being a worker in the first place.  A worker, in a minimally mercantile society, will always be poor, because what he offers to the market is something which can be provided just as well by millions of others.  In other words, the worker is continually at a disadvantage simply because of the rule of supply and demand, not because--as someone imprudently observed--manual labour is held in contempt!  A surgeon's work is also manual, but as there are fewer surgeons, their compensation is high.  Certainly, we could imagine a regime deciding to considerably increase worker wages.  But, in that case, a privileged caste would be created, which would tend to exclude the young from that caste.  The mass of non-workers would then become the under-privileged mass.  And thus, inequality chased out the door would come back in through the window.


E)      By "Equality", often we do not mean the same thing

          Bobbio's argument is based on the assumption that concepts such as "freedom", "equality", "economic well-being", etc., are not equivocal, and that their meaning transcends the meanings given to them by the various political ideologies.  However, this is less than certain.  As we have already seen as regards the concept of freedom, the sense of a term depends on the ethical and mental horizons of the individual using it.  An ethical-political concept is part of a way of life.  Also, very often political ideologies play on nominal misinterpretation, or on the polysemic words like liberty, freedom, justice, etc.; on what some might call the incommensurability of concepts as they are used within various ethical-political systems.

          Bobbio cites Article 3 of the Italian Constitution as an illustration of what the Left has traditionally pursued: "All citizens are socially equal and equal before the law, without distinction of sex, race, language, religion, political opinion, individual and social condition".  Bobbio admits that even the Right accepts Article 3, but he believes that it is a reluctant acceptance.  It would seem to me however that here Bobbio falls into the typical mistake of Left wing political thought.

          The Left sees juridical equality ("the law is the equal for all") and political equality ("one man, one vote; one woman, one vote") as the first step towards social equality and economic democracy.  For part of the Left, the surge of industrial capitalism and elective democracy are only the beginning phases of a process which must inevitably lead to non-competitive equality.

          Actually, political democracy is today the equivalent, on the political scene, of the rules of the market on the economic one.  Modern capitalism functions excluding the single party, the economic monopoly and intellectual dogmatism.  In other words, the form of modern capitalism which is today triumphant is based on mercantile competition at all levels (political, economic and cultural): more parties in competition, more companies in competition (hence, the anti-trust laws), more ideas and theories included in debates.  The party wins which in one way or another captures the most votes; the company prevails which succeeds in selling desirable products at the lowest cost; the theories will prevail which conquer university chairs and the mass media.

          In this context, equality of rights is not a compensation for inequality, but a generator of inequality.  As R. Dahrendorf explained admirably (5), equality before the law--in its broadest sense, as the epitome of all the norms and sanctions--does not result in the leveling out of differences between citizens, but creates them.

          Dahrendorf saw inequality as an unavoidable corollary of any human society, in that any society is a moral community.  All societies have laws and rules of behaviour, codified or not, to which certain sanctions are connected.  Those conforming to the laws and rules in force are rewarded, and those failing to conform are in one way or another punished, even if that punishment is often inflicted indirectly.  "...[W]e may say that the law is both a necessary and a sufficient condition of social inequality.  There is inequality because there is law; if there is law, there must also be inequality among men" (6).   Precisely because men are equal before the law they are unequal after the law.  Every law, rule, or standard, precisely because it is universally applicable, has the automatic result that individuals are distributed in an unequal way by that law, rule or standard.  The law transforms initial "cardinal" differences into "ordinal" inequality.  This is because every law or rule implies a preference for certain human characteristics over others, consequently rewarding those possessing those characteristics to a greater degree.  Democracy does not produce more equality but, left to itself, generates inequality (even if different from inequality generated by a non-democratic system).

