Political Thought in Continental Europe during the 20th Century

Richard Bellamy & Jeremy Jennings & Peter Lassman. Handbook of Political Theory. Editor: Gerald F Gaus & Chandran Kukathas. 2004. Sage Publication.

The alleged divide between the ‘Anglo-American’ and ‘continental’ traditions of political thought is largely a mid-twentieth-century construction. Like the fault line between the West and East Europe, it grew out of the Cold War and a series of studies tracing the intellectual origins of fascism and Stalinism to the continental fascination with post-Hegelian, anti-Enlightenment, anti-modern, anti-individualist, and anti-empiricist metaphysics. Though such polemics occasionally resurface in debates on postmodernism or multiculturalism, they now seem best relegated to the intellectual history of the 1950s and 1960s. What substance this division does possess has more to do with philosophical styles than geography or ideology. After all, continental thinkers as diverse as Frege, Wittgenstein and the Vienna Circle influenced the supposed Anglo-American analytical tradition, which in its turn always had a following on the continent, while the putative continental school spawned numerous epigone across the channel and the Atlantic. Likewise, every ideology has been associated at some point with every available epistemological, ontological and metaphysical position. For example, there have been analytical Marxists, structuralist and neo-Hegelian liberals, and vice versa. Indeed, even the differences of philosophical approach are breaking down. Increasingly, North American and European scholars engage equally with both traditions, using ‘analytical’ and ‘continental’ thinkers, such as Rawls and Foucault respectively, to illuminate each other. If political thought as practised on the continent possesses any distinctive characteristics, they derive from other and much wider cultural sources—including political culture. Why certain of the various ideological and philosophical positions found in all continental countries predominated over others can only be understood by referring to the political, social, academic, intellectual and other contexts within which individual thinkers were engaged, and their personal, albeit contextually shaped, preferences. This chapter explores three of these contexts: Germany, France and Italy. As we shall see, in all these cases it is grossly distorting to talk of a single tradition of political thought. Nevertheless, national political thinking was invariably shaped by certain general characteristics of their respective political cultures broadly conceived.


The development of political thought in Germany during the twentieth century can be analysed in terms of several recurring themes. Central among these are the problems of the nation-state and national identity, the nature of democracy, liberalism, and the rule of law. All of these themes are themselves debated, most directly, at least before 1933, within the context of a generally pessimistic critique of the culture of modernity. This critique can take either a radical or a conservative direction. Therefore, a marked feature of the German tradition is to be found in its concern with the nature of modernity. This highly contested question, in turn, cannot be separated from deep disagreement about the nature and value of politics. It is not surprising, therefore, that much German political thought during this period exists within an intellectual field that is constituted through a conjuncture of political analysis and cultural criticism.

It cannot be denied that late unification as a nation-state had a profound effect upon the development of political thought in Germany. According to some accounts, in order to understand the political thought of twentieth-century Germany it is necessary to look further back into the peculiarities of its intellectual history. For example, it can be argued that during the eighteenth century a division between intellectual perceptions that looked either towards Roman or Greek antiquity for a model of culture and politics was to have profound implications. The Roman model was taken to provide an image that emphasized politics in terms of the relations of power and realpolitik. During the same period the Greek image that focused upon the Athenian polis was taken as the model within which politics ought to be understood as a component of a cultural ideal. Significantly, prior to the unification of the German state the Greek model provided a means for imagining cultural strength as a compensation for political weakness. According to this account the survival into the twentieth century of a much-noted apolitical tradition within the educated middle class (Bildungsburgertum) is understandable. Furthermore, it provides an explanation for the way in which much German political thought during this period has often had a tendency to oscillate between two extremes in its philosophical understanding of the nature of politics. On one side is a dominant tendency that perceives and often celebrates the identification of politics with the state, power, and the apparatus of ruling (Herrschaft and Macht). This vision is easily vulgarized into a crude form of political realism in which politics is understood as nothing more than the play of power. The other tendency focuses upon a view of politics that stresses the aim of creating or presupposing an ideal polity of universal reason and culture. This too can easily develop into a vision of political conduct that aims for the creation of a utopian and non-coercive community of freely associating individuals. The essential point is that these two outlooks continue to coexist in an antagonistic and complementary relationship throughout the twentieth century (Vollrath, 1987; 1990).

At the beginning of the twentieth century the dominant tradition of political reflection was one in which the identification of the realm of politics with the state was clear. Political thought in Germany at this time was predominantly academic in its location and style. It reflected to a large degree an earlier history in which political thought is addressed to those in power, fellow academics and students. It also directed itself towards an abstract idea of the state rather than to a virtually non-existent politically active public realm. A further peculiarity of the history of German normative political thought is that the academic discipline in which much of it was expressed during the nineteenth and early twentieth century was that of a particular form of legal theory concerned with the state and public law(Staatsrechtlehre). Political philosophy, understood as a subdiscipline of philosophy, has generally been regarded as a form of practical or moral philosophy. As a result it is probably correct to say that the claim that political philosophy was dead, made in the context of America and Britain in the mid twentieth century, did not apply to Germany. However, it also true to say that the idea of an autonomous form of political theorizing has found it difficult to find a secure intellectual or institutional location.

Max Weber and Georg Jellinek, two of the most important political thinkers of the early twentieth century, were both trained in law and much of their work was produced from within this intellectual context. Jellinek, in his highly influential Allgemeine Staatslehre (General Theory of the State), first published in 1900, marked a break with an older tradition of purely legalistic and formal analysis. Jellinek argued for a new form of Allgemeine Soziallehre des Staates (general social theory of states) which did not recognize any clear separation between state and society. Nevertheless, this analysis of politics is clearly focused upon the form, function, and organization of the state in both historical and legal terms. Max Weber’s political thought, much influenced by Jellinek, developed these themes but with a greater clarity of conceptual development and a much sharper conception of impending cultural crisis. It is true that Weber introduced a more sophisticated level of analysis in making the Verband (‘association’) rather than the state as such a central political concept. Nevertheless, it is still clear that Weber’s general anthropological starting point is the idea, adapted in part from Jellinek, that social relations ought to be understood, essentially, in terms of relations of rule (Herrschaft) and struggle (Hübinger, 1988; Breuer, 1999; Weber, 1994).

