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A Series in Social Thought and Cultural Criticism
Lawrence D. Kritzman, Editor
European Perspectives presents outstanding books by leading Euro-
pean thinkers. With both classic and contemporary works, the series
aims to shape the major intellectual controversies of our day and to
facilitate the tasks of historical understanding.
For a complete list of books in the series, see pages 199-202
Nihilism 8Emancipation
Edited by Santiago Zabala
Translated by William McCuaig
Uh "
Columbia University Press
Publishers Since 1893
NewYork Chichester, West Sussex
Translation copyright 2004 Columbia University Press
Italian original, Nichilismo ed emancipazione: Etica, politica, diritto,
copyright 2003 Garzanti Libra s.p.a.
All rights reserved
The translation of this work has been funded by SEPS
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Vattimo, Gianni, 1936-
(Nichilismo ed emancipazione. English)
Nihilism and emancipation: ethics, politics and law IGianni Vattimo ;
edited by Santiago Zabala; translated byWilliam McCuaig.
p. cm. - (European perspectives)
Includes bibliographical references ( p. ) and index.
ISBN 0-231-13082-1 (cloth: alk. paper)
1. Political science-Philosophy. 2. Socialism. 3 Nihilism. 4 Ethics.
5. Heidegger, Martin. 1889-1976. 6. Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm,
. I. Zabala, Santiago. 1975- . H. Title. III. Series.
Part I. E I ~ i c s
1. Postmodernity, Technology, Ontology 3
2. Philosophy and the Decline of the West 21
3. Ethics of Provenance 37
4. Liberty and Peace in the Postmodern Condition 49
5. Ethics Without Transcendence? 60
6. Pain and Metaphysics 71
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Columbia University Press books are printed on
permanent and durable acid-free paper.
Printed in the United States of America
Designed by Linda Secondari
c109 8 7 6 543
Foreword by Richard Rorty ix
Editor's Preface xxi
Introduction xxv
Part 11. pulnics
7. Philosophy, Metaphysics, Democracy 81
8. Hermeneutics and Democracy 90
9. AProject for the Left 102
10. Socialism, in Other Words Europe 114
11. Globalization and the Relevance of Socialism
Part Ill. Law
12. Doing the Law Justice 133
13. An Apology for Proceduralism 15
14. On the Externality of Crimes and Pumshments 163
Notes 173
Bibliography 183
Index 187
Richa rd Rorty
ianni Vattimo is a prominent social democratic politician, a
widely read newspaper columnist, and a distinguished phi-
losopher. He was elected in 1999 to the European Parliament,
where he has been very active in promoting progressive social
legislation and in furthering European unification. For decades,
his comments on the political scene in Italy and Europe have
appeared in La stampa and other leading Italian newspapers and
magazines; he is currently using those media to unleash fierce
criticisms of the Berlusconi regime. His philosophical writings,
of which this volume provides a rich sample, are among the most
imaginative contributions to the tradition of philosophical
thought that flows from Nietzsche and Heidegger.
These writings are perfectly suited to the needs of those hith-
erto unfamiliar with this tradition who would like to gain an
understanding of the intellectual outlook he calls "nihilism:'
This way of seeing things might also be called "commonsense
Heideggerianism;' for it is widespread, and often taken for
granted, among European intellectuals. Many philosophers who,
like Vattimo and Derrida, were students in the 1950S, were deeply
impressed by Heidegger essays such as "Letter on Humanism;'
"The Question Concerning Technology;' "The Origin of the
Work of Art" and "Nietzsche's Word: God is Dead:' Many of
thempresuppose, in their own writings, their readers' familiarity
with Heidegger's story about the history of Western thought-
his account of how the Platonic dream of escaping from Becom-
ing to Being has been dreamt out, and how brought
metaphysics to its destined end by inverting Plato, glVlng Becom-
ing primacy over Being. . .
Commonsense Heideggerianism has little to do eIther WIth
Husserlian phenomenology or with existentialism. It drops (as
Heidegger himself did) the notions of and "res-
oluteness" that were prominent in Being and TIme and that
Sartre reworked in Being and Nothingness. Nor does it take
either Heidegger's idiosyncratic retranslations of
texts, or his peculiar interpretations of figures such as LeIbmz
and Kant, with any great seriousness. But it does accept the
main outlines of the story that Heidegger called, portentously
enough, "the history of Being:' ..
According to this story, Nietzsche marks the pomt at whICh
it became impossible for Western intellectuals to believe what
Plato had taught: that there is something stable for human
beings to rely on, a fixed point in the changing :,orld
which to rally. Simultaneously, it became impossIble to belIeve
that there is some privileged vocabulary-even Nietzsche's own
talk of the will to power or the jargon of the early Heidegger's
"ontology of Dasein"-in which to state the final truth about
the human situation. For, as Hegel had already realized, we are
historical creatures, continually remaking ourselves by
redescribing ourselves. The hope for finality is futile. Philoso-
phers should stop looking for necessary and universal "concep-
tual" truths and should realize that concepts are as malleable as
any other social institutions. " . .. "
Vattimo calls this Heideggerian outlook mhIhsm because
it is not a positive doctrine but rather a series of negations-
denials that any proposed principle or jargon or insight enjoys
a privileged reality to the nature of man or of the universe, for
the idea that either of these has a nature is no longer credible.
Vattimo wants to show howleftist political and social initiatives
can not only survive but can profit from jettisoning traditional
philosophical attempts to reveal such things as The Ultimate
Nature of Reality or The Ultimate Meaning of Human Life.
Heidegger was a passionately committed Nazi and a thor-
oughly dishonest man. His life provides further evidence that
genius, among philosophers as well as among artists and scien-
tists, has no particular connection with ordinary human
decency. Many find it hard to imagine that any good could
come from reading such a writer. Such readers may find it ludi-
crous that Vattimo should treat Heidegger's account of moder-
nity as the best theoretical background for leftist social and
political initiatives. The very idea of a Heideggerian social
democrat may strike them as absurd. But reading this book
might help to persuade them that leftist politics would indeed
benefit from giving up on Enlightenment rationalism. They
may come to agree with Vattimo that nihilism and emancipa-
tion do, in fact, go hand in hand.
Heidegger is often described as an irrationalist, and his puta-
tive irrationalism is often linked to his Nazism. But it is easy to
forget that John Dewey-America's most influential social
democratic thinker-was also repeatedly accused of irrational-
ism and that Dewey's and Heidegger's criticisms of the Western
philosophical tradition have much in common. Both the most
important German intellectual to have supported Hitler and
the philosopher whose writings helped shape American leftist
thought from the Progressive Era to the New Deal urged us to
abandon the rationalism common to Plato, Descartes, and
Kant. After skimming through Heidegger's Being and Time,
Dewey said that it sounded like his own Experience and Nature
"translated into transcendental German:' Had Dewey lived to
read Heidegger's later writings, he might have seen them as tak-
ing up themes from his own The Quest for Certainty.
Vattimo is, of course, not the only eminent philosophy pro-
fessor who has, in recent decades, been active and influential on
the political left. But most of the others are suspicious of what
he calls "nihilism:' Aleading contemporary American philoso-
pher oflaw, Ronald Dworkin, has done a great deal for the cause
of social justice through his analyses of issues in constitutional
jurisprudence in The New York Review of Books. Jurgen
mas's frequent contributions to such publications as Die Zelt
have done the sort of good for the German left that Dewey's
forty years' worth of contributions to magazines like The
Nation and The New Republic did for the American left. But
Dworkin and Habermas have little use for Nietzsche. They
remain faithful to an intellectual legacy that Vattimo thinks it
would be better for the left to renounce.
Dworkin has nothing but contempt for Heideggerian
approaches to such notions as objectivity and truth. Habermas
concedes more to the "relativist" side of controversies about
such topics than does Dworkin; he is willing, for example, to
follow Dewey in abandoning the correspondence theory of
truth. But Habermas regrets Heidegger's pervasive influence on
recent European philosophical thought. Both Dworkin and
Habermas insist on retaining various Kantian ideas that Vat-
timo urges us to reject. So Vattimo is currently the most salient
example of a philosopher who argues that the left's political
purposes will be better served if we stop talking about uncon-
ditional moral obligations, universal validity claims, and tran-
scendental presuppositions of rational inquiry.
Philosophers such as Vattimo, Derrida, and myself have
become convinced-some of us by reading Hegel and Dewey,
some by reading Heidegger, some by reading both-that phi-
losophy should no longer aim at revealing the ultimate context
of existence-a context that, while not merely biologi-
cal, IS nevertheless transcultural and ahistorical. Candidates for
such a context include, obviously, the Platonic realm of pure
Forms Kant's transcendental conditions of the possibility
of expenence. But they also include the materialists' Ultimate
of Physical Reality, the theists' divine commands, the
moral law, and Marx's inevitable movement of history.
Heldegger lumps Lucretius, Augustine, Kant, and Marx together as
examples ofwhat he calls, moreor less interchangeably,"metaphysics"or
.Vattimo describes those of us who agree that metaphysics, in
broad is no longer worth pursuing as trying to make
Into an hermeneutic discipline. To think of philoso-
phy III that way means accepting Nietzsche's claim that "there are
no facts, only interpretations:' That claim epitomizes the thought
that none of the words human beings have invented to describe
themselves and their environment enjoy a special relation to real-
ity. So there is no division to be made between areas of culture in
which we seek correspondence to reality and those in which we
do not-disciplines in which there is a "matter of fact" to be dis-
covered and other, "softer" disciplines. To give up on the idea that
either human beings or nonhuman reality has a nature to which
true .statements correspond is to put everything up for grabs, to
admit .that we are at the mercy of the contingencies of history.
ThiS means that the best that philosophers (or anybody else)
can hope to do is to say how things are with human beings now,
as contrasted with how they once were and how they might
someday be. So philosophy ceases to be ancillary either to the-
ology or to natural science. Instead, it takes the form of histori-
cal narrative and utopian speculation. For leftists like Vattimo
and Dewey, it becomes ancillary to sociopolitical initiatives
aimed at making the future better than the past.
Vattimo thinks that philosophers should stop trying to
rewrite Kant's Critique of Pure Reason. They should instead
rewrite the narratives offered in Vico's New Science, Hegel's Phe-
nomenology ofSpirit, Comte's and Marx's stories of progress, and
Nietzsche's account (in Twilight of the Idols) of "How'The True
World' Became a Fable:' Part of this rewriting should consist in
removing any suggestion of inevitability, any hint that story
being told is itself more than another possible
The other task that remains for philosophy is what Vatt1mo
calls "the task of secularization ... the unmasking of the sacral-
ity of all absolute, ultimate truths:' This task will. never be
pleted, he says, because "the springs of metaphyslCal
ianism will never run dry:' and so "antifoundationahsm 1tself 1S
at risk of hardening into a metaphysics:' Every narrative written
in support of some leftist emancipatory project runs the risk of
degenerating into yet another claim to have gotten beyo.nd
interpretation to hard fact, beyond contingency to necess1ty,
beyond historical specificity to universality.. .."
What I have dubbed "commonsense He1deggenamsm pro-
duces what Vattimo calls the "general tendency of contempo-
rary philosophy to think of itself as a 'sociology: or as a theory
of modernity:' By "contemporary philosophy:' he of course
means philosophy in most European and Latin American
tries, as contrasted with the analytic tradition that is dommant
in the philosophy departments of the English-speaking world.
In the latter departments, few people offer (or would bother to
read) a theory of modernity. Most British and American teach-
ers of philosophy regard theirs as a quasi-scientific, problem-
solving discipline-one that has nothing in to
with either history or sociology and that should culmmate m
theories rather than narratives. Analytic philosophy is still, for
the most part, "metaphysical" in the pejorative sense He.i-
degger gave to that term. It still hopes to place human h1story m
an ahistorical context and thus to offer something more than
just one more historically determined interpretation, one more
response to the transitory problems of the present.
Although many philosophers in the analytic tradition (for
example, such admirers of the later Wittgenstein as Donald
Davidson and Robert Brandom) have provided valuable
ammunition for use against the legacy of Platonic and Kantian
rationalism, the mainstream of analytic philosophy is continu-
ous with what Heidegger called "onto-theology:' For what
might be called "the common sense of analytic philosophy"
consists in the belief that natural science enjoys a privileged
relation to the way things really are. Philosophers who take this
common sense for granted in their writings do not share
Thomas Kuhn's and Hilary Putnam's doubts that inquiry in the
natural sciences converges to an accurate representation of the
nature of things. They think of such doubts as lending
a1d and comfort to an insidious relativism, one that is likely to
spread from the philosophy of science to moral philosophy and
thereby undermine leftists' attempts to achieve social justice.
But even analytic philosophers who are receptive to Kuhn's
and Putnam's debunking of the idea that natural science is
ontologically or epistemologically privileged are likely to scoff
at Vattimo's suggestion that Heideggerianism is just what social
democracy needs. Ever since the early 1930S, when Carnap, a
good leftist who was forced into exile by Hitler, squared off
against Heidegger, an opportunistic Nazi, it has been part of the
self-image of analytic philosophy that it is fighting on the side
of social justice. Many analytic philosophers think that Heideg-
gerianism not only rots the mind but corrupts morals.
This suspicion extends back to Hegel, whom Karl Popper,
another of the initiators of the analytic tradition in philosophy,
interpreted as a precursor of totalitarianism. Bertrand Russell,
another founder of the movement, also wrote of Hegel with
contempt. So many analytic philosophers still think of Hegel
and Heidegger as enemies of human freedom. The idea that
reading either might assist us in our thinking about sociopolit-
ical problems strikes them as ludicrous. That is why those two
authors are infrequently taught in British and American philos-
ophy departments, while remaining staples of instruction else-
where in the world.
For Vattimo the shoe is on the other foot. It is the analytic
moral philosophers who are concerned to preserve the Platonic
and Kantian notion of unconditional obligation who are giving
aid and comfort to authoritarianism. Whereas these philoso-
phers believe that appeal to such obligations gives us a defense
against the fascists, Vattimo sees Kant's moral philosophy as a
poisoned chalice. For the Kantian idea that sufficient rational
reflection will lead you to make the right moral choice, and
would have led any rational being to make the same choice
regardless of the epoch in which he lived, should itself be seen
as a relic of authoritarianism. It is an attempt to attribute ulti-
mate authority to a quasi-divinity called Reason, and it is no
better than the attempt to attribute such authority to God. It is
one more attempt to say, "What I am saying is not just one more
interpretation; it is true:'
According to the view that Vattimo shares with Heidegger,
the Platonic-Kantian idea that Reason can cut through preju-
dice and superstition and lead one toward truth and justice is,
just as Nietzsche suggested, merely an etiolated version of the
Platonic-Augustinian idea that the immortal part of us can tri-
umph over the animal part. It substitutes the philosophers' con-
temptuous suggestion that people who act badly are irrational,
and therefore less than fully human, for the priests' threat that
they will suffer postmortem punishment.
Heideggerians like Derrida and Vattimo (and also revision-
ist Hegelians such as Terry Pinkard and Robert Pippin) are
happy to agree with the scientific materialists that we have no
immortal part and no faculty that puts us in touch with the
eternal. We are simply animals that can talk and so can praise
and blame one another, discuss what should be done, and insti-
tute social practices to see that it is done. What lifts us above the
other animals is just our ability to participate in such practices.
To be rational, for these philosophers, is not to possess a truth-
tracking faculty. It is simply to be conversable.
Heidegger, once he gave up being a Nazi, did not adopt a dif-
ferent political position. He simply despaired of the modern
world, which he saw as dominated by a blind faith in technol-
ogy. He mocked the hope that concrete political initiatives
could make any difference to its fate. As Vattimo says, "The fact
is that both Heidegger and Adorno never escaped from a vision
of technology dominated by the model of the motor and
mechanical energy, so for them modern technology could do
nothing except bring about a society subordinated to a central
power dispatching commands to a purely passive periphery, as
gear wheels are driven, whether these commands were mechan-
ical impulses, political propaganda, or commercial advertising."
In contrast, Vattimo asks us to consider that "the possibility
of overcoming metaphysics ... really opens up only when the
technology-at any rate the socially hegemonic technology-
ceases to be mechanical and becomes electrical: information
and communication technology:' One of his most distinctive
contributions to philosophical thinking is the suggestion that
the Internet provides a model for things in general-that think-
ing about the World Wide Web helps us to get away from Pla-
tonic essentialism, the quest for underlying natures, by helping
us see everything as a constantly changing network of relations.
The result of adopting this model is what Vattimo calls "a weak
ontology, or better an ontology of the weakening of Being."
Such an ontology, he argues, "supplies philosophical reasons for
preferring a liberal, tolerant, and democratic society rather than
an authoritarian and totalitarian one:'
"Weak thought" (n pensiero debole) was the title of a much-
read collection of essays by various Italian philosophers that
Vattimo co-edited in 1983. The contributors had all been
impressed both by the later Heidegger and by the later Wittgen-
stein. They turned Wittgenstein's criticism of his own Tractatus
as juvenile picture-thinking into a supplement to Heidegger's
criticism of metaphysics. They turned Heidegger's criticism of
Nietzsche as a power freak against the apocalyptic tone that
Heidgger himself adopted. Like Wittgenstein, they hoped
philosophers would stop thinking of their discipline as capable
of taking charge of the intellectual or moral worlds.
Vattimo continues to use "weak" as a term of praise and to
caution against the temptation to erect nihilism into one more
metaphysics-one more claim about the one true context in
which human lives must be lived. The Internet is a model of
weak thinking because everything that appears on it is continu-
ally being recontextualized and reinterpreted as new links are
added. It is thus a model of human existence as centerless and
historically contingent and an example of what Vattimo calls
"the dissolution of the principle of reality into the manifold of
In a "weak" conception, morality is not a matter of uncon-
ditional obligations imposed by a divine or quasi-divine
authority but rather is something cobbled together by a group
of people trying to adjust to their circumstances and achieve
their goals by cooperative efforts. That is howDewey thought of
morality and howVattimo urges us to think of it. Whereas those
concerned to preserve the legacy of Plato and Kant think that
adopting this conception of morality will lead to "relativism"
and moral flabbiness, Vattimo thinks that it will produce a
desirable humility about our own moral intuitions and about
the social institutions to which we have become accustomed.
This humility will encourage tolerance for other intuitions and
a willingness to experiment with ways of refashioning or replac-
ing institutions.
Vattimo sees this humility as an antidote to the pridefulness
characteristic of those who claim to be obeying unconditional,
ahistorical, transcultural, categorical imperatives. Adopting this
"weak" attitude toward our moral obligations is, he thinks, the
culmination of a long-drawn-out process of secularization. He
interprets Heidegger's definition of "the West, the Abendland, as
the place of the going down of Being" as "a recognition of the
profound vocation of the West, which has constituted itself as the
site [probably contraryto Heidegger's own self-interpretation] of
. .. a series of secularizations." He views the history of the West as
constituted by "interpretations that one after another have
u n ~ e r m i n e d the pretended absoluteness of the 'principles' on
:hlCh th.e West was based." An emblematic case of this, he says, is
the ebbmg away of the literal mode of understanding the Bible."
This last example is of particular importance for Vattimo,
who in his book Beliej! writes "in Christianity I find the origi-
nal 'text' of which weak ontology is the transcription" and that
"the rediscovery of Christianity is made possible by the dissolu-
tion of metaphysics." He is impatient with what he calls "the
scandalously superstitious character of much of the official
teaching of today's [Catholic] Church." But he interprets the
Christian message of kenosis-the emptying out of God into
man that was the Incarnation-as a prefiguration of nihilism,
as a wholesale and complete transfer of authority from the non-
human to the human.
By his account, the growing refusal by European Christians
to. accept the authority of ecclesiastical institutions is of a piece
WIth contemporary intellectuals' inability to viewphilosophical
reflection as a way of escaping from historical contingency. So
for Vattimo, secularization is Christianity by other means. Both
represent the triumph oflove over law, of kindness over obedi-
ence. He sees the gradual rise of the modern Western social
democracies and the gradual decline of "onto-theology" as
signs that human beings are losing the need to feel themselves
subject to the eternal and are becoming courageous enough to
endure the thought of their own mortality.
Vattimo's way of weaving together Heidegger, Christianity,
and socialism is as audacious as it is original. Different as his out-
look is from Habermas's, these two philosophers' writings are
both good examples of philosophical and historical e r u d i t i o ~
yoked to the service of leftist political initiatives. Different as hIS
tone is from Dewey's, Vattimo nevertheless stands in the same
relation to Heidegger's revulsion against technology, and to his
debilitating nostalgia, as Dewey stood to Carlyle's and Henry
Adams's despair over modernity. These translations ofVattimo's
recent writings will help readers in the English-speaking world
to appreciate the work of an imaginative philosopher who is also
a vigorous campaigner for social change.
Editor's Preface
hen quoting from works originally published in German
and other languages in his text, and in referencing them in
his notes, the author generally cites published Italian transla-
tions. When citing his own and other works originally pub-
lished in Italian, he naturally uses the originals. In all cases, the
editor and translator have striven to substitute quotations from,
and references to, published English translations wherever pos-
sible, and to published editions of the original works in what-
ever language they were written when it was not. In the case of
Vattimo's own books, information on their original publication
in Italian is always given as well.
For the English-language readership of this book, the trans-
lator has silently expanded the text in a few places to make the
author's meaning plainer, and the editor has added a number of
explanatory notes, which are identified as "editor's notes" to dis-
tinguish them from the notes of the author himself. The editor
and translator both wish to thank the anonymous referee who
read the draft translation with care and Jennifer Crewe, Juree
Sondker, and Michael Haskell of Columbia University Press.
The texts assembled here were, for the most part, written for
oral presentation as lectures and conference papers. Afew have
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: '; ~ !
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11 1,1 ,
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already been published in translation. For those that have
been published in the original Italian, bibliographic informa-
tion follows.
Chap. 1.: "Post-moderno, tecnologia, ontologia;' Micro-Mega, no.
4 (1990): 83-95
Chap. 2: Published in the Italian edition of this book (2003) as
"Filosofia e declino dell'Occidente." First published as "La
filosofia e i1 tramonto dell'Occidente;' Colloquium Philosoph-
icum 3 (1998): 197-209.
Chap. 3: "Etica della provenienza;' MicroMega, no. 1, supplement
(1997): 73-80.
Chap. 6: Published in the Italian edition of this book (2003) as
"Dolore e metafisica:' First published as "La cognizione del
dolore;' Lettera intemazionale 72, dossier (2002): 57-58.
Chap. 8: "Ermeneutica e democrazia;' MicroMega, no. 3 (1994):
Chap. 9: "Sinistra di progetto;' MicroMega, no. 2 (1999): 169-176.
Chap. 10: Published in the Italian edition ofthis book (2003) as "Il
socialismo, cioe l'Europa:' First published as "Intanto a Stras-
burgo: sguardo sull'Europa:' L'unita, 24 January 2002.
Chap. 11: Published in the Italian edition of this book (2003) as
"Globalizzazione e attualita del socialismo." First published in
much shorter form as "La filosofia al tempo no global: AVat-
timo il premio Hannah Arendt per i1 pensiero politico. Ecco
una parte della sua 'lectio;" La stampa, 23 November 2002.
Chap. 12: "Fare giustizia del diritto;' in Diritto, giustizia, e inter-
pretazione: Annuario filosofico europeo, ed. J. Derrida and G.
Vattimo (Rome-Bari: Laterza, 1998), 275-91.
Chap. 13: Published in the Italian edition of this book (2003) as
"Apologia del proceduralismo:' First published as "Il procedur-
alismo (i proceduralismi) come contrassegno della moder-
nitil;' in Giustizia e procedure: Dinamiche di legittimazione tra
stato e societa intemazionale Atti del XXII Co
. . ngresso
naz10nale della Societil Italiana di Filosofia G' 'd" P I'
. lUn 1ca e o 1t-
lCa, ed. M. Basciu (Milan: Giuffre: 2002),27-36.
Chap. 14: "Dell'esteriorita dei deIitti e delle pen "1 'd ( )
59-65. e, rt e32 2001 :
f emancipation is a process in which constraints are shed and
we gain greater freedom, autonomy, and opportunity to
choose, how is it possible to discuss it using concepts like
nihilism and hermeneutics? The first thing to note-and this is
something I have had occasion to highlight in previous books
is that the terms "nihilism" and "hermeneutics" are used here as
synonyms. I interpret "nihilism" in the sense first given it by
Nietzsche: the dissolution of any ultimate foundation, the
understanding that in the history of philosophy, and of western
culture in general, "God is dead;' and "the real world has become a
fable:' Only in western thought and culture? This initial obstacle
will not be discussed thematically in these pages. But the signifi-
cance of Nietzsche-and Heidegger, and before them Marx and
Hegel as well-for me is that part of western culture and its
nihilism is an increasing awareness that we do all our thinking
within the boundaries of that same culture, since the very idea of
a universal truth and a transcultural humanism (examples
would be the doctrines of natural law and ultimate foundations)
has arisen precisely within this particular culture. When western
philosophy realizes this, it becomes nihilistic; it acknowledges
that its own argumentative process is always historically and
culturally situated, that even the idea of universality is
"grasped" from a particular point of view. With this: however,
nihilism becomes hermeneutic: thought that knows It can only
regard the universal by through, di:logue,
sent, if you like through cantas (see Belief and After Chnstlan-
3), "Veritatemfacientes in caritate;' a Pauline expression that
echoes, and perhaps not so very distantly, the aletheuein of th,e
Aristotelian Nicomachean Ethics, means, in terms of today s
philosophy, that the truth is born in consent and from consent,
and not, vice versa, that agreement is reached when we have all
discovered the same objective truth.