          For the Right wing analyst, the reference in Article 3 of the Italian Constitution to "equality before the law" implies no de facto equality whatsoever., but equal before the law of universal competition, in order to be proven unequal after the competition.  In other words, the social-liberal-democratic society functions no differently than a sports event.  Because in any sports competition, all the participants must begin from an equal position, all submitted to the same rule, precisely because, at the end of the competition, they will no longer be equal, but placed into a classification.  Modern society is "progressive" because it continues to produce differences, gaps, inequalities, imbalances, not despite juridical equality (before the law) but due to a regulated exploitation of juridical equality.  As C. Lévi-Strauss put it, we could say that modern social-liberal-democratic society is similar to thermodynamic machinery, in that it produces differences in potential.  Conversely, archaic societies function more or less like homeostatic machines and tend to establish balances, not differences.

          Lévi-Strauss, in exemplifying the difference between the two types of society, cites a New Guinea tribe, the members of which had learned to play soccer from Westerners. (7)  Their "championship" consisted of matching two rival tribes in a game played until a draw was reached; the contrary of competition in our society, which begins with a draw, eventually establishing the difference between winner and loser.

          Inequality is the propellant of progress, for which desiring progress and aiming at more equality are de facto contradictory.  However, Bobbio could reply, how is it possible to negate that a family law which gives a wife powers equally those of her husband in fact renders her more equal than her husband?  Initially, only the husband could decide where the family would live; today (by law) make that decision must be a joint one.

          Of course, any law will prescribe the pertinent characteristic to be rewarded or sanctioned.  Modern family law prescribes that the sex of the spouse is not pertinent element making distinctions as regards rights and duties; however, this does not stop modern family laws in any case from prescribing duties which consequently involve, both implicitly and explicitly, rewards and sanctions.  If a wife today is unfaithful, her husband may ask for a divorce and alimony from his wife: because in modern family law conjugal adultery is punishable.  Modern law, then, distributes inequality in a different way than ancient law, which did so on the basis of difference in birth.  What counts today is no longer whether one is male or female, first- or last-born, aristocrat or middle-class; what counts is individual comportment, abstracted from its concrete biological and historical features.

          However, we know that the behavior of the individual is conditioned by his/her physical and social heritage.  That heritage, combined with individual idiosyncrasies, constitutes the differences as well as the potential inequalities between one person and another.  If I steal a car, the State will punish me; but I stole it because I am born poor, or else because my parents were thieves.  If, instead, my parents were philosophers, I would be more likely to demonstrate more inclination towards the academic studies, and thus a university chair would be more easily within my reach than it would be for the son of a carpenter.  The fact in itself therefore that modern law takes into account only individual comportment does not attenuate the fact of physical and social heredity.  This in fact, by inspiring my behavior, renders me more or less susceptible to reward or sanction.  Modern law discriminates against individuals in proportion to their conformation to the law, while previously the law conformed to discriminations among individuals.  Therefore, it is not a question of having passed from more inequality to more equality, but from one kind of inequality to another (or, if you like, from one system of differences to another).


F) Political Identities are not rationally founded

          The quantity of argumentation presented above could lead the reader to think that the writer is splitting hairs in order to criticize the ideas of Bobbio.  Actually, what I intended was a reductio ad absurdum of sorts, in the attempt to demonstrate that Bobbio's (as well as those of many other "rationalists") attempts to rationalize certain traditional political options, such as Left and Right, are conducive to paradoxes and contradictions.  All this demonstration is not intended to propose a different, stronger rational definition, but to encourage reflection on the uselessness of rational reduction of political thinking.

          Bobbio belongs to that heroic genre of philosophers who tend to assume the task of revealing the rational order underlying that great muddle which is the social and political life of human beings--and life in general.  Those whose political reference is to the Left have said and done just about everything: from defending individual rights to adhering to the most iron-clad totalitarianism, sung the praises of the worker but just as often shot them, defended the peasant but occasionally also exterminated him, declared themselves ultra-governmental but also occasionally extolled the extreme fringes, proclaimed themselves pacifists and unleashed bloody wars (the dizzying oscillations of this type could be described for those who answer to the call of the Right).  The rationalist philosopher will always manage to find some meaning in this mess of ideas and actions: "All that which is real is rational".  He is convinced that the philosopher speaks a metalanguage of sorts, and from the nebula of languages and political discourses of flesh and blood people, he will extract the rational paradigm secretly structuring the nebula.  Although Left wing activists may at times feel lost in the labyrinth--in what today is called complexity--they can sleep tranquil, because Bobbio in Turin, and other lucid minds, think for him, and will tell them that in the end what they do has meaning (not that it is positive, but that it has meaning).