For Weber and his colleagues, as Tocqueville had claimed in an earlier period, a new political reality requires the creation of a new political science. The older form of political theory that relied upon largely Aristotelian notions of the forms and purposes of the state was now totally outmoded. In its place, Weber promoted a view of the state that totally bypassed the classical idea that it ought to be analysed in terms of its serving some moral purpose or telos. This idea was replaced with a concept of the modern state defined in terms of the means rather than the ends that are specific to it. These means are force and violence. The state is no more or less than an association of the rule of human beings over human beings. It is the institution that is able to successfully claim the monopoly of legitimate violence over a given territory. Although both Jellinek and Weber expressed extreme scepticism concerning any essentialist or racial understanding of the state, both agreed the modern state is typically a nation-state. Indeed, throughout his life Weber had insisted that the supreme aim of German state policy must be to serve the national interest (Weber, 1994).

This understanding of the state and politics takes on a particular pathos in so far as it is framed by a general criticism of the culture of modernity. Max Weber presents a particularly dramatic picture that is compounded from a range of currently available ideas. Echoing Nietzsche’s (1974) claims concerning the ‘death of God,’ he saw modernity as centrally an age of disenchantment and loss of meaning. For Weber, the disenchantment of the world by the spirit of rational scientific inquiry (Wissenschaft) has had the paradoxical effect of undermining its own intellectual and moral foundations. The consequences for politics are potentially disastrous. Facing the spectre of ‘the new serfdom,’ Weber and many of his contemporaries despaired of the possibility of finding a political form for a democratic modern Europe that would preserve the limited sphere of personal freedom that had been achieved (Weber, 1994).

In keeping with this general diagnosis, the emergence of democracy in the Wilhelmine period and its realization in the Weimar Republic met with little genuine enthusiasm. For Weber, democracy was to be regarded, objectively, as no more than a particularly useful method for the possible selection of a genuinely political leadership. At best, representative parliamentary democracy was a necessary guard against the stultifying effects of bureaucratic rule either from within a capitalist market economy or, more threateningly, by a centrally planned socialism. At the same time, the socialist and communist left had no faith in either constitutional democracy or liberalism.

A notable feature of German political thought in the first half of the twentieth century is the way in which it questions the relationship between democracy and liberalism. The most extreme expression of this view is found in the writings of the legal scholar Carl Schmitt. Schmitt’s rejection of liberalism and democracy, along with the idea that the relationship between them is no more than historically contingent, belongs to a general pattern of anti-democratic thought that was vociferous in its opposition to the Weimar Republic (Schmitt, 1996; 1985; 1963). The thinkers of the ‘Conservative Revolution,’ among whom Schmitt can be numbered as a prominent representative, were as one in their cultural pessimism, nationalist resentment following defeat in the war of 1914-18, opposition to democracy, liberalism, constitutionalism, and what they considered to be the soulless character of modernity. The opposition between ‘the ideas of 1914’ and the alien ‘ideas of 1789’ is a common theme.

Carl Schmitt expressed in an acute form the opposition to the liberal constitution of the Weimar Republic. His open and public support for the Nazi regime after it came to power in 1933 was the outcome of an attempt to resolve what was perceived to be a crisis in the tradition of Staatslehre. This problem coexisted with a mood of cultural despair common among the proponents of the Conservative Revolution. The significance of the crisis that Schmitt identified in legal theory was that it threatened to destroy the underpinnings of the liberal idea of the rule of law. As early as 1912, Schmitt had argued that the application of the law to particular cases is always, under current conditions, permeated by ambiguity. The implication, for Schmitt, is that the liberal view, maintained since the Enlightenment, that political power could be restrained by the rule of law was a fiction. The answer that Schmitt arrived at was that the only way in which this crisis of legal indeterminacy could be overcome was by rejecting the universalistic premises upon which the idea of the rule of law is based. Schmitt’s response was to replace liberalism and the ideals of the Enlightenment with an image of a homogeneous nation (Volk) united by a common purpose. This account of the legal crisis is at one with Schmitt’s (1985) understanding of the decay of parliamentary democracy and the tension that exists between it and liberalism.

Schmitt’s political thought presents a clear illustration of a tendency amongst German theorists to stress a particularly extreme version of the nature of politics in the modern world. Indeed, in his The Concept of the Political first published in 1927 Schmitt’s starting point is a rejection of the unsatisfactory circularity of the conventional depiction of the conceptual relationship between the state and politics (Schmitt, 1985; 1996). For Schmitt, before we can talk about politics we require an understanding of the defining characteristic of ‘the political.’ This is to be found in the antithesis between friend and enemy. Any genuine politics presupposes an understanding of ‘the political’ in this sense. ‘The political’ refers to the most extreme and intense antagonism in human relations. Who counts as ‘the enemy’ at any particular moment is based upon a decision made by a political state. Clearly, for Schmitt and other like-minded thinkers of the Conservative Revolution, this vision of ‘the political’ must be intensely hostile to liberalism in all of its forms. Liberalism is taken to be a clear example of the ‘neutralizing’ and ‘depoliticizing’ tendencies of the modern age. Furthermore, Schmitt (1996) argues that the political state, as ‘friend,’ must express the political unity of a people.

Political thinkers and philosophers such as Schmitt, Ernst Jünger, Oswald Spengler, Hans Freyer and Martin Heidegger combined their opposition to the politics of the Weimar Republic with a general distaste for the culture of the ‘age of technology.’ Schmitt and Heidegger, in particular, were supporters of the National Socialist dictatorship, although the precise nature and manner of that support have been the subject of seemingly endless debate. At the same time, political thinkers of the left, and in particular those associated with the Frankfurt school, rejected the Republic and the culture of modernity on similar lines. The interconnection between these themes is especially marked in the biographies of some of Heidegger’s more influential (and Jewish) students who became intellectual and political refugees during the period of the Nazi dictatorship. Here Hannah Arendt, Karl Löwith, Herbert Marcuse, and Leo Strauss are among the most significant (Wolin, 2001; Arendt, 1951; Löwith, 1989; 1994; Marcuse, 1964; Strauss, 1950).

The roots of the neo-Marxism of the Frankfurt school can be found in the early work of Georg Lukács, a former student of Max Weber. In his History and Class Consciousness (1924) Lukács had proposed a reinterpretation of the philosophical foundations of Marxism in direct response to the challenge set out by Weber in his account of the antinomies of modern rationality. The stress upon the role of the concepts of consciousness, reification and totality in the revitalization of Marxism was taken up by the intellectual founders of what has come to be known as critical theory. Max Horkheimer (1972) formulated the concept of ‘critical theory’ in direct opposition to ‘traditional theory.’ The two founders of critical theory, Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, situated initially in the Institute for Social Research in Frankfurt, set out a programme of research that was meant to fulfil the promise of critique in the true sense. The method was to be one of immanent criticism: to reveal the contradictions within the social order and point the way towards an emancipated and rational society. However, by the time Horkheimer and Adorno had composed their highly influential work on the Dialectic of Enlightenment (1947) they had returned to a familiar theme in twentieth-century political thought and cultural criticism in Germany. The establishment of dictatorships in the Soviet Union and National Socialist Germany, along with the triumph of ‘instrumental reason’ in the West, now led to a general pessimism with regard to any possible attempt to escape from the totally administered to the rational society. Dialectical theory became a critique of ideology in the form of ‘negative dialectics.’ Herbert Marcuse’s One Dimensional Man (1964) was a much-simplified and popular version of this thesis.