The Nietzschean term nihilism acquires the sense of eman-
cipation for me when it is read in light of another famous
expression of the German philosopher: "God is dead, and now
we wish for many gods to live." It is the dissolution of founda-
tions (in which we can also recognize the moment of transition
from the modern to the postmodern
) that brings freedom,
and, once again, there is a profound echo to be found in the
gospel, which says that "the truth shall make you free;' not:
knowing how things "really" are will make you free (by finally
discovering the theorem of Pythagoras? the necessary geomet-
ric order of the universe? Einsteinian relativity?) Rather, only
that which sets you free is truth, and thus, above all else, the
"discovery" that there are no ultimate foundations before which
our freedom must come to a halt, as authorities of every sort,
wishing to command in the name of these ultimate
have always tried to make us believe. HermeneutlCs IS the
thought of accomplished nihilism, thought that aims to recon-
struct rationality in the wake of the death of God and opposes
any current of negative nihilism, in other words the desperation
of those who continue to cultivate a sense of mourning because
"religion is no more:'
It is easy to see how all this has a significant impact on the
... s

way we conceive of ethics, law, and politics. Will it still be possible,
after the death of God, to speak of moral imperatives, of laws that
are not grounded in arbitrary acts of will, of an emancipatory
horizon for politics? The essays in this book make no illusory
claim to give exhaustive replies to these questions, but they do not
confine themselves to rhetorically restating them either, the way a
great deal of contemporarytragical attitudinizing does. The tragic
pose is often a prelude to a "leap of faith" (which thus becomes a
leap into pure irrationality, a surrender to the dogmatic authori-
tarianism of churches, central committees, charismatic leaders),
and sometimes it is just a way of clinging to the pure and simple
awareness that "there are no answers;' with the tacit Socratic pre-
sumption (but Nietzsche was right to unmask the optimistic
rationalism of this stance) that it is better at any rate to knowthat
you do not know.
The hermeneutic way out of tragic and negative nihilism
naturally entails the inclusion of many aspects of the latter: we
might say, with Nietzsche, that it is not possible to build without
destroying. Or again, and perhaps more realistically, that the
wellsprings of metaphysical authoritarianism never run dry, so
that the task of secularization-that is, the unmasking of the
sacrality of all absolute, ultimate truths--is an ongoing one.
Politics, law, and social life continue to supply evidence of this,
and not just in Italy, where the Catholic Church persists in
(claiming to) impose unreasonable constraints on the laws of
the state on issues like cohabitation by unmarried partners,
research on embryos, and euthanasia; we see the same thing in
international relations as well, where American domination dis-
guised as democratic humanitarianism is threatening to impose
a sort of universal police state "legitimated" by (putative)
respect for human rights, or what the empire defines as such.
Will the new Napoleon perhaps in the end provoke another
"romantic" revolt of the nations-of cultures and "peoples"
(with all the caution the use of these terms demands) against the
Pax Americana imposed with armed force?
So in attempting to measure up-albeit very theoretically-
to problems like these, hermeneutics inherits a large portion of
the critical and "destructive" content of tragic nihilism at the
outset-but also a couple of pathways toward something more
constructive. Above all, the death of God should not be thought
of as a truth achieved at last, as a dogmatic basis on which to
erect some natural right of atheism, the "unfounded" world, or
a Nazi superman. The constructive nihilism of
certainly has to guard against the neurotic return of
ianism-but antifoundationalism itself is at risk of hardenmg
into a metaphysics, and when it does it fits very nicely with
things like the imposition ofliberty and democracy by means of
armed intervention against what President Bush has called
"rogue states" (the appellation fits most of them,
Bush nor the UN in the guise of an ethical tribunal IS In a pOSI-
tion to adjudicate that). Against these aberrations of nihilism,
hermeneutics relies fundamentally on the principle of the plu-
rality of interpretations, in other words respect for the freedom
of everyone to choose. This may not go much beyond the argu-
mentative rationality of Habermas, but it does strip away the
residues of metaphysical rationalism that still impair his theory,
which, with its idealization of knowledge freed of opacity and
fundamentally modeled on the scientific method, is always at
risk of legitimating a future world dominated by "experts" of
various kinds. Hence the critical tools of negative nihilism
remain decisive for the constructive project of hermeneutics.
The attempt to base laws, constitutions, and ordinary political
decisions on the idea that we should gradually be setting our
norms and rules free from the limits of what is supposedly"nat-
ural" (meaning obvious to those in power) can become a posi-
tive political project in itself. I recall that even the battle against
h.unger in the world was justified many years ago by a theoreti-
Clan close to Habermas, Karl Otto Apel, on the basis of the
respect fo.r the equal rights of the interlocutor that any use of
language Imposes if it is not to incur a performative contradic-
In other words: even when I am only talking to myself, I
have to respect rules; I am responsible for showing the same
to any interlocutor-that is, I attribute my own rights to
any in that case I also have positively to guar-
antee hIm or her the conditions for the exercise of those rights,
hence humane conditions of survival. Apel did not elaborate
these ideas into an explicit program, and in any case the
hermeneutic (and "nihilistic") ideal of basing all laws and social
behaviors on respect for the liberty of everyone, and not on
supposedly objective or "natural" norms, entails positive conse-
quences much more far-reaching than the ones he set out in the
1960s. Peace, for example (and not what theologians call
"ordered tranquillity;' an Augustinian expression that allowed
the Catholic Church to maintain the worst sort of silence about
Nazism and Fascism) is a basic human right, one that recent
events have, sadly, shown to be both topical and problematic.
Why should constitutional reform and legislative amendment
to account of rights like this not be the basis for a positive
pohtlcal program? After all, that is the mark of the (necessary)
movement from liberalism to democracy and, as I see it social-
ism: order bring fully into existence the rights oi liberty
proclaImed by hberalism, we cannot just let things like the laws
0: proceed "in accordance with their own prin-
Clples (there is an unacceptable "naturalism" about Adam
Smith!). The c<mditions for equality are not "naturally" l;ivel1,
so wehave to create them. -- --- .-
The essays that follow represent a first attempt (on my part)
to develop the discourse of hermeneutics in this constructive
direction-for what (little) any merely theoretical activity is
worth, of course. If it makes no sense, even on the theoretical
plane, to claim to discover an ultimate truth independent of
dialogue and the common praxis, how much more so in poli-
tics, justice, and ethics. This at any rate justifies their publica-
tion (in anticipation, if you will forgive the pun, of public
action). Although the texts assembled in this volume are not (as
I see it anyway) excessively heterogeneous, they were written on
different occasions. Santiago Zabala performed the task of
selecting and editing them, and I wish cordially to thank him
for the competence and the dedication he put into the job.
1. Postmodernity, Technology, Ontology
he thesis I wish to set out concerning postmodernity and
technology is not just that a specific postmodern vision of
technology exists, or that postmodernity is specifically deter-
mined by technology-I take both for granted. But I do wish to
maintain, from a philosophical point of view, that what is hap-
pening to us, what concerns us, in the postmodern epoch, is a
transformation of (the notion of) Being as such. I believe that
we can only speak intelligently about postmodernity, and about
the significance that technology has in it, from a perspective
that starts with Heidegger's teaching and goes on to elaborate
what might be called, using a term from Foucault's late period,
an "ontology of actuality."l
The expression is meant to be taken in its most literal sense:
it does not simply indicate, as Foucault thought, a philosophy
oriented primarily toward the consideration of existence and its
historicity rather than toward epistemology and logic-that is,
toward what would be called, in Foucault's terminology, an
"analytic of truth." Rather, "ontology of actuality" is used here
to mean a discourse that attempts to clarify what Being signifies
in the present situation. I am well aware of the difficulties and
the hazards that attend the task of speaking about "Being" or
"the present situation:' The latter expression is actually even
more obscure and problematic than the term "Being" itself. Our
difficulty in understanding what "Being" signifies may arise
from the fact that since philosophy was born it has attempted to
clarify the sense of Being while ignoring its relationship with the
other factor I have pointed to: the concrete historical situation of
users of language. From Heidegger's point of view, we should
probably say that this is the reason that metaphysics developed
as the "forgetting of Being." One of the first steps toward a kind
of thought that could cancel this oblivion and remember Being
would-from a Heideggerian point of view, the one I adopt
here-be the effort finally to take into account this aspect of the
question: the ontological "significance" of the present situation.
That a good part, or perhaps even the largest part, of the phi-
losophy of the twentieth century takes the form of a sort of
"sociological impressionism" (to use an expression of Lubcs
about Simmel) is not an accident. For example, one immedi-
ately thinks of Walter Benjamin, whose principal work was a
study of Paris in the nineteenth century, on which he labored
for many years and never completed; and then of Adorno, and
Ernst Bloch, and Habermas, whose theory of communicative
action, despite its Kantian and "transcendental" countenance, is
ultimately a philosophical theory of modernization; and in
phenomenology, Husserl's Krisis. But above all, a great example
of philosophical sociology, and more specifically of the "ontol-
ogy of actuality;' is on emblematic view in the entire oeuvre of
the so-called second Heidegger, after the turn in the 1930S that
followed the interruption of Being and Time.
In Heidegger, the "sociological impressionism" that perme-
ates much of twentieth-century philosophy is given a precise
and explicit formulation, and a more extensive theoretical artic-
ulation, than it is in the oeuvre of the other philosophers who
practiced philosophy in this manner. It is true that in philoso-
phers like Adorno or Bloch the "sociologizing" approach to phi-
losophy can be justified from a general Hegelian-Marxist point
of view. But neither Bloch nor Adorno professes an orthodox
dialectical philosophy, a metaphysical vision of history, which
would justify in theory the tendential "identification" of philos-
ophy with sociological thought. Adorno, for example, finds in
the "dialectic of the Enlightenment" (the fact that our society
does achieve-albeit in a perverse form, the only one possible-
the totalization and integration that Hegel considered the goal of
the development of reason, the absolute spirit) the proof that
Hegel, and Marx as well, were wrong about this because "the
whole is false."
Now it is only from the dialectical standpoint of the totality
that philosophy can "identify" with sociology, at any rate within
the bounds of the Hegelian-Marxist tradition from which
Adorno never really departs. The contradiction between the
refusal of a metaphysical vision of history and the "identifica-
tion" of philosophy with sociology is even more striking in Ben-
jamin, for whom the interest of philosophy vis-a-vis the social
reality of his time appears to be justified from a viewpoint that,
somewhat incoherently, implies both a metaphysical vision of
history of the Marxist type and a species of Platonic theory of
the ideas (I am thinking of the "Gnoseological Preface" to The
Origins of German Tragic Drama), against a background of a
"symbolism" that recalls Simmel (for whom even the most
apparently marginal social phenomena, like fashion, reveal
something essential), and a Messianic tension rooted in the
Jewish tradition. To take more recent examples: Lyotard's thesis
on the end of the "grands recits;' meaning the large-scale inter-
pretations of history that underlie the dominant ideologies of
the twentieth century, is in turn (perhaps unwittingly) based on
a grand recit-the one in which the postmodern transforma-
tion of the conditions of existence has drained the large-scale
ideological narratives of their credibility. The same thing could
be said in many respects of Rorty's idea that today we live in a
postphilosophical culture.
What I want to suggest with this rapid sketch is that the per-
vasive "sociologism" of contemporary philosophy is almost
never explicit and self-aware, and for that reason its theoretical
implications are far from being fully worked out. The only
exception in my view is Heidegger: he is the philosopher who
speaks explicitly of the "epochal" essence of Being. After the
"turn" subsequent to Being and Time, the "thrownness" in
which existence is always already found in that work, and which
was still liable to be understood as a sort of Kantian a priori,
becomes explicitly historical; Heidegger characterizes it repeat-
edly as a historico-naturallanguage. Because Being is not to be
understood as an objective datum that precedes the application
of "conceptual schemes" (since its supposed precategorical
objectivity is not in the least "given;' is indeed already con-
structed on the basis of a conceptual scheme, that of modern
scientism and positivism), we can speak of Being only at the
level of the events in which the ever-varying modes that struc-
ture the world of human historical experience are instituted.
Being is not an object, it is the aperture within which alone
man and the world, subject and object, can enter into relation-
ship. Since the aperture does not confer stability on the object
(which arises only within specific apertures), Being should be
thought of as "event": Being "is" not, properly speaking, but
rather "comes about;' happens. My thesis is that the "identifica-
tion" of philosophy with sociology, or rather with an "ontology
of actuality:' has meaning only from this perspective. The
remembering of Being that Heidegger wished to inaugurate
through his work, the overcoming of the oblivion of Being that
is the core of metaphysics (that is, European philosophy from
the pre-Socratics to Nietzsche), is thought that reiterates des-
tiny, what Heidegger calls the "Ge-Schick," in other words the
ensemble (Ge) of the Schicken, the sendings or apertures of
Being that have conditioned and made possible the experience
of humanity in its historical phases prior to us. Only by insert-
ing our current sending (our Schickung)-that is: the present
significance of "Being"-into the ensemble of the Ge-Schick do
we overcome the metaphysical oblivion of Being, breaking free
of thought that identifies Being with beings, with the order of
things that currently obtains.
This summary explanation of the meaning that the epochal-
ity of Being has for Heidegger gives an idea of how philosophy
can and should speak about actuality-about modernity and
postmodernity, in short, about the situation now: not just, or
not mainly, applying the consequences of a more general system
of thought to a specific problem, that of existence now, but
rather conceiving itself as an effort to grasp the meaning that
Being has today and to connect this meaning with destiny as
If it is true, as I think it is, that Heidegger reflects and gives rig-
orous expression to a tendency that pervades a large part of con-
temporary philosophy with his doctrine of the epochality of
Being, our task now is to go beyond this observation: to under-
standwhythe"slide"ofphilosophytoward sociology (in the vague
and general sense in which I use this word) has become so marked
in our time. In his Philosophic Discourse of Modernity, Habermas
notes that philosophy tends this way from Hegel onward but
offers no theoretical explanation.
Once again, it is probably Hei-
degger who offers a complete interpretation of this sociologizing
tendency of philosophy. We can sum it up by playing, as he him-
self often does with other expressions, on the two available mean-
ings of the genitive in the expression "ontology of actuality:' The

ontology for which we are searching with Heidegger's help is a
theory that speaks of actuality (the objective genitive) and also
belongs to it, in the subjective sense of the genitive. Because there
is no way to grasp Being as something stable apart from its event
(that is, the specific historical aperture in which it arises by allow-
ing beings to appear), a theory of present existence is a theory
that has no other source of information or legitimation apart
from the present condition itself. And what that means for us, in
our search for a way to determine the content of the ontology of
actuality, is that we must begin byseeing clearlywhat the very fact
of the "slide" of philosophy into sociology signifies: this slide is
the primary constitutive trait of the "actuality" with which we
have to deal.
The reasons for this slide, it seems to me, are not solely or
primarily connected to philosophy and its disciplinary develop-
ment. A phenomenon like the late-nineteenth-century debate
about the relative status of the natural sciences and the human-
ities and social sciences (Geisteswissenschaften, literally "sci-
ences of the spirit"), which in my hypothesis is profoundly
linked to the "sociologization" of philosophy, has a more than
merely epistemological significance. What was at stake, indi-
rectly anyway (but not all that indirectly), was the impact of the
technical-scientific rationalization of society: philosophers,
artists, and "humanists" in general reacted against it by defend-
ing an area of "spiritual" liberty that could not be scientifically
described, within which neither general laws nor predictions
could be formulated, and which therefore could not fall under
the sway of technology. The atmosphere in which the debate
about the Geisteswissenschaften took place is also the one in
which the artistic avant-garde of the first decades of the twenti-
eth century originated-in 1918 Ernst Bloch gave an impas-
sioned description of it in The Spirit of Utopia
-as well as the
dialectical theology of Barth and Gogarten and the Kierkegaard
~ l" h'
(' renaIssance. t IS III t IS atmosphere that "sociologism" emerges
in philosophy.
The demand for an "ontology of actuality," and the sociolo-
gism that arose in response, should be understood as a reaction
to the menace of the "total organization" of society that was
beginning to take shape early in the twentieth century and
assumed gigantic proportions with the First World War. The
threat this process of social rationalization brings is not just the
apocalyptic one of the complete destruction of individual lib-
erty and the inner world of the feelings through the universal
functionalization of mass industrial production, The risk that
looms is above all this: existence appears gradually to be losing
any unitary significance; it is diffusing into the multiple social
roles that everyone finds themselves occupying.
The objectification of individuality through the universal
functionalization of the social mechanism presupposes and
intensifies the fragmentation of meaning actually lived out by
everyone. Heidegger's appeal in Beingand Time to remember the
meaning of Being, which he takes to have been progressivelyfor-
gotten by metaphysics, of which technology is the culminating
and concluding phase, is explainable, in the last analysis, as a
reaction to this peril. To perceive these connections-and Hei-
degger himself only became fully aware of them later; this is the
import of the famous turn in his thought in the 1930s-already
constitutes the first step on the road to the overcoming of meta-
physics. From Heidegger's perspective, this overcoming is
intended to meet the "needs" expressed in the slide of philoso-
phy into sociology. From the standpoint of the aperture of Being
that belongs to humanity, and to which humanity belongs, in
late modernity, the need for a first principle that motivated and
connoted the metaphysics of past epochs becomes the need for
a "notion" of Being that would allow us to refashion a unitary
significance for our experience in the epoch of fragmentation,
specialized scientific languages and technical capacities, the iso-
lation of spheres of interest, and the multiplication of the social
roles occupied by each individual: in short, the epoch of modern
rationalization described by Max Weber.
Postllo.ernily as the Ontological Sense .f Techl.logy
Let us briefly summarize the stages of the argument to this
point. Philosophy's focus on technology is one facet of the more
general tendency of contemporary philosophy to think of itself
as a "sociology:' or as a theory of modernity. This tendency
expresses the impulse of cultivated people (not just philoso-
phers) in the early twentieth century to resist the threat they
perceived in the process of rationalization of society: specializa-
tion, fragmentation, the loss of unity of meaning, and, in con-
sequence, the loss of liberty. Heidegger's call to remember the
meaning of Being is an expression of this attitude and should
not be viewed simply as one strand in the debate about the epis-
temological status of the humanities and social sciences-
although he does specifically refer to that debate.
Inasmuch as the specialization of languages and spheres of
interest and the fragmentation of existence belong to moder-
nity (hardly a far-fetched idea after the work of MaxWeber), the
remembering of the meaning of Being as a basis for recon-
structing unitary meanings for existence is an overcoming of
modernity. From Heidegger's perspective this is also an over-
coming of metaphysics because metaphysics is the basis of the
modern technical-scientific vista within which the fragmenta-
tion of existence takes place. From the beginning, the meta-
physical attempt to grasp the arche, the first principle, was
inspired by the will to dominate the totality of things. During
the development of philosophy and science through Western
history, this will has become ever more concrete and effective:
the rational order of the world, which for centuries metaphysi-
cal thinkers have presupposed or postulated, has now become
real, in principle at least, in modern technology. This real-
ization also represents the end of metaphysics, not just because
its project has now been realized, but also and primarily
because the effective rationalization of the world through sci-
ence and technology unveils the true meaning of metaphysics:
will to power, violence, the destruction of liberty.
At the same time as the violent essence of metaphysics is
totally revealed, the need to overcome modernity and meta-
physics gains urgency. Modernity cannot be overcome through
the use of instruments that are still metaphysical, and therefore
foundational thought has no part to play.
The ambiguity of the very notion of the postmodern is linked
to this fact. Postmodernity is both a normative ideal and a
descriptive or interpretive notion. We have already seen that
from the perspective of the epochal essence of Being, thought
has no source of legitimation beyond the effective aperture of
Being within which it finds itself thrown (the awareness that
many epochs have preceded this one, i.e., of the Ge-Schick, also
belongs to this aperture). Here lies the peculiar nature, and also
the specific risk, of Heidegger's philosophy: having recognized
that the foundationalism of metaphysics is also responsible for
modern rationalization, its violence, and its fragmentizing effect
on the significance of existence, it is no longer possible to think
that escape from this condition of "alienation" might be
achieved through some kind of "critical" thought, which could
only arise through reliance upon another first principle, another
arche, and thus a foundation. In that case we would still be
imprisoned within metaphysics and so within modernity and its
violence. If thought and existence of a postmodern (postmeta-
physical) kind are to be possible at all, then this possibility must
in some fashion arise as an outcome of modernity itself, since we
cannot get there by clasping onto some novel principle still legit-
imated in essential, structural, metaphysical terms. Thought
prepares the overcoming of metaphysics only by responding to a
call from within the very situation that must be overcome. For
philosophy, this entails the risk of becoming the apology for
whatever is (the radical objection made against Heidegger by
Adorno in the chapter on "ontological need" in the Negative
Dialectic), but it is a risk that has to be run, otherwise the over-
coming remains an empty word.
At this point, our "ontology of actuality" assumes the status
of a mission, that of revealing, within the aperture of Being typ-
ical of modernity, the traits of a newaperture which would have
among its constitutive characteristics the possibility of a recon-
struction of the unitary sense of existence beyond the special-
ization and fragmentation proper to modernity.
But where should we seek the constitutive traits of the aper-
ture of Being in which we are thrown? The query is just a post-
metaphysical reformulation of the traditional question regard-
ing truth. Saint Augustine's in te redi, Descartes's cogito, Kanfs
conditions of possibility of experience, are all ways, the most
decisive ones for modern metaphysics, of responding to this
question. They are all metaphysical responses, to the extent that
they assume that truth and Being are stable, or self-evidently
eternal, things. For those of us who follow Heidegger and his
philosophy of the eventual, or epochal, essence of Being, it is dif-
ficult even to indicate once and for all the places characteristic of
the aperture, in which the truth of Being constitutively renders
itself visible.
In a passage from his essay "The Origin of the Work of Art"
(1936), Heidegger hazarded a sort of catalogue of the privileged
places of truth's occurrence.
This catalogue displays a striking
resemblance to the Kantian subdivision of the faculties (pure
reason, practical reason, judgment) and also to the Hegelian
forms of the spirit (art, religion, philosophy, morality); the
foundation of a political order can easily be discerned behind
the language adopted by Heidegger in this text. As many schol-
ars have noted, he did not take these indications any further and,
in his review of the epochs of metaphysics, confined himself to
the aperture that takes place in poetry (albeit in continuous dia-
logue with "essential thought"), understood as the "going to
work of truth." This fact may be interpreted, in my view, as
implicit confirmation that the epochality of Being excludes the
possibility ofestablishing, once and for all, a sort of"table ofcat-
egories," a systematic definition of the places or types of event in
which, on successive occasions, the aperture of Being occurs in
an inaugural way. These inaugural locations of the truth of
Being also change with the change of epochs.
In our search for a place in which the aperture of Being char-
acteristic of our epoch eminently announces itself, the only indi-
cations available to us, or at least from which we can reasonably
begin in the absence of any others, are the ones contained in
philosophical texts in which, through the slide of philosophy
into sociology, the need for the overcoming of modernity and
metaphysics is given voice: the texts of Heidegger and of those
philosophers who have conceived of and practiced philosophy as
"sociological impressionism." Once again, it is Heidegger who
draws together and radicalizes all these indications, in the pages
in which he focuses his attention on what he calls the "Ge-Stell."
This word, which like "Ge-Schick" plays on the collective mean-
ing of the prefix "ge-," means for Heidegger the ensemble of the
Stellen, of the posing, disposing, imposing, composing that are
proper to modern technology guided by experimental science:
in sum, the last phase of metaphysics, in which it assumes the
guise of technology, the effective rationalization of the world
through the reduction of all beings to a system of causes and
effects controlled by man.
_..l _
It is in the Ge-Ste/l, Heidegger thinks, that the aperture of
Being that characterizes modernity is concentrated and
becomes visible. In a passage from Identity and Difference
(which is, I recognize, almost a hapax legomenon in the whole
Heideggerian oeuvre) he says explicitly that in the Ge-Ste/l-in
itself a source of extreme danger for the humanity of
mankind-we can also perceive "a first flash of the Ereignis;' the
(new) event of being, that is, on which the possibility of an
overcoming of metaphysics depends. In the same text, Heideg-
ger explains that this flashing is produced because in the Ge-
Stell "man and Being reach each other in their nature, achieve
their active nature by losing those qualities with which meta-
physics has endowed them;' that is, above all, the reciprocal
position of subject and object.
The indication given by Heidegger in this passage is very
brief and schematic. (In the course of a recent conversation,
however, Hans-Georg Gadamer confirmed to me that when
Heidegger presented this text for the first time as a lecture he
was well aware of, indeed somewhat anxious about, the novelty
of this affirmation with respect to the rest of his work. Accord-
ing to Gadamer, for that matter, it was not so much the
wretched business of his involvement with (alas!) Nazism that
Heidegger perceived as a failure of his thought, but rather the
insufficient elaboration of this intuited relation between the
overcoming of metaphysics and modern science/technology.)
The brevity of and failure to expand upon this indication,
which, in the wake of Gadamer's statement, should be seen as
an essential gap in Heidegger's thought, is probably motivated
in the final analysis by the same factors that, for example, kept
Adorno from seeing the emancipatory possibilities inherent in
modern mass society. The fact is that both Heidegger and
Adorno never escaped from a vision of technology dominated
by the model of the motor and mechanical energy, so for them
modern technology could do nothing except bring about a soci-
ety subordinated to a central power dispatching commands to
a purely passive periphery, as gear wheels are driven, whether
these commands were mechanical impulses, political propa-
ganda, or commercial advertising.
Actually though, if we try to think clearly about how the Ge-
Stell might offer us a chance of overcoming metaphysics through
the dissolution of the subject-object relationship that distin-
guishes human existence in modernity, we see that the only
apparent solution is a radical shift in our vision of technology.
The technology that does actually give us a glimpse of a possible
dissolution of the rigid distinction between subject and object is
not the mechanical technology of the motor, with its one-way
flow from the center to the periphery, but it might very well be
the technology of modern communications, the means by
which information is gathered, ordered, and disseminated. To
speak more plainly: the possibility of overcoming metaphysics,
which Heidegger descries obscurely in the Ge-Ste/l, really opens
up only when the technology-at any rate the socially hege-
monic technology-ceases to be mechanical and becomes elec-
tronic: information and communication technology.
