and the Idea of Europe

This chapter focuses on the intellectual impetus for, and roots of, the rise of the large domestic consensus in favour of a federal European Union achieved in Italy during the so‐called First Republic (1948–1992). It notably addresses the role of intellectuals in explaining the continuities and discontinuities found in ideas about Europe between the First and Second Republic (1992–).

The main argument made is that the current normalization of a pro‐European intellectual presence in Italy maintains national particularities and distinctive features which cannot be explained without what the French historian Fernand Braudel called a longue durée approach. The intellectual debate, combined with sixty years of the process of Italian integration into Western Europe, is understood as part of long‐term trends within national cultural history; this historical construction is powerful enough to counterbalance both past and recent tendencies of discontinuity.

Consistent with the general theme of the book, this chapter does not address Italy’s role within the EU decision‐making system, nor the impact of European policy in Italy. The political background and the policy dimension are taken into consideration only to the extent that they demonstrate how the intellectual perception of national interests and Italy’s role in Europe – notably the debates shaping Italian ideas about Europe – are historically relevant. However the methodological challenge is to combine a horizontal comparative politics approach with the history of political ideas, which requires attention to the longue durée dimension of the Italian story.

The European Referendum of 1989: A symbolic event of the First Italian Republic

According to a longue durée approach, events only provide a superficial manifestation of deeper tendencies and historical trends rooted in persistent features of (p.123) the social formation process. However, historians of the European Italian narrative often neglect the relevance of the symbolic event that occurred in 1989 within the Italian public sphere. Initially proposed by the left‐liberal founding father of the EC/EU, Altiero Spinelli (1907–1986),1 a consultative ad hoc referendum was held in Italy (and only in Italy) on 18 June 1989 – in conjunction with the third European direct elections – asking citizens whether they wanted the European Parliament to be endowed with constitutional powers.

The referendum of 1989 resulted in a landslide: 89.1 per cent voted ‘yes’ and 10.9 per cent ‘no’, with an 81 per cent participation rate. The yes‐vote was supported not only by all the Italian parties belonging to the so‐called ‘constitutional arch’, the anti‐fascist coalition underpinning both the multi‐party Resistance movement and the new Republican Constitution of 1947, but also by all the most relevant intellectual factions.2 This rare intellectual convergence represents the European consensus during the first Italian Republic. Among other things, it legitimized the new European Parliament by again favouring a federal European Constitution (though there were controversies over the so‐called ‘Spinelli draft Treaty’ voted for by the EP in 1984),3 which the EP later supported twice more, in 1993 (‘Fernand Hermann draft’) and in 2003–5 (‘Constitutional Treaty’). Such a consistent development of a Hamiltonian idea of a federal European constitution, on the one hand, and concrete national politics, on the other, has not been seen in any other European member state during the sixty years of European integration, including the most pro‐European countries.

Diverging from contingent analyses, this chapter aims to help explain the intellectual dimension and background of the development of such a broad pro‐European consensus, as well as its long‐lasting impact on the public sphere (confirmed by Euro‐barometer, until the mid‐1990s). This analysis would be impossible without taking into account both the history of the European idea during the First Italian Republic and some of the main cleavages present in Italian modern history, notably the particular weakness of the idea of the nation underpinning the formation of the state and the national modernization process. The hypothesis of this chapter is that continuity prevails over discontinuity within the history of ideas: beyond superficial breaks, intellectual continuity is significant, rooted as it is in the secular longue durée of Italian ideas of Europe.

(p.124) The First Republic and the ‘Italian European ideology’

Despite the effects of the Cold War on the domestic level, including on Italian intellectuals, during the First Italian Republic founded on 1 January 1948, the evolution of European integration shifted from an early internal division to a ‘constitutional’ convergence between left and centre‐right. When looking at histoire événementielle, the historian has little option but to focus on instability and divergence, such as the political conflict seen in the mass demonstrations and parliamentary opposition promoted by communists and socialists between 1950 and 1954 against the European Community for Steel and Coal and especially against the European Defence Community. However, this hard internal cleavage between pro‐EC and anti‐EC camps proved to be temporary and superficial, whereas the centripetal convergence on a federal idea of an internationally autonomous Europe gradually emerged as the central feature of what we call the ideology of the First Italian Republic.

