A Political Theory for Our Time

by Lucio Levi (Volume editor) Giampiero Bordino (Volume editor) Antonio Mosconi (Volume editor)
©2016 Edited Collection 468 Pages
Series: Federalism, Volume 7


This volume is a collection of essays published between 1999 and 2015 in the review The Federalist Debate. The book highlights the issue of federalism intended as a theoretical paradigm to interpret the major problems of our age, and in particular the issues of peace and war in a world characterized by an uncontrolled globalization.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Introduction
  • Part One
  • Old and New Shapes of Federalism
  • The Birth of Federal Union
  • A Complete and Indissoluble Union
  • The Birth of the UEF
  • Albert Einstein, Pacifist
  • Spinelli and the Ventotene Manifesto
  • Churchill and Hertenstein
  • The Relation between Politics and Culture in the Experience of the European Federalist Movement in Italy
  • The True Illusions
  • Ex Uno Plures: the European Road to a Cooperative Federalism
  • Spinelli’s Commitment for the European Constitution
  • In What Respects Will European Federalism Be Different?
  • Steps towards European and World Federalism
  • Multi-level Governance and Federalism
  • Democratic Decisions vs. Diplomatic Decisions
  • States Vote, People Do Not
  • Proposals for Europe: a Political and Moral Essay
  • Towards a Federal United Kingdom
  • Meade’s Social Dividend
  • Re-inventing the Welfare State
  • What Future for Federalism?
  • Part Two
  • European Unification: an Unaccomplished Project
  • Back to the Dream
  • From War to Peace
  • European Democracy is Valuable Too, not Just the Monetary Union
  • Europe Needs a Government
  • A Democratic Constitution for the European Union
  • Europe Needs to Renew its Vows for Federal Union
  • The Unaccomplished Way Toward the European Unity
  • A European Government to Get out of the Crisis
  • The Crisis and the Weakness of the European Demos
  • Europe and the World
  • The Union of the Peoples of Europe and the Example of Mandela
  • Europe’s Place in the World in the 21st Century
  • The Search for a European Identity: Who Are We?
  • Where Do the Boundaries of European Integration Lie?
  • The Eurozone, the Dynamic Core of a European Federation
  • The Eurozone in the IMF
  • A Federal Europe for Promoting a New Model of Growth
  • Europe by the People
  • European Citizenship to Residents
  • Strong European Political Parties for a Democratic EU
  • The European Citizens’ Initiative
  • Part Three
  • The Integration Processes at the Regional Level
  • Rethinking the “European Common Home”
  • New Myths about Russia and NATO
  • For a Euro-Mediterranean Community
  • The Arab Spring, Federalism and Euro-Arab Relations
  • Federal/Confederal Solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian-Jordanian Conflict
  • What Is Israel’s End-Game?
  • Reflections on Middle Eastern Regional Integration
  • Reconciling the Irreconcilable
  • Recent Developments of Regionalism in East Asia and Their Implications for Europe
  • The Regional Unification Processes in Asia
  • The Regional Integration Process of Central America
  • A Regional Criminal Court Against Transnational Organized Crime
  • Federalism and Decolonization in Black Africa
  • Part Four
  • The Contradictions of Globalization without Government
  • Who is Controlling Globalisation?
  • September 12: The World is not at Zero-Point
  • How Is the State Changing in the Globalization Process?
  • For a UN Emergency Force
  • Terrorism and World Government
  • World Security through World Law
  • The Global Promise of the Responsibility to Protect in Libya
  • From Hiroshima to Fukushima
  • A Global Climate Community
  • From a League of Failing Nations to a Global Community for the Environment
  • Global Warming: with a View to the 2015 UN World Conference in Paris
  • The Foundation of a Cooperative Global Financial System
  • The World Supremacy of the Dollar at the Rendering (1917-2008)
  • Adding the RMB into the SDR Basket: an Evaluation
  • A Constitution for the Internet
  • A People’s Assembly for the UN
  • Problems of Democratization
  • Opinion on World Government in the USA
  • The Security Council Reform
  • The ICC is a Reality International Law Applied over Individuals
  • Reforming the United Nations by the Convention Method
  • Editors Authors
  • Series Index