This fleshing out of the bare indication furnished in Identity
and Difference obviously goes far beyond Heidegger's own
intentions. It is not arbitrary, though, inasmuch as it would
seem to be hinted at in other important passages from Heideg-
ger, for example in the two essays (included in Off the Beaten
Track) "The Age of the World Picture" and "Why Poets?" In the
first of these essays, Heidegger describes the world of the
increasing specialization ofscience and technology as the epoch
of the image of the world: the effort to dominate the world by
extending calculation to cover every field of nature and life
manifests an irresistible tendency to dissolve the objectivity of
objects into pure abstractions. The image of the world created
by science tends to explode into an indefinite multiplicity of . ~ . present themselves ever more explicitly as interpretive. Only in
images, the reason being the ever more refined specialization of this light can we explain the ever-increasing amount of atten-
the individual scientific languages (which also entails the mul- tion the media dedicate to transactions involving media owner-
tiplication of spheres of corporate interest and opposing wills to ship. Stories about who is buying a controlling interest in a
power). We need only extend this multiplication of images from newspaper chain or a television network are a central element
the field of science and its languages, of which Heidegger in the news published by the very same newspapers and televi-
speaks, to the more general sphere of social communication as sion networks. The same holds true, I think, for the star system:
it has developed thanks to print, radio, television, and every- the star is sold along with the story of how she was created by
thing that we now include under the heading of the Internet, to the system, how much she earns, what cosmetics she prefers,
see a little more clearly what Heidegger may have meant when and how the special effects that make her movies so spectacular
he thought about the possibility that the Ge-Stell might be actually work.
preparing the way for an overcoming of metaphysics through This naked display of the array ofinterpretive agents who are
the dissolution of the subject-object relationship that has dom- constructing our image of the world produces the effect of dras-
inated modernity. We can recognize in the Ge-Stell a first flash- tically reducing our sense of reality: the world is less and less
ing of the new event of Being to the extent that it brings with it something given "out there"; more and more it takes on the
a dissolution of the realistic traits of experience, in other words appearance of a sort of residue, a crystallization of the "conflict
what I think we might call a weakening of the principle of real- of interpretations"-to use an expression of Paul Ricoeur. This is probably only the shift of technology from its mechan- effect of the mediatization of our culture acquires its epochal
ical stage to that of electronic information that is determining significance if we relate it to the dissolution of science's claims
the advent of postmodernity and opening up the possibility for to objectivity, and, I might add, to the dissolution of the objec-
philosophy to understand better what it is that Heidegger tivity ofhistoriography in the self-awareness of the historians of
descried in that passage from Identity and Difference. today. The effect of the emergence of subcultures upon the
Information technology disproves the simplistic and apoca- media society is paralleled by the effect of the emergence of
lyptic predictions of Adorno: it is true that, on the one hand, the other cultural universes in the wake of decolonization and the
mass media tend to create homogeneity and uniformity in the end of Eurocentrism upon the historical consciousness of our
collective culture, but the opposite phenomenon is also clearly time. While mediatization has allowed a multitude of minori-
visible: in the very society in which the pervasive power of the ties and subcultures to be heard, and thereby made evident the
media has penetrated furthest, minorities and subcultures of interpretive character of our picture of the world (shattering its
every kind acquire visibility, be it only to meet the demands of unity forever), historiography has become aware of the essen-
the market, which continuously requires fresh content and nov- ; : ~ tially "rhetorical" character of our ways of reconstructing the
elty. That is not all: as the system of information transmission - ;... ~ " , .. ~ ... : story of the past. Not only are there many ways of recounting
becomes denser, "interpretive agencies" also tend to multiply, ;,;' history, but "history" itself, in other words the supposedly
and, by a paradoxical logic of autodetermination, these agenC_ie_S l __"_O_b_je_c_ti_v_e'_'S_U_b_s_tr_a_t_u_m_O_f_o_u_r_h_istoriograPhical schemes, is the
product of a scheme. It is the dominant classes, as Benjamin and
Nietzsche before him, showed, who tend to impose their vision
of historical development as "the real" story.
To show that all these aspects of the weakening of the prin-
ciple of reality are connected to the culmination of metaphysics
in the Ge-Stell-and how-we would have to analyze in greater
detail the connections between what Heidegger sees as the
tecnical-scientific dissolution of objectivity, and the phenom-
ena of the mediatization of society and the end of belief in the
objectivity of history. But even in the summary terms in which
it has been sketched out here, the thrust of my discourse should
be clear, though the case is not completely proven.
The weakening If and Ovmllling of
Let us attempt to draw a provisional conclusion: In what sense
should we expect an ontology of the weakening of the principle
of reality to respond to the needs that were being felt (in my
hypothesis at any rate) in the philosophy and culture of the early
twentieth century, in the slide of philosophy into sociology, and
specifically in Heidegger's call to remember the meaning of Being
beyond the oblivion of metaphysics? Though Heidegger is very
reluctant to speak of morality (the notion of authenticity disap-
pears almost completely in the works subsequent to Being and
Time, and even there it is not meant to have a moral significance),
we may posit that in speaking of an overcoming of metaphysics
he has in mind a process of emancipation, an escape from a con-
dition that in marxist language would be called alienation.
Though he himself prefers not to speak in terms of moral or
political renewal, which would once again entail a"metaphysical"
over-estimate of human initiative (and will to power), this is cer-
tainly a valid extrapolation from Heidegger's thought.
I wish now to set aside these problems of Heideggerian exe-
gesis and return to the central question: To what extent does the
weakening of the principle of reality that, in my thesis, occurs in
the transition to postmodernity, respond to the needs that
inspire the effort to overcome metaphysics and modernity? To
answer this question will also mean solving another problem:
What is the meaning of Heidegger's philosophy for our present?
To put it another way: What are we to do with Heidegger?
In very general terms, the answer is that a weak ontology, or
better an ontology of the weakening of Being, supplies philo-
sophical reasons for preferring a liberal, tolerant, and demo-
cratic society rather than an authoritarian and totalitarian one.
This is not a negligible result, at least in the sense that it may
help to strip away the theoretical attractiveness of the authori-
tarian and "decisionist" impulses that periodically recur (one
thinks of the popularity of a thinker like Carl Schmitt in recent
European culture, even among liberals and socialists) and that
react with impatience and indifference to any philosophy that is
trying to "found" tolerance and democracy.
I do not believe that pragmatism and neopragmatism supply
sufficiently "strong" reasons to justify the choice of democracy,
nonviolence, and tolerance. This observation, I note in passing,
may not apply to a thinker like Richard Rorty, who would never
expect philosophy to furnish good reasons for choosing democ-
racy and tolerance. On the contrary, he would expect that the
fact that we do prefer to live in a tolerant and democratic soci-
ety is reason enough for us finally to abandon metaphysics and
maybe even philosophy itself. It might, however, be objected
against Rorty that the kind of self-psychoanalysis of philosophy
that he offers in Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, with the
aim of ridding current philosophy of its metaphysical heritage,
is never fully accomplished; it is an interminable analysis. We
still require an ontology, if for no other purpose than to demon-
strate that ontology is headed toward disintegration.


As a provisional conclusion, I would say that from a Heideg-
gerian perspective, we need to remember the meaning of Being
and to recognize that this meaning is the dissolution of the
principle of reality into the manifold of interpretations, pre-
cisely so as to be able to live through the experience of this dis-
solution without neurosis and avoid the recurrent temptation
to "return" to a stronger (more reassuring and also more threat-
ening and authoritarian) sense of the real. Once again, if one
thinks of the popularity of so many forms of fundamentalism
even in the late-modern society of the West, this philosophical
task will not appear otiose. On the ethical plane, and without
going deeply into the matter, it appears obvious that a weak
ontology will have to take up the teaching of Schopenhauer-
who was, as we know, the model for Horkheimer in his last
period; and perhaps less obviously, of Adorno; and of Heideg-
ger, too, if we ponder his text on Gelassenheit.
Naturally this whole image of the Ge-Schick of Being as ori-
ented toward the weakening of the cogency of the real, of sub-
jectivity, of objectivity, is in turn not an objective metaphysical
description but an interpretation. Hermeneutics, to give it its
proper name, is not a metaphysical theory giving a supposedly
veridical account of the interpretive essence of Being. It is
already, always and inevitably, an answer that accepts and inter-
prets a Schickung, a call and a sending.
Very well. But as Nietzsche would say: And so?
2. Philosophy and the Decline of the West
"The decline of the West" to which the title of this chapter
alludes does not precisely coincide with the meaning Spengler
had in mind when he used these words. For me the decline of the
West signifies the dissolution of the idea that there was a unitary
significance and direction to the history of mankind. In the
modern tradition, this idea supplied a sort of permanent foun-
dation of western thought, which considered its own civilization
as the highest degree of evolution attained by mankind in gen-
eral and which, on that basis, felt itself called upon to civilize, as
well as to colonize, convert, and subdue, all the other peoples
with whom it came in contact. The idea that history progresses
in one direction-in other words that by more or less mysteri-
ous routes down which it is directed by a providential rational-
ity, it is approaching ever closer to a final perfection-has been
at the core of modernity; we may even say that it constitutes its
essence. For my part, I have proposed
to define modernity as the
epoch in which, more or less explicitly and consciously, being
modern is seen as the most basic value-a definition that may
appear tautological but that actually proves in my view to be the
only one capable of capturing the fundamental traits of the
modern spirit. Being modern can be thought of as a value (and
__..l. _
biography of its author, but formulated in terms more abstract
than those of poetry. Thus there is no real opposition between
the two positions Dilthey took: during periods of "transition:'
philosophy becomes aware that it is only the formulation of a
subjective Weltanschauung; that is all it ever is, but the rest of the
time it does not know it. We have come to realize that this is the
nature of philosophy precisely because we are living in a time of
transition, or in what we have now learned to call postmoder-
nity. Reading certain pages by the great contemporaryAmerican
philosopher Richard Rorty,5 an outstanding figure for many rea-
sons, but especially for his ability to bring the results of postan-
alytic Anglo-American thought and the existential and
hermeneutic thought of continental Europe together in his
stance, we encounter a vision of philosophy that picks up
Dilthey almost to the letter: Hegel and Nietzsche, exactly like
Proust, are the authors of novels, since all philosophies are no
more than extended redescriptions of the world on the basis of
a system of images and metaphors, forms of subjective expres-
sion similar to literary creations. So Proust, according to Rorty,
is superior to Hegel and Nietzsche in one point at least: he was
aware that he was writing a novel, whereas the other two, even
Nietzsche, wanted to proclaim truths. They were still putting
forward metaphysical claims.
No doubt we are taken aback to find philosophers like Hegel
and Nietzsche, and for that matter Plato and Aristotle, placed
on the same level as a novelist, even a great one like Proust. Our
reluctance to go along unprotestingly with this "reduction:' or
whatever you want to call it, cannot be explained merely by the
rooted conviction that philosophy is not the same thing as
poetic and literary creation. It can also be explained in more
objective and "neutral" terms as respect for the texts in front
of us. Can we really suppose that we understand the pages
of Hegel, Nietzsche, and Aristotle if we start by not taking
being reactionary, backward, and conservative as inversions of
value) only if time is essentially moving toward emancipation:
the farther along we are on the line of history, the closer we are
to perfection. The very notion of the avant-garde in the arts-
which has quite properly fallen into a state of crisis in recent
decades-is itself impregnated with faith in progress.
The decline of the West, meaning the dissolution of the ideas
of progress and unilinear historicity, is a complex matter, more
social and political than philosophical. In philosophy it mani-
fests itself in what Heidegger called the end of metaphysics-
which today seems indeed to coincide with the end of philoso-
phy itself. It is a process of dissolution that had already been
characterized with precision by Wilhelm Dilthey in an essay
from early in the twentieth century entitled The Essence of Phi-
losophy.2 Dilthey observed that in every epoch of the history of
ideas there have occurred moments of profound transforma-
tion, in which it was no longer possible to comprehend the
altered conditions of existence from within the prevailing sys-
tems; at such moments there arise nonsystematic, more free and
"subjective" forms of thought, which Dilthey called "philoso-
phies of life:' He did not mean that they were characterized by a
vitalistic metaphysics, as the philosophy of Spengler ultimately
was, but rather that these forms of reflection were closer to lived
experience, more mobile, similar to the wisdom of the Stoics and
the Epicureans and the disillusioned moralism of Montaigne
and, nearer to our own time, the aphoristic thought of Nietzsche
or the visions of existence expressed by writers and poets like
Tolstoy, Carlyle, and Maeterlinck.
Dilthey had previously set
forth (and did not disavow here) a more radical position in the
second book of his Introduction to the Human Sciences": meta-
physics, even when presented in systematic form, as in Hegel,
Schopenhauer, Leibniz, and Lotze, is never anything more than
the expression of a subjective vision of the world, a sort of auto-
seriously the principal aim that these authors had, the aim of
writing philosophy (truths shored up by argument, "scien-
tific/scholarly" truths, in intention at least) and not pure
poetry or fiction? (Rorty would probably not accept this objec-
tion because he would see it as falsely neutral: to view Hegel as
a novelist makes us uneasy not because we know that in so
doing we are not respecting his intentions, but because we are
victims of the prejudice that sees philosophy as metaphysics, as
objective, truthful discourse-the very thing that today we can
no longer do). This is not the place to undertake a thorough
discussion of Rorty's theses. I mention them solely in order to
highlight, in a particularly revealing case, a conception of phi-
losophy that seems to me to be fairly widespread these days
and, more than that, one that corresponds to the practice of
many philosophers. Other philosophers, even ones who do not
theorize this practice explicitly, do philosophy as poetic dis-
course rather than as rational argumentation. This is the case,
for example, with the work of Jacques Derrida-a thinker for
whom I have the greatest admiration and devotion and to
whom I feel very close, as for that matter I do to Rorty, yet in
regard to whom I nonetheless experience some reasons for dis-
satisfaction. Derrida's discourse is poetic, in my opinion, not
because it is expressed in poetry, novels, or stories, but because,
in defiance of what seems to be an essential prerequisite of phi-
losophy, he refuses programmatically to begin with any"intro-
duction" whatsoever. Derrida never explains his reason for
choosing the themes he takes up; he offers the most brilliant
meditations on terms and concepts that are loaded with philo-
sophical history, which he reconstructs in an illuminating
manner, yet without ever theorizing the "logical" necessity of
taking up those topics in particular.
The positions of Derrida and Rorty, despite their differences,
represent a typical stance of modern, postmetaphysical philos-
~ ..."
. (
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ophy. Not all of contemporary philosophy can be related to this
stance, of course. The texts of Dilthey that I have cited are there-
fore of interest because they allow us to bring the other ways
chosen by modern philosophy into the picture as well. The
philosophies that resist being categorized as what Dilthey called
philosophies of life, or poetical and literary activities, are today
mostly developing in the other direction-gnoseology and the
theory of knowledge-that Dilthey himself preferred and
aimed to practice. At a time when all forms of metaphysics have
become, or have been revealed as, purely poetic and subjective
redescriptions of the world, an authentic and rigorous philoso-
phy, if it is not to give way entirely to the relativism of all the
various Weltanschauungs, has only one way out: to become a
sort of typology of the various subjective metaphysics. Today
we use different terms: we speakof the cognitive sciences, or the
philosophy of mind, or logic and epistemology. These are the
areas in which philosophical work is being done by those who
are not committed (as Rorty and Derrida are) to continuing
down the path opened up by Nietzsche and Heidegger. These
philosophies still see themselves as "rigorous sciences," and they
continue to pursue the goal that Dilthey, with greater historical
awareness perhaps, was also pursuing: that of surpassing the
pure relativism of the multiple redescriptions by erecting them
into a sort of general, and to some degree systematic, theory; or
striving, in the manner of Kant, to ascertain the transcendental
conditions of possibility; or, more in the manner of Dilthey
himself, attempting to construct a reasoned panorama of the
forms that the latter have assumed in the history of thought.
Such an inventory of types can never be regarded as complete
and definitive, but the intention behind it is still that of
approaching ever more closely to a "total" knowledge of the
world, of which the different metaphysics have offered different
"personal" versions, none of them exhaustive.
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One would like to be able to put to Dilthey the same ques-
tion that comes to mind when one ponders Rorty's theory of
the redescriptions: If every philosophy is a redeseription of the
world, then is the theory of the redescriptions itself only one
redescription among many? Is the gnoseology, or psychology,
or typology of Diltheyone kind of metaphysics among many, or
does it present itself as a metatheory that, for that very reason,
demands to be taken straight-as metaphysics, with the claim
to be definitive and systematic that that entails? It is true that
Derrida's position does not appear to fit easily into the picture
sketched so far, but that is only because it is a mixture of both
of the philosophical attitudes that we have just identified in
relation to Dilthey. In its nonfoundational style, it seems to be
one of the kinds of metaphysics that merely express a Weltan-
schauung, but to the extent that it is a deconstructive activity, it
has rather the air of a metatheoretical position, much like the
"gnoseology" and psychology of the visions of the world. Asen-
tence like this one, which occurs near the end of the essay The
Essence ofPhilosophy, may quite properly be applied to Derrida
(and even more so to Rorty): "The last word of the mind which
has surveyed all these Weltanschauungen is not the relativity of
each but the sovereignty of the mind over against every single
one of them, and also the positive consciousness of how in the
various attitudes of the mind the one reality of the world exists
for us:'? Although the last words quoted are not very Der-
ridean-but after all, does the world really amount to no more
than an interweave of textuality and interpretations, even for
Derrida?-it is certain that deconstruction is thought and jus-
tified, implicitly at least, as a form of emancipation, and thus of
sovereignty, vis-a.-vis all the supposedly evident truths of the
metaphysics of the past, of common sense, of the surfaces that
pretend to be seamless but that turn out to be riven, right from
the start, by the crack of differance.
In Dilthey's sentence, words like "sovereignty" and "mind"
certainly do not sound very Derridean either. And yet, or so at
least it seems to me, they do indicate a stance not entirely
remote from that of Derrida or Rorty, and if that is the case, it
means that even the philosophies now presenting themselves as
postmetaphysical and postmodern, in sum post-Western, still
remain to some extent within the horizon of metaphysics and
do not truly correspond to the event of the decline of the West
that, in many senses, they proclaim.
At this point it would seem that we can define the problem
before us with a little more precision; let us now formulate it
thus: What would a philosophy that really accepted the decline
of the West and conformed to it fully, without equivocation or
reservation, nostalgia or metaphysical relapse, look like? The
persistence of a metaphysical-and thus, sovereign-stance is
evident in the positions that explicitly codify themselves as
gnoseologies, epistemologies, or logics, and that conceive them-
selves as universally valid discourses in the most classical sense
of the philosophical tradition (and here I obviously include the
communicative neo-Kantianism of thinkers like Habermas and
Apel). But it appears that even the neopragmatism of Rorty and
Derrida's deconstructionism cannot dispense with a renewed
spirit of sovereignty, either because they present themselves as
metatheories (as with Rorty) or because, implicitly at any rate,
they legitimate themselves, like deconstruction, as deliverance
from the error of what Derrida calls metaphysicallogocentrism.
Metaphysics, said Heidegger in a famous essay in which he
discussed the problematic possibilityof"overcoming" it, cannot
be sloughed off the way one removes a suit.
Readers of Hei-
degger know that he tried to solve the problem of the impos-
sible overcoming of metaphysics-that is, the sovereignty of the
spirit, that is, the supremacy of the West-by elaborating a
problematic notion that in German is called "Verwindung"9:
not surpassing (Oberwindung) but twisting, resignation, ironic
acceptance. Of what? Of precisely the heritage of metaphysics,
and thus once again of the West and its supremacy and the
notion of universality.
What I intend to say is that philosophy, to "correspond" to
the decline of the West-that is, to speak of our own experience
and not drift off into evasive discourse-has to come to terms
with the "universalistic" heritage of thought, neither pretending
to link up with it, as though nothing had happened in the
meantime, as though Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, and Heidegger
had never lived, nor assuming that the problem has been liqui-
dated by the appearance of manifold visions of the world or
deconstructive liberation. Rorty and Derrida urge us not to
speak any longer of Being, but Heidegger dedicated all of his
thought precisely to remembering the oblivion of Being into
which the metaphysics of the past had fallen. The relevance of
Heidegger's striving to remember is proved by the fact that the
question of universality is coming to the fore today, in the wake
of the decline of the West: it returns like a sort of phantasm, in
just those thinkers who believe they have got free of it, and
looms large outside the bounds of philosophy proper, in the
existential problems with which late modernity finds itself hav-
ing to deal. I will cite just a few aspects of these problems, not
because I am ultimately in a position to point to solutions, but
merely to expose to full critical awareness the questions to
which philosophy ought to be trying to respond better than it is
doing today.
The background to these questions is obvious to all: the col-
lapse of the centrality of the West and its political hegemonyhas
set free numerous cultures and visions of the world that no
longer submit to being considered as moments or parts of an
overarching human civilization, with the West as its curator.
Even when the supremacyof the West is reduced to historical or
anthropological or psychological awareness, in the manner of
Dilthey and the modern human sciences, it always manifests a
hegemonic claim, most obviously in the philosophies that
descend directly from Kant and put themselves forward as the-
ories of the conditions of possibility of the multiple cultures.
On the other hand, simply to affirm that there exist many dif-
ferent visions of the world in the style of Rorty, or to review and
deconstruct them in the style of Derrida, seems not to take suf-
ficiently seriously the fact that the manifold visions of the world
do not peacefully coexist like a collection of artistic styles and
lifestyles in an imaginary museum. They give rise to conflicts,
claims of validity, and assertions of belonging, and philosophy
is expected to supply some indication of rational criteria to
keep these differences from degenerating into outright wars
between cultures. One cannot fail to see that the philosophy of
today is not fulfilling these expectations. This may well depend
on the fact that philosophy has quite rightly scaled back the
claims it makes for itself and that politics, in its various forms,
has ceased, again quite rightly, to think of itself as the applica-
tion of a rational program endowed with universal philosophi-
cal validity. The result is that despite a certain popularity pro-
moted by the permeability and the omnivorous hunger of the
mass media in many national contexts, the contribution of phi-
losophy to the rationalization and humanization of our exis-
tence in late industrial society is slight. The philosophers who
do continue to practice foundational discourse-the line that
pursues the transcendental thought of Kant-seem to us to live
in a world that isn't ours, ignoring the theoretical and practical-
political aspects of the decline of the West, while, on the other
hand, the philosophers who celebrate the dissolution of the
universalistic pretensions of reason seem to participate in this
dissolution all too easily, and we suspect them at bottom of
reducing philosophy and rationality to a pure esthetic game.
What if we let the idea of decline act as our beacon, without
(to repeat) inclining in the least toward Spengler and his biolo-
gism? "accident;' the Latin word for "the West," does after all
mean the place where the sun "goes down." Perhaps we should
link this term to others that (intuitively more than logically) go
with it: secularization, weakening, nostalgia, for example. The
beautiful title of an essay by Benedetto Croce, Perche non possi-
amo non dirci cristiani (Why we cannot not call ourselves Chris-
tians),1O could perhaps be adapted to read "why we cannot not
call ourselves western."
In speaking of "decline" and the other terms to which I pro-
pose to link it, what I mean to say is that philosophy can
contribute to a rethinking of the existential problems of late
modern society by taking upon itself the heritage of the West
and its decline, or rather the West in its decline. The two philo-
sophical attitudes that I sketched above, following Dilthey, are
oblivious to the spirit of decline either because theypursue meta-
physical universalism as though it had never undergone any cri-
sis or because they consider it dead and buried and accept the
existence of many different visions of the world as a fait accompli
(an acceptance still ineluctably tied to the spirit of sovereignty,
though). What philosophy would seem to require today is the
reconstruction of an idea of universal rationality that, if I have to
distinguish it from rationalism and metaphysics, I can do no bet-
ter than describe as weak and secularized. Secularization-in the
sense of the word deriving from the experience and the historical
existence of religion-is the model to keep in mind. Here again
the title of Benedetto Croce's Perche non possiamo non dirci cris-
tiani is helpful, as an expression of our secularized relationship to
the Christian tradition and/or the West. We knowthat modernity
would be unthinkable (as Max Weber was the first to show us
clearly) without the active presence in it of the heritage of
Christian dogma and ethics. Acknowledging this does not, for
many of us, mean deciding to return to medieval religiosity or at
any rate to the orthodox faith and discipline of the Church. But
it does mean rediscovering a linkage, a provenance, a family tree.
The secularization that has washed over the Christian tradition
of dogma and ethics in modernity, consuming it without
destroying it, is the model for the whole future of the West, and
not just in terms of religious faith. This is the most important
and radical meaning of Max Weber's discovery regarding the
origins of capitalism (and modern social rationalization) in the
Calvinist ethic, and earlier still in Judaeo-Christian monothe-
ism. The West, we might say, is declining because decline consti-
tutes its historical vocation. Or, to put it differently, the only way
the West is able to conceive of history and live it out is as the
history of secularization. Thus one of the fathers of modern his-
toricism, Giambattista Vico, conceives the meaning of the evolu-
tion of human civilization as the passage from the age of the
gods to that of the heroes to that of mankind. And note that Vico
was not an atheistic thinker but professed himself a faithful
Christian. Hegel himself, as we know, constructed his own sys-
tem on this model of progressive appropriation of the world on
the part of man but viewed it as a "divine" history. In all of mod-
ern historicism, the emancipation and perfecting of mankind
entail a move away from the sacral horizon of the beginnings.
This is not necessarily the extirpation of religion; indeed it is
often perceived as a revelation of the most authentic truth of the
divine-most authentic because profoundly related to the
human (Christ is God incarnate). If we recall the role Christian-
ity has played, even contrary to the explicit positions of the
churches, in the modern invention of democracy, equality, and
social and political rights, we can form an idea of how the idea
of secularization might be generalized, along the lines laid down
by Max Weber for economic structures. It is neither absurd, nor
perhaps blasphemous, to maintain that the truth of Christianity

is not the dogmas of the churches but the modern system of
rights, the humanization of social relations (where it has come
about), the dissolution of the divine right of all forms of author-
ity, even the Freudian discovery of the unconscious, which
deprives the voice of conscience (which is also the voice of the
most sanguinary kinds of fanaticism) of its supposed ultimacy,
its unquestionable sacrality.
What does philosophy gain by thinking of the West in terms
of decline and secularization? To start with, the "crisis of reason"
and the dissolution of metaphysics and foundational thought
can and should be thought of as phenomena of secularization in
the broad sense used here. The first consequence of seeing things
this way will be the awareness that with the end of metaphysics
we are not attaining a truer vision of reality-that would be
another metaphysics. Nietzsche had already perceived that belief
in God cannot be replaced by belief in an objective truth capable
of disproving religion and setting us free from the errors and lies
of the priests. This truth more true than the God of the priests
would then be the true God, even more dangerous and unac-
ceptable than the one of ecclesiastical tradition. If the end of
metaphysics is a phenomenon of secularization and not the dis-
covery of the real truth that confounds the lies of ideology, then
the problemof rationality can be looked at afresh (and not in the
despairing terms of relativism). The history of the dissolution of
metaphysics, and in general of the reduction of the sacred to
human dimensions, has its own logic, to which we belong and
which supplies us, in the absence of eternal truths, with the only
guide we have for arguing rationally and orienting ourselves in
the matter of ethical choice. Our belonging to the history of the
West as secularization is not something we can be convinced of
by proofs, it does not have the inner necessity of metaphysical
truths, but it is not like arbitrarily deciding to join a club, either,
or drawing up an agreement to use a certain artificial language.