The bipolar international context of the Cold War, which pitted the forces of communism versus capitalism as well as those of democracy versus dictatorship against each other, had a significant domestic impact in Italy, even more so than in France. Although the changing international framework and the rise of peaceful coexistence had a positive effect on the support for integration, several socialist intellectuals had already moved to pro‐EC positions in 1957 when the Treaty of Rome was signed and ratified, and were able to attract notable ex‐communist and pro‐EC intellectuals such as Antonio Giolitti after the Budapest revolt against Soviet repression. External factors were thus only one of the relevant causes of this domestic evolution. For the Italian Communist Party (which conquered the main force of the Italian left under Palmiro Togliatti between 1945 and 1964) and its related intellectual movement, the evolution from a vague pro‐European attitude to an explicit pro‐EC position took two more decades. The new Eurocommunist leadership of Enrico Berlinguer (1973–84) and, later on, the crypto‐social‐democratic orientation of Giorgio Napolitano (elected in 2006 as president of the Republic) played a crucial role in overcoming post‐war ideological ambiguity: not only (as in the case of the French Communist Party) was there a shared fidelity to the ‘communist camp’ and to ‘socialism with national colours’, but also notably a coexistence of communist orthodoxy and national intellectual hegemony, thanks to a distinctive anti‐Stalinist intellectual legacy embodied in the theories of Antonio Gramsci.4

On the one hand, there was the political use of Gramsci seen through the work edited by Togliatti and produced by the prestigious publisher Einaudi in 1 (p.125) 947, which was evoked throughout the first international Gramsci conference in Rome in 1958; the work’s explicit and largely successful purpose was to connect with the great intellectual tradition symbolized by Benedetto Croce and secularized Italian idealism.5 On the other hand, Gramsci also became a shared intellectual reference between liberal, Catholic, and left‐leaning intellectuals, as the introductory speech by Norberto Bobbio at the Cagliari conference of 1967 clearly shows. The debates about Gramscian thought largely paved the way to the Westernization of the Italian left, and allowed for a dialogue with the pluralist traditions of national and European culture. This historical background explains why, in the decades of competition between two universalist schools of thought, the Catholic and the Gramscian branches of communism, the left achieved ideological hegemony among intellectuals, universities, and publishing houses.

However, the increasingly reliable connection between universalist ideas, such as peace or a united Europe, and concrete steps towards European integration provided the Catholic‐liberal leading group with a strategic advantage. This is significant in explaining the actions of left‐wing intellectuals and the political leadership of the 1970s and 1980s. Twenty years of EC progress coupled with the growing intellectual and political criticism of the Soviet model gave birth to the intermediary stage known as ‘Eurocommunism’. It was for many left‐wing intellectuals a step towards full Europeanization,6 even if it consisted of a patchwork of utopian and practical elements. However, a large international literature recognizes the political necessity of somehow filling the political vacuum perceived by the representatives of a strong teleological tradition, openly rejecting the communist orthodoxy. An identity crisis was about to emerge, highlighting the pressing need to look for an alternative way, namely a European one, to combine national intellectual history with a revised and innovative universalist perspective.

Elaborating the idea of a politically united Europe gradually became the main way of bringing not only the PCI but also the Italian intellectual left out of the past towards a new intellectual development, which was, however, rife with the conceptual ambiguities inherent in the search for a ‘European third way’ between socialism and capitalism, East and West. Thus for several decades the Europeanization of the Italian left was not limited to mere functional adaptation to an ongoing economic and institutional process, but also involved an intellectual evolution which created high cultural, social, political, and international expectations of a united Europe. From the late 1970s to the (p.126) mid‐1980s, the federalist ideas of Altiero Spinelli became an openly shared ideal and reference, replacing the alternative traditional ideals that had previously dominated: thus the Italian European ideology was gradually constructed.