          If we criticize the Great Paradigm, it is because we have abandoned that rationalist assumption.  Not because the Left/Right tension is insufficient to describe many forms of conflicts, but because political reality is not necessarily described according to a single grid, nor can we assume that political identities depend on rational inference drawn from a handful of founding principles--we rather assimilate these identities above all to ethnoi.

                   During this century, rationalists have done everything possible to reduce human language to a rational instrument, an application hastily drawn from a few basic principles.  However, they have failed to do so, because language is not only rationality: there have been grafts, borrowings, historical sedimentations, passing fancies and chance catastrophes incorporated into its logical structure.  Also in political choice, rationality is not the only basis.  Unlike Bobbio, I see being Right or Left--but also being Christian or laic, authoritarian or liberal, permissive or repressive, and so forth--more as belonging to an ethnic group.

          Obviously, when I belonged to the Left, it was enough for me to glance through the newspaper to immediately place the facts of the day in relation to the Great Paradigm (with the occasional exception of thorny matters, which immediately became the subject of lively debate inside the Left).  The rule was to judge the world, distinguishing those who walked the path of Good from those who walked the path of Evil.  In this way, we used something similar to a language; we did not proceed by inference, parting from general principles, but by reacting to the world according to a collection of conditioned reflexes.  Many human beings are trained from infancy to judge politically (whether Right, Left, or other) by their parents.  And, from infancy, in a Left-wing environment, the individual becomes used to feeling antipathy for priests, tradesmen, and the military and the rich, and sympathy for the poor, manual workers and avant-garde intellectuals.  This training results in such an off-handedness in the adult, that that conditioning is taken for logical consistency.  Of course, rationality also models this Bildung, this training of the Right wing "character" or Left wing "heart".  However, rationality works within groupings of which we are members, neither founding them rationally nor creating them.

          The fact that a Right wing or Left wing instinct is perceived by a person does not imply that that "instinct" is a demonstration of deductive logic.  Political identity is not so much choice as something to which we belong.  And, by ethnicity, it was precisely that belonging I intended, that being part of a tradition, having inherited a series of heteroclite ethical-cultural reflexes, a collage of which describes an "identity".  Under the scrutiny of analysis, what appeared to be an inflexible Gestalt--the essence of belonging to the Left or to the Right--instead becomes a collection of heterogeneous elements.

          In fact, the Left/Right division is characteristic of Europe and Latin America.  Political conflict does not usually adhere to this paradigm in Africa or in Asia.  What, for many millions of Europeans is part of their deepest spiritual identification is, upon a more accurate examination, revealed as being merely the sum of historical legacies, a conceptual vernacular.


G) It is possible to reject the dominant paradigms

          And yet, a strong argument of those who think like Bobbio is that the opposition must be accepted as long as many politicians and a large part of public opinion still use it to define themselves.  Laugh as much as we might at the rivalry between Don Peppone and Don Camillo--the Communist leader and the priest in an Italian village in the 50's, heroes of Guareschi's comic novels--their opposition must be taken seriously.  In fact, politics are far more nominalist than most philosophers are wont to admit.  They come close to falling prey to the same naiveté as those Jews who, because they considered themselves atheists or had converted to Christianity, considered themselves safe from Nazi persecution.  Instead, they grossly and tragically underestimated the relevance of the Jewish/Arian opposition...  In a Europe which to a great extent still interprets its conflicts according to the Right/Left paradigm, isn't believing that it is possible to eliminate it proof of the naivety of intellectuals?