Let us call it destiny-not in the sense of fate, but in the sense of
the destination toward which we are (already) headed by the
very fact that we exist. As we do with our own forebears and our
own past, we may adopt differing positions vis-a.-vis this destiny,
but always within a circumscribed limit and on the basis of cri-
teria that flow from our interpretation of our own provenance
and not from any outside source (like eternal, unhistorical
truth). When Crace says that "we cannot not call ourselves
Christians," he expresses all this and indicates-though not nec-
essarily in the sense I maintain here-how rationality might be
reconstructed without recourse to metaphysics or relativism.
To assume the heritage of the West in the spirit of Croce's
expression would, for example, entail an explicit acceptance of
the world now as mixture, crossbreeding, a site of weak identi-
ties and evanescent and "liberal" dogmatisms (religious, philo-
sophical, and cultural). This is something more than a spirit of
generic tolerance, which is usuallyjust a cloak for indifference or
minimalism and actually leads to a kind of apartheid, with
everyone expected to stay at home undisturbed, since we all have
the same rights. Aphilosophy of secularized and weakened uni-
versality does argue, debate, "disturb," precisely because its crite-
ria are those of weakening and secularization. If, as many signs
appear to suggest, there is a widespread tendency in the modern
world to react to Babel and postmodern pluralism by recuperat-
ing strong identities (ethnicity, religion, and class, even lobbies
and political cliques of various kinds), the philosophy of decline
furnishes no arguments for worshipping these rediscovered and
closely bounded identities-or for deconstructing all of them
from some lofty standpoint either. It reminds us that we all
belong to the West and that westernization is a destiny that even
the "other" cultures that have freed themselves from colonial sta-
tus and the label of primitive are unable to escape. The West in
the form in which it is spreading over the surface of the globe at
present is unwelcome to the former colonial peoples, but west-
erners themselves do not like it either. It is a type of civilization
and, more than that, a condition of the spirit from which in
many respects we would like to escape but with which we have
to reckon: we the indigenous westerners, but equally all those
who find themselves being rushed into westernization because
of the spread of technology, markets, and consumerism. The
philosophy of secularization accompanies this weak westerniza-
tion of the world, trying to locate within it some yardstick for
not passively accepting every aspect of it, for distinguishing
things that are "okay" from ones that aren't, however vague the
expression may sound. The revival of fundamentalism of every
sort is a cogent example: it is indeed one aspect of the late-
modern secularized world, but, measured by the yardstick of
secularization as weakening and the reduction of saerality, it can
be roundly criticized and rejected. In general, a philosophy that
recognizes the vocation of the West for decline and the weaken-
ing of strong identities can help us to conceive the inevitable
westernization of the world in terms that we may venture to call
light, mellow, and soft. As a concrete example, this would mean
accepting international limits to growth instead of making a
fetish of competition as the only way of promoting it. (I am
thinking of issues that sometimes make the headlines and that
will be doing so more and more, like the destruction of the Ama-
zon rain forest and other patrimonies of nonrenewable natural
resources; the West has developed by consuming these resources
to the point of threatening to destroy the planet; now it is asking
so-called third-world countries not to go down the same road.
Obviously this is an indecent request if it doesn't entail the
acceptance of limits and the sharing of costs on the part of the
industrialized countries.)
This is probably the only conclusion (and a provisional one at
that-but not negligible) to be drawn from the views I have set
out on philosophy and the West in the present situation. Philos-
ophy follows paths that are not insulated or cut off from the
social and political transformations of the West (since the end of
metaphysics is unthinkable without the end of colonialism and
Eurocentrism) and"discovers" that the meaning of the history of
modernity is not progress toward a final perfection characterized
byfullness, total transparency, and the presence finally realized of
the essence of man and the world. It comes to see that the eman-
cipation and liberation that mankind has always sought are
attainable through a weakening of strong structures, a reduction
of claims, and that implies, in general terms, that quality counts
for more than quantity, that listening to what others have to say
counts for more than measuring objects with precision. In all
fields, including science, truth itself is becoming an affair of
consensus, listening, participation in a shared enterprise, rather
than one-to-one correspondence with the pure hard objectivity
of things: this objectivity is only conceivable as the outcome of
a sociallabor that binds humans to one another rather than
to the "reality" of objects. (This is one of the meanings, or the
core meaning, of the passage from consciousness to self-
consciousness in Hegel's Phenomenology of the Spirit.) I would
even say that this movement could be encapsulated by referring
in Christian terms to a passage from veritas to caritas.
In the face of the transformations of the West and the social
and political problems of today, this philosophy of weakening
does not cling to a neutral or purely deconstructive position. It
suggests that, whereas hitherto in the course of the maturation
of modernity, political choices and the collective mentality have
been dominated by the idea of development at any cost, espe-
cially at the cost of quality of life and often at the cost of the very
lives of individuals, communities, and entire peoples, today this
logic should no longer be accepted. It is curious to note that in
order to mitigate the (maybe sometimes excessive) fears that we
all feel when faced with the problems arising from the global-
ization of the economy (with the threat of widespread unem-
ployment that hangs over the West), free-market economists
struggle to prove that the crisis through which we are living is
no different from many others that the capitalist economy has
known and weathered in the cyclical course of its development.
Of course, they say, many jobs will be lost in certain parts of the
world, but just as many and maybe more will be created in oth-
ers. In the long run, they promise, the invisible hand of the mar-
ket will reestablish acceptable conditions of equilibrium and a
higher level for everyone.
Faced with reasoning like this, philosophy discovers with a
certain pride that it is not a science but only the expression (for-
malized, to be sure) of the "lifeworld;' with its needs, expecta-
tions, hopes, and its demand for rights. The idea that the invisible
hand will restore equilibrium at the cost of unhappiness for
the many who will in the (long or short) term lose their jobs is a
typically metaphysical idea, of the kind from which twentieth-
century philosophy has set us free. To realize everyone's entitle-
ment to a meaningful existence, or, if you like, their right to
"happiness;' is the goal that philosophy is striving to attain by
finding the meaning of history not in quantitative development
but in a generalized intensification of the meaning of existence,
implying solidarity rather than competition and the reduction
of all forms of violence rather than the affirmation of metaphys-
ical principles or the endorsement of scientific models of society.
As the reader will see, all this puts philosophy-at any rate,
philosophy willing to shoulder the responsibilities that derive
from the decline of the West-much closer to religion than to
science. This closeness has been forgotten by many philoso-
phers; to recall it and develop its implications is perhaps the
main task of thought today. In this sense too, as Croce said, "we
cannot not call ourselves Christians."
3. Ethics of Provenance
here are many people who are asking (themselves) about
ethics and asking for ethics, and if there is one thing on which
one might hope they would agree, it is the expectation that
ethics will yield binding "principles;' an answer to the question:
"What (ought we) to do?" "Duty;' perhaps the most frequently
recurring word in any discussion of ethics, appears to take on
meaning only in relation to some "principle" from which the
logically consequent answer "follows"; not to conform to it
would amount to a revolt against reason itself-practical rea-
son, though not so easily distinguishable from the theoretical
kind. Indeed, from the perspective of the intellectualism that
has dominated much philosophical ethics, it is hard to under-
stand why anyone would balk at acting rationally (that is, in
conformity with principles). The explanations advanced for
such "irrational" behavior include the passions, the interests, all
the drives originating in the sphere of what the scholastics used
to call "concupiscence." Antagonists of rationality, these drives
are linked to the least noble part of the human being, the body,
which is destined to crumble into dust, whereas the soul has an
essence like that of the eternal ideas, and it is there that reason
has its seat.
metaphysics, including the very ideal of truth itself. All these
"schools of suspicion" were not, in turn, the fruits of pure theo-
retical ratiocination: they accompanied, or at any rate reflected,
profound social transformations. Their reasonableness and the-
oretical validity can only be defended by referring to these social
circumstances and showing that a philosophy that does away
with first principles, or rather that actually comes into being as
theoretical recognition of the unfoundedness of thought, is the
most appropriate response-the most verisimilar, the best
attuned-to the epoch of late-modern pluralism.
To corespond to the times is also a responsible form of com-
mitment; so even here a form of obligation subsists, which
allows us to speak of a rationality and an ethicality, meaning a
commitment to derive logical consequences and practical
imperatives from certain "principles" (here used merely in the
sense of points of departure). Some may protest that this just
repeats the pattern of metaphysical ethics: you recognize the
principles, articulate them rationally, then derive guidelines for
action from them. They would be perfectly correct: except that
here the metaphysical mechanism is taken up again and dis-
torted, following a logic that Heidegger discerned and elabo-
rated theoretically under the name Verwindung, which repeats
that of metaphysics while radically changing its meaning.
Metaphysical ethics, for example, inevitably buckles when
subjected to the critique known as "Hume's law," according to
which it is illicit to pass from the description of a factual state to
the formulation of a moral principle without explicit reasons,
as metaphysics does. If someone exhorts me to be a "man," he is
not really ordering me to be what I naturally am but recom-
mending certain virtues that in his eyes must (but why?) go
with the essence of man. And so on. Now, an ethics "respon-
sible" to its own epoch and not founded on first principles is not
vulnerable (or is much less vulnerable) to Hume's law because
The question of ethics is rarely broached in these terms in
today's philosophical literature, and the explanation is obvious.
It is not an explanation "in principle," only a factual datum: rea-
soning on the basis of principles, of ultimate foundations (estab-
lished, recognized, intuited) from which logical and practical
implications are then extracted, is no longer in fashion. The cri-
sis in ethics, which is seen as a factor, the main such factor
according to some, contributing to the poor standard of public
and private morality, is the discredit into which "principled" rea-
soning, legitimated in relation to universally valid foundations,
has fallen. It is not hard to see that the universality and ultimacy
of principles are the same thing: an ultimate foundation is one
for which no conditions can be adduced that in turn found it; if
it has no conditions, it is unconditioned, it can only present itself
as an absolute truth that no one should be able to refuse (except
with an unfounded refusal, a pure irrational act). When, as hap-
pens especially in nineteenth- and twentieth-century thought,
first principles are reduced to secondary status, as being already
conditioned by something else (the ideological mechanisms of
false consciousness, the will to dominate, the play of repression
in the subconscious), the claim to universality falls into discredit
too. This discredit, which (let us repeat) is not an argumented
rebuttal of some principle but a global change of direction, con-
tingent and thus riddled with exceptions, can be described only
approximately, not conclusively evinced. It has to do with the
rise of cultural pluralism, which as a result of the altered politi-
cal relationship between the West and the other cultural realms
that have gone from colonial- to independent-nation status, has
thrown into relief the partiality of what for many centuries
European philosophy was wont to consider the essence of also has to do with the marxist critique of ideology,
Freud's discovery of the unconscious, and the radical demythi-
cization to which Nietzsche subjected traditional morality and
I! .1
the "fact" to which it attempts to correspond is in turn hardly
objective at all, it is itself a cultural legacy, manifold and repre-
sentable only through a responsible act of interpretation, which
does not give rise to stark imperatives.
If philosophy is still able to speak about ethics rationally,
meaning in a way responsible to the only referents that still
count-the epoch, our heritage, our provenance-it can do so
only by taking as its explicit point of departure (and not as its
foundation) the condition of nonfoundedness in which we find
ourselves thrown today. The aspect of our provenance and
heritage that emerges as dominant or that deserves (but in pref-
erence to what others?) to be considered dominant is precisely
the dissolution of first principles, the spread of an irreducible
plurality. Is it possible to work out an ethical discourse-"prin-
ciples" from which flow guidelines for action, counsels for
behavior, and hierarchies of"values"-on the basis of a "prove-
nance;' or specific place on a timeline, characterized as the dis-
solution of foundations? Is this dissolution not perhaps a mere
factual condition, the circumstance in which we find ourselves
doing our thinking? Or, being the condition in which founda-
tions have become obsolete, does it not rather become the sole
"foundation;' however sui generis and verwunden, that we can
use to argue about ethics? Metaphysics has not deserted us com-
pletely: its very dissolution (the death of God of which Nietz-
sche spoke, if you like) takes on the contour of a process
endowed with its own logic, on which we can draw for the basic
materials needed to start rebuilding. (I am talking here about
what Nietzsche called nihilism: not just the nihilism that acts as
a solvent of all principles and values but also an "active"
nihilism, the chance to begin a different history.)
But what can we take, in terms of ethics (maxims of action,
recommendations for behavior, hierarchies of "value") from
the recognition (interpretive, dense already with responsible
choices) that we belong to a tradition characterized as the dis-
solution of principles? The main feature of an ethics of this kind
is that it takes a "step backward," takes its distance from the
choices and concrete options that are directly imposed by the
situation. It might be objected that if there are no universal
supreme first principles, then the only things that would seem
to count are the imperatives dictated by specific situations. But
it is precisely here that a postmetaphysical ethics diverges from
relativism pure and simple (assuming that such a thing could
ever exist): the realization that the credibility of first principles
has melted away does not transmute into the assumption that
the only absolutes left are our historical condition and our
membership in a community. If the real world (the first prin-
ciples) has become a myth, Nietzsche writes, then the myth too
has been destroyed (and so cannot in turn be absolutized).
The situation to which we really belong before all else, and
toward which we are responsible in our ethical choices, is that
of the dissolution of principles, of nihilism. If we choose
instead to find our ultimate points of reference in the most spe-
cific kinds of attachment (to race, ethnic group, family, or
class), then we limit our perspective right at the outset. Putting
on blinkers of this kind amounts to repeating the metaphysical
game of the first principles by taking a specific and particular
myth as an ideological absolute, as the "real world:' There
would certainly be no point in opposing it with a countervail-
ing absolute imperative: but we can try to show how wide the
horizons really are. The message is: if you agree that prove-
nance is the reference for ethics, then I invite you to drop the
blinkers and see how many strands our provenance is really
composed of.
But this does not mean "taking everything into account," as
though it could ever be possible to make a complete inventory of
what it is that constitutes the provenance toward which we are
given alternatives of the situation is meaningful, that is not
because it is possible or obligatory to occupy a higher, "univer-
sal" standpoint but rather because it is the situation itself, once
we face up to it without hasty metaphysical closure (that is, once
we interpret it with an effort to grasp its composite and open
character), that demands we step back from the deceptively
"ultimate" alternatives it seems to present.
Only by working through this complicated knot of concepts,
I believe, can a "responsible" philosophy address ethics today.
Do I demand a stance that is too abstract, remote from every-
day experience? Well, is not the very feeling of being extraneous
to the "concrete" alternatives in which we find ourselves thrown
a constitutive trait of our everyday experience? Why should we
view this feeling as a pure individual psychological fact and not
an "uneasiness of civilization" that deserves better than to be
brushed aside?
What seems to be critical here (however one works through
the line of reasoning) is that the dissolution of principles should
be taken as the starting point from which to move toward an
ethics without metaphysics, an ethics that no longer pretends,
even surreptitiously, to embody the practical application of
some theoretical certainty about ultimate foundations. Rela-
tivism, in which the step backward is reduced to a pure and
simple refusal to assent (there are numerous examples in
today's philosophy, often phenomenological in origin and bear-
ing the stamp of the epoche theorized by Husserl), is really no
more than a cloak for blase intellectuals. As we have seen, it is a
way of reverting to the metaphysics of principles, a pretence of
finding a firm foothold in a universal point of view.
But if we do wish truly to correspond to the dissolution of
principles, then it would appear that we really have no choice
except to set about constructing an ethics around our finitude.
! By this I do not mean a prelude to a leap into the infinite (many
responsible. Characterizing it as the dissolution of principles-
as nihilism-will never lead to the definition of a new, more
valid, principle, but it will make possible a critical stance vis-a-
vis everything that is put forward as an ultimate and universal
principle. Note that not even this stance can be thought of as
universally valid, advisable for everyone always. It is, on its own
showing, appropriate to a certain condition-the one Heideg-
ger defines as the epoch of the end of metaphysics that won't
really end, or what Nietzsche calls the death of God that many
people haven't yet heard of, and that will take centuries to work
itself out in all its consequences.
The modern philosophical tradition offers significant ele-
ments of support for this thesis, and not just the "law" of Hume
mentioned a moment ago. The principal one is Kantian ethical
formalism, with its imperative that we only adopt maxims of
action that can still be valid as universal norms (doing what we
would want anyone to do in a given situation). Here, evidently,
universality is not attributed positively to a certain content; it
functions merely as a solicitation not to take a specific content
that assumes cogency under particular conditions (an inclina-
tion, an interest, etc.) as an ultimate principle.
I come back to the question: What, in terms of maxims of
action and hierarchies of value, do we get from assuming
responsibility in the face of the dissolution of principles?
There is a risk attached to taking a step backward, distancing
ourselves from the concrete alternatives, which is that this may
lead to the adoption of a relativistic metaphysics. Relativism can
perfectly well be described as metaphysical because only from a
position solidly anchored in some universal point of view can
we (should we) gaze on multiplicity as multiplicity. Relativism,
one might say, is the (self-contradictory and impracticable)
metaphysical rigidification of finitude. Only God could be
authentically relativist. If the step backward with respect to the
~ I :
religious currents of twentieth-century thought this way:
the recognition of finitude prepares for the leap of faith; on!y a
God can save us), nor the final acceptance of the alternatives
concretely presented by the situation. An ethics of finitude
to keep faith with the discovery that one's own provenance IS
"located," in a way always and insuperably finite, without for-
getting the pluralistic implications of this I"go
church with the saints (santi), and to the tavern with the guys
(fanti), as we say in Italian, and I can never delude that I
am really standing somewhere else, somewhere Even as I
am writing this philosophical paper, I am merely III
condition, which imposes certain obligations on me lIke any
other: the particular condition of the philosopher,
critic, never that of Universal Man. What ethics-what
of action what hierarchy of values-can one derive from thiS
It is not a common stance, even in today's disen-
chanted philosophical spectrum: think of the popularity of
phenomenology or the way much of philosophy is eliding into
cognitive science.
In the first place, to be sure, a toolkit of maxims and other
implements with a critical edge: "if someone. says to
you: the Messiah is here, or there, do not be.lIeve him ; the
Messiah appears principally (perhaps only) III the negative form
of a critical ideal. So one steps back and joins actively in the work
(it has already begun) of nihilism. In every area of our
especially politics, the job that awaits us is to start cleanng
away the dense undergrowth of metaphysical absolutes-a
variegated flora, with the laws of the marketplace as a recent
prize specimen.
And next: ever-renewed alertness to the content of our her-
itage and provenance. If that seems to exaggerate the d.imension
of the past, then let us call it alterity instead: the vOice of th.e
other, of our human contemporaries, is also provenance, and It
is obviously to them alone that we are responsible. As in the
critical edition of a text, this alertness will entail many "philo-
logical" choices: What to retain actively and what to exclude
from the core of ideas, values, "principles" of which we consider
ourselves the heirs and by which we feel ourselves summoned?
These choices must be made through acts of responsible inter-
pretive recognition. It is also a job for professional intellectuals,
though not exclusively so, but in today's society, with the media
broadcasting the content of the cultural tradition of the West
anyway, and by nowthat of other cultures as well, it is no longer
thinkable that the labor of heeding provenance-as Heidegger
would call it, or "deconstruction," as Derrida calls it-should be
a matter for a few professionals. To put it another (Nietzschean)
way: Whoever today does not become superman (one able to
interpret for himself) is destined to perish, as a free individual
at any rate. To delude oneself that there is a core of knowledge
proper to "natural" man and accessible to anyone with a bit of
sound common sense is an error that is by now almost impos-
sible to commit in good faith. The Church (churches?) still
clings fast to the idea of a"natural" metaphysics accessible to the
healthy human mind (albeit directed by the magisterial teach-
ing of popes and priests: original sin does indeed exist and is
known, in nonmythicallanguage, as historicity), perhaps out of
skepticismabout the possibilityof making everyone a superman,
an interpreter. But such skepticism (let us concede this much to
the Enlightenment) is also the main factor in making this pos-
sibility a remote one.
Heeding our heritage does not, therefore, lead only to the
"devaluation of all values" but also to the resumption and con-
tinuation of a portion of the content we have inherited. Many
"rules of the game" by which we know that our society func-
tions will not simply be suspended or revoked in an ethics of
finitude. Quite a few are the same ones that metaphysics or

ecclesiastical authoritarianism once dispensed to us as "natu-
ral" norms. Seen for what they are, a cultural legacy and not
nature or essence, such rules can still hold good for us, but with
a different cogency-as rational norms (recognized through
dis-cursus, logos, reason: through a reconstruction of how they
came about), rid of the violence that characterizes ultimate
principles (and the authorities who feel themselves entrusted
with them). Whether or not they still hold good is something to
be decided in light of the criterion that, with a responsible
interpretation, we take to be characteristic of whatever "really"
forms part of the legacy to which we feel ourselves committed.
If we find this criterion in nihilism, in the dissolution of ulti-
mate foundations and their unverifiability (the violent refusal
to have them questioned), then the choice between what holds
good and what does not in the cultural heritage from which we
come will be made on the basis of the reduction of violence and
under the sign of rationality understood as discourse-dialogue
between defenders of finite positions who recognize that that is
what they are and who shun the temptation to impose their
position on others legitimately (through validation by first
principles) .
This is the overall significance of this ethics of finitude: the
exclusion of violence that thinks itself legitimate and the exclu-
sion of the violent refusal to be questioned, the authoritarian
silencing of the other in the name of first principles (is there any
other possible definition of violence that does not fall back into
the coils of essentialism?). I have already noted that it will cer-
tainly retain, just as much contemporary philosophical ethics
does, some aspects of Kantism (especially the formulation of
the categorical imperative in terms of respect for the other:
always regard the humanity in yourself and in others as an end,
never as simply a means), but they will be stripped of any dog-
matic residue, of the kind still perceptible in Habermas's theory
of communicative action and the thought of Apel. Respect for
the other, in the ethics of finitude, is not in the least grounded
in the presupposition that she is a bearer of human reason equal
and identical in everyone. In the neo-Kantian positions just
mentioned, this principle entails the pedagogical-authoritarian
implication that one does indeed listen to the reasons of the
other, but only after taking care to guarantee that they have not
been "manipulated." Respect for others is, above all, recognition
of the finitude that characterizes all of us and that rules out any
complete conquest of the opacity that every person bears. I may
note that there are no positive reasons here on which to found
such respect (itself indefinite in any case). Not, for example, the
recognition that we are essentially equal, that we are offspring
of the same father, that my life depends on others, or anything
like that. Such reasons reveal their vagueness and unsustain-
ability the moment they are enunciated explicitly: only a preju-
dice based on family could justify a command to love your
brother; or an egoism based on biological species the idea that I
have to respect the other because she is made like me; or egoism
pure and simple when we are commanded to respect the other
because our own survival depends on her; and so on.
If we accept the nihilistic destiny of our epoch and face the
fact that we cannot rely upon any ultimate foundation, then any
possible legitimation of the violent abuse of others vanishes.
The temptation to violence may never be extinguished-any
more than it is within any other ethical frame of reference. The
difference here is that the temptation is stripped of all appear-
ance of legitimacy: something that is not the case with essen-
tialist ethics, however disguised (including "communicative"
ethics in the style of Habermas).
But if the guiding ideas of the dissolution of principles and
the reduction of violence are not "proved," only assumed for
interpretive purposes (on the basis of arguments that are never
4. Liberty and Peace in the Postmodern Condition
et us try to answer a simple question: does the "postmodern
condition" (which we should certainly try to define in a less
generic way) make peace and liberty more likely, or does it
threaten them, as many people seem to think? A straightfor-
ward answer is probably impossible to give, but it is worth put-
ting the question in this blunt manner in order to force our-
selves to bring a number of points into sharper focus. This in
turn may help us to see more clearly what the outline of our sit-
uation is and how it may affect our chances of achieving peace
and liberty in the context of the late-industrial society in which
we are living.
Let us therefore try to state, as clearly as possible, what it is
we mean when we speak of"postmodernity;' and let us begin by
addressing the ambiguity of the word itself: if"modern" is taken
to mean the latest style, whatever is newer than what went
before, then "postmodernity" can hardly mean anything other
than the most recent, most modern modernity-precisely the
opposite of what it really means. This is not simply an instance
of terminological confusion. It is the logic of modernity itself
that hampers us when we try to speak about postmodernity.
i, The logic of modernity is the logic of linear time, a continuous
more than rhetorical, verisimilar, ete.), then is there any more to
the ethics of finitude than exhortation? Even a metaphysician
like Aristotle recognized that the cogency of a mathematical
proof is not the same thing as the persuasiveness of ethical dis-
course. If Hume's law is-in some sense--valid, ethics can
never speak the language of hard proof. And ethics is utterly
conditional upon Hume's law; it can only command, exhort,
and judge as long as that which must be done is not (a) fact.

and unitary process that moves toward betterment, in the
Enlightenment vision of modernity at any rate. But even when,
as in reactionary thought, the process is conceived as a road
sloping toward decadence, the logic remains linear, with time as
a single strand unraveling toward the worse instead of "making
progress." Nowif there is one thing that constitutes the essential
content of the idea of postmodernity, and also its logical possi-
bility, it is the negation of this unilinearity of historical time. We
are not postmodern because we come after modernity, nor
because, having arrived later, we are farther along the road to
the better or the worse. We are postmodern because these
dimensions, which were always temporal and axiological for
modernity, no longer have meaning for us. Obviously one thing
continues to happen after another, but the positioning of this
succession in "a" time conceived as an ultimate and absolute
dimension, as the overall horizon of meaning, no longer holds
good. Within that perspective, to be called a "reactionary"-
someone who was esteemed more, or less, than someone else
because they based their value system on the past-could be
meant, and taken, either as an insult or a compliment. Post-
modernity is typified by the situation Nietzsche described in the
second of the Untimely Meditations
: the individual of his (and
our) time wanders about like a tourist in a history park, trying
on one historical mask after another as fancy dictates. In that
text, Nietzsche judged this attitude harshly, but in the develop-
ment of his subsequent thought there are good reasons to think
that he changed his mind. And perhaps it was not just a symp-
tom of his final insanity when he wrote in one of his letters from
Turin at the beginning of 1889: "I am all the names of history."