The work of Jürgen Habermas represents an attempt, initially, to work within and at the same time to escape from the intellectual dead end in which the critical theory of Adorno and Horkheimer seemed to have found itself. Habermas, while continuing in the tradition of the earlier generation of critical theory in turning his attention primarily away from the relations of production and towards the relations of communication, still found himself facing the legacy of Max Weber’s account of the rationalization and disenchantment of the modern world (Habermas, 1976; 1984). Also in the spirit of the interdisciplinary approach of the original critical theorists, Habermas drew upon diverse resources to reconstruct a viable form of critical theory. Most noticeable in Habermas’s work, and this is indicative of much post-1945 political thought in Germany, is an opening towards the central concerns and concepts of Anglo-American political theory. This is a deliberate strategy to counter those intellectual currents from the past that could be associated with the catastrophic years of the National Socialist regime. Throughout his work there is an attempt to counter the claims of Carl Schmitt and his contemporary followers. Habermas is notable for his attempt to reclaim the legitimacy of the role of public intellectual in a country where, it is claimed, the concept of the intellectual has been treated as a ‘swearword.’ This is evident in his interventions in several public debates. Habermas has been an important instigator or participant in the ‘historians’ dispute’ concerning ‘coming to terms with the (National Socialist) past,’ and debates concerning the political implications of postmodernism, the Gulf War, political asylum, German unification, the future of the European Union, and the prospects for global peace (Habermas, 1989; 1994; 2001b).

Habermas’s work, which began as an attempt to transcend the impasse of critical theory, has now reached beyond those confines. In his most recent theoretical work on the elaboration of his ‘discourse ethics’ Habermas (1999) has engaged in a debate with the American philosophers John Rawls and Robert Brandom in an attempt to find the necessary philosophical grounding for a political theory that can combine universalist claims with a practical purpose. In that sense, it can be argued that Habermas has remained faithful to his roots in critical theory. However, despite its universal scope, Habermas’s theory cannot entirely escape the tension that exists between that claim and the particularity of its national context of origin.

Attempting to survey or summarize the history of political thought over more than a hundred years, even in one country, is a risky business. Much has to be left out and much has to be simplified. However, it is possible to discern some continuities. With the collapse of communism and the unification of the German state it appears that some traditional themes have reappeared or, at least, have become more openly discussed. The emergence of the ‘Berlin Republic’ has become the occasion for reflection upon the nature of the modern state, the global position of Germany (too big for Europe and too small for the world), and the nature of citizenship or membership in that state (Habermas, 1998a, 1998b). On a more general or philosophical level, there has been a return to the fundamental question of the nature of ‘the political.’ Therefore, in order to complete the picture, we ought not to be too surprised to find the renewal of interest in the work of one of ‘Heidegger’s children,’ Hannah Arendt (Wolin, 2001; Kemper, 1993). Although Arendt did not speak of ‘the political’ as such, her accounts of modernity, totalitarianism, republicanism and the nature of politics have been seized upon by many who do not accept what they see as the potentially utopian and apolitical character of Habermas’s version of critical theory. At the same time, interpretations of Arendt serve as an antidote to Carl Schmitt’s concept of ‘the political’ while reviving a view of political theory that restores the traditional question of the relationship of theory to practice to its central place.


If the dominant theme of much German political thought was the restricted possibilities for politics in a disenchanted world characterized by the empty formalities of the bureaucratic state, in France modern politics was defined by the Revolution of 1789 and its subsequent decline into revolutionary terror and dictatorship. French theorists divided over how far the revolution could realize its republican promise without degenerating into anarchy or despotism. On the one hand, republicans were accused of undermining the moral bonds of Church and crown, forcing republican intellectuals to take on the role of secular priests and to fashion a lay morality. On the other hand, this debate focused attention on republicanism’s ambiguous relationship to liberalism, pointing up the potential tensions between the republican emphasis on popular sovereignty and its commitment to the rights of man.

The nineteenth (and, indeed, much of the twentieth) century is littered with accounts and analyses of the Revolution and its aftermath by such eminent writers as Jules Michelet, Alexis de Tocqueville, Edgar Quinet, Louis Blanc, and Hippolyte Taine, each of which sought to gauge their significance and meaning. If, for some, the Revolution marked the dawn of a new age of enlightenment and the rights of man, for others it denoted, at best, a divine punishment upon a sinful France. Either way, the events of the revolutionary decade which came to a close with the rise to power of Napoleon Bonaparte serve to give structure to French political thought in ways which it has only succeeded in escaping from in recent decades. Curiously, political thinking in France became both insular and parochial, the universalist ambitions of her eighteenth-century philosophes being replaced by the pious pretensions of those who continued, despite evidence to the contrary, to believe that France and her history had a special meaning which could provide lessons of relevance to all the nations of the world. As this world ceased to speak and think in French, so political thought in France, if it looked beyond its own national boundaries, did so largely only with a mind to discover the ways in which English, German or American experience might help, if at all, to resolve France’s own internal problems. Consequently, few political thinkers in France between 1815 and the end of the Second World War achieved anything like an international audience. Auguste Comte (regrettably) and Henri Bergson (improbably) are exceptions, but their fame rested upon their reputations, respectively, as the philosophers of positivism and intuition rather than upon whatever they might have written about politics.

As revolution followed revolution, and political regime followed political regime, this propensity towards national introspection was only further accentuated during the nineteenth century. Upon what basis could political stability and order be restored to France? And upon what foundations could her political culture be refashioned? These became the abiding preoccupations. If by the early 1870s there was an emerging consensus that it was a moderate form of republican government that divided the French least (a view articulated by politicians and political thinkers alike), this should not disguise either the ferocity or the longevity of anti-republican political thinking. Given substance and coherence in the wake of the 1789 Revolution by Joseph de Maistre and Louis de Bonald, the calls of anti-democratic, Catholic reactionary thought for a return to the ancien régime continued to be articulated well into the twentieth century, not least by Charles Maurras for whom democracy would always be tainted by the stains of Judaism, Protestantism and Freemasonry. Few indeed were those who, like Felicité de Lamennais in the 1840s, sought to reconcile the Church with the forces of progress or who, like Charles Péguy at the beginning of the twentieth century, sought to embrace the mystiques of both republicanism and Catholicism.