← 12 | 13 →


Lucio LEVI

The present book is a collection of articles published between 2000 and 2015 in the review The Federalist Debate1. The authors belong to different disciplines, political affiliations and nationalities. The distinguished names of many of them show that federalist ideas have found dissemination channels among the protagonists of European and world politics, the broad universe of civil society movements and intellectuals. It is sufficient to mention the Nobel Prize Amartya Sen, the former President of the European Commission Romano Prodi, several members of the European Parliament such as its former President, Josep Borrell and Andrew Duff, Barbara Spinelli, Jo Leinen, Guy Verhofstadt, UN officers, like the former Undersecretary-General Brian Urquhart, or the actor, writer and world federalist leader Peter Ustinov, the leaders of civil society movements like Carsten Berg, Garry Davis, Ludo Dierickx, Fernando Iglesias, Paul Oriol and Bill Pace, distinguished writers and analysts like Daniel Elazar, Daniel Gros, George Modelski, John Pinder, Stefano Rodotà, Dusan Sidjanski, Tzvetan Todorov, Nadia Urbinati.

It is up to the readers to assess the merits and faults of this book, but what seems unquestionable is that, although the vision and viewpoints of the texts collected here are rooted in different and, at times, distant cultural and political experiences, they share largely convergent interpretations of the main trends of contemporary history. As regards the task of detecting the sense of contemporary history, political debate assumes a crucial importance, since the confrontation between different ideas and cultural experiences, the free exchange of opinions is the most effective method for gradually approaching truth through the constant questioning of every aspect of a problem and the continuous testing of hypotheses against facts. This is the method adopted in the choice of the texts reproduced here. They offer hypotheses, formulated in the spirit of dialogue, which can contribute to improve the understanding of some of the most important problems of the contemporary world and to the debate on their solution. ← 13 | 14 →

In our time, the dynamics of history is driven by the search of ever wider human aggregations including many states and many nations. We are in an age of transition from the time of nation-states to the era of multinational states and global politics. The fact is that European unification – and other regional integration processes, which are in progress according to an uneven development all over the world – and the strengthening and democratization of the United Nations are issues on the political agenda since the end of the Second World War. This means that, in spite of the shortcomings of the regional organizations and the UN, due to the fact that the construction of those institutions is still unaccomplished, they have become necessary elements of the international political and economic landscape.

Federalism is a new paradigm of politics, a new political thinking which allows to understand and govern this transition process. The title of this book – Federalism. A Political Theory for Our Time – has been chosen in order to suggest the topical interest of federalism as political thought which aims to abolish war and build peace through law, and more precisely through the extension of the rule of law to international relations. The significance of the federalizing processes, in progress in the world according to a principle of uneven development, lies in the overcoming of the separation between domestic and international politics through the constitutionalization of international relations.

Federalism did not assert itself overnight. The world is changing and federalism has changed with it. Today, federalism still exists in an unfinished state. It is not a closed and static political project nor a timeless theoretical system. It is an unaccomplished theory, which is constantly evolving in response to the new problems which history is raising relentlessly. It has been ripening slowly along three stages of development.

The Federalist Debate has strived to offer a modest contribution to the interpretation of the main trends in contemporary history. Moreover, federalism has challenged nationalism and the division of the world into sovereign states, which have been put progressively on the defensive. The need for peace and unity is asserting itself slowly but constantly first in Europe, then globally. Therefore, I devote this introduction to sketch the framework within which the historical and political evolution of federalist thinking took place.


* *

The birth of federalism dates back to 1787, when the members of the Philadelphia Convention drafted and signed the Constitution of the United States of America, a new form of state, that it has become customary to call “Federation”. At the beginning, the political project to which we are used ← 14 | 15 → to give the name of “Federalism” had a regional size and an institutional aspect only. For a long time it remained a marginal political model, if we consider that until World War Two only three other states adopted a federal constitution: Switzerland (1848), Canada (1867) and Australia (1901). It is to be noted that they were established in peripheral regions of the world, where the centralizing pressure exerted by power politics and class struggle was weaker than in the leading centres of world politics. The establishment of federalism in one part of the world started to show its contradictions when in the 1900s the historical conditions for isolationism became obsolete and the United States started to gradually transform itself into a great power. Such a weak form of political organization as the federal is, in which sovereignty is not concentrated in one centre, but is articulated on two – and potentially several – government levels, could only establish itself in a marginal region. The North American federal institutions have survived since then because they were a sort of political island shielded by the sea from the power clashes that always have divided the States in international politics. When the United States was compelled to intervene in the two World Wars and after 1945 it became one of the two pillars of the world order, it was driven to modify its institutional structure in the direction of authoritarianism, nationalism and militarism. Today, it is the living example of how federalism is destined to degenerate in one country while its full realization can occur only at world level.