To simplify, modernity can be considered as the time when to
be modern is the highest value-because time is unilinear and
whoever is at the forefront of temporal movement is also far-
ther "ahead;' closer to betterment, to the light of reason, accord-
ing to the Enlightenment; closer to terminal collapse according
to the reactionaries. Nietzsche, and Burckhardt before him, had
taught that in history there is no logic, no rational develop-
ment. Benjamin was later to add that it is the winners who con-
struct a philosophy of history as rational system, seeing it as the
"logical" preparation and legitimation of their position of priv-
ilege. It may well be that we cannot do without a philosophy of
history, that in order to reason at all, we have to "know what
world we are living in;' carrying out the same operation that
Benjamin attributes to the dominant classes with an interest in
legitimating their own power. The classes beneath them also
have a philosophy of history, though, formulated somewhat dif-
ferently. The point is that while modernity believed in a history
as unitary objective process, today we knowthat our interpreta-
tion of history is just that, an interpretation and no more;
hence, it is an "interested" reconstruction, inspired by a project
like every other form of knowledge we have of the world, even
experimental science, putatively the most objective of all.
The real passage into postmodernity is the event that Niet-
zsche called the "death of God." In Christian doctrine this death
is that of Christ on the cross, and it is not out of the question
that in his proclamation Nietzsche was taking on the role of sec-
ularized interpreter of this event. But what he was explicitly
referring to is the fact that modern man no longer has any need
of a God as first foundation of the world. The belief in God was
decisive in making possible the constitution of a society and in
general the rationalization of existence (in the same sense in
which, for Max Weber, modern science and technology, and
even the modern economy, are offshoots of Judeo-Christian
monotheism and the Protestant ethic). But for just that reason,
such a belief is superfluous today. Nietzsche recounts this
process in more mythological terms: believers have been com-
manded by their God not to lie, and precisely in order to obey
this commandment they have been forced in the end to deny
God himself, discovering that he is a lie-a belief that is no
longer needed and that clashes with their spirit of truth.
The disappearance of a unitary sense of history, conceived as
objective rationality, is a consequence, an aspect, or rather the
true and proper meaning, of the death of God. It is in fact what
Nietzsche calls nihilism, the awareness that becoming has no
significance, no goal, no logical articulation whatsoever. The
death of God is not a philosophical theory, nor the "discovery"
of some objective structure to the world, as though we had
established that God does not exist. It is a global historical event
of which, according to Nietzsche, we are at the same time the
witnesses and the protagonists, we humans of today even more
than he, for he saw himself only as the prophet of the event. It
was in fact during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries that
cultural anthropology became fully cognizant of the ineluctable
multiplicity of cultures, each endowed with its own individual
logic and rationality, and each resistant to reductive classifica-
tion as a primitive phase of the only supposedly authentic
human culture, our western civilization. In the second half of
the twentieth century not only did the anthropological struc-
turalism of Levi-Strauss impose itself as the common language
of western culture, but Eurocentric colonialism came in fact to
an end. The "other" cultures are finding their voice and assert-
ing themselves as autonomous visions of reality, with which
Europeans have to start a dialogue, which they can. no longer
simply "civilize" or "convert." Within western societies them-
selves this process of pluralization has made itself felt, and it is
not unlikely that our insight into the conventional aspects of
scientific knowledge and the historicity of the paradigms within
which the hypotheses of experimental science are verified or
falsified is at the very least connected to the end of Eurocentric
faith in the unity of reason.
The image Nietzsche used in his essay on history does however
seem too idyllic to describe what is actually happening in the
world of postmodern nihilism. No one, no individual or social
group, today actually matches the picture of the person wander-
ing in the history park or the storehouse of theatrical props, freely
choosing which mask to put on or remove, one after another.
Benjamin's thoughts on the philosophy of history as the convic-
tions of the winners are enough to put us on our guard against
the excessive optimism of that image. But, for that matter, Nietz-
sche himself had stigmatized nineteenth-century historicism as
decadent and was well aware that to live in the world of plurality,
that is, in the postmodern Babel of cultures irreducible to a com-
mon core, a superhuman effort was required: the Obermensch or
overman. This term has acquired somber notoriety in contem-
porary culture, mainly because it looked as though it were an
anticipation of the mad theories and racist policies of the Third
Reich. There are, however, good reasons for thinking that any
linkage between Nietzsche and the Nazis is highly arbitrary; it is
not a question of trying to save Nietzsche at all costs but only of
reading him, without any pretence of historical "objectivity"
(something he would certainly have rejected), in relation to a
defensible project, precisely through an act of quite self-aware
interpretation. The misunderstandings that have arisen regard-
ing the idea of the Obermensch, and in general regarding the
political significance of Nietzsche's thought, do, however, high-
light a real difficulty of postmodern culture, which directly con-
cerns the theme of this essay, liberty and peace.
Is peace not founded on truth a possibility? In a fragment
entitled "European Nihilism" written in June 1887 at Lenzer
Heide, Nietzsche appears to point to an outcome different to
the violence of all against all that could erupt when belief in an
objective order of things had vanished, in other words upon the
death of God.
There he writes that in the end, in a situation in
which all were aware that there is no objective truth to give us
guidance, it would not be the violent who would prevail but
more moderate individuals, ones with a certain capacity for
irony toward themselves.
Naturally this text is too brief to serve as the basis for a Nietz-
schean "politics" that would clear him of the suspicion aroused
by his repeated declarations about the necessity for the weak to
perish so that the Obermensch might live. So let us leave Nietz-
sche to one side and ask ourselves to what extent the postmod-
ern world does open up new possibilities, and maybe new risks
as well, for peace and liberty.
The immediate answer would appear to be negative: in the
postmodern Babel of cultures and value systems, it is perhaps
conceivable that we may experience greater freedom, but for
just that reason it would seem that we are exposed to the threat
of endemic disorder and therefore a situation of constant con-
flict. An American scholar, Samuel P. Huntington, has laid out a
scenario of clashing civilizations that would be fatal in the cur-
rent world situation.
Bearing in mind this dark "prophecy,"
Nietzsche's fragment on the ascendancy of those "more moder-
ate;' especially those capable of a certain self-irony, becomes a
little more relevant. In other parts of his oeuvre, Nietzsche had
already warned that the death of God had to be lived out as the
death of the very notion of truth itself, otherwise our enslave-
ment to some supreme value or other would never cease: God
would only have changed his name, the oppressive effects of his
domination would live on. If we look around us, this is exactly
what is happening in postmodern pluralism, where each one of
the many cultures that have now found a voice (through liber-
ation from colonialism or through the "discovery" of the
inescapable multiplicity of the "play of language") continues to
live as if it were the sole and supreme human culture possible.
The polytheism of values about which Weber also wrote cannot
be a religion with numerous gods, all of them equally unique
and omnipotent. The pantheon of the Romans, in which the
statues of all the divinities of the various conquered peoples
occupied a place one after the other, was certainly an imperial
affair, but it did have the advantage of a certain inbuilt skepti-
cism or, to put it in the terms of Nietzsche's fragment, a certain
If we do not want-as indeed we cannot, except at the risk of
terrible newwars of extinction-to give way to the temptation of
resurgent fundamentalisms grounded in race, religion, or even
the defense of individual national cultures against invasion by
"foreigners," we will have to imagine a humanity with at least
some of the characteristics of Nietzsche's Obermensch. The
superficial image of some sort of brawnystrongman prevailing in
the process of natural selection through sheer muscle power need
not detain us. Nietzsche said explicitly that he was no Darwinian
ass, and what he means by the Obermensch is someone who does
have the capacity to move about like a tourist in the park of his-
tory, in other words one who is able to look at many cultures with
a gaze more esthetic than "objective" and truth seeking.
Many ethical positions advanced in our time appear to
incorporate an image of this kind; the first name that comes to
mind is that of Michel Foucault, for whom morality is at bot-
tom the construction of one's own life as a coherent work of art.
This stance does not derive from decadentism or D'Annunzio;
what Foucault means is the preoccupation with a choice of style
and a coherence no less binding than an ethical imperative in
the current sense of the term. But Foucault was certainly a
thinker profoundly influenced by Nietzsche. If we turn our
attention instead to the work of many analytic thinkers in the
Anglo-Saxon tradition, we see that for them the task is to bring
out the implications of concrete moral options with arguments
along these lines: If you accept such and such a behavior, that
entails also wishing for this or that consequence, but then you
have to decide whether that is the outcome you really do desire.
Except for some forms of utilitarianism too dogmatic and
abstract ever to be applied, no ultimate foundation for impera-
tives and maxims is ever supplied. The real goal of this
approach, though, is a certain coherence: not necessarily just
the coherence of an arbitrary, individual project but-and this
holds for the moral styles of Foucault as well-coherence
mostly with historical situations, with tables of shared values.
The same is true of moral action as seen from the perspective of
Kantian thinkers like Habermas, Hare, and Rawls: here the aim
is to choose maxims of action that one could reasonably adopt
vis-a-vis all possible interlocutors, with no claim to the status of
apodictic proofs.
Are we really to conclude that these ethical stances of today
must be rejected because of some contamination by profound
estheticism? In my opinion, we ought rather to heed this
"esthetic" tendency in order to see how the culture of today can
and should reconcile social peace with liberty. What we really
need to do-and this does not necessarily have to conflict with
religiosity, especially Christian religiosity-is to say farewell to
claims to absolute truth. In a society in which we are more and
more likely to encounter ethical and religious positions and cul-
tural traditions unlike the ones we were born into and grew up
with, the best stance to adopt is that of a "tourist" in a history
park. The real enemy of liberty is the person who thinks she can
and should preach final and definitive truth.
To put it another way: the salvation of our postmodern civ-
ilization can only be an esthetic salvation. I am well aware that
this sounds almost like a blasphemous parody of the famous
expression used by Heidegger in the final interviewpublished in
Der Spiegel: "Only a God can save us now."4 But I am not so sure
that the meaning of Heidegger's expression is really that differ-
ent from what I intend here. The God of Heidegger was cer-
tainly not a dogmatic God, the being whom one strand of
Christianity was all too quick to identify with the Aristotelian
prime mover and supreme legislator of nature-thus achieving
no more than to make liberty and history unthinkable.
The West, and the Christianity that forms its soul and
essence, will only be able to develop its own universalistic voca-
tion by incorporating, as Nietzsche suggested in the fragment
on "European Nihilism;' a large dose of irony toward itself. The
first step for Christianity, for example, would be to recognize
that the incarnation of Jesus is not just the denial of other
mythologies but also and paradoxically their legitimation, since
it reveals a relation of intimacy between God and the world that
at the very least makes them credible too (if God made himself
human, he may also have taken the form of a cat or a sacred
cow). This extreme case apart, it does appear undeniable that
the westernization (and perhaps also the Christianization) of
the world, a phenomenon unlikely to be reversed, can only
come about peacefully through a process of dilution and weak-
ening of their claims to absolute truth and validity.
To come back to Heidegger, it was he who spoke of the West,
the Abendland, as the place of the going down of Being, and per-
haps he did not mean it, contrary to the generally held view, in
an entirely negative sense, in deprecation of the nihilistic des-
tiny of our technological civilization. His definition can be
understood instead as a recognition of the profound vocation
of the West, which has constituted itself as the site, since the
Roman pantheon at least, of a series of secularizations, consti-
tuted itself, that is, through interpretations that one after
another have undermined the pretended absoluteness of the
"principles" on which the West was based. An emblematic case
is the ebbing away of the literal mode of understanding the
But whatever the validity of this western "philosophy of his-
tory"-which presents itself only as an interpretation, reason-
able inasmuch as it is guided by the project of civilization as the
reduction of violence-it seems clear that the reconciliation of
peace and liberty in the postmodern or late-modern world will
be attained only on condition that esthetics prevails over objec-
tive truth. The variety of lifestyles and the diversity of ethical
codes will be able to coexist without bloody clashes only if they
are considered as, precisely, styles, not reciprocally exclusive but
compatible, like the artistic styles within an art collection-and
for that matter within a museum, although the word has an
alarming sound because it seems to reduce forms of life to dead
things recovered from the past. Fear of this kind of "supermar-
kef' of ethics, religions, and visions of reality (a fear that we all
feel to some degree) can be unmasked, with a little help from
Nietzsche, as a residual neurotic need for paternal authority,
reassuring and punitive. The evidence generally adduced to
prove that we are certainly not living in a history park or a
museum or a storehouse of theatrical props-the world of
often violent conflict that we see all around us-actually proves
very little.
The way out certainly does not lie in choosing one of the
truths or styles in conflict and postulating that it is the true
truth that will set us free. All that accomplishes is to perpetuate
the situation of conflict, and it is not viable anyway in the sort
of expanding world that travel, consumerism, and information
technology are creating. It may have been possible to believe in
unique truth and morality in traditional closed societies,
founded on a single source of authority and a single tradition;
today it has become too dangerous to think like that; it could
aggravate the clash of civilizations depicted by Huntington. To
protest that if there is no objective, unquestioned criterion (and
authority!) then we actually do risk the war of all against all is
too easy, and deeply misguided: conflict really escalates only
when that dose of irony toward ourselves and our own claims to
truth that Nietzsche described as the arm of the moderate ones,
meaning the fundamental quality of his Obermensch, is miss-
ing. Perhaps, after all, this was just Nietzsche's "secularized" way
of expressing something far removed from any idea of will to
power: what the Christian tradition taught us to call "charity!'
5. Ithics Without Transcendence?
hilosophy today seems to me-a bit paradoxically-to be
the one discipline that cannot (should not) discuss its own
subject matter in a suprahistorical light. This means that, dif-
ferently to what classical philosophy maintained from the time
of Plato on, ethics can nowbe discussed only in light of what is
actually happening around us. Naturally that doesn't mean
that our first step should be an investigation of the concrete
behavior of the population or a survey of the crimes (or worse,
the sins) committed in recent years, decades, or centuries. All I
mean is that the development (the process of change) within
philosophy in our time has brought this paradox about, and it
seems to me impossible to get around: Whereas the hard,
experimental sciences still reason in terms of laws and struc-
tures that, albeit probabilistic in theory, lead to fairly rigid pre-
dictions, it is precisely philosophy (which was once thought of
as immutable wisdom concerning Being) that now feels itself
compelled to face up to historicity and, as they say, "take it on
board." I emphasize that this is my point of departure because
in a sense everything I intend to say on the specific theme of
the relation of ethics to transcendence depends on it, and so,
more than just a prefatory note regarding method, it is the first
item of the content I propose to discuss and thus subject to fur-
ther clarification.
The "fact," the concrete situation (a hazardous expression to
use, but the hazards are no different from the ones faced by who-
ever wishes to adopt an empirical stance and "start from experi-
ence") with which I begin is as follows. Apart from the other spe-
cific characteristics of what we can call the situation of ethics
(not: the ethical situation), it seems to me that one of its salient
general traits is an increasing focus on the social aspects of moral
norms. I am not just thinking of the obvious fact that much of
the discourse of what today is called applied ethics, especially
medical ethics, though it does deal with individual behaviors,
does so mainly, or almost exclusively, to the extent that these
behaviors have social effects. Even topics like euthanasia, abor-
tion, cloning, or genetic manipulation, aspects of which are inti-
mately connected with decisions made by single persons, are
debated primarily in terms of the social permissibility of the
behaviors in question.
In one sense, the question of individual choice either gets
settled or shelved by resorting to the useful and hitherto unques-
tioned artifice of the right to conscientious objection. But the
discussion and the search for answers are really about how
impersonal subjects like the public administration, the hospitals,
the insurance companies, and so on ought to behave. Whether it
is "ethical" to choose to die when one is terminally ill is some-
thing that at bottom is not really talked about in debates on pub-
lic ethics. Even the ethics of the major religions, and here I am
thinking of the Catholic Church in particular, seem today to be
less exclusively oriented toward defining good and evil in terms
of individual conscience.
The preaching of premarital chastity, which used to feature so
prominently in the education of Catholic youth down to the
1960s and even beyond, has faded from view. The last bastion,
the truly "mortal" sin that the Church continues to stigmatize
with (excessive? suspect?) emphasis is (masculine) homosexual-
ity. But it is becoming ever more common, for example, to
encounter politicians who publicly defend Christian family val-
ues and are publicly recognized as proponents of these values
even by the ecclesiastical hierarchy who are nonetheless
divorced, separated, or cohabiting. Neither the church hierarchy
nor the Catholic laityseemto take any notice. This might in itself
be branded as no more than a relaxation of moral standards,
incoherence, "immorality" (a bagatelle compared to what the
popes of the Renaissance got up to), but along with it there has
occurred another, more striking development (which could, I
think, be documented from the textbooks of morality used in
training candidates for the priesthood): from around the middle
of the twentieth century, and especially during the postwar
period, social ethics have come to the fore in Catholic preaching.
Members of Catholic youth organizations today are exhorted
much more forcefully to engage in volunteer work and assist the
poor than they are to fight to preserve their chastity. Even when
homosexuality and purely physical and casual sexual promiscu-
ity are stigmatized, they are treated as violations of respect for
others, the cultural and human value of relationships, and the
social importance of the family, rather than as violations of the
natural law that sexual energy is intended for procreation.
In sum, almost no one today, even in discourse explicitly
aimed at defending Catholic morality, pays any heed to sexual
behavior as such. Nowadays sermons are more likely to contain
references to the third world and its economic and sanitation
problems, or even simply to the duty to pay one's taxes, than they
are to the need to repress one's instincts (traditionally equated
with the sex drive). "Classic" Catholic novels of the 1950S like Il
cielo e la terra (Heaven and earth, 1950) by Carlo Coccioli, which
was centered on a priest's struggle to maintain his vows of eccle-
siastical celibacy, have disappeared from view. The most recent
book in this vein I have come across is the diary, still anonymous
of course, of a homosexual Italian priest who recounts how he
comes to terms with his own natural inclination. This he
achieves by deciding, with the more or less explicit approval of
his bishop, to remain in the priesthood and carry out his mission
as best he can, while allowing himself a fling every once and a while
in the world to which he feels he belongs and in which he finds a
form of happiness. However marginal, this literary example
(which is historically authentic, not a novel) is indicative of the
new ethical atmosphere within Catholicism. What counts in this
case is the fulfillment of a social duty-the task of priesthood in
the service of the community of the faithful-more than the
personal dilemma, which is no longer central, since it too is seen
as being connected to social custom, the circumambient culture,
and so on. Alittle bit like the problem of female priests, if I may
say so. Not long ago a few women who had been ordained by a
schismatic bishop were excommunicated. But the whole affair
had more the ring of a disciplinary procedure than an event
touching the moral conscience of the women themselves, the
laity, or even the church dignitaries who "had" to impose the
excommunication on them.
It is my impression that both in the sector of society uncon-
cerned with formal religion, where there has always been more
concern for social values than for the individual conscience, and
in the religious sector (where it is a novelty), ethics as a dis-
course focused on duty and the inspirational values of life has
undergone a transformation. It can be summed up as the shift
of attention from the inner realm of individual behavior (sexu-
ality being the clearest example) to what we might generically
call the sphere of the social.
This is the concrete situation that I wish to examine and that
I would like to define in different terms-more philosophical

ones, if you like. What we are witnessing is a passage from the
ethics of the Other (with a capital 0) to an ethics of the other,
or the others (with a lowercase 0) or, to put it another way, the
rise of a postmetaphysical ethics. This pair of more philosoph-
ical or at least more conceptual definitions of the situation will
allow us, I think, to respond to the question that cannot be
avoided in this field: Should this "fact;' assuming it is one, be
greeted as ethically positive, valid, and acceptable, or opposed as
evil, sinful, and erroneous?
My view is this: If we take the transcendence referred to in
the title of this paper to mean the imposition of the Other or an
ethics conceived of as obedience to rules deriving from meta-
physical essences and structures-and as such entrusted to the
intimate individual conscience to which the Other speaks, or
which feels resonating within itself the voice of the categorical
imperative-then the transformation I have described can only
be seen as ethically positive and laudable. Not only that: by tak-
ing this viewof the transformation, we gain a possible criterion
we can use to elaborate an ethical discourse free of transcen-
dence, which would not merely record what has taken place but
could make it the basis for a critique of things as they are and
the choices that lie ahead.
I said that we are "witnessing" this passage. But the term is
imprecise, for this is not something at which we are looking
from outside: we are immersed in it, and we can obviously read
the signs of the times in different ways. For example, some may
view the loss of transcendence as a disaster to be resisted with
all their strength, rather than accepting it-as I propose to do-
as a vocation. However-and here I return to my "methodolog-
ical" premise on the historicity of philosophizing-I do not
believe that we can arrive at an absolute criterion for deciding
which of these two interpretations is the better. What is feasible
is to put forward as many good "rhetorical" reasons as possible,
persuasive ones to the extent that "moral" arguments (as the
scholastic tradition was wont to call them) ever are. For example,
I will start by pointing out the (historically documented) risks
created by metaphysical ethical systems that claimed to be
grounded in the very nature of man and the world.
"Compelle intrare"-the slogan that justified Christian mis-
sionaries in using force to convert the pagans they encountered
in the new lands that became colonies of Christian powers "for
their own good"-is one of the well-known consequences of
the assurance that one possesses the truth. And it accurately
portrays the linkage between metaphysics, essentialism, Euro-
centrism, and authoritarianism. It is the same authoritarianism
that we see today in the claim advanced by churches and other
"moral" authorities that they may ignore even decisions taken
by legitimate parliamentary majorities when values deriving
from "natural law" are at stake. (Let me state in passing that I do
not mean by this that the natural-law theorists who legitimized
the modern revolutions, starting with the French Revolution,
were wrong. I maintain only that the claim to incarnate a law of
nature is always a violent position; sometimes, as in the case of
the revolutions against the ancien regime, it is justifiable as a
reaction against prior violence. But no more than that.)
The reasons for preferring the "postmetaphysical" reading of
current ethical discourse are more or less the same as the ones
advanced in favor of a postmetaphysical reading of modernity
and the situation to which it has brought us. They are "histori-
cal" reasons in many senses of the term: they have the force of
"ad hominem" arguments and hence are situated within the
very situation they claim to interpret (which is the nature of
interpretation in any case), and they are historical in the sense
that they survey the history through which we have lived and
are living. Their practical-theoretical background is the end of
colonialism and the discovery of the existence of other cultures
that resist being assigned a backward and primitive place on an
evolutionary line leading to western civilization.
They are not "absolute" reasons, they flow from no essence:
it would after all be a contradiction to claim to demonstrate in
absolute terms the positive significance of a process that has dis-
solved all absolutes. Yet despite all, the historical reasons to
which I refer are persuasive to this extent: it is hard to find any-
one who denies that the recognition of the plurality of cultures
and the rejection of a Eurocentric historicist model are positive
steps toward achieving a "better" form of rationality. Even
admitting that there is nothing absolute about these last argu-
ments, a shared criterion does appear to emerge. At the least it
seems undeniable that the emancipatory significance of the dis-
solution of metaphysical absoluteness understood in this way is
widely shared, is a matter of common sense-so that the bur-
den of proof falls on whoever defends the opposite view, and it
is hard to find anyone fitting that description.
From the point of view of the methodological premises
stated above, the purely common-sense "validity" of the posi-
tive interpretation of the dissolution of metaphysics is in no
way a drawback. (I merely note that from the standpoint of a
logic like Popper's, even the validity of scientific hypotheses
rests on their unproven plausibility until they are falsified by a
negative instance. Here we are obviously on a different terrain,
but one on which the validity of "common sense" is perhaps
even more legitimate.)
But, and this is the main point I wish to make, in what sense
does recognizing that the thrust of today's ethics is the passage
from the Other to the other, or the rise of a postmetaphysical
ethics, help us to work out an ethical discourse capable of gener-
ating a critique of how things are (without which there is no
If we adopt the first of the two philosophical definitions I
proposed above, the consequences are clear: An ethics that no
longer refers to the Other, meaning to a transcendent being, will
be an ethics of negotiation and consensus rather than an ethics
of immutable principles or categorical imperatives speaking
through the reason of everyone. It will not escape notice that I
have in mind the decisive work of Levinas, which is not directly
in question here, except as regards its residual "metaphysical"
aspects: these I feel duty-bound to note and have discussed else-
where. Readers will also recall that one of the formulations of
Kant's categorical imperative is "always treat the humanity in
yourself and others as an end, never simply as a means"-
another statement of the need to respect the other and his lib-
erty, which simply translates the Christian injunction to charity
into secular terms. For that matter even the identification of
moral action with disinterestedness, which is the height of
morality for Kant, has fundamentally to do with social existence.
On the political plane, the reduction of ethics to consensus
and sharing would be a far from negligible achievement: just
think how much of the legislation of modern states is based on
the assertion and defense of rights and duties regarded as "nat-
urally grounded:' but which often clash with the actual views of
citizens. Obviously it would be difficult or impossible ever to
bring the law codes into full alignment with the effective gen-
eral will, but what other normative ideal can we really adopt in
the condition of multiculturalism in which we find ourselves?
But more than that, what I want to underline here is the
importance of the implications of the second definition I pro-
posed, the one that refers to a postmetaphysical ethics. Whereas
the first definition appears totally oriented to the political
aspect of the problem (redrafting laws on the basis of consen-
sus and respect for the opinions of everyone, in accordance with
shared procedures and democratic rules), the ideal of a post-
metaphysical ethics does not just boil down to a critique of all
forms of naturalism and ethical essentialism and the authori-
tarianism that is their offshoot. It also proposes a specific moral
content. In other words: As a citizen who would like his own
moral ideas to carry the day in the social dialogue and puts
them forward in the hope that others will be persuaded, what
values do I profess and what reasons do I' offer for preferring
In order to articulate the idea of a postmetaphysical ethics in
a less generic and purely negative (antiauthoritarian) way, the
first thing we need is a more precise concept of metaphysics.
The concept to which I propose we turn is that of Heidegger,
who, as is well known, called metaphysics the "oblivion of Being
in favor of beings:' Roughly translated, this means the identifi-
cation of Being with the given, with what is evident in presence,
with the measurable, manipulable "object" dealt with by science
and technology. If true Being were equatable with objectivity
thus understood, it would be the human subject, first and fore-
most, that would be unable to call itself Being. It is well known
that this was the main reason for the move away from tradi-
tional metaphysics that Heidegger outlined in his first work,
Being and Time.