Hostility to the Republic had other, perhaps more surprising forms, especially when it came from the left. From Pierre-Joseph Proudhon onwards there existed an anti-statist tradition that saw little to admire in the rhetoric of republican citizenship and which accordingly counselled abstention from the practices of parliamentary democracy. This perspective was no better exemplified than by Georges Sorel who, in his Réflexions sur la violence (1908), advised the French proletariat to utilize the tactic of the general strike to bring down what he characterized as a corrupt and decadent bourgeois republic. The same writer subsequently rallied to the support of Lenin and the Bolshevik Revolution, thereby setting a pattern for many later writers (including Jean-Paul Sartre) who would clothe their distaste for the everyday realities of France’s republican institutions and politics with an admiration for the Soviet Union.

France’s institutional instability and political uncertainties made themselves felt upon political thought in other ways. Internal dissent rendered suspect all calls for decentralization, local self-government or federalism, thus strengthening the position of the advocates of Jacobin centralization and rule from Paris. It also convinced republicans that the battle had to be taken to their enemies, producing a form of republican militantism that exists in French political thought to this day. Most spectacular of all was the removal of liberalism to the margins of French political thinking. The failure of François Guizot to establish both the political and intellectual supremacy of a bourgeois-dominated juste milieu meant that, with the fall of the July Monarchy in 1848, the liberal voice found it difficult to be heard. The neglect displayed towards the writings of Benjamin Constant, arguably the most perceptive of French political thinkers of the last 200 years, was matched by the near-contempt visited upon Raymond Aron until shortly before his death in 1983. Albert Camus fared no better at the hands of the Sartrian supporters of Algerian terrorism.

The France of Napoleon III’s Second Empire had both an official philosophy—Victor Cousin’s ‘spiritualism’—and an official religion—Roman Catholicism. The surprise (and humiliating) defeat at the hands of Prussia in 1870 invited their wholesale rejection and in part took the form of what Claude Dignon (1992) termed ‘the German crisis of French thought.’ If Prussia symbolized both militarism and barbarism, then equally Germany could be characterized as the land of philosophy and science. The frivolous luxury and lax morals associated with Bonapartism needed to be replaced by a new doctrine of individual liberty and responsibility, and where better could this be found than in Kantianism. The appointment of Jules Lachelier to teach philosophy at the prestigious école Normale Supérieur in 1864, followed by that of Emile Boutroux in 1877, led to a situation where Kantianism became the de facto official philosophy of the French educational establishment. If this had its critics—most famously in the shape of nationalist writer Maurice Barrès, for whom the products of this education were nothing more than an ‘uprooted’ generation—it also meant that Kantianism found its way very powerfully into the emerging political culture and discourse of the newly established Third Republic. Two key figures here were Charles Renouvier and Jules Barni. If Renouvier’s Science de la Morale (1869) provided the philosophical basis for the stream of articles on politics that were to be at the heart of his journal La Critique philosophique, politique, scientifique et littéraire from 1872 onwards (Blais, 2000), then similarly Barni’s La Morale dans la démocratie (1868) provided the foundations of his Manuel républicain of 1872. The ambition, as Renouvier phrased it, was ‘to transport ethics into politics’ to create a ‘public morality.’ For Barni, the ‘form’ of the Republic was to be transposed into a ‘moral democracy.’ The latter therefore summarized his understanding of the republican principles of ‘liberty, equality and fraternity’ as a system where ‘there was no longer a master, king or emperor, and subjects, but rather citizens subject equally to a common law which they have given to themselves in the interests of all.’ ‘Without civic virtue,’ he continued, ‘there is no republic’

For the Kantian republicans, therefore, liberty quite definitely did not mean licence. Both made much of the need for personal dignity and laid great emphasis upon the importance of the family as a moral unit. Both also shared the preoccupation that the Republic as a set of political institutions must endure and not fall foul of the dictatorial and personal power that had brought down its predecessor in 1851. Accordingly, republican political thought in the early years of the Third Republic sought to sketch out a set of constitutional arrangements which would thwart demands for either monarchical restoration, a strong executive or direct democracy. Universal suffrage (which excluded women) was to be matched by a separation of powers designed to check ‘despotism,’ ‘caesarism’ and what moderate republicans described as ‘the dictatorship of an assembly.’ The same programme also sought to codify a range of personal and civil liberties (for example, freedom of the press, equality before the law, the right to join a trade union) as part of a ‘message’ which Philip Nord (1995) recently summarized as ‘the emancipation of conscience from the structures of philosophical and clerical orthodoxy, the emancipation of civil society from the intrusions of state or corporate authority.’

Much has been made of the Third Republic’s failure to live up to this emancipatory political programme—Jean-Pierre Machelon has famously referred to La République contre les libertés (1976) and there can be no doubt that the desire not to alienate conservative forces produced a republican practice which simultaneously integrated established elites and excluded the industrial working class. Republican political thought, however, did not waver from its commitment to emancipate the citizens of the fledgling Republic. Specifically, they recognized that there could not be a ‘true’ republic which was not established upon the republican education of its members. This in turn necessitated the separation of Church and state and the provision of a free, obligatory and secular education system as the first duty of the state. As Barni expressed it, all citizens must understand ‘their rights, their duties and their real interests.’

Herein lay what François Furet (1985) has described as ‘the touchstone’ of republicanism: the principle of laïcité. At its simplest, laïcité denoted a straightforward demand for public neutrality on the part of the state: the individual existed as a citizen bearing rights rather than as a member of an ascribed community. In its more militant form, however, it commended the existence of a secular ethic, grounded in science and philosophy, that would act as both a civil religion and a social bond. As the nineteenth century came to a close, laïcité produced its own ideology, ‘solidarism,’ articulated at a philosophical level by Célestin Bouglé and Alfred Fouillée amongst others and popularized by Léon Bourgeois in his work Solidarité (1896). The ‘law of solidarity,’ Bourgeois proclaimed, ‘is universal’ and rested upon the convergence of ‘scientific method’ and ‘the moral idea.’

Laïcité also produced one of the most important and enduring particularities of French political life, the intellectual (Jennings, 1999). In his L’sAvenir de la science Ernest Renan had written that ‘enlightenment, morality, art, will always be represented among mankind by a magistracy, by a minority, preserving the traditions of the true, the good and the beautiful.’ To combat the forces of reaction and Catholicism, the Republic sought to produce its own magistracy in its universities, and it was these men (and sometimes women) who came to the defence of the Republic when it was threatened by the events that came to be known as the Dreyfus Affair. From the outset there were those—for example, Ferdinand Brunetière—who challenged the legitimacy of interventions by intellectuals into public debate, but the Dreyfus Affair nevertheless established a pattern of political behaviour that marked French political thought throughout the entire twentieth century. Intellectuals—as Emile Zola had demonstrated when he proclaimed the innocence of Captain Dreyfus—spoke out in the names of Truth and Justice and did so in the cause of Humanity.