The prevailing form of political organization was the unitary state, based on the national ideology, whose structure was adapted to ensure cohesion between classes and regions and the states’ survival in a world of sovereign nations clashing with one another. In the Westphalian world, where states do not recognize any supranational authority, mankind’s division in sovereign states was an insurmountable obstacle. All Federations in existence so far are sovereign states in a world divided into sovereign states. Therefore, the first forms of federal government belong to the same phase in history in which the national states were formed and share their logic of division and antagonism. They have not questioned the principle of the division of mankind into antagonistic states, but have accepted international anarchy, power politics and war as necessary and permanent features of political life. Thus, the form of political unity they have pursued does not substantially differ from that of the decentralized unitary states.


* *

The First World War marks a turning point in contemporary history, the moment which saw the birth of the new concept of “crisis the of nation-state”, the foundation stone of the autonomous vision of history ← 15 | 16 → of federalism in our time. It has the same relevance that the concepts of “crisis of absolute monarchy” and “crisis of capitalism” have respectively in the liberal and in the socialist and communist theories. The importance and function of these concepts is to identify a basic contradiction and to formulate a comprehensive assessment of a phase of history. What distinguishes contemporary federalism is that it challenges and questions the pretense of nationalism to be the theory of the highest form of political community. The stream of history, spurred by the second phase of the industrial mode of production, aimed irresistibly to enlarge the dimension of economic, social and political processes from the nation-state to the multinational state. This is the second phase in the history of federalism.

As the nation-state was the product of the industrial revolution and the driving force of coal and steam-engine, likewise the second phase of industrial revolution, fostered by the driving force of electricity and the internal combustion engine, promoted the formation and the predominance of multinational states and the decline of nation-states. The bedrock of the international system, the sovereignty of the nation-state, was subject to substantial erosion. Therefore, a world state system, led by the United States and the Soviet Union, replaced the declining European state system.

It is worth recollecting that two leading figures of the liberal (Einaudi) and the communist movement (Trotsky), in spite of the distance of their viewpoints, have come to largely convergent interpretations of World War One. At the start of World War One, Trotsky wrote:

At the root of the present war there is the revolt of the productive forces brought up by capitalism against the way the national state employs them […]. The old national states […] are obsolete and have turned into chains for the further development of the productive forces. The war of 1914 constitutes first of all the crisis of the national state as a self-sufficient economic area […]. In such historical conditions, the solution for the European proletariat cannot but imply the defence of the obsolete fatherland, which has become the main obstacle to economic progress: the mandatory task is to create a new fatherland, much more powerful and stable, the United States of Europe as a transitional phase towards the United States of the world.2

Einaudi, in two articles published in Corriere della Sera in 1918, finds the root of the crisis of the national state, along the same line of Trotsky’s interpretation, in the strong increase of economic interdependence:

“When matters subject to discussion and deliberation have an international nature, they cannot be discussed and decided by municipal Parliaments. Above the states, become small, almost as big counties, and their deliberating ← 16 | 17 → bodies, there must form, there have been ideally constituted already, larger states, government bodies different from the normal ones”.3

Exactly like Trotsky, Einaudi defines war as a sign of the need of Europe’s unity:

“The present war is the condemnation of European unity imposed by force by a bold Empire; but it is also the bloody effort to frame a political form of a higher order”.4 He too considers European unity as a stage on the road to world unity: “To the United States of America there should be opposed or associated the United States of Europe, awaiting the birth in a later moment of human civilization of the United States of the world”.5

Unlike Trotsky, Einaudi is aware of the institutional innovation brought by the Philadelphia Convention, which drafted the federal Constitution of the United States of America, “transforming a shadow, an unreal society of nations ready to split and fight each other, into a single State of a higher order than the 13 confederated states”.6 Moreover, according to the federalist tradition, Einaudi believes that state sovereignty is the ultimate cause of war. Therefore, peace cannot be but the result of unity of the states under a Constitution giving birth to a democratic government, granted the necessary powers to forbid and avert the use of force in the relations among states. What is peculiar to the federalist theory is that the cause of war is not ascribed to certain internal structures of the state (for example, the capitalist system, as maintained by the Marxist theory), but to the mere division of the world into sovereign states, as a consequence of which, whatever the political regime and production system it must yield to the law of force to defend its independence. If international anarchy is a typical feature of the international relations, it can only be overcome by federal institutions. The novelty of this phase of development of federalist thinking lies in the fact that federal institutions present themselves not only as a new form of state, but also as a new form of international organization, i.e. a step toward constitutionalizing international relations first at the European level, then worldwide. This means that the overcoming of the separation between domestic and international politics becomes conceivable. At the same time, federalism appears as an alternative to traditional ideologies, which have accepted the nation-states as the natural framework for their action and have been dragged along the downward phase of their trajectory. From this time on, federal institutions do not appear only as the vehicle for the merger ← 17 | 18 → of a group of states and the creation of a new state on the area covered by many states. They become to be viewed as the vehicle to pursue a universal end: uniting Europe to unite the world. In other words, European Federation can pave the way to uniting the peoples of all countries in a World Federation and to building perpetual peace.