The utility of adopting the Heideggerian position regarding
metaphysics and the need to overcome it in speaking about
ethics is most probably based on the fact that the very notion of
metaphysics as the forgetting of Being, and philosophy as the
effort to break out of this forgetting, came to Heidegger as an
inspiration from the Judeo-Christian tradition. Indeed, one
could sum the matter up by saying that sin (that of which ethics
is bound to disapprove) is nothing else for Heidegger but the
fall into metaphysics. In other words: The forgetful identifica-
tion of Being with beings, the claim that value is embodied in
that which occurs as peremptory object in front of us. Without
taking the time to go into the necessary detail, which deserves
to be laid out in full in a longer work (clarifying the relationship
between the Heideggerian notion of metaphysics and the
Christian one of sin and tracing the present situation of ethics
to the theoretical-practical dissolution of metaphysics in our
time, not just as the end of authoritarian essentialism, but also
as the decline of an ethics centered on the individual conscience
... ), I suggest trying to translate our ethical precepts-the com-
monsense ones, the ones preached from the pulpit, the ones
bandied about in the debate on public ethics-into the lan-
guage of the overcoming of metaphysics as oblivion of Being.
Just think what that would mean if it were applied to the many
questions on which the ethical debate currently turns; it could
function as a sort of Occam's razor, cutting off at the root a
whole knot of questions that still remain too "humanistic" (in
the sense of subjectivity and the restricted individual con-
science-the sense in which Heidegger uses the term).
What would become of the "deadly sins" from the perspec-
tive of the overcoming of metaphysics as oblivion of Being? A
good deal of the content of this traditional doctrine might be
retained, but with a profound change of meaning. Or rather, we
would discover the authentic meaning (or the more authentic
meaning, the one acceptable in the postmetaphysical condi-
tion) of sins like sexual debauchery, avarice, pride, which would
all be seen as no more than an incapacity to suspend total adhe-
sion to the present object and listen to other voices, open our-
selves up to other possibilities that could free us from the
subjection in which the given tends to keep us. Agreed, this too
may appear to be no more than a variation of the refusal of the
i; authoritarianism and peremptoriness that characterize the
ethics of the Other. But in the recognition of that ethics as meta-
physics, as subjection to objectivity, there is another possible
positive meaning for the redefinition of morality: the idea that
"duty;' that which summons us as a value to be realized in a
good action, is precisely the negation of the definiteness of the
given; if you like, the elevation of nature to culture, to spirit-a
sense of history that can perfectly well claim to inherit the great
tradition of classic idealism.
Perhaps we would find that we had rediscovered metaphysics
both in the literal sense, the one familiar from common parl-
ance (that beyond what is given in presence), and also as the
alterity of the other-not an Other who comes in the end to be
seen as a transcendent being (the God of the philosophers), but
alterity pure and simple, forever beckoning us toward a horizon
of salvation, promising not the tranquillity of a value finally
attained, but an interminable negotiation of the self, in which
resides the very essence of ethics as our tradition has handed it
down to us.
8. Pain and Metaphysics
here is a proverbial expression that says you only find out who
your real friends are in your hour of pain. Is it true? In any
case, it is widely believed and nicely epitomizes an array of
"metaphysical" ideas about pain. Precisely because they are
metaphysical (and not just in the descriptive sense but also in
the [d]evaluative sense Heidegger gave to the term), these ideas
deserve to be rethought and if possible twisted, verwunden, just
like metaphysics itself. In fact, I would say that in many respects
pain is the very essence of metaphysics, that there is no meta-
physics except the metaphysics of pain in many senses.
Why is it that in your hour of pain you find out who your
real friends are? Obviously, if there is any truth to this view, it
lies in the postulate that we live in a world in which appearance
and authentic reality are two different things, and that it is pain
that allows us to go "from here to there," as the Platonic expres-
sion has it. The word "ascesis" is traditionally considered prefer-
able to the word "pain:' but I don't see that it makes any sub-
stantial difference. Ascesis, especially in the meaning imparted
to it by Christianity, is the suffering through renunciation that
one must bear in order to attain virtue. To the ancients it sim-
ply meant exercise or training, for sporting purposes as it were,
1"11" !"i
11 11,
but with Christianity it takes on a more acutely moral connota-
tion and, in connection with the sacrifice of Christ, an expiatory
and redemptive one.
In any case, even in the most banal everyday conversation,
someone who has "suffered a lot" is obviously felt to deserve
much greater respect than someone who has enjoyed them-
selves a lot. The watchword of classic tragic wisdom was "pathei
mathos;' (learn by suffering), and it shows that this positive
appraisal of pain is not just a by-product of Christianity. In fact,
no matter how strongly we may repudiate the metaphysical big-
otry this view entails, we find it hard to shed. The same is true
of metaphysics from Heidegger's standpoint: it is hard to get rid
of. We cannot take it offlike a piece of clothing or discard it like
a notion we have come to recognize as mistaken because it is the
precondition of our every act of thought and determines the
very structure of the language we hope to use to get free of it.
The Hegelian dialectic, for which experience is always "neg-
ative," a jarring encounter with something that is not as we
would like and expect it to be, is probably the furthest point
reached by the western metaphysics of pain, the limit case that
reveals its essence as consolation and relief. For it emphatically
asserts that "reality" is positive despite our mode of perceiving
it; the fact that we suffer indicates not that there is something
"amiss" in Being, only that we are mistaken to think that there
is. If we object that the mere fact that we err in thinking of suf-
fering as something amiss is in itself a sign that at any rate
something is amiss in Being-our error-the answer we get in
the last analysis is always the doctrine of original sin-the
notion, yet again, of a guilt we can and should correct in order
to regain our footing in the truth of Being.
Abstractions that only philosophers and theologians find
compelling? Yes and no. These abstractions epitomize and condi-
tion many of the practical and medical ways of treating pain, in
private relationships and in institutional settings. Anyone who
underwent a surgical procedure thirty years ago, let's say, knows
how reluctant the nurses were to administer the smallest dose of
painkiller, even within the first twenty-four hours after surgery.
No doubt one reason was prudence, given how little was then
known about therapy for pain; but knowledge was slowto accrue
in this field precisely because of the attitude of acceptance,
indeed, endorsement of pain that prevailed even among people
who were no longer formally religious. Even today, in the treat-
ment of distress beyond the strictly physical kind, you still find
the same attitude. If pharmaceutical remedies for depression and
other psychic or psychosomatic symptoms have been invented,
why continue to treat them with psychoanalytic therapies ("talk-
ing cures")? The standpoint of the partisans of psychoanalysis,
however disguised, is always conditioned by a metaphysical-
ascetic prejudice: only the painful (and long and costly) process
that matures in a relationship with an analyst really sets you free,
gets to the root causes, promises a lasting "cure." When applied to
the treatment of drug addiction, often by religiously motivated
care-givers, this attitude leads to the construction of newpsycho-
logical forms of dependence that do no more than substitute for
the former dependence on drugs (and corroborate the old adage
about religion and opium; a controversial example familiar to
Italians is the therapeutic community of San Patrignano).
All this and much more comes to mind when we try to phi-
losophize about pain. But: granted, if only for the sake of argu-
ment, that there is a metaphysical view of pain, and that it has
worked its way into the very fiber of our individual mentalities,
institutions, and social conventions-what would it mean to get
! free of it through the Verwindung (wrenching, twisting, distor-
tion) that, if we accept the teaching of Heidegger (and perhaps
Nietzsche and Schopenhauer as well), is the only way we can
hope to make our revolt manifest?
The "flaw" in metaphysics seen from a Heideggerian perspec-
tive is the idea that, at the basis of things, there is a stable order, a
structure necessary, eternal, and hence rational, which it is our
task to gain knowledge of and adopt as a norm (even this much
barely holds up: if it is a necessary datum, why a norm? This is an
instance of what is improperly called "Hume's law": we cannot
derive a norm from a fact, it simply makes no sense). For the Hei-
degger of Being and Time, to think of true Being in this "objec-
tivistic" manner implies that a) the historicity of human existence
"is" not; b) authentically to be would mean escaping from this
historicity-to conform to a necessary rational order; c) ofwhich
the implicit corollarywould be the project for a rationalized soci-
ety, overriding the quirks of individuality-the society that
Adorno characterized as "total organization" and that Chaplin
depicted in Modern Times. These are themes found in existential-
ism and in the early-twentieth-century avant-garde; they pro-
vided inspiration to Heidegger and in him more than in other
thinkers they justify his polemic against metaphysics.
But historicity, the opening up of human existence, the
refusal to let it be reduced to the eternal structure of true Being
(true because immutable)-all these signify mortality. In brief,
then: a nonmetaphysical consideration of pain demands a non-
metaphysical consideration of death. This is what Heidegger is
striving to attain when, in his work of 1927, he gives a central
place in his own teaching to the idea of "being-for-death" and
the resolute anticipation of one's own death as the key to the
authenticity of existence. Since the world is given as world only
to the gaze that man is, to his "thrown project" (a position that
Kantism had already reached), and this project is precisely finite,
is born and dies, the conclusion must be that Being is not eter-
nal structure given once and for all, set before (ob-jectum) the
mind, which through ascesis becomes capable of seeing it. It is
event, happening, historicity.
From such a perspective, pain and death-we may reason-
ably take the two terms as virtual synonyms: we are always
suffering from and for mortality; even physical evil is a sign,
consequence, and symptomof mortality-are both insuperable
and irredeemable. They are beyond explanation or justification
because they give no access to a truer truth; instead, they are
what sets us free from slavery and resentment vis-a.-vis any
truer truth (a lawof Being, God as creator or judge, baleful des-
tiny). What Jesus said about the man born blind might even
apply: it is not his fault, or that of his parents, but only "thus it
pleased.... " These words should be taken to mean that it was
an absolute happenstance. There is no reason for pain, not even
a specific and mysterious divine will.
With this the foundation has been laid for a twofold, non-
metaphysical conception of and treatment for pain. On one
hand, pain has no dignity, it merits no respect as such, it is only
something that happens, and inasmuch as it is always some-
thing that happens without our wishing for it (unlike things
that happen for which we have wished, like pleasure and suc-
cess), it is pure accident in every sense of the term, it is event
schlechthin, pure and simple. (Sartre wrote some fine pages on
death understood as senseless occurrence, in the belief, proba-
bly mistaken, that in so doing he was critiquing Heidegger.)
History is, and it unfolds as long as death is not-therefore
as long as the power of pain can be constrained. Faced with
pain, there is nothing else to do, nothing reasonable, except to
try to eliminate it. On the other hand, although from this per-
spective their meaning changes, all of our traditional ideas
about pain remain, starting with the idea that it is connected to
friendship. The only pain worthy of respect is another's pain,
and likewise another's death. This is probably the kernel of
truth in the popular saying about friends in the hour of pain,
and also the kernel of truth in the pathei mathos of the ancients.
In pain, in death, and in the fear they inspire in us, we do
indeed recognize our own finitude. But it is not the finitude of
finding ourselves confronted with a transcendent being, funda-
mentally overbearing and violent, towering before us like a
block of mystery and imposing itself as a power we have to
accept without trying to understand it (for many, reality
remains that which we "jarringly encounter"). It is the finitude
of being here with others, the discovery of the alterity from
which we never escape.
Hence, although this is not perfectly explicit in the text, I
interpret the decision anticipating death that opens to authen-
tic existence according to Heidegger in Being and Time as the
acceptance of one's own radical historicity: we come from mor-
tals and we will make way for other mortals; it is toward them
that we have a responsibility-responsivity; we have to respond
to the messages and the values that the others who have gone
before, and those who are here in the world with us now, are
sending us, just as we have to respond to those who will come
here after we have gone. The suggestive and highly cryptic pages
from Off the Beaten Track that Heidegger dedicated to "The sen-
tence of Anaximander"-that things must pay the price for
their injustice, their existing in preference to other things, by
making way for them in the order of time-may, if we are will-
ing to use a certain degree of interpretive license vis-a.-vis Anax-
imander and Heidegger himself, be read in precisely this sense.
Being is nothing other than this temporal succession and the
paying of the price. (Not enough? Well let me cite Galileo: Is it
really preferable and more respectful to conceive of the celestial
bodies as changeless crystals without life or death, exempt from
becoming, than it is to conceive of them as places like our earth,
where we are born and die, and therefore are?)
So it is true after all that in our hour of pain we find out who
our friends are, that pain"perfects" us, that we learn by suffering,
and that whoever suffers or has suffered deserves respect for this,
too-especially for this. The battle against pain or, what comes
to the same thing, the search for happiness has only one limit,
and that is solidarity with others, the assumption of our own
finitude that commands us not to yield to hubris and not to
become overbearing, as do those who absolutize themselves and
so lay themselves open to all the violent implications of meta-
physics, including resentment at not being immortal and the
particular intensity with which pain of any kind afflicts them-
for to them it can only appear to be something mysteriously
directed at them by an inscrutable and baleful power. The sen-
tence of Anaximander is also true in a sense that has nothing to
do with romantic longing for Greek wisdom and everything to
do with the redemptive significance of Christianity, and that I
would oppose to the mentality of all those who revere pain and
also to the (resentful) tragic pose that we see so often today
among those disappointed by the failure of revolution. The price
we pay in the order of time, surrendering our place in the world
to the others who succeed us, is all that is demanded in expiation
of our (eventual) guilt. Beyond that, any exaltation of pain and
sanctification of suffering is no more than a (usually blatantly
authoritarian) claim to be in touch with some foundation that,
being absolute, can only perpetuate (as ascesis, as punishment,
as the search for putative authenticity) the violence of which
pain is the manifestation, the effect, and the cause.
,. Philosophy, Metaphysics, Democracy
propose to address the problem of the relationship between
philosophy and politics at a time that I take to be character-
ized by two "epochal" events (with all the risks inherent in the
use of this term). On one hand, philosophy has lived, and is still
living, through the process that Heidegger called the end of
metaphysics, the dissolution of the claims made by foundation-
;; alist thought. The so-called crisis of reason may perhaps have
\ been overemphasized and reduced too generically to a slogan,
}but it is a fact difficult to ignore. On the other hand, as regards
i'politics, the collapse of real socialism has cast political ideologies
>of the "deductive" and global type into general discredit, favor-
" g the rise of a largely "Popperian" liberalism, which strives to
lconceive of politics in terms of small steps, trial and error, and
!eXtreme pragmatism and concreteness. Although there is no
'elationship of cause and effect between them, the two events are
viously connected. Even before the collapse of real socialism,
, e crisis of metaphysics (in the sense Heidegger assigns to this
,ord) had in any case arisen in connection with the collapse of
. political environment favorable to universalistic thought:
lonialism ended, other cultures began to make themselves
ard, cultural anthropology took shape as a discipline, and the
myth of humanity's unilinear progress guided by the more civ-
ilized West was discredited in practice (with the First World
War) and then in theory.
If this is the distant horizon, a sort of "prologue in heaven"
to the situation in which we are living, closer to home the crisis
of the political parties (not just the ones destroyed in Italy by
endemic corruption but also the ones that have seen their vital-
ity reduced to a low ebb as much of their traditional "public"
has become television dependent) has also signified a drastic
shift in the relationship between philosophy and politics. The
organic intellectual has lost his role and legitimacy mainly
because marxist communism is finished (sunk, defunct: not
confuted, just bypassed) but also because this type of intellec-
tual has lost his interlocutor, the political party. Although in
many cases this interlocutor has been resuscitated in the form
of "public opinion"-for the many who like me practice the
trades of commentator, essayist, "pundit;' as well as university
professor-you could hardly say that this is the same thing as a
true political role for intellectuals. Although academics cannot
be said to be doing specialized or technical work when they
write for the newspapers and do have the traits of the intellec-
tual in the Gramscian sense, they are operating more like free-
lance writers or even creative artists, whose relationship to
social and political reality is always mediated by the working
(how free? how neutral?) of the marketplace.
This aspect of the problem may seem too exclusively"prac-
tical;' and therefore marginal, but it isn't. The relationship of
the philosopher to politics is certainly also, and maybe prima-
rily, a problem of content, of what she has to say to the politi-
cian. But the content is itself profoundly marked by the
circumstances in which it is elaborated and enunciated. The
difference that, until a fewyears ago at any rate, we often observed
between Italy and the English-speaking world with respect to
the "public" (media) presence of philosophy, for example, was
evidently a consequence of the fact that in Italy, ever since the
reform of the school system by Giovanni Gentile in the 1920S,
philosophy has been a regular curriculum subject in a signifi-
cant proportion of the Italian secondary schools. I mention this
as a reminder that in speaking of philosophy and politics, we
have to pay close attention to the actual conditions of existence
of those who profess philosophy in our societies, particularly
when it comes to the position of philosophy in the school cur-
riculum (which I believe ought to be expanded far beyond the
current limits).
The two "macroevents" to which I alluded at the start create a
double condition of difficulty and opportunity for the relation-
ship between philosophy and politics, which seems to me to merit
attention. The parallel and connected dissolution of metaphysics
and real socialism has ended forever the epoch in which philoso-
phers were counselors to princes, whether the latter were the
enlightened sovereigns of the eighteenth-century philosophes or
, the modern political party, Gramsci's "newprince:' This change is
not, however, due to the direction in which government policy
often seems to be moving in industrialized societies: not, in other
words, because the place of the philosopher is being taken by the
scientist or economist, in accordance with the Comtean logic of
movement toward the positive stage. If that were the case, the tra-
ditional "metaphysical" (and authoritarian) relationship of phi-
losophy to politics would not have changed, except that one
(nonspecialized and thus obsolete) type of scientist would have
been replaced by others.
Rather, the end of metaphysics has its genuine political paral-
lel in the strengthening of democracy. Philosophy is finding out
i for its part (how thoroughly?) that reality refuses to be confined
within a logically tight system, the conclusions of which can be
applied to political choice. Politics, for its part, is experiencing
the impossibility of adhering to "the truth:' for it must let itself
be guided by the interplay of minority and majority, by demo-
cratic consensus. (It is not irrelevant to underline this separation
of politics from truth. In Italy and throughout the Catholic
world we are continually being challenged by demands to adapt
the laws of the state to what the Church considers metaphysical
truths about human nature, the good, justice).
Naturally a politics without "truth" is not exclusively and
necessarily a democratic politics; it might also be a despotic
politics that, rather than surpassing metaphysics, does not even
go as far as the (metaphysically inspired) discovery of the natural
rights of man and the demand for them. In my view it is mainly
because of a preoccupation about this, together with the aware-
ness that it is utterly impossible to found a rational politics on
philosophy, that today we are seeing the birth of political
philosophies that concentrate on the philosophical legitimation
of democracy and, more generally, of the liberal state.
I will not
pause here to discuss whether positions like those of Jiirgen
Habermas or Karl Qtto Ape!, which I would call transcendental
proceduralism, can go beyond simply legitimating democracy
and make "substantive" commitments to this or that politics,
this or that particular mode! of society and the state. Whatever
the answer to this question, it is fairly clear that they remain
within the confines of a model which we can call traditional or,
in my terms, metaphysical, of the philosophy-politics relation-
ship; from a philosophical consideration of the conditions of
possibility of any meaningful discourse, they derive the neces-
sity or duty to construct democratic societies. To fail is, in the
last analysis, to fall into a performative contradiction-the
passe-partout of Ape!, which also undergirds the Habermasian
theory of communicative action. It will be obvious that I find
nothing unacceptable in the political conclusions at which, by
different routes, Apel and Habermas arrive. But they do remain
stuck within the bounds of academic specialization, at a time
moreover when the legitimacy of liberal democracy is hardly
contested any longer by anyone, and t h i ~ imparts a certain air of
political futility to their discourse. The problem is their inabil-
ity to really adapt to the new condition in which philosophy
(and not just political philosophy) finds itself. Democracy has
wrought changes that go far beyond the range of discourse
about legitimation conducted from an essentialist or, at any
rate, transcendental, point of view.
Whether it intends to present itself as a theory legitimating a
certain form of state or tries instead to promote more substan-
tive and specific political choices, philosophy today must cease
to speak from a foundational standpoint. Those who do take
this standpoint, even implicitly, expose themselves to the conse-
quence of having to make their own political effectiveness
dependent upon an alliance with a prince, ancient or modern,
in other words upon some form of authoritarianism. Let us take
the notion of unhindered social communication, common to
Habermas and Ape!; it leads to the persistent suspicion that the
dominant classes might be using the mass media to manipulate
the electorate and that therefore the results obtained at the polls
must always be more or less seriously flawed because the voting
was not truly free. Suspicion of this kind may certainly serve as
a stimulus to frame legislation that will enhance freedom of the
press and impede the formation of media monopolies. But
taken to the limit, it also posits a linkage between politics and
truth and thus entails the risk of having to accept some form of
mandarinate entrusted with making sure that the information
transmitted by the media is uncontaminated.
My own view is that, apart from the (important) considera-
tion of the specific factors affecting the relationship between
philosophy and politics today (the media society, the place of
philosophy in the school curriculum, the disintegration of the
political parties, and so on), the principal question that needs to
be answered is this: What becomes of the relationship of philos-
ophyto politics in a world in which, as a result of both the end of
metaphysics and the expansion of democracy, we cannot (any
longer?) think of politics in terms of truth? The double condition
of difficulty and opportunity in which philosophy finds itself in
this newworld lies in the fact that, on one hand, it can no longer
supply politics with guidelines derived from its knowledge of
essences and foundations, not even from the conditions of pos-
sibility, and, on the other, since it no longer can or should be
foundational thought, philosophy becomes intrinsically political
thought, in the form of what I propose to call an "ontology of
actuality:' I have attempted elsewhere to make it clear what I
mean by this expression, freely adapted from late Foucault.
Very briefly, I conceive it as the (most persuasive) answer to
Heidegger's call to recollect Being. This call was formulated (in
Being and Time) not out of an abstract urge for cognitive com-
pleteness (a fundamental ontology is required to found regional
ontologies: Husserl in the Krisis starts from this position also)
but in reaction to the fragmentation of experience and the
notion of reality itself produced in modernity. It is principally
in "Weberian" modernity, characterized by specialization and
the separation of spheres of existence and value and by the mul-
tiplication of sectoral languages, that the memory of what
"being" signifies is lost. For the rest, since the thrust of Heideg-
ger's thinking leads to the recognition that Being "is" not but
rather that it happens, and thus that we cannot simply return to
an object, to its coming-about in presence, by dispelling the
cloud of oblivion into which it has fallen, then to recollect Being
will signify, for those who wish to interpret Heidegger even
against the grain of certain self-misunderstandings on his part,
the effort to grasp what is meant by "Being"-the word itself
and virtually nothing else-in our experience now.
, ,
On this basis I see nothing scandalous in maintaining that an
andenkend, or recollecting thought, as Heidegger thinks a non-
or postmetaphysical thought must be, can also be defined as
democratic thought. What it is listening to in its effort of recol-
lection is not just the voices of some archaic primordial mys-
tery, supposedly drowned out by the vertiginous becoming of
modernity; there is no origin located somewhere outside the
actuality of the event. The event has its own thickness and cer-
tainly bears within it the traces of the past, but it is just as much
composed of the voices of the present. And the past itself is
something to which we gain access only through the part of it
preserved down to us, its Wirkungsgeschichte.
Can a philosophy that has taken leave of the foundational
illusion really continue to call itself ontology? We know that
some interpreters and radical continuators of Heidegger,
Jacques Derrida in the lead, deny that it is still possible to speak
of Being because this would be a sort of lapse back into the
metaphysics of foundations. Yet to continue to speak of Being
and ontology is not an excessive claim; it is rather an expression
of modesty on the part of this philosophy, which knows that it
is not obliged to respond to truth but only to the need to recom-
pose the experience of a historical phase of humanity that is liv-
ing through the fragmentation of the division of labor, the
compartmentalization of language, the many forms of discon-
tinuity to which we are exposed by the rapidity of the transfor-
mation (technological above all) of our world. On the contrary,
you can only set Being to one side if you neglect this modest
task and suppose that you must in any case still answer to an
objective truth of things, which would exclude just such a "sim-
ulation" as being too vague and too rigid at the same time.
Defined as the ontology of actuality, philosophy is practiced
as an interpretation of the epoch, a giving-form to widely felt
sentiments about the meaning of being alive in a certain society
I ,!I I
II1 ,
Ill! I !:
~ ,
and in a certain historical world. I am well aware that defining
philosophy as the Hegelian spirit of the age is like reinventing
the wheel. The difference, though, lies in the "interpretation":
philosophy is not the expression of the age, it is interpretation,
and although it does strive to be persuasive, it also acknowl-
edges its own contingency, liberty, perilousness. It is not just
Hegel who seems to be returning; empiricism is playing a part
as well. The epoch and the widespread sense of what it means
are perhaps no more than experience, to which empiricists once
sought to remain true-experience interpreted philosophically,
meaning in continuity with and employing the same instru-
ments as a certain textual tradition. Within this tradition cer-
tain elements, aspects, and authors are of course privileged over
others, but it remains present in its totality as background, as a
possible source of alternative interpretations.
However one assesses this proposal, it is clear at least that it
offers an alternative to the philosophies that do still lay claim to
a foundational function in politics (or even just to the tran-
scendentallegitimation of a certain form of government, what-
ever the specific choices made according to those rules of the
game may be). An ontology of actuality abandons all founda-
tional claims and offers politics a certain vision of the ongoing
historical process
and a certain interpretation (free and not
without risk) of its positive potential, judged to be such on the
basis not of eternal principles but of argumentative choices
from within the process itself (when we are on a road, we
already know more or less where it is we want to get to). As is
well known, Richard Rorty has spoken, in one of his essays, of a
Kantian lignee and a Hege1ian lignee, which rival one another in
the thought of today; well, here we are obviously taking a
"Hegelian" stance, in the sense that philosophy makes a com-
mitment vis-a.-vis history, backs certain outcomes in preference
to others, and thus surrenders its position of transcendental
neutrality-a position to which not just the explicit revivals of
Kantism (as with Apel and Habermas) but also a large part of
today's analytically inspired political thought still cling.