The example was repeated during the First World War when France’s philosophers, writers and artists again had little difficulty contrasting the vices of a barbaric and authoritarian Prussia with the virtues of a democratic and egalitarian France (Soulez, 1988). Emile Boutroux’s L’sIdée de la liberté en France et en Allemagne (1916) is a classic example of the genre. After the war, different themes Bolshevism, colonialism and, later, the rise of fascism—galvanized intellectuals into action, forcing them time and time again to reassess the virtues of a Third Republic which lurched from crisis to crisis, only to implode with the fall of France in 1940. The mood of the 1930s was one of a crisis of civilization and many of those who were critical of Marxism and who saw little of attraction in the Soviet Union nevertheless sought an alternative to capitalism and to parliamentary democracy. Recognizing the growing malaise, Julien Benda penned his La Trahison des clercs (1927), calling for intellectuals to abandon their new-found enthusiasm for ‘political passions’ and to fulfil their proper function by defending the ‘abstract values’ associated conveniently with the Republic and democracy. The damning response came from the young Marxist Paul Nizan. Intellectuals—and specifically France’s Kantian philosophers—were nothing more than the representatives of ‘the official ideology of the state.’ The function of ‘bourgeois philosophy,’ he went on, was ‘to obscure the miseries of contemporary reality.’

For Nizan, to defend Dreyfus was to defend the bourgeoisie. To attempt to stand above the political and economic conflicts of the day was the real treason. Everyone had to decide whether they stood by the side of the oppressed or the oppressors. We were all—like it or not—participants in ‘the impure reality of the age.’ The intellectual, siding with humanity against the bourgeoisie, was to become a ‘technician of revolutionary philosophy.’

Such was the argument of Nizan’s Les Chiens de garde (1932) and here was the first full formulation of what, after the Second World, War was to become the fashionable doctrine of ‘commitment.’ Its principal advocates—Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir—seem to have spent the 1930s blithely unaware of the revolutionary causes that so agitated Nizan, as indeed they spent most of the Second World War far from the Resistance. Nevertheless, it was they who benefited from the post-war épuration in order to establish a political and philosophical dominance which lasted into the 1960s. Following in the footsteps of Raymond Aron, Sartre had studied in Berlin, there becoming familiar with the phenomenology of Husserl and Heidegger. His early philosophical essays and literary works set out the themes that were to inform his great existentialist masterpiece L’sÊtre et le néant (1943). ‘Our point of departure,’ Sartre wrote, ‘is in fact the subjectivity of the individual and this for strictly philosophical reasons… because we want a doctrine based on the truth.’ But what, for example, did the imperative to avoid ‘bad faith’ tell us about politics? Sartre’s first response was to argue that existentialism was a form of humanism, but given the implausibility of this suggestion he was obliged to begin the ultimately unsatisfactory philosophical quest of marrying existentialism to Marxism, culminating in his Critique de la raison dialectique (1960). He condemned American imperialism, turned a blind eye to oppression in the Soviet bloc, and supported a whole series of revolutionary regimes in the Third World.

The tide turned philosophically, if not politically, in the early 1960s with the rise to prominence of structuralism. In the concluding chapter of La Pensée sauvage (1962) Lévi-Strauss answered Sartre’s espousal of an existential Marxism by proclaiming: ‘I believe the ultimate goal of the human sciences to be not to constitute but to dissolve man.’ The goal was to break with the inheritance of humanism, an aim fully articulated in Foucault’s Les Mots et les choses (1966) where we are told that man will disappear ‘like a face drawn in sand at the edge of the sea.’ In political terms, structuralism represented a decisive rejection of the ideology of bourgeois society and the supposed superiority of the categories of Western reason. As Roland Barthes (1957) was to comment, the world of the bourgeoisie had succeeded in describing itself as the world of Eternal Man.

Sartre secured his political revenge with the student protests of May 1968. The philosophical decline of structuralism followed shortly afterwards, as did a move away from the Marxism that had cast a shadow over French political thought for the previous 30 years. What followed was a recuperation of the subject and the rejection of the anti-humanism and determinism, rightly or wrongly, attributed to structuralism. This took various forms: the return to philosophy associated with les nou-veaux philosophes (such as André Glucksman and Bernard-Henri Lévy); the formulation of a ‘post-metaphysical humanism’ inspired by Kant; and the prominence given to a religiously inspired ethics in the thought of Emmanuel Levinas and Paul Ricoeur. There were other important outcomes. The role of the intellectual was put under serious scrutiny, with virtually everyone accepting that the days of the Sartrian ‘universal’ intellectual were now over. Next, French political thought began for the first time to engage with liberalism, seeking first to rediscover its own neglected liberal heritage and then to engage with the Anglo-American tradition. Mark Lilla, prefacing a volume exploring New French Thought (1994), went so far as to talk of the ‘legitimacy of the liberal age.’

Crucially, however, there also took place an enthusiastic return to the hallowed principles of republicanism, aided by the bicentenary celebrations of the French Revolution in 1989. With the hopes of the left in tatters after the failure of François Mitterrand’s first socialist government, the transcendent and universal goals of liberty and equality seemed still to offer an emancipatory vision of the future. Republican political thought therefore renewed its commitment to civic virtue and social solidarity, to the creation of what Dominique Schnapper (1994) defined as ‘a community of citizens.’ But was this ideal, forged in the nineteenth century, still of relevance? In particular, could its conception of the abstract individual divested of cultural, ethnic or religious particularisms be sustained in a society increasingly characterized by multicultural diversity? For some, like Régis Debray, there could be no compromise with these demands. For others, the principles of republicanism could be adapted to suit new realities. A minority believe that it represents an oppressive form of Western universalism that should be abandoned for good. The point, however, is that after two centuries French political thought still remains focused upon the founding principles of the French Revolution and the republican tradition that they produced. There is every indication that this will remain so for the foreseeable future.