Generally speaking, there is empirical evidence to show that ideas matter in the Italian case. We employ the concept of ‘ideology’ not in the Marxist understanding of a false perception of reality, but as an increasingly coherent intellectual framework through historical evolution. The European debate in Italy was both pluralistic and centripetal in the sense that convergence among several national intellectual schools was eventually possible, contrary to the French experience. In this chapter, we examine whether this debate was an intrinsic part of Italian intellectual history.

Advocating this interpretation requires several steps: firstly, we need to examine the historical context, that is to say the role of intellectuals in the constitutional foundation of the Italian Republic between 1945 and 1948. To what extent does this period clearly indicate the possible evolution of the intellectual paths in the coming decades? As mentioned above, the European intellectual narrative after the Second World War started with a serious internal rupture, provoked by both the international and domestic collapse of the former anti‐Nazi and anti‐fascist coalition (1947/8). However, early convergences began to emerge between the large array of anti‐fascist movements, notably on three main issues: the Republican Constitution, the Peace Treaty, and the Marshall Plan.

The text of the Republican Constitution of 1 January 1948 itself is a significant indication of such intellectual convergences: in spite of huge differences, the Christian Democrats and the Italian Communists both held positions characterized by anti‐nationalist, pacifist, and universalistic traditions of political thought. During the long debates of the Constituent Assembly of 1947, these parties as well as socialists, liberals, and republicans were represented by outstanding intellectuals, making the constitutional consensus particularly interesting for the history of ideas. The near unanimous approval of the Constitutional Charter at the end of 1947 is very significant for the future European intellectual and political convergence for two main reasons.

Firstly, the new Constitution of 1948 includes the famous article 11, which transformed traumatic memories of war into an intellectual advantage, anticipating the post‐modern concept of sovereignty pooling:

Italy rejects war as an offence to the liberty of other peoples and as a means for international conflict resolution. Italy welcomes, on the condition of equality with other states, limitations of national sovereignty, which are necessary for building an order ensuring peace and justice among nations. Italy promotes and favours international organizations supporting these ends.7

(p.127) To some extent, this provision recalls semi‐sovereign features of the post‐war constitutions of defeated countries. However, contrary to Germany and Japan, the Italian constitutional debate was free while dominated by universalistic political cultures. This legal provision was initially supported by Catholic and Italian communist intellectuals with reference to the newly formed United Nations and to the cosmopolitan values of universal peace. However, it was also instrumental in allowing the introduction of EC/EU treaties into the Italian legal and institutional system over the next sixty years without any constitutional amendments (which is very relevant for this book, because in Italy events such as European treaties and referenda affect the intellectual debate less than they do in France and other European countries).

Despite the differences between universal cosmopolitanism and Europeanism, underlined by the European federalist Luigi Einaudi in 1919, the two ideas proved coherent enough to limit national sovereignty. This new attitude was reflected not only in a positive reception to and support of the foundation of the UN, but notably also in support of the EC/EU practice of pooling national sovereignties in crucial fields of social life, including some of the more sensitive competences of the state.

Secondly, two further fundamental debates emerged during the crucial years of constitutional convergence: the controversial debate over the 1947 Peace Treaty with the victors of the Second World War, and the common interest in the Marshall Plan launched by the US in the same year. Both debates had European and international implications, and confirm that the understanding of and near unanimous support for the Constitution’s text was not episodic but rather profound and visionary. The Peace Treaty was criticized by leading liberal nationalists, including members of the old pre‐fascist political class represented by Vittorio Emanuele Orlando, or the great philosopher Benedetto Croce who rejected the humiliation involved in signing the Peace Treaty. Croce was isolated in defending the thesis that fascism was a parenthesis in Italian history and that there was continuity with pre‐fascist Italian liberal thought and state. The support for the Peace Treaty, shared by such opposed leaders as the Catholic Prime Minister Alcide De Gasperi and leader of the Communist Party Palmiro Togliatti, was due both to the anti‐nationalist political culture and to the consciousness of the importance of reconciliation with France, Britain, the US, and other members of the international anti‐Nazi coalition (Santoro 1991). The widespread interest in the Marshall Plan shared by leading Catholic intellectual personalities such as Amintore Fanfani and intellectual representatives of the left such as the economists Claudio Napoleoni and Giorgio Napolitano was also based on the prevalent acceptance of Keynesian ideas and the possibility of a constructive relationship with democratic America.