The European system of sovereign states, codified with the Peace of Westphalia (1648), was supplanted in 1945 after the end of the Second World War by the world system composed of two superpowers of macro-regional dimensions, the United States and the Soviet Union. This date marks the beginning of a new era: the era of international organizations, which is characterized by the need to submit international relations to the rule of law. Governments’ answer to global interdependence and globalization has been international cooperation, not by choice, but due to the absence of alternatives. In fact, there is no national answer to global problems. The ever more frequent creation of international organizations at the regional and global levels represents the way taken by governments for finding a solution to problems that they cannot solve alone. A quantitative datum is sufficient to appreciate the importance of the phenomenon: the incredible speed at which their number grew during the 20th century. According to a comprehensive criterion (utilized by the Yearbook of International Organizations) for classifying international organizations, that includes not only the ones instituted by states at regional and world level, but also those promoted by international organizations, they were 37 in 1909, and have grown to 7,608 in 2011.7

World War One was concluded with the founding of the League of Nations and World War II with the creation of the United Nations. Those institutions represent the first attempt to ensure world peace through specific institutions, but they were not endowed with an independent power to pursue that goal. Owing to their confederal – not federal – structure, they were subordinate to the member states. Therefore, the scourge of war has continued to lash the world.

In this new historical context, federalism presents itself as the most radical and innovative political proposal in comparison with the weaker formulas of international cooperation or international organization. In fact it puts forward the establishment of an independent supranational level of government, coordinated with the lower levels of government, and the extension of democracy from the national to the international plane.

Until the end of the Second World War, both European and world federalism appeared as distant final goals, which had no possibility to influence history. In fact, only during the second post-war period have ← 18 | 19 → the first political movements been constituted with the aim to pursue the goals of European (1946) and World Federation (1947).

There is no doubt that the most important achievement in the construction of peace in the post-2nd world war period was the establishment of the European Communities and the European Union. After centuries of warfare, Europe has never before lived so long in peace. The Ventotene Manifesto is the most significant document of the European Resistance movement. It was written by Altiero Spinelli and Ernesto Rossi with a preface by Eugenio Colorni in 1941, when Hitler, after the conquest of France, launched the attack on Russia and swastika flags were waving all over the European continent. The Manifesto marks the overcoming of the old vision of the world according to which the nation-state is the centre of the political universe and the world rotates around it. The significance of Spinelli’s work lies in his commitment to free himself from the state-centric point of view. The most important message launched by the Manifesto is that, in the age of the crisis of the nation-state and the internationalization of the production process, a new dividing line cuts across the forces of progress and those of conservatism: the line that separates federalism and nationalism. Those who choose the nations as the ground of their political commitment, even if their goal is to realize more democracy or more socialism, place themselves on the side of conservatism, because their political action consolidates the national states. Consequently, the objective to be pursued, first of all by those who want to promote progress, is the commitment to overcome Europe’s and the world’s division into sovereign states. European unification has proceeded more slowly than the authors of the Manifesto expected. But what proves their far-sightedness is that the first European Community (the European Coal and Steel Community) was created only ten years after the Manifesto was written.

The end of the Second World War marked the starting point of European unification under the protecting shield of the United States and the Atlantic Alliance. It is the expression of the need of the European nation-states to federate in order to acquire a macro-regional dimension and to enable them to compete with giant states which have risen to the leadership in world economy and politics, like the United States, the Soviet Union, China and India.

World War II marked the defeat of the last attempt at unifying Europe under the hegemony of the mightiest state of the system (Germany), but also the decline of the sovereignty of the European winners of the war (France and Great Britain), and the start of European unification. What distinguishes the institutions of the European Union is a general tendency towards constitutionalizing international relations. Institutions like the ← 19 | 20 → European Parliament – directly elected and endowed with a legislative co-decision power with the Council and a control power towards the European Commission – or the euro, the single European currency, show that the Union has gone beyond the traditional forms of cooperation which characterize international organizations. The constitutional construction site of the European Union is the laboratory of a new form of statehood.