Although the Risorgimento produced both a self-conscious search for a distinctively Italian political and philosophical tradition and an important body of original work focused on the struggle for national unity by thinkers such as Giuseppe Mazzini, Carlo Cattaneo and Vincenzo Gioberti, Italian political philosophers were profoundly influenced by the writings of British, French and German scholars. However, though the first had been hugely important during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, it was the second and especially the third that proved the most influential for much of the twentieth century. Even so, followers of these foreign schools offered deliberately Italian variations on their ideas. Three characteristically Italian themes proved particularly salient. The first concerned the competing attractions of the two Romes (Emperor versus Pope, active versus contemplative life, social emancipation versus heavenly contemplation, politics versus morality). The second related to the respective strengths and weaknesses of authoritarian and democratic rule—a contrast that went back to the rivalry between signorie and communes. The third theme arose from the struggles in which these polarized conceptions of politics partook and which they partly generated, namely, a recurrent linking of the idea of Italian political unity with ethical order and an end both to sectarian and interstate strife and to the foreign domination that often accompanied them—as the unification of the two Romes, of authority and democracy. Throughout the twentieth century, Italian political theorists of diverse philosophical and ideological stripes were to bemoan the failure of the unified Italian state to live up to this expectation. Not only had unification failed to ‘make Italians,’ as a famous phrase put it, but also Italy remained the least of the great powers, comparatively weak both economically and militarily. This disappointment led in turn to discussion of the role of philosophy in moulding such unity, either in conjunction with state power or as an alternative to it, and the degree to which such philosophical engagement was possible without committing la trahison des clercs by betraying the intellectuals’ role as the guardians of truth and justice.

The importance of these themes can be illustrated by considering two of the most distinctive contributions of twentieth-century Italian political thought: the analysis of liberal democracy in terms of the elite manipulation of the electorate, and the recon-ceptualization of state and society in terms of the relations of force and consent. The two theses were related, with the second providing the background for the first. They were also elaborated in different ways by thinkers from across the philosophical and ideological spectrum, with opposed positions drawing on as well as criticizing each other. What structured these discussions were common cultural assumptions about the central issues in Italian politics.

The elitist view of liberal democracy originated in the positivist political sociologies of Vilfredo Pareto and Gaetano Mosca. Initially developed as a critique of socialism, it not only led to various criticisms of liberal democracy and reformulations of its working, but also prompted reflections on the strategy to be adopted by both socialist and fascist parties operating within liberal democratic regimes. Though Mosca claimed to have developed the elitist argument first, his and Pareto’s versions arose independently from each other and emphasize different aspects of this phenomenon. Pareto (1848-1923) was born in Paris, where his father had been exiled, and pursued his early career in Florence prior to taking up the chair of political economy at Lausanne University in 1893. A classic liberal deeply influenced by Herbert Spencer and more particularly J. S. Mill, he had initially supported the extension of liberal democracy as an appropriate mechanism for representing the interests of society as a whole. During the early 1890s he expressed support for the cause of organized labour, regarding ‘popular socialism’ as a legitimate reaction to the ‘bourgeois socialism’ practised by the Italian political class gathered around Francesco Crispi and his successors, which employed state monopolies and economically disastrous protectionist tariffs to buy votes and adopted increasingly coercive measures to dampen unrest. He also sympathized with individual socialists, such as Napoleone Colajanni, sharing many of their progressive hopes. However, a convinced economic liberal, he had never accepted either the efficiency or the legitimacy of state intervention in the economy, regarding it as merely increasing political power and patronage. His deconstruction of Socialist Systems (1902) and his later fascist sympathies arose largely because he felt that from 1900 the pendulum had swung the other way. Instead of counterbalancing ‘bourgeois socialism’ in ways that might have established a liberal economic system, ‘popular socialism’ simply threatened to take its place. Its apparent democratic credentials notwithstanding, socialist ideology, particularly its reformist variant, was simply a mechanism for promoting the interests of a particular group of politicians (Finer, 1968; Bellamy, 1987: ch. 2; 1990).

A rigorous mathematical economist, who pioneered modern welfare economics, Pareto believed the prime question confronting the social scientist was why individuals were invariably moved by ‘non-logical’ motivations, rather than self-interested ‘logico-experimental’ instrumental reasoning. He thought the answer lay in humans being motivated by a number of basic emotional ‘residues’ which could then be manipulated by certain sorts of argumentation, which he called ‘derivations.’ Though his Treatise of General Sociology of 1916 (Pareto, 1964) enumerated some 52 residues, the most important were ‘the instinct of combinations’ and the ‘persistence of aggregates.’ Updating Machiavelli, Pareto contended the rise and fall of governing classes reflected altering balances of these two residues within the elite, with the first favouring the cunning needed to rule through consent and the latter a more conservative desire for strength. He argued societies tended to alternate between periods of prosperity, when the skills of persuasion were at a premium, and austerity when policies of law and order were demanded. He linked the reformist governments of Giovanni Giolitti that, with the exception of the First World War, dominated the period 1900-22, with the former, suitably situated between the periods of coercive rule of Crispi and Mussolini (Pareto, 1921). Reformist socialism, on this account, was simply an ideology or ‘derivation’ employed by the prevailing ruling class to maintain their power. Like democracy, with which it had an affinity, it was well suited to elites employing the consensual methods of the ‘instinct of combinations,’ giving their rule a veneer of popular legitimacy. In common with other anti-democrats, Pareto was more sympathetic to revolutionary syndicalism, which in his view reflected the forceful ‘persistence of aggregates.’ However, he believed its claims were just as illusory, amounting to little more than rhetorical gestures to legitimize a counter-elite’s bid for power. Though he initially welcomed fascism, it was as a confirmation of his social theory rather than because of agreement with its ideals. He remained an economic liberal and had no sympathy with the syndicalist strand in fascist ideology. However, his disillusionment with democracy had led him to the paradoxical belief that a free market involving minimal state intervention could only be maintained by an authoritarian state that did not have to bargain with democratically entrenched vested interests. Had he lived, Mussolini would soon have disabused him in this regard and he would undoubtedly have been as critical of the fascist regime as he had been of Giolitti.