The ontology of actuality, when it does make the effort to go
from programmatic declarations to their concrete elaboration,
does not have an easier time of it than do the foundational
philosophies. If anything, the work turns out to be even harder
because, to return to one of our initial considerations, the
socioprofessional condition of its practice is still mainly cut to
the profile of the traditional philosopher, or at most the scien-
tist, the specialist, the academic with a mission to excavate rig-
orously one small corner of the immense terrain of knowledge.
If we add to that the fact that with the dissolution of the parties
and the general decay of the habits of political participation any
possibility of a "supplement" of sociality for the philosopher
has almost disappeared, it will be clear that her effort to give
form to the widely diffused sentiments, to somehow"represent"
democratically the current sense of Being, entails almost insur-
mountable difficulties. Hence there remains an enormous dis-
tance between even this form of philosophy (which in principle
at least ought to be more open to dialogue) and politics. But
even if reflection on philosophy and politics does not take us (at
least as I see it) very far down the road to reorganizing the rela-
tionship and the contribution of philosophy to politics, at least
it may mean summoning philosophy back to a more radical
awareness of the significance of the event, if that is what it is, of
the end of metaphysics and the advent of democracy in philo-
sophical thought.
B. Hermeneutics and Democracy
his chapter has a somewhat unusual title; it was inspired by
the notion that there is an analogy, perhaps even a significant
linkage, between problems arising within philosophical
hermeneutics today and those facing the political left in
advanced democratic societies. By philosophical hermeneutics
I mean a theoretical orientation, mainly Heideggerian, that has
achieved broad currency today, to the point where it functions
as a sort of koine, its outline becoming fuzzier in the process. In
this role of koine, hermeneutics comprises two aspects: the
abandonment of metaphysical foundationalism (first philoso-
phy, philosophy concerning principles, or concerning critical
awareness of the a priori conditions of knowledge) and a con-
cept of the world as conflict of interpretations.
My analogy between this philosophical position and the
problems of democracy and the left is not plucked out of thin
air. Hermeneutics is probably the philosophical stance that
most faithfully reflects the pluralism of modern societies, a plu-
ralism expressed on the political level in democracy. I would
even hazard (though this is not the place to go into the matter)
that hermeneutics is the philosophy of modernity and modern-
ization tout court, if modernity is taken in the Weberian sense to
mean the pluralization of the spheres of existence and systems
of value. From the perspective of this analogy, the left in the
advanced industrial democracies is facing a polarized situation:
on one hand, pluralism, increasingly identified with the culture
of the supermarket (into which the free-market economy has
evolved), and on the other, the revival of various kinds of fun-
damentalism based on family, ethnicity, religion, or simply
generic communitarianism.
The return of fundamentalism is, quite obviously, a reaction
to the melting away of circumscribed horizons that came about,
and comes about, as the (super)market society spreads. That
these two phenomena are complementary was something made
strikingly clear by the national elections of March 1994 in Italy.l
The new right-wing bloc that won these elections is an unprece-
dented ideological blend of consumerism as incarnated by
Berlusconi and fundamentalism of the ethnic kind (the Lombard
League), the Catholic kind (many members of the Communion
and Liberation movement are already allied, or are getting
ready to ally, with Berlusconi), and the postfascist kind (the var-
ious elements, none of them modern or pluralistic, that make
up the party of Gianfranco Fini). It is likely that this mixture of
two such contradictory orientations is in part a contingent phe-
nomenon, one that depends on the peculiar personality of
Berlusconi himself and his role as a media magnate, which has
allowed him to play the role of mediator between a number of
divergent positions; these have traded a portion of their indi-
vidual identities for media visibility. But to some extent the
"blend" of right-wing forces that have coalesced in Berlusconi's
government indicates a direction that other advanced industrial
societies could also take. Free-market ideology and fundamen-
talism have the same unconcealed aim: to reduce the social pact
to a minimum. Thus, in order to obtain laws more favorable to
private schooling of a markedly ideological kind (religious for
"1"", ll'
i ,I'
the most part, but such schooling could also be based on eth-
nicity, territory, or social class), the fundamentalists support the
free-market program (or what passes for one) of Berlusconi.
This is merely an example taken from the current situation in
Italy, but many others could be adduced and the same analysis
made about other democratic societies in the advanced indus-
trial world.
These observations ought to make it clear, at least to a first
approximation, what I mean when I refer to an analogy between
the situation of democracy in a society like Italy and the prob-
lem of hermeneutics. I say"analogy," but I could also use words
like "closeness," "affinity," "resemblance," the point being that
this is a relationship unlike what was often understood in the
past as the philosophical foundation of a political practice. But
even if it is not foundational, the relationship between politics
and philosophy is a constitutive fact for the left, much more
than it is for the right, probably because, as a critique of the
existing order (in itself a thumbnail sketch of what it means to
be on the left), the left has always had to appeal to something
other than the purely concrete state of affairs at any given time.
As for the view that the left can and should take hermeneutics
rather than some other philosophical position for its theoreti-
cal "lodestar," that is what I hope to show in what follows.
The two salient traits of philosophical hermeneutics-the
letting-go of foundationalism and the letting-loose ot a conflict
of interpretations-are also the traits we could use to describe
, what is happening in the advanced democracies: in the midst of
the Babel of the market-based society, the growing assertion of
identification with, and attachment to, restricted natural com-
munities like ethnic groups, families, and sects. These have a
tendency to act in isolation, and the result is severe strain on the
social fabric. A phrase from Nietzsche springs to mind: we are
no longer raw material for a society. The letting-loose of a plu-
rality of interpretations and visions of the world also has a ten-
dency to dissolve social cohesion.
But can hermeneutics be defined exclusively on the basis of
the two features I have identified above, the letting-go of foun-
dationalism and the letting-loose of a conflict of interpreta-
tions? I will attempt briefly to prove that the answer to this
question is no and to show where that takes us as we try to
rethink democracy and the left.
Hermeneutics cannot be reduced to anti-foundationalism
plus the letting-loose of the conflict of interpretations because
in that case it would be betraying its fundamental inspiration.
Naturally there is no reason why a philosophy should not betray
its own fundamental inspiration-except for one: internal
coherence. To this its supporters can legitimately appeal, show-
ing that by remaining coherent, they will better respond to the
demands that compel them to adopt that theoretical stance.
This inspiration is a refusal ofwhat Heidegger calls metaphysics,
meaning thought that identifies "true" Being (the ontos on of
Plato and Aristotle) with beings and with the given, measurable,
manipulable objectivity of the objects of modern science. The
refusal to identify Being with beings is in turn motivated not by
purely theoretical considerations but by ethicopolitical drives as
well: from a standpoint common to Heidegger and the Kul-
turkritik of the early twentieth century, metaphysics objectively
leads to the society of total organization and the negation of the
liberty and projectuality of human existence. What counts in
Heidegger's refusal of metaphysics is that this refusal leads to a
rejection of any philosophy that argues by claiming to demon-
strate some sort of stable structure of being, which thought need
only recognize "objectively" in order to conform to it practically
and morally. The antifoundationalist perspective thus created
also lets loose the conflict of interpretations: there are no "facts,"
Nietzsche wrote, only interpretations. And he immediately adds:

'I I
this too is only an interpretation that knows it is one.
Hermeneutics remains faithful to this basic source of inspira-
tion and attains its own innermost philosophical significance if
it develops all the implications of Nietzsche's observation. If
antifoundationalism is an interpretation and not the verifica-
tion and registration of an "objectively" manifold structure of
"reality," then like all interpretations it must strive to articulate,
develop, and advance arguments for itself. And it cannot do that
only by presenting itself as one vision of the world among oth-
ers, displayed on a shelf in the supermarket of free opinion, or
professed as a truth connoting a group, class, individual genius,
or whatever. It must somehow come up with persuasive argu-
ments in order to justify not just its own specific content but
also and primarily its own status as an interpretation. Let me
translate this into the (perhaps more familiar) terms of J.-F.
Lyotard's theory of the postmodern: it is true, as Lyotard says,
that the postmodern is the end of the metanarratives, the far-
reaching global interpretations (the Enlightenment, idealism,
positivism, marxism) of human history, but if this "end" of
metanarratives is not to appear (as it seems to end by doing in
Lyotard himself) as the revelation of a true structure of being
that excludes metanarratives, then it too must present itself as
the outcome of vicissitudes and supply a precise reading of
Very briefly: these observations are meant to lead to the
recognition that hermeneutics is not just antifoundationalism
plus interpretations in conflict. It also entails a philosophy of
history (even if only the philosophy of the history of the end of
the philosophy of history) that views hermeneutics as the result
of a "nihilistic" process, in which metaphysical Being, meaning
violence, consumes itself. The fact is that metaphysics cannot be
brought to an end through the "discovery" of a truer, nonmeta-
physical structure of Being, compelling our reverence yet again
as an ultimate foundation (reassuring and subjugating, as Nietz-
sche taught us), but only as the outcome of a process in which, as
Heidegger says about nihilism, "there is nothing to Being itself."2
If one is to argue for the truth of hermeneutics as an antifoun-
dational theory that lets loose the conflict of interpretations,
one cannot make reference to an objective "order"-even a
Babelic one--of Being; all one can do is to recount, or propose
an interpretation of, the vicissitudes that constitute the history
of modernity and the ways it has acted as a solvent upon all
rigid principles of authority and (therefore) objectivity.
I am aware that this theoretical sketch is highly condensed,
but what it entails for a rethinking of the political rationale of
the left does seem to me fairly straightforward and not so very
banal. The left has for the most part taken its inspiration from
a philosophy of history: the Enlightenment, positivism, or
marxism. Today these philosophies of history have become
unsustainable, not because they are "objectively" false but
because the ideological conditions that underpinned them have
crumbled. It is no longer possible to conceive of history as a
unitary (that is, Eurocentric) track, nor of culture as the realiza-
tion of a universal model of mankind (identical to the model of
civilized western mankind), and so on. But with that, we have
not just dropped the barriers, leaving anyone free to set about
making their own interpretation of the world prevail. If the
conflict of interpretations is not to turn into a physical contest,
with victory going to the strongest (which would be yet another
form of the identification of Being with objectivity, an extreme
assertion of naked metaphysics, the assumption of fact as
right), then every interpretation has to step forward with its
The left does seem close to hermeneutics in this: it cannot,
and perhaps never could, employmetaphysical arguments, only
ones from "the philosophy of history," Geschichtsphilosophie. It
is true that in the past revolutionary political positions relied on
the idea of mankind's nature and made it the basis of a demand
for rights. Today, though, this "natural law" foundation is no
longer available to the left. For one thing, we have acquired and
cannot now shake off the critique of ideologies, which puts us
on our guard against metaphysically grounding rights and
duties in putative essences. For another, and this is even more
crucial, the history of the right in the twentieth century teaches
us a sharp lesson: any politics that aims at emancipation can
only spring from the idea that natural differences (and equali-
ties) demand to be rectified; faith in nature, in essences, even in
the natural differences between the races, has become the
explicit patrimony of the right. (It is useless for the left to deny
that on the descriptive and factual plane differences do exist; see
sociobiology and so on).
What would the left be like if its inspiration did come from
a philosophy of history of the nihilistic sort-the sort that (if
what I say holds) is implicit in any hermeneutics faithful to its
own characteristic ideas? The substance of this philosophy of
history is, once again:
(1) the idea that the only rationality available to us, apart from
metaphysical foundationalism, is a "historical-narrative-
interpretive" one that asserts its own validity not by putting
foundations on display, but by recounting and interpreting
in a certain way the vicissitudes of the culture that the inter-
locutors have in common, that is, the history of modernity;
(2) hermeneutics, in full awareness of the risks that any general-
ization of this kind entails (sociological impressionism and
philosophy), reads these vicissitudes with the help of a guide-
line-not in the least deterministic because reconstructed
only a posteriori-which we may call nihilistic because it
appears as a process of dissolution, on many levels, of all
strong structures: secularization of the religious tradition,
secularization of political authority, dissolution of what is
ultimate even within the human subject (psychoanalysis
being the supreme example), fragmentation of all central
rationality with the multiplication of individual sciences and
their tendential irreducibility to a unified scheme, acceptance
of an array of cultural universes as opposed to the idea that
human history is following a single track. These are all aspects
of the "nihilistic" history of modernity, which the texts of
Nietzsche illustrate, as do the ideas of Max Weber, Norbert
Elias, Rene Girard, and many of the great works of twentieth-
century literature (for example, Musil's The Man Without
Qualities). Taken together they are almost banal because they
refer to the traits of modernity as we all experience it, more or
less. The important thing here is the overall philosophical
interpretation of them that I am proposing. The left has
always appealed to history as becoming, as a sequence of
potentially liberating events that could be seen for what they
were and actively furthered. My own interpretation springs
from the same sources. But it offers a reading of the features
of this process, and its potential emancipatory impact,
entirely different from the one the left has always accepted.
The latter has lost credibility without being replaced by any
other theory, its only residue a generic defense of pluralism.
Like hermeneutics as commonly understood (antifounda-
tionalism plus the conflict of interpretations, without
nihilism), this residue seems to have no relevance to the situ-
ation now, with democracy seemingly dissolving into a polar
clash between the culture of the supermarket and narrow
identities lived out with fundamentalist intensity.
What would a "nihilistic" left of the kind I am trying to
delineate have to say about problems like these? I will set out a
few points schematically, without worrying too much about
their systematic articulation.
(1) A nihilistic, nonmetaphysical left can no longer base the
claims it makes on equality; instead the reduction of vio-
lence has to provide the basis. The reason is obvious: Equal-
ity will always be a metaphysical thesis, and as such liable to
confutation, because of its claim to capture a human essence
given once and for all. It also has the effect of reducing his-
tory and the diversity among cultures to pure vagaries or to
moments in a process tending toward the realization of a
humanity whose traits are always already "given" in the
essence that is assumed at the outset. Think, too, how feebly
the idea of equality holds up today before the threat of de
facto homogenization that looms over technologically
advanced societies, or for that matter before our new aware-
ness of the limitations of speciesism (equality as a value is
traditionally closely connected to the idea that man is differ-
ent from the animals). Conversely, an interpretation of the
history of modernity in terms of the dissolution of the
strong structures of Being throws into relief the new guide-
line of reducing violence. The latter term is used here not in
a metaphysical sense, as the violation of the right of every
essence to its own natural place; I use "violence" to mean the
peremptory assertion of an ultimacy that, like the ultimate
metaphysical foundation (or the God of philosophers),
breaks off dialogue and silences the interlocutor by refusing
even to acknowledge the question "why?"
(2) An obvious example of the benefits ensuing from a theoret-
ical "foundation" like the one I am proposing is this: It puts
the left in a much better position to become the vehicle for
all the aspirations that are being expressed today-and that
had no meaning in the past-through the ecological move-
ment and all the other efforts being made to establish a new
relationship with nature.
(3) Equality as a core value doesn't seem to have much to offer
by way of opposition to what is emerging as the core value
of the right: the worship of competition at all levels of soci-
ety as the sole guarantor of "development:' A highly com-
petitive society does not necessarily clash with the principles
of equality, but we would hardly think of it as a society
matching the ideals of the left. This contradiction vanishes,
though, if we make the reduction of violence our "principle,"
for it amounts to a much stronger barrier against the
worship of competition and against the ideology of develop-
ment at all costs.
(4) The principle of reducing violence also makes it possible to
take positions neither generic nor contradictory vis-a.-vis
the two features that I have identified as characteristic of
advanced industrial societies: the supermarket culture and
the forms of reactionary foundationalism opposing it. The
supermarket culture is pluralism without a nihilistic orien-
tation, where the guideline of reducing violence means
nothing. But once we have that guideline, we can reject
hyperconsumerism, the vacuum of existential significance,
and the boredom of the opulent society and the violent
backlashes it generates far more effectively than we could
from the essentialistic standpoint of the pope. The guideline
of reducing violence is likewise the best possible platform
from which to mount a critique of the kind of reactive foun-
dationalism that believes it will conquer the Babel of the
supermarket by resurrecting strong identities, reassuring
and threatening heritages. The modern dissolution of uni-
versal metanarratives does not mean that the gates have
been thrown wide open to for a return to belongings and
identities based on ethnic group, family, race, or sect.
(5) Perhaps this question of narrow identities touches on one of
the real weak points of the left-weak both as regards the
persuasiveness of its image and its theoretical coherence.
The left continues to feel the lure of communitarian ideals
even today, but, when you think about it, those ideals are
grounded, like equality, in a persistent metaphysical preju-
dice. From this perspective, it is not just equality that is
inherent in human nature but also membership in natural
communities, which are being placed at risk by modern
fragmentation, the rise of conventional social bonds, and so
on. This naturalistic communitarianism makes the left, even
today, look askance at the world that Marx depicted as gen-
eralized prostitution: the phantasmagoria of merchandise,
the experimental hubris of which Nietzsche was thinking
when he spoke of the Obermensch. Perhaps it is not just a
phenomenon dictated by contingent circumstances that in
recent years, and especially in the elections of March 1994,
the Italian left has appeared to be, and actually has been, a
"conservative" political force, or at any rate one much too
cautious and diffident in its approach to large-scale trans-
formations (constitutional, economic ... ). It is primarily a
consequence of the fact that, as I noted above, the left has
seen its marxist metanarrative evaporate and has simply
replaced it with the defense of pluralism based on the right
to equality. So it presents itself as the defense of rights
against looming threats but appears to be completely devoid
of any proposals that address the future with confidence.
Paradoxical as it may seem, the adoption of a nihilistic
stance might just give the left the capacity to face the phan-
tasmagoria of the postmodern world in ways neither simply
defensive nor reactive. For what are perhaps good reasons
(the good reason, for example, that in Italy and Europe it
needs to reassure the middle classes in order to make itself
acceptable as a possible governing party), the left has never
been receptive to the variety of ideas, sometimes labeled
"delirious," that were in the air in the late 1960s, coming
from authors like Deleuze and Guattari, or even the much
less upsetting ideas of Marcuse on the "esthetic-instinctual"
revolution. The effort to rethink the left in light of a philos-
ophy of history of a nihilistic kind might also mean recu-
perating (paradoxically, but only up to a point) utopian
dimensions that we have resigned ourselves much too
hastily to casting aside.
B. AProject for the left
he left is both the demand for a few basic rights as being nat-
ural-the message of the revolution of 1789-and the aware-
ness of the ideological character of many values, rights, and
principles that are taken to be natural and sacrosanct. So let us
take our historical condition as a point of departure and not go
back to talking about essences. In fact, maybe we should just
Editor's note: This essaybyVattimo is a response to a "thematic questionnaire" by
Paolo Flores d'Arcais, "Questionario in forma di tesi (0 viceversa);' Micro-Mega,
no. 2 (February 1999): 35-47, to which around twenty authors were invited to
Flores d' Arcais invited them to reflect on the following thematic/program-
matic points: the identity of the left; equality; guaranteed housing, schooling,
and health care for everyone; the fight against tax evasion; immigration; legal-
ity/justice; the political party model; the laicity of politics; the cultural and his-
torical roots of the left; Europe; fidelity to the electoral mandate. The replies of
the various authors were prefaced by the following statement:
"The replies to the questionnaire follow different patterns, as we planned.
Thus each of them was able to choose whether to answer the questions one by
one, whether to answer only a few, whether to answer with a single comprehen-
sive statement, whether to answer "questions" not included that they believed
should have been addressed, etc. Moreover, each author has chosen the "literary
genre" most congenial to him, ranging from essays to invectives to answers in the
form of new questions" (48).
accept outright that our job is not to demand and enforce
norms encoded somewhere in the essence of things but rather
to assume responsibility for our own projects in given situa-
tions. Of course, these are always freighted with a cultural her-
itage, with prior belief in certain principles rather than others,
with prior relationships with people close to us and people we
have never met. All in all, we have more than enough reasons to
take equality, which is unthinkable without solidarity and lib-
erty, as an overriding value. If anything, to think through mat-
ters in the terms I propose rather than in terms of natural rights
will lead us to a "truer" source of all these rights: "projectuality"
[progettualitii] as an inescapable dimension of existence.
To postulate that as human beings we have the right and
duty to project (ourselves) has this advantage: It does not
ascribe any rigid content beforehand to the idea of what is
human and what is not. And it supplies us with an effective cri-
terion for deciding on the balance between equality and liberty,
which has often been a problem for the left. If the "ultimate"
source of equality is projectuality, recognized as everyone's
right and duty, then it becomes perfectly clear that there is no
true equality unless all people have the chance to alter their own
situations in the world through projects that will need consen-
sus and collaboration if they are to be effectively realized. Even
the limits and forms of individual freedom can be negotiated
within the framework of this assumption of "objectively"
unlimited responsibility. This conception of equality as free
projectuality will, for example, exclude the possibility of its
being attained through the actions of an "enlightened" minor-
ity working on behalf of others to make them truly equal-per-
haps through a period of dictatorship over the proletariat. And
it will offer guidance in the choice of concrete policies aimed at
ensuring certain basic conditions in such a way as not to blunt
the initiative of individuals or groups: even the guaranteed
minimum wage-assuming it were possible to guarantee it to
everyone-may not be such a good idea for the left, or not for a
"nonnaturalistic" and "nonmetaphysical" left anyway.
Rig_Is and Projectualily
A concept of rights reduced to free projectuality and thus
explicit stipulation-with all the limits that entails, especially
the need to take the opinion of the other party seriously and not
cast doubt on it because it may have been arrived at in a less
than perspicuous manner-could constitute the minimal but
sound basis for political commitment by a libertarian left. Let
me put it this way: we should not let the right monopolize the
aspiration to projectuality and liberty while confining the left to
the defense of metaphysical values that were once the patri-
mony of the right, up to and including the notion of human
nature itself (a topic on which the extreme left and the papacy
often find themselves in complete agreement these days).
Does it make any difference if we reduce even substantive
values (ones with content), like equality, to the unique and basi-
cally formal value of free projectuality and therefore stipulation
in this way? I believe it does. It makes the left focus on proce-
dures, makes its commitment to democracy total, and radically
reduces the temptation of violence (fiat equalitas, pereat
mundus), the perennial pedagogical impulse (the proletariat
must be educated into becoming conscious), and the recurrent
mistrust of the machinery of formal democracy. It frees the left
not to mind so much about the historical pedigree of those with
whom it has to deal: even the "embargo" on the fascists could be
lifted in cases where it is clear that they share the same goals for
the future. For collaboration there will certainly have to be in
creating the framework (procedures, institutions) within which
projects and specific contents can be drafted and subjected to
the free debate and stipulation of the citizenry. Flores d' Arcais
opened this debate with a number of concrete proposals con-
cerning economic equality (abolition of the right of inheri-
tance), the right to health care, and schooling-a welcome
departure from the left's inveterate habit of remaining on the
plane of abstract principles. I have no real quarrel with these
and his other ideas, even though, as I said, I believe we can and
should begin from different philosophical presuppositions. For
that reason, and because a different order might help us to fill
in a few gaps and specify how certain things might actually be
accomplished, I will put forward my own ideas in the following
Natnre and Not
I began with a denial that the left equals the demand for natu-
ral rights, maintaining instead that it ought to mean the ample
recognition of the right (natural or whatever) to projectuality.
(If auctoritates are wanted, I could cite Gobetti against Gramsci:
liberalism as the right and duty to make one's own destiny by
means of creativity and initiative, as opposed to socialism,
where things are guaranteed and planned for everyone.) A
series of consequences for actual policy choice follows; let me
list the most obvious ones. Everything having to do with life-
conception, giving birth, genetic manipulation, organ trans-
plantation, illness, and death-should be dealt with by the law
not on the basis of putative natural values (the sacredness of
life, the rights of the fetus, the timeless structure of the family)
but on the basis of informed and explicit consent. Obviously
this will not be applied literally in all cases: when it comes to
abortion and the so-called rights of the fetus, we must revert to
the consensus of those who are its "closest" (and so "natural" in
this sense only) representatives (the man and woman who have
begotten a child, the terminally ill person, through a living will).
In many cases this will mean substituting new mechanisms of
consensus for established customs, but the latter may retain
their validity in the interim, as a "provisional morality:' not
necessarily because of their content but out of respect for the
customs of our fellow citizens (thus, the left may start by
demanding legal recognition for cohabiting couples but may
for the time being accept that the law does not award adoptive
rights to gay couples; it is still preferable for a child to have a
family like most other families, it creates fewer problems at
school and among playmates).
Consensus does not equate to majority rule pure and simple.
The principle of conscientious objection should be preserved,
in the sense that the law should not impose a task on anyone
that conflicts with her moral convictions, at least up to the point
where the equal liberty of others is not impaired. But a corollary
of that is the duty to guarantee public services. The solution
that Flores d'Arcais proposes in the case of gynecologists with a
conscientious objection to performing abortions seems to me
the right one: like a policeman with an aversion to carrying
firearms, they should find another job. The principle will be
clear if we take the case of the recent debate on assisted preg-
nancy: no one is forced to resort to this method, but those who
want to should not be prohibited. Talk about the rights of the
fetus is little more than hot air. This is a matter that falls within
the realm of moral choice guided by conscience, and that is
something that should be left to the freedom of the individual
(otherwise we easily slide to the point where masturbation
equals genocide). Putatively natural laws should also be rejected
and the principle of consensus allowed to prevail in the areas of
social life that have to do with so-called public morality. Here I
am thinking primarily of prohibitions in areas like drugs, pros-
titution, and other crimes involving sexual behavior, on which
organized crime thrives in our societies. In this area, the only
thing the law should punish is violence against the freedom of
individuals, with particular protection for those who have not
yet reached the age oflegal majority (and just as minors are pro-
tected against abuse by pedophile monsters, shouldn't they also
be protected against advertising and deprived of the right to
buy things?),
This is a topic that could just as well have fallen under the previ-
ous heading, "Nature and Not." Equality is not a natural fact; it
is precisely the opposite. Hence ensuring equality means replac-
ing the lawof nature with the law of reason, and that can only be
grounded in free projectuality. And free projectuality needs con-
sensus in order to take effect. What it comes down to is applying
the law in such a way as to correct the "natural" inequalities into
which we are born, whether physical "deformity" or the uneven
distribution of the goods of"fortune:' while never losing sight of
the overriding value-the freedom to project oneself. This will
mean concentrating on the circumstances in which individuals
start life, not the outcomes, and the correction of inequality
might have to be carried out in successive stages, as Flores d'Ar-
cais rightly says. A serious political program would have to focus
on at least three aspects of the problem: first, the circumstances
in which individuals start out (hence: limits on the right to
inherit and a basic endowment for everyone, for example hous-
ing at age twenty, guaranteed education, guaranteed employ-
ment); next, emergency situations or natural ones, like illness
and old age that make people socially vulnerable and that
require society to intervene in order to reduce the gaps and
restore proportion; and finally, security and the quality of life.