(p.128) From domestic cleavage to national convergence: Catholic and secular intellectual actors in Europe

The Catholic Church maintained a strong political weight during the first two decades of European construction. Alcide De Gasperi was one of the three influential Catholic (and German‐speaking) founding fathers of the small but farsighted Community of Six (with Adenauer and Schuman). Was the idea of a ‘Vatican Europe’ complementary to the vision of European integration? International literature has emphasized the importance of the commitment to an integrated Europe held by one of the most influential Italian intellectuals during these hard times: the Pope Pacelli, alias Pius XII. Pope Pacelli is still surrounded by international controversy due to his silence when faced with Nazi crimes. However, after the war he gave many public speeches in favour of a united Europe and organized meetings in Rome for Catholic leaders. In his mind, ‘Vatican Europe’ firstly meant the ‘esprit de revanche’ of supranationalism, like that of the Middle Ages, against the secularized nation‐state; secondly, it symbolized a Europe that was both an anti‐communist fortress and an independent entity from the US; thirdly, it would adhere to a ‘Charlemagne model’, excluding Protestant countries such as the UK and those in Scandinavia.

The influence of both this historical legacy and geographical proximity was very strong in Italy. However, the weight of a Catholic vision of Europe was not exclusive, but rather balanced with liberal and even socialist ideas as seen in the other five partners of the first communities. Even the Catholic Prime Minister De Gasperi, leader of the main Italian decisions in European policy between 1950 and 1954, asserted his autonomous profile, not only by championing the idea of a federalist Europe early on and taking concrete steps towards the EC at the time of the Cold War, but also by defending a liberal understanding of Europe in alliance with liberals, republicans, and social democrats led by Luigi Einaudi (president of the Republic), Giorgio La Malfa, and Giuseppe Saragat (Scoppola 1977). However, this pluralist leadership was confronted with the risk of isolation: for various and sometimes contradictory reasons, the business community (except the stream led by Giovanni Agnelli, the founder of FIAT and author of several pro‐European essays), the trade unions, and the Catholic party were all sceptical of the decisions regarding the ECSC and the EDC, on the one hand based on inward‐looking visions, parochialism, and protectionism, on the other in the name of a leftist critique of European communities perceived as too liberal, capitalist, and US‐dependent.

De Gasperi’s intellectual vision was strongly influenced by his experiences in the Austro‐Hungarian parliament of Vienna before the First World War (as the elected representative of the Austrian province of Trento) and further developed by his daily analysis of the German Weimar democracy, as well as Belgian, French, and Dutch intellectual and political life of the 1920s and 1930s. His (p.129) work reveals an evident hostility to nationalism due to his own experience living in border regions, sentiments shared by major European Catholic leaders such as founding fathers Schuman, Adenauer, and the Belgian Van Zeeland among others. After his death in 1954, De Gasperi’s main decisions and ideas gradually became more popular in Italy and were shared by defenders of national interests and by much of the public, including his political and intellectual competitors.