By contrast, Gaetano Mosca (1858-1941), who was born in Palermo, belonged to the conservative southern intelligentsia. Unlike Pareto, he doubted the capacity of the lower classes to participate in politics and had little insight into the plight of northern workers. Though Mosca shared Pareto’s doubts about both popular sovereignty and socialism, his account of the ascendancy of a political class was more truly sociological (Bellamy, 1987: ch. 3). Minorities always rule because they form a more coherent group, able to act with greater consistency and coherence and to organize themselves better than the necessarily more diffuse and inchoate majority (Mosca, 1939: vol. 1, ch. 2). He agreed with Pareto that universal suffrage promoted the corrupt and devious political skills of the flatterer, the wheeler-dealer and the populist demagogue. He also thought that terms such as ‘popular sovereignty’ and the ‘common good’ were simply ideological ‘political formulae’ whereby a ruling class legitimized its position and obtained the consent of the governed. However, he departed from Pareto in believing that ideally the elite should be, and in fact often was, the most capable. However, the qualities making the group the best altered as societies evolved. Thus, the rulers of the industrial age required rather different talents to those of the feudal era, when military prowess was at a premium (1939: vol. 1, chs 3-4). A deputy from 1909 to 1919, he opposed the introduction of universal suffrage in 1912 but ultimately accepted the need to come to terms with mass democracy and to concentrate not on its debunking so much as its reworking so that it would produce a democratic meritocracy committed to liberal values and possessing the administrative skills essential for the efficient and just government of contemporary societies. Crucial to this scheme was his doctrine of ‘juridical defence.’ Mosca argued that a political system had to be so designed as to mix the ‘aristocratic’ and the ‘democratic’ tendencies within any society, producing in the process a balance between the ‘autocratic’ and ‘liberal’ principles of government (1939: vol. 1, ch. 5; vol. 2, ch. 4). Unlike Pareto, he saw electoral competition between elites and an openness to the demands of and recruitment from the lower strata as mechanisms for reducing rather than exacerbating corruption. For they ensured rulers could further their own interests in governing only by taking account of the interests of the ruled in good government.

If one compares Pareto’s and Mosca’s arguments with those of Max Weber (1978) and Roberto Michels (1959) (who later joined Mosca at Turin University), who developed parallel theses that were in part influenced by them, then two differences are noticeable (Beetham, 1977; 1987). First, there is the emphasis on clientalistic politics and Machiavellian manipulation rather than bureaucracy—the distinguishing feature of Michels’s account in particular. This contrast clearly reflects the different political cultures of the two countries, and can be compared in turn with the emphasis on crowd and mass behaviour found in the work of French elite theorists such as Le Bon (1895). Second, there is the propensity to treat elite theory as a universal psychological or social ‘law’ rather than a historically specific phenomenon. Here the difference can partly be attributed to the tendency for the Italians to seek explanatory models reflecting those of the natural sciences compared with the Germanic tradition of Kulturwissenschaft. However, it is noticeable that the same emphasis emerges even in thinkers clearly influenced by the German historical school-notably Benedetto Croce (1866-1952) and, via him, Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937).

Both Croce and Gramsci shared the Machiavellianism of the elitists, but even more than Mosca they saw the elite use of consent and force as linked to the way power relations were structured within the political system as a whole. A fellow southerner from a wealthy family, Croce shared many of Mosca’s political prejudices. However, he had made his name as a philosopher criticizing the very positivist methodology Mosca employed. His first philosophical essay, ‘History subsumed under the general concept of art’ (1893), had drawn on the contemporary German debate between Windelbrand and Dilthey over the identity of the human sciences to attack the Italian positivist Pasquale Villari’s claim that history was a science. From 1900 to 1917, Croce progressively developed his own idealist philosophy of spirit (Croce, 1902; 1909a; 1909b; 1917). Croce argued that thought always preceded action, with individuals reconceiving their present circumstances as a preliminary to seeking to change them. He also maintained that human activity was orientated towards the concepts of Beauty, Truth, the Useful and the Good. These were ‘pure concepts,’ the specific content of which had altered through history as individuals reworked these ideas according to the various conceptions they held of the world. Most importantly, they were also distinct concepts. He believed that a grave error of earlier positivist and idealist philosophers was to confuse them. Finally, Croce’s philosophy was aggressively antitranscendental and metaphysical. There was no other reality than the human history of individual thoughts and actions—a doctrine he termed absolute historicism. Even the natural sciences were but the historical practices through which humans have understood and acted upon the world. Notions of the world in itself were meaningless.

Croce thought politics was orientated towards the useful, by which he meant instrumental, practical reasoning to achieve whatever goals we might have. However, the ethical evaluation of any given act had to be sharply distinguished from practical success. Such evaluation resulted from reflection on what others and oneself had achieved, producing in its turn a spur to action in the future (Croce, 1900; 1909b; 1930). At one level, therefore, politics was about force—possessing the strength of purpose and the means to realize one’s ends. At another level, however, it concerned consent and the capacity for politicians to get people to identify with the state as realizing their ends (Bellamy, 1991). In his early writings, Croce tended to insist on the primacy of the first level. This was motivated by a frustration with what he then regarded as the ineffectiveness of contemporary politicians which he thought often went with an empty utopian rhetoric. Thus, unrealistic plans for an ideal world were substituted by concrete programmes for political action, without offering either a grounded critique of present problems or a plausible moral orientation for future action. He levelled this criticism at socialism in particular, but also against the Giolittian liberals. Though he saw Marxism as an entirely appropriate ideology for the proletariat to adopt—praising Georges Sorel and the syndicalists in particular in this regard—he disputed Marxism’s pretension to offer a philosophy based on historical materialism. Croce placed economics alongside politics in the realm of the useful, and charged Marxism with grossly reducing the other three aspects of human endeavour to this one.

Like Pareto, Croce initially supported Mussolini, albeit reluctantly, as a needed source of law and order. He soon changed his mind. For fascism made a parallel error to Marxism, in this case collapsing morality and everything else into politics and the coercive force of the fascist state. This argument was most notoriously made by Croce’s erstwhile collaborator, Giovanni Gentile, who identified the moral force of fascism in the persuasive power of the blackjack (Gentile, 1925: 50-1). As the self-styled philosopher of fascism, he argued that the fascist state derived its authority from offering a ‘totalitarian’ order that organized every part of social life. In response, Croce reiterated his distinction between politics and morals, but now underlined the qualifications that this imposed on the political realist. We rightly desired efficacy from a state, but we also could question the purposes it served. The tensions between state and civil society, government and opposition, force and consent reflected at a systemic level the dialectic between thought and action in the individual. Each effective act was both the product and the subject of theoretical criticism of the circumstances in which agents found themselves (Croce, 1924a). Adapting Mosca’s theory, Croce now saw the history of the product of rival political classes inspired by competing ethicopolitical conceptions. The purpose of liberal political institutions was to allow this rivalry to freely play itself out (Croce, 1923; 1924b).