          And yet, there is more than one way of being anti-Nazi.  Calling the Jews a chosen people, or a race possessing special qualities is one way of opposing the Holocaust while remaining trapped in the same paradigm to which Nazism belongs.  Bobbio would also agree that a more radical way of opposing Nazism is rejecting outright the relevance of the Jewish/Arian paradigm.  Part of our refusal to underwrite the Left/Right paradigm is a similar logic.  We can reject out of hand some of the seduction of Left wing and some Right wing regimes; however, for reasons laying outside the assumption that one must be Left or Right, or something in between.

          The Left/Right tension is one of the methods with which European and American societies prevalently interpret internal political options.  However, Bobbio himself admits the existence of other differences according to which the social debate could be interpreted; Christian/Laic, authoritarian/libertarian, and permissive /repressive, not to mention state-precedence/civil-precedence, traditional/progressive, etc. (8)  However, the intellectual, the philosopher and the moralist, can also propose other interpretations, which may be new--providing that he avoids the "obligation of Leibniz" that philosophy not serve as a "subversion of established opinion".  Actually, every now and then there have been important innovations in political thought by proposing other, newer paradigms.  The importance of thinkers such as Plato, Machiavelli, Rousseau and Foucault was not due to their rationalization of those dominant paradigms which the intelligentsia of their times associated with the political situation, but in the new paradigms they produced and which the successive generations partly adopted.  It is the unyielding nominalist dimension which no rationalism will ever succeed in cancelling from the political sphere.

          The recent Italian elections were among the most dramatic and passionate in the entire history of the Republic.  And yet, the confrontation was between political aggregations which were more similar, as regards programmes, than they had been in fifty years.  None of forces in play, for example, were heard to make anti-capitalist comments.  A sign that the dramatic aspect of that confrontation was not due to contents, but to the power of names--as in a sports event, what counts is not what a team represents, but what a team is; that is, its opposition to other teams.  This purely sports-like, competitive aspect of political conflict today--in a system of general convergence towards the Centre--has caused the emergence of the nominalist dimension of the political drama.  And it is that same nominalism which leads practically identical peoples--for example, the Serbs and the Muslims of Bosnia--to massacre each other with violence and hate which have no deeply historical source.

          However, when the thinker recognizes the principally nominalist character of the Great Paradigm, it is useless for him to call himself "nominalist" as well: he will tend to criticize the Paradigm insofar as it is purely nominal.  In a certain way, the nominalist criticizes the names with which a society labels the problems, and proposes others, assuming that new labels will be more adequate to describe reality.  As an intellectual, I am simply doing my job when I attempt to demonstrate that the old names, or paradigms, are inadequate and should be substituted with others, encouraging my contemporaries to put them to the test.






(1)     C. Lasch, The True and only Heaven. Progress and Its Critics,           W. W. Norton Co., New York-London, 1991.


(2)     M. Cacciari, Dialoghetto sulla 'sinisteritas', Micromega, 4/1993, pp. 7-17.


(3)     Ibid., p. 15.


(4) J. Rawls, A theory of Justice, Univ. Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1971.


(5) See R. Dahrendorf, "On the Origin of Inequality among Men", Essays in the Theory of Society, Stanford University Press, 1968, pp. 151-78.


(6) Op.cit. See also op.cit. in A. Béteille ed., Social Inequality, Penguin, Baltimore (Md) 1969, p. 34.


(7) C. Lévi-Strauss, La pensée sauvage, Plon, Paris 1962, p. 30.


(8) For example, in his recent article on the results of the Italian elections of March, 1994 ("Giovani, sinistra, complesso dell'esonero", L'Unità, April 1, 1994, p. 8),  Luca Ricolfi comments that, from the point of view of most young people, the political parties are not situated only along the Left/Right axis, but also on the axis of innovation (in fact, the leftist party Rete and the rightist movement Forza Italia are preferred by the young, despite the fact that they are situated at the two extremes of the Left/Right axis, just because they are the newest parties).  "Our political system," writes Ricolfi, "is not bi-, but intrinsically tri-polar.  The three deployments are not along one line (...), but constitute the vertices of a triangle."

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