What has not yet been sufficiently underlined is that, notwithstanding the fraught domestic and international climate of the years 1947–54, the first relevant ideal contribution of Italy to European construction took place in this period, anticipating a long‐term convergent and distinctive approach to the primacy of European institution‐building. This happened thanks to the intellectual cooperation between De Gasperi and his European policy advisor, Altiero Spinelli. Together they advocated a European political union as a necessary framework for a European army, the heart of the EDC Treaty of 1952 (conceived by Jean Monnet and proposed by the French Minister Pleven). After discussions with Adenauer and Schuman, De Gasperi himself formalized this amendment in the first version of the Treaty, through the famous article 38. The failure of the EDC due to the negative vote by the French Assemblée nationale in 1954 led to the abandonment of this political demand for thirty years. When the author of the EDC article 38, Altiero Spinelli, re‐emerged with his idea of a European political union in 1981–4, he was able to unite a diverse array of national and European forces under this flag. With the public support of François Mitterrand, the first democratically elected European Parliament discussed and finally voted by an overwhelming majority in 1984 to establish the ‘Draft Treaty for a European Union’. In addition, these ideas of De Gasperi and Spinelli gradually became the common language of all anti‐fascist political parties in Italy including socialist and communist intellectuals.

How can we explain this relatively quick process of the ‘Europeanization’ of communist intellectuals? Italian communism is an expression of the traditional radicalism of the Italian left, a radical tradition which however never produced a revolution, instead evolving into the leading left‐wing party by supporting republican and reformist demands (Ginzborg 1989; La Palombara 1987; Salvadori 1999; Sassoon 1986). The growing European consensus between the 1970s and 1990s had three main functional drivers: firstly, the large majority of the population gradually considered Europe as not only the road to economic recovery after the war, but also as a market for Italy’s booming exports, and as a promise of enhanced prosperity. Nevertheless, the majority of the business community, weakened by twenty years of national protectionism and fascist autarchy, took some time to realize that the EC was an excellent market for Italian goods and an opportunity for economic growth. Secondly, for many the EC was an anchor of democratic consolidation in times of uncertainty: hard (p.130)bipolar cleavages in the context of international politics, domestic political terrorism, and illegality in southern regions because of the revival of the mafia.

Thirdly, as far as the Europeanization and democratization process of the communist movement is concerned, its early commitment to the Republican Constitution was gradually complemented by a new European consciousness: on the one hand, the impact of proximity to the large social‐democratic and Labour parties within the European parliamentary assembly, and on the other the belief that Europe offered the best framework for a ‘third way’ in international politics, or more precisely a strong European identity within the Western alliance, during the period of coexistence within the bipolar world.8

Despite domestic instability, there is evidence that by fostering a centripetal convergence of opposing leaders such as the Catholic intellectuals and political leaders Amintore Fanfani and Aldo Moro, the Italian communist movement, and the socialist camp among others played a major role in supporting European economic, social, monetary, and political integration – even before 1989 – as the best framework for both the modernization of domestic politics and economic prosperity.

Influential Italian intellectual thought underpinned this exceptionally large European consensus. The enthusiasm for Europe was so extensive that most Italians shared Spinelli’s criticism of the Single European Act of 1986 as being apolitical and functionalist. The intellectual driving forces behind these events are important to note. Firstly, the influence of European federalist thought within universities (notably in Turin, Pavia, and Siena) and civil society remains significant, thanks to the activists of an organized pro-European federalist movement led by Altiero Spinelli, Mario Albertini, and others, who were able to influence almost all the political party leaders.

Secondly, the commitment to a deeper and broader European idea held by leading intellectuals often played a major role in national public opinion during this ‘Habermasian’ epoch (1981–2005) which, expanding on the book’s introduction, should be defined as a ‘third golden age’ of the European debate (after the 1920s and 1950s). These intellectuals ranged from Umberto Eco to Massimo Cacciari, and from Claudio Magris to Biagio de Giovanni, among others, and were influential through their books and media presence (see for example Cacciari 1994; Eco 1994; Magris 1986; or, later on, De Giovanni 1992). Their opinions converge on the question of a European identity and public sphere, while they diverge on the issues of the relevance of the European(p.131) Greco‐Roman cultural past and its interplay with national identities. Cacciari and Eco emphasize the uniqueness of Europe as a continent of linguistic and cultural diversity. Although they all converge in supporting the political union and the Central and Eastern enlargement of the EU (even before the fall of the Berlin wall in the case of Magris, as is clear in his elaboration of the concept of Mitteleuropa), they disagree about the relevance of the federalist idea in framing the new era of European construction.

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