Gramsci was greatly influenced by Croce, but redeployed his ideas within a Marxist context (Bellamy, 2001). A Sardinian by birth, he moved to Turin to study in 1911 where he became involved in the labour movement—providing intellectual leadership for the occupation of the factories in 1920. A founder member of the Communist Party of Italy in 1921, he was arrested by Mussolini in 1926 and spent the next decade in jail, dying shortly after his release in 1937. He shared much of Croce’s criticisms of ‘scientific Marxism,’ disputing the then conventional Marxist view that revolution was determined by changes in the economic base alone. He claimed it also required mobilizing the revolutionary will amongst the working class to exploit favourable social and economic circumstances. Reflecting on Lenin’s success in Russia relative to the failure of revolutionary movements in the more developed West, he noted how revolution was in fact far harder to organize in advanced industrial and liberal democratic societies (Gramsci, 1994). Gramsci explored the reasons for these difficulties most profoundly in his posthumous Prison Notebooks (1977), written during the early part of his incarceration, where he developed the notion of hegemony or ‘ideological’ power. There are both Italian and Russian sources for this term, but Gramsci’s argument largely adapts the Machiavellian theme of force and consent as interpreted by Croce. Advanced democracies, he argued, ruled not simply on the basis of state force but also through winning social consent. They achieved this result by buttressing the state in the narrow sense of the government, bureaucracy and army with a broader set of institutions based in civil society, ranging from semi-public organizations such as schools and political parties to private bodies such as churches and the media. By working through civil society as well as the state, liberal democracies were able to legitimize the bourgeoisie’s rule by creating a popular consensus around their values and self-image. Consequently, people failed to recognize the exploitative and inefficient character of the capitalist economy. He then employed elitist arguments to elaborate a socialist strategy to counter this circumstance. The party’s leadership represented the new Machiavelli. Working through intellectuals, the leadership had to develop a counter-hegemony amongst the masses, gradually winning a foothold in various positions within civil society. Only then would the party be in a position to employ force for a revolutionary assault on the state. However, Gramsci saw the new communist order not simply as an alternative to liberal democracy, but as the mirror image of the fascist state: namely a society without a state, united by a ‘total’ moral vision that was fully in accord with the real needs of the people.

Though both Croce and especially Gramsci drew on non-Italian sources and had an important non-Italian following, the distinctiveness of their thinking derives once again from its Italian colouring. Thus Croce’s divide between politics and morals reflects the theme of the two Romes, with his attack on transcendence getting its peculiar force from its anti-clerical connotations, just as the balance between force and consent has a pronounced Machiavellian flavour linked to the opposition between principalities and republics. Similar attitudes surface in Gramsci and even in Gentile, with both also seeking to overcome these tensions in a social and political unity that they explicitly associated with realizing the hoped-for benefits of a ‘true’ unification of Italy.

With post-war Italian politics dominated by the two ‘religions’ represented by the Catholic Christian Democrats (DC) and the Gramsci inspired Italian Communist Party, political theorists continued to address the tensions between the two Romes, particularly the difficulties of reconciling the pragmatic concessions of politics with a broader cultural and moral aspiration for social unity. Unsurprisingly, dissenters on both sides typically accused their parties of sacrificing the latter to the former. Significantly, the main political thinker to emerge in this period, Norberto Bobbio (1909-), though aligned to neither camp as a member of the ‘lay’ Italian Socialist Party (PSI), led a return to the neo-Machiavellian tradition of Pareto and Mosca (Bobbio, 1977).

Bobbio started out as a legal theorist, and his earliest writings were inspired by the legal positivist tradition of Hans Kelsen—a distinctive position in the Italian context that proved highly influential. Bobbio shared Kelsen’s deep commitment to the liberal ideal of the Rechtsstaat, sharply criticizing the right and especially the Marxist left for overlooking the importance of the rule of law for the defence of individual liberty. However, he had a more realist view of the nature of law than Kelsen, regarding it as institutionalized power. This approach led him to a series of path-breaking studies of Hobbes and ultimately to political theory. In 1972 he exchanged his chair in law at Turin University for one in the newly created politics faculty. He now embarked on a series of essays exploring the nature of the state and democracy. These pieces were often motivated by his own engagement with the peace movement (Bobbio, 1979) on the one hand, and his critique of the radical new left (Bobbio, 1987a) on the other. Deeply opposed to nuclear weapons, he became a pioneering advocate of some form of cosmopolitan democracy as the only plausible way to institutionalize international law. Yet he remained deeply sceptical of radical schemes for participatory democracy at any level. Returning to Pareto and especially Mosca, Bobbio (1987b) defined democracy as simply a means for formalizing the rules whereby elites compete for and exercise power. Though modest by comparison with the hopes of radical democrats, it offers the only available mechanism whereby ‘force’ can be limited by ‘consent.’


As Europe becomes more closely integrated, with the adoption of the euro and the proposed enlargement of the European Union to Central and East European countries, the question arises of whether the twenty-first century will see the different national political cultures explored in this chapter being amalgamated within, or made redundant by, an emerging pan-European public sphere. Germany, Italy, and France were amongst the initiators of the integration process and their populations have remained predominantly pro-European. Nevertheless, the EU has usually been defended as being congruent with and even reinforcing the member states. Increasingly, however, intellectuals and citizens have expressed concern that the EU might be subverting domestic democratic and constitutional arrangements. As a result, debate for and against extending and deepening the EU has typically developed arguments stemming from national political traditions.

For example, Habermas (2001a; 2001b) has probably offered the most sophisticated and influential theoretical argument for the creation of a European political culture. Yet his appeal to rights as the basis of a European ‘constitutional patriotism’ reflects a typically post-war (West) German preoccupation to find an alternative to the Volk as the foundation of the state and to ground democracy in a robust defence of the rule of law (Habermas, 1996). Within Germany, however, his arguments have aroused opposition from critics who fear that depatriating the constitution will weaken their compatriots’s identification with such ideals and its role within the national democratic process (Grimm, 1997; Habermas, 1997). In France there has been a parallel debate, but this time expressed in the language of republicanism and the peculiar place of popular and state sovereignty within that tradition (Ferry and Thibaud, 1992). Finally, the widespread Italian enthusiasm for Europe has been largely motivated by the belief that it rectifies supposed weaknesses of the national political system. Yet a resurgent movement for regional autonomy in the north has prompted worries that the EU could undermine national unity without offering as deep an alternative source of social and political cohesion (Rusconi, 2001).

Even amongst Europhiles, therefore, it seems premature to talk of the displacement of a national by a European political culture. However, there is an emerging consensus that on certain issues continental Europe has become distinct from the United States and, in certain respects, albeit to a lesser degree, Britain too—notably opposition to the death penalty and less draconian criminal policies, a commitment to humanitarian intervention and international human rights, an approach to multiculturalism shaped by the legacy of colonialism, and a commitment to defend the social market economy against global capitalism, all of which were to some degree reflected in the recently declared Charter of Fundamental European Rights (Habermas, 2001a: ch. 4; 2001b; Cerutti and Rudolph, 2001). How far, if at all, these perceived differences in political culture will translate into distinctive theoretical positions remains to be seen.