On the other hand, the constitutional gradualism which characterises the construction stages of European unification – which is far from being concluded – shows that the overcoming of nations consolidated by centuries of independent state life cannot occur through a big qualitative leap, but requires an incremental approach. It is to be underlined the profound difference between American and European federalism. While the thirteen states of North America were small states which had just acquired their independence and had trifling power in world politics, the novelty of European federalism lies in its attempt to unify the historical nations of the Old Continent some of which have been established after centuries of conflicts and wars. This observation is sufficient to conclude that European federation cannot be achieved through a qualitative leap (examplified by the precedent of the Philadelphia Convention, which in four months drew up a federal constitution), but rather through an incremental process.

The EU is an example of how nation-states can change their way of settling disputes by moving from power politics to the rule of law. Violence as an instrument for interstate conflict resolution has been abandoned and replaced by a mutually agreed legal order. European unification is the process of constructing peace through a progressive constitutionalization of inter-state relations. The Commission, the Parliament, the Court of Justice, the Central Bank now regulate what were once considered the domestic affairs of the nation-states. Therefore, the EU can be defined as a post-Westphalian community.

In spite of this success, the EU is an unaccomplished project, it still has limited capacities for action. Its budget is below 1% of the European GDP, its foreign and security policy has not been unified yet. Two visions of the future coexist in the EU: the one of the Eurozone countries, which tends to a political union, and the British one, which conceives the EU as a market. It is an alternative that can be solved only through a two-speed Europe with a federal core and a less integrated outer ring. The perspective of a two-speed Europe is not to be feared. It is already a reality, as the euro and Schengen free movement space show. What is important is that the core of states which want to proceed toward the federal target stays open in order to avoid exclusions and discriminations. ← 20 | 21 →


* *

Globalization marks the beginning of the third phase of development in the history of federalism.

Globalization is the product of a turning point in the evolution of the modes of production, which dates back to second half of the last century: the scientific revolution in material production. There is a specific relation between the globalization process, which is nothing but a process of economic and social integration at the world level, and the scientific mode of production. In our time, scientific knowledge has become the main force of production, the driving power of economic and social progress. The scientific revolution changes the form and size of the economic and social life. Automation frees man from the fatigue of manual labor and increases the quantity of material goods necessary to satisfy basic needs. The revolution in communications and transport technologies has intensified the world-wide flow of capital and commodities and large-scale migrations, and has facilitated the circulation of information and cultural models. The social integration process extends itself beyond state boundaries, and creates the bases for unification of mankind. Scientific revolution imposes, in sum, on all the sectors of social life a much wider dimension than that of sovereign states, even the biggest ones. This process creates the economic and social conditions not only for a global civil society and global market, but also for worldwide political institutions. In other words, the great technological and social changes of our time require parallel changes in the sphere of political institutions.

The most significant aspect of globalization affects the sphere of politics. Its peculiar character lies in the contradiction between a market and a society that have been taking global dimensions and a system of states that has remained national. Therefore, globalization triggers a tension between the development of those forces of production that are unifying the world and the structures of the states, which should, but cannot, govern the process because of their dimension.


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2016 (October)
Bruxelles, Bern, Berlin, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2016. 466 pp.

Biographical notes

Lucio Levi (Volume editor) Giampiero Bordino (Volume editor) Antonio Mosconi (Volume editor)

Lucio Levi is Professor of Political Science and Comparative Politics at the University of Turin. He was President of the European Federalist Movement from 2009 to 2015. He is editor of the review The Federalist Debate and scientific Director of the International Democracy Watch. He edited with Giovanni Finizio and Nicola Vallinoto the First International Democracy Report, published as The Democratization of International Institutions (2013). He is the author of several books on federalism, European integration, globalization and international organizations. Giampiero Bordino is president of the Einstein Center for International Studies (CESI) in Turin and a member of the editorial staff and contributor of the review The Federalist Debate. He has published historical essays and manuals, in particular on contemporary history. He writes about issues relating to European unity, supranational federalism and the globalization process. Antonio Mosconi has been controller of Fiat Group and Managing Director of Teksid, Fiatimpresit, Toro Assicurazioni and Utet. He is the former President of the Einstein Centre for International Studies. He is the author of several essays on the automotive sector and the international monetary system.


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