The first of these points obviously touches on policies regarding
private property, where it would be an excellent idea to follow
the example of conservative England in my view. In educational
policy there should be free quality public schooling for all, at
least up to the age at which school attendance ceases to be com-
pulsory, in which all the different visions of the world, all the dif-
ferent "ideologies;' are entitled to a place. The universities
should likewise be free and "ideologically" oriented, with a sys-
tem of payments fixed by the state for citizens who choose to
attend, study grants, residential accommodation, and meals.
Economic policy should aim at promoting job creation, and for
that purpose it might be necessary to trade strong job protection
for greater freedom of initiative. If strong policies are in place to
guarantee that individuals start out on an equal footing (the
abolition of inheritance, universal education), then greater "flex-
ibility" need not degenerate into social Darwinism.
On the second point, inequalities resulting from emergen-
cies or natural occurrences must be reduced. The left must
guarantee equal medical treatment for everyone when illness
strikes, and that means an efficient public health system. Much
of the inefficiency for which the public health system is criti-
cized today flows directly from the overlap of public and private
systems in Italy: doctors who operate in private clinics instead
of in public hospitals, as they should, the steering of patients
from the public to the private sector, and so on. Since the sys-
tem changeover would certainly be the hardest part, we would
have to plan for a period of transition in which only certain
basic services, exactly the same for everyone, would be guaran-
teed by the public health system (but why not dental care as
well? Along with the problem of how to look after aging par-
ents, the problem of finding a dentist is one that causes anxiety
in a great many Italian families).
If there is one policy that the left ought to make a strong
commitment to, it is effective help for seniors. As society ages,
the problems of the elderly will become ever more urgent. One
thing that could be done, unpopular perhaps but necessary,
would be to bring the elderly back into the labor force to per-
form useful work that they can still manage. Certain privileged
categories like university professors and magistrates already
enjoy the right to retire later than others, and teaching (in ele-
mentary school anyway) can also be done perfectly competently
even in later life. I do not know whether this would be true of
judges as well. And then: what about rest homes for the aged?
Public ones are practically nonexistent, and one has the impres-
sion that the elderly, like illegal immigrants, are being left to the
tender mercies of that special breed of "snakehead," the owners
of private rest homes. The state will have to become an entre-
preneurial provider of this service, offering it at "affordable"
prices, although not necessarily loss-making ones. Even in
nakedly electoral terms, a serious and practical plan to help the
elderly would reward the political party that included such a
plan in its platform and began to carry it out.
aid or life
The left must have the courage to identify new and unprece-
dented rights as well. One is the right to quiet: noise pollution
is one of the worst problems in our cities, but local and regional
administrations generally viewit with simplistic indulgence. Or
take the questions of environmental protection and animal
rights. The left is no stranger to the environmental protection
movement, yet all too often you get the impression that on the
left the idea of development at any cost, industrialization even
to the detriment of other values ("those we can worry about
later"), still prevails. What is needed here is a reordering of pri-
orities, and it is the job of the greens to remind the rest of the
left of that fact.
Bureaucracyhas to be simplified. I am thinking of things like
the endless "authorizations" and delays that afflict health insur-
ance, the disproportionate cost Italians must pay to have con-
tracts drawn up by notaries, the physical difficulty of actually
paying their taxes. This is an issue that the left should not allow
the "Poujadiste" right to own.
If we are unable to keep illegal immigrants out, assuming that we
want to, then we ought to organize the way we receive them on a
rational basis. The first problem is transportation from the
country of origin: we have to fight the snakeheads in speedboats
and their extortionate prices. Let's put our merchant marine to
work instead and open fire on contraband craft if it comes to
that. It should be humanly possible to obtain a residence permit,
and we must do something about the racket that is going on in
Italian consulates abroad, where these permits can be had "for a
price:' All the states of the European Union should work out a
common program for granting residence; this is a concrete issue
on which Europe can mean something other than just the euro.
Minorities do have rights, but they also have to obey Italian law
(or better still European law). So let's propose a citizenship pact:
our restrictions will be relaxed (but should we accept polygamy?
This is a problem, but we should certainly not accept ritual muti-
lation), and immigrants will agree to give up certain customs
and traditions. Some of what Flores d'Arcais has to say about
justice, with which I agree, also falls under this heading.
If we are ever going to reform politics and rescue it from disdain
and the corruption that justifies disdain, the first thing we have
to do is move to a majority-based electoral system. That plus
two-stage voting will reduce the number of parties, make the
alignment of forces in the political arena simpler, and clarify
just who is responsible for what.
If political parties were publicly financed, their apparatus
could be made as "slim" as possible. That is not all: parties
should receive funding in advance for election campaigns,
based on howmany signatures they can gather to get on the bal-
lot (and each voter should have the right to sign only one list).
This would give new lists and groups the chance to thrive and
should be considered an essential reform. Political access to the
media: we need rigorous laws against media monopolies, and
newspapers and other media that are providing serious politi-
cal coverage should be given concessions (but no financing for
phony political groups and their ersatz party papers).
War IBd Pelce
The left has to get over its "obligatory" pacifism.
There are no just wars, let's not kid ourselves. But there are
legitimate wars and legitimate uses of force. Legitimacy comes
not from appealing to natural human rights (these are often
recognized only by parties to the conflict, and only when it suits
them) but from the existence of a network of international
organizations with a democratic structure. Where is the scandal
if, faced with UN inertia, NATO intervenes in Kosovo to stop
Milosevic's ethnic cleansing? If anything, both the UN and
NATO ought to reinvent themselves as effectively representative
organizations-which would entail a reform of the Security
Council, currently dominated by the dinosaurs who won the
Second World War, and a reform of the European Union con-
stitution, with the effective transfer of power over defense, pub-
lic order, and foreign policy from national governments to the
~ . . I l " 'I'.
federal government, which should in turn have to answer to the
European Parliament. Reforms of this kind may be "impure;'
but any group of democratically governed countries will always
be more credible than a nationalist dictator like Milosevic, and
such reforms are probably the only way to get a supranational
justice system off the ground. (Law always originates as a vio-
lent imposition; it only becomes legitimate as the arbitrary
command is formalized and subjected to structural checks and
balances.) Flores d'Arcais passes a little too quickly over a fun-
damental aspect of the remaking of the left: its approach to the
legitimate use of force to guarantee internal security-which is
by now a supranational matter. The mafias and crime syndi-
cates are international, various brands of terrorism are interna-
tional-and so is peace among states. Not only must we
demand the abolition of inheritance; we must also defend the
reasonableness of the dream of a world democratic state and
take the first steps toward realizing it by pushing forward the
evolution of federal structures like those of Europe.
Marginality and Anarchy
Perhaps I am just playing the usual game of hammering
together an imaginary political platform. But it isn't a pointless
exercise, since the left often bemoans its own lack of content,
and with good reason. As it strives to build a new program
around a clear principle (projectuality is of course the one I rec-
ommend) and draw the main consequences, omitting nothing
(or as little as possible), the left must pause for a moment to
consider those who have chosen marginality: the squatters.
They should not just be seen as the excluded, crying for
redemption, toward whom we feel obligation, guilt, and so on.
One criterion for assessing a society's freedom might also be its
greater or less capacity to allow marginal groups to continue to
exist within it. It is not unlikely that there will be increasing
numbers of people who refuse to integrate into the current sys-
tem of production and social relations. Its rapid rate of trans-
formation is causing some to reject it spontaneously, and many
others are simply being expelled from the world of work and
consumption for the same reason. The studies of Foucault and
late-nineteenth-century sociology before him have taught us
that modernization has been accompanied by a heightened
level of social discipline. This is another reason why the world
of marginality is so much more visible and scandalous today
and why it comprises a percentage of persons who have made a
choice not to integrate. I have no wish to turn tax evaders into
anarchist idealists; they should be dealt with harshly, as Flores
d'Arcais says. But the left does have to construct a project for a
society capable of tolerating large areas of "anarchy" within
itself. One of Marx's less obsolete notions was that the state
should tend asymptotically to contract rather than expand its
own structures and functions, and in general that should per-
haps remain the left's ideal for society.
10. Socialism, in Olher Words (urope
ocialism, in other words Europe: the idea that there is a con-
nection between these two is suggested by the title of Novalis's
famous text (which was actually Die Christenheit oder Europa,
but, God knows, Christianity and socialismare virtual twins) and
is becoming clearer all the time thanks (so to speak) to the poli-
tics/nonpolitics of the Berlusconi government. From the vantage
point of the present, the European ideal seems to be the onlyvalid
substitute for the old marxist project of creating a society from
which alienation has been banished. Some will point out that the
two projects occupy different levels of philosophical generality;
indeed they do. But the European ideal certainly does amount to
a significant political program, as long as we conceive it (as we
ought) without reference to any type of ethnic or "naturalistic"
perspective, of the kind that marked national unification in the
nineteenth century, when Italy was proclaimed"one in arms, lan-
guage, altar, memory, blood, and soil;' a tradition kept alive at this
point only by Bossi and the Northern League. Europeanism can
perfectly well be seen as bearing an emancipatory message com-
parable to the worn-out one of marxism.
The point is, it doesn't happen fortuitously that in Italytoday
the left is the political force backing the European project; the
liberal and Christian political forces that have backed it for a
long time always shared (and still do) a vision of politics as a
great ethical enterprise of human elevation. Liberal democrats,
politically engaged Christians, socialists newly freed from the
shackles of Sovietism-all these have drawn closer than ever
today, and we see that especially clearly in the European institu-
tions, where the drag created by the traditional client bases of
the various national parties makes itself less strongly felt. Crit-
ics may brand this a revival of catto-comunismo.
Well, I say, so
what? as long as the ethical commitment of both Christians and
socialists has been purged of integralism and the values of lib-
eral democracy fully assimilated.
The one part of the marxist legacy that the socialists ought
not to give up is perhaps the very one that the peoples' democ-
racies of the Soviet type betrayed most thoroughly: the idea that
political economy is not a natural science and so cannot provide
grounds for any kind of rigid economic planning pretending to
be scientific. The core of this idea that deserves to survive (apart
from a certain voluntarism indispensable to any political proj-
ect) is the awareness that the right thing to do, in human and
ethical terms, is to assume full responsibility for reasoned and
shared choices-not to invest in some notion of "natural"
The value of the European project lies entirely in its "artifi-
ciality," the fact that it has been realized democratically and (for
the first time in history) not through violent conquest by a
power like the dynasties and condottieri who carried out the
national or imperial "unifications" of the past. The line of rea-
soning is not easy to put in a nutshell, but let me at least try to
sketch it out; the high level of "generality" will not, I hope, be
off-putting, given that our self-declared task is to create a new
basis for a philosophy and politics of the left. Even the close
affinity between Christianity and socialism, often exaggerated
for rhetorical or even polemical (Nietzsche) and caricatural rea-
sons, can be of help to us. Like the Christian message, social-
ism-whatever remains or deserves to remain of it-is a radical
antinaturalism. The marxist hope and prophecy of a revolt of
the weak and the proletariat against the strong and the employ-
ers is only understandable inasmuch as it is antinaturalistic. And
on a much more down-to-earth level, if you look for the lowest
common denominator binding the political forces on the right,
what you find is an apology for, and fascination with, the idea of
"natural" differences as the driving forces of emancipation: set
energies free, remove the fetters on free competition, and so on,
up to and including racist implications. I hardly need mention
the various forms of social or religious authoritarianism that
claim to base themselves on the correct understanding of the
true nature of men and things: popes and central committees
command in the name of natural laws and essences not trans-
parently accessible to simple believers or "empiric" proletarians.
Surely one eternally valid legacy of marxism (and thus social-
ism) was to showup the ideological character of all the claims to
"truth" on which authoritarianism was always grounded.
Release from false ideological consciousness is only achieved
when proposals are set out for debate, subjected to free discus-
sion, and stipulated. Free discussion means that arguments for
and against are adduced, of course, but more than that it means
that the goal is not to establish a definitive proof once and for all,
only to establish an agreement that, albeit subject to revision,
does nevertheless seriously bind the contracting parties (much
more seriously than any "eternal principle" whatsoever).
Europe, as a project of political construction totally based on
the willingness of citizens and states with equal rights to join, is
today the most concrete and visible manifestation of an anti-
naturalistic (that is, "marxist," Christian, and socialist) politics.
For that reason it can lay claim to the status of a political ideal
capable of moving wills and arousing enthusiasm. Everything
, else follows, but the mediation is not excessively complicated.
The Euroskeptics, on the contrary, are clearly in thrall to a nat-
uralistic vision of history and politics. The Europe they envi-
sion, a composite of homelands and nations, is a place for all
those still clinging to exaggerated veneration for their own
rootedness, their own sense of belonging, their own dialect; it is
a place for all those unwilling to face the fact that the very
national or regional identities of which they make so much
were forged historically through the dissolution of preceding
belongings and identitites that were even more "natural."
The European Catholics who are asking for an explicit refer-
ence to religion or Christianity in the charter of rights justify
the demand by pointing to mankind's natural inclination to
religion-as though Christianity itself had not taught us that
natural religion is pure superstition and idolatry.
The free-marketeers who want Europe to be a trading area
without too much statist regulation are really after an arena in
which the strong and the weak are left to battle it out; even
"bureaucratic" rules intended to ensure the same relative parity
of starting conditions that obtains in organized sport are too
much for them.
The closer we get-with the euro and the approach of
enlargement-to the time when we have to choose between dif-
ferent possible models of the Union, the more clear-cut the dif-
ferent anti-European positions are becoming. And it would be
perfectly possible, for the fun of being systematic and polemi-
cal, to go on highlighting the correspondence between each of
them and a naturalistic "ideal type." But like all Weberian ideal
types, mine too has to reckon with many "impurities:'
Let me return instead to the main point with which I
began-the idea that today a socialist or left-wing program can
and should identify itself as a programfor European integration.

The values of which the left and socialism are still the vehicle
take concrete practicable form in this program; the classic theme
of alienation translated into today's terms becomes the question
of social, political, and civil rights. Because these have evolved at
different rates in different countries, the only way to really guar-
antee and strengthen them is to create a framework of common
European legislation. Here I am thinking not just of the countries
that are already inside the Union but of the candidate countries
as well, which often have a tragic experience of authoritarian
socialism behind them. Now that the euro has become an actual
currency and we are headed in the direction of full realization
(not guaranteed, certainly, but possible) of the economic poten-
tial of the continent, we see more clearly than ever how impor-
tant it is that the economy be European in scale if it is to develop
and break free of subjection to the United States without sur-
rendering a social model mindful of the solidarity between
classes and generations.
Security, an efficient justice system, quality of collective life
in the various countries from the ecological viewpoint, avail-
ability of pharmaceuticals, defense of privacy in the Internet
world-all these indispensable preconditions of liberty are only
attainable today within the context of a stronger European inte-
So there are already plenty of reasons to believe that social-
ism and Europe are indeed synonyms. Now here is the clincher:
Justified fear of the imperialistic way globalization seems to be
proceeding and anxiety that in a world no longer bipolar the
"imperial" American power may engage (especially under
Bush) in an ever-expanding preventive war to eradicate "terror-
ism" (and not just the genuine article, we suspect by now) will
both be able to find political expression more appropriate than
street violence or pure papal appeals to the higher sentiments in
a strong European Union-"European" in the sense of fidelity
to a political tradition inspired by values like equality and soli-
darity that today more than ever appears to be the only one
capable of promising a future that will not be totalitarian, mili-
tarized, and unlivable.
11. Globalization and the Relevance of Socialism
here is a causal linkage between globalization and populism.
In many countries around the world, caught up in the process
of globalization, populism manifests itself as a kind of endemic
anarchy, as the only possible form of resistance to the globaliza-
tion process. Conceptual tools borrowed from Hannah Arendt
and Jiirgen Habermas will allow us to probe the reasons why
globalization provokes such widespread resistance, accompa-
nied by extreme forms of social indiscipline and even outright
The globalization process is at different stages of develop-
ment in the various regions of the world it has touched (that is,
all of them), but in every case it takes the same form: the inva-
sion of the political sphere by the social and the economic, the
actual reduction of politics to economics. Habermas calls this
the colonization of the lifeworld by pure strategic rationality.
Politicians, especially ones engaged in the construction of the
European Union, are saying the same thing in simpler terms
when they complain that a form of international order does
exist, but only as an economic order, not as a political structure
capable of making the general interest prevail.
This means that what the Italian terrorists of the 1970S called
the SIM, the "Stato Imperialista delle Multinazionali [the impe-
rialist state of the multinational corporations]" has actually
been brought about or is being brought about-and obviously
saying so doesn't imply nostalgia for the 1970S or sympathy for
terrorism. This state is not a real state at all, for it is not a gen-
uinely political construction, merely a function of the economy.
Arendt's concepts, freely adapted, also shed light on the intrin-
sically violent aspects of this international order: the realm of
economics, of survival, is no more than a violent battlefield,
unless there is mediation at a different level, the level of the
It is true to say that, in this context, politicians who are in
favor of a stronger European Union and those who still believe
that the United Nations has an important function are aiming
at the same thing as the activists in the so-called No Global
movement. Yet despite all attempts to make political reason pre-
vail over the present dominance of economics, the end result is
generally violent demonstrations (from Goteborg to Genoa),
mainly because the fully articulated expression of the political
is impossible within present structures.
What is the remedy for the spreading populist violence that
is rebelling in its own disorderly fashion against the supremacy
of pure economics? The answer generally given is the construc-
tion of an international order equally integrated and globalized,
a political globality matching the economic globality of the
large multinational firms. Such a political order is actually
being devised quite separately from the big projects like the
European Union and the United Nations (which does need
reform)-through the policies of President Bush and his coali-
tion against world terrorism. The only international discipline
being imposed in the world today is that directed by the United
States in the name of security against terrorist attacks. This pol-
icy has its own persuasive logic, quite apart from the over-
whelming economic and technological superiority of the
United States. History is full of examples of states that joined
together to respond to an imminent threat, and in fact one of
the weaknesses of the European Union is that it is trying to do
so in a peacetime situation, through democratic choice by the
populations involved. The American discourse also gains in
persuasiveness because it is the natural sequel to the vision of
world history that we assimilated at length during the Cold War.
There is a"free" world based on the only economic system capa-
ble of producing wealth, capitalism. And there is a second world
of bad guys-Reagan's Evil Empire, Bush's Axis of Evil led by
Saddam Hussein-that refuses to accept the capitalistic order
because of its cultural backwardness or for ideological or reli-
gious reasons that conceal the antidemocratic interests of the
local elites. If it would agree to enter the free world of capital-
istic production and exchange regulated only by the laws of
the market, then it too could expect to achieve "development"
similar to that which has brought the industrialized world its
present prosperity and wealth. This is quite obviously the belief
system of the International Monetary Fund, and it is holding up
despite many recent failures. In comparison to the decades of
the Cold War against communism, today the borders of these
two opposing worlds have shifted, while the third world has
now vanished altogether or is regarded as having vanished: you
are either with America or against it; the rest doesn't count.
This schematic clarity is not just the ideological invention of
Bush and the capitalists: it is also promoted, and given credibil-
ity, by the terrorist initiatives that have multiplied in recent
years. We have reached the point where, as Alain Touraine says,
the vocabulary of international relations is identical to the
vocabulary of war, with Huntington's theory of the clash of civ-
ilizations providing the seal of respectability.
Is there any realistic hope that political globalization might
act as a counterweight to the economic globalization of the
multinationals? There are at least two answers worth dis-
cussing. For simplicity's sake, I will call them the "populist
answer" and the "federalist answer:'
The populist answer incorporates many of the ideas of revolt
now being expressed in populist anarchism and widespread
social disorder; it still breathes the air of marxism, with the idea
of a world proletarian revolution inaugurating a new just and
human order of things. Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri have
recently given an up-to-date formulation of this outlook in
their book Empire,! which does actually make a cautious iden-
tification between the antiglobal populism of our time and
early Christianity. Just as the Christians were a decisive factor in
giving the coup de grace to the Roman Empire, which was
already breaking down, the multitudes left destitute today by
the global restructuring of the world economy will likewise
push the American empire to its ruin in the end.
The theory of Hardt and Negri naturally fails to ask the ques-
tion of what follows-since it was in the aftermath of the fall of
the Roman Empire that the world order that has brought us to
where we are nowfirst began to be built. Hardt and Negri appear,
and with some justification (since at any rate they manage to
avoid the aporias of the great philosophies ofhistory, which have
declined, as they must, along with the metanarratives of moder-
nity), to conceive history in terms set by Sartre's Critique of
Dialectical Reason: moments of authenticity-revolutions and
the new societies they found-are followed by the inevitable
return to seriality, bureaucracy, dominance, the "practico-inert."
This vision is not without its allure (to which the intellectual left
in America is particularly susceptible), but it leads to a dilemma:
either religion is the answer, with salvation lying somewhere out-
side history, or you can opt for a sort of existential estheticism
(indeed, one Italian critic of Negri implied a comparison to
- ..
-= iii
Gabriele D'Annunzio). No doubt for the same reason-their
refusal to erect a universal philosophy of history-Hardt and
Negri do not even face the problem of the political order that is
meant to follow the revolution of the multitudes. It is as though
they wanted to delay the moment of return to the "practico-
inert" as long as possible, prolonging the experience of authen-
ticity of the "group in fusion" to the maximum.
How to construct a political order that would not produce a
new revolt of the multitudes (the term the authors of Empire
use for the world proletariat no longer characterized by the class
homogeneity of the workers in Marx) is a question to which
Hardt and Negri have no answer. Facing it would have meant
facing all the difficulties that have brought various utopian
forms of direct democracy to rapid collapse and that are ulti-
mately the source of the reversion to the "practico-inert" that
Sartre saw as inevitable. Without an answer to this question, all
Hardt and Negri appear to have done is to produce one more
theory of "permanent revolution." It is no accident that it
attracts the interest and consensus of members of the intellec-
tualleft in America and elsewhere, for it supplies them with a
legitimation of sorts for their own "theoretical praxis," all those
purely textual "deconstructions" that we see published in jour-
nals and shelved in libraries.
An analogous absence of any politico-institutional project is
certainly to be found in the works of Hannah Arendt, who was
more concerned with criticizing the modern degradation of
politics than with delineating forms of the state that would not
be vulnerable to this charge. Still, Arendt's political philosophy
contains at least a few ideas that may help to flesh out the sec-
ond possible answer to the question of what political order we
might create as an alternative to the globalization being pushed
by the multinationals and to Bush's war. I am thinking of her
more or less explicit preference for a polis of modest dimen-
sions, which we could reinterpret as the "federalist" preference.
Let me state clearly that if the problem is the bastard political
order now being foisted on us by economic globalization, the
remedyis not to erect a parallel and equally global political order
with the capacity to "govern" it and act as a counterweight. For
that matter, Arendt herself was legitimately critiqued from the
left on this point, especially byAdorno and the Frankfurt school.
Like other exponents of avant-garde Kulturkritik in the early
twentieth century, they thought that modern technology could
only contribute to the rise of totalitarianism. Adorno's pes-
simism was based on the belief that the mass media were all-
powerful and that capitalist society was using a horde of hidden
persuaders for commercial advertising and political propa-
ganda, and it is true that the interactive manner in which many
of the media "demonized" by him have ended up being used, for
example, to liberate social minorities that previously had no
voice, may have proved him wrong on that point. But similar
pessimism is today justified by the dimensions that a "global-
ized" state would necessarily have to assume in order to act as a
political counterweight to the global extension of the economy
(and organized crime). In other words: could there be a global-
ized politics from which the traits of authentic politics-politics
distinct from economics, politics above the level of mere sur-
vival-would not inevitably disappear?
Naturally a question springs to mind at this point: Howvalid
was Arendt's conception of politics? It does seem to be modeled
too literally on an idealized Greek polis to be immediately appli-
cable in our situation. If we are to put Arendt's ideas to use, they
will probably need to be stripped of a certain rhetoric associated
with the notion of honor as opposed to the values of survival.
But their permanent value lies in the principle of-the exigent
demand that there must be-a distinction between the "social"
sphere, Hegel's civil society, and the sphere of politics. This, as I
== :;;
have noted, is also the requirement manifest in the theory of
communicative action of Habermas, where he concentrates on
preventing the "colonization" of the comprehensive sphere of
social communication-the Lebenswelt-by strategic action, the
mode peculiar to the positive sciences and technology, including
the whole domain of economics. The problem of recognition as
a requirement transcending the demands of survival (a problem
coming to the fore in advanced societies that, well or badly, have
provided a solution to those demands but that are still places of
intense unease and genuine alienation) is illuminated by
Arendt's conception of politics. We all share her admiration for
the Greek polis (where most of the population were slaves,
something that Nietzsche regarded as necessary; what about
Arendt?), but her political thought also serves to affirm the "eth-
ical" separation of politics from the sphere of private interests.
This separation is more than just an abstract moral imperative,
provided we accept that the question of recognition is decisive
for the quality of our existence in the world, even though it may
not affect our immediate chances of survival.
Now it is clear enough that such recognition is impossible in
a totally globalized society, meaning (in general, but not neces-
sarily) a disarticulated society tendentially reluctant to recog-
nize differences.
This is why I propose to call the second answer to our ques-
tion the "federalist" option. The relevance of this will immedi-
ately be obvious if we go back to the linkage between populism
. and globalization. If, as I think we have to admit, populism is a
sort of anarchic shadow of globalization, a violent impulse of
revolt against a global hegemony that no longer meets any
external checks (the "empire" of Hardt and Negri), then clearly
what provokes it is the impossibility of turning to any concrete
alternative existing outside the empire. We know well enough
that original and unprecedented historical formations demand,
and sometimes themselves create, forms of resistance and liber-
ation likewise neither foreseen nor foreseeable. But even so,
clearly we have to believe that the best way to combat the evils of
populism and social disorder will be to prevent what Alexandre
Kojeve called "the homogeneous universal state" from ever coa-
lescing because it can only be combated through revolt and
violence, and the stronger it is, the more widespread and violent
they are. For this and other reasons, we would be well advised
not to take the ideal of a unitary world state as a pattern for
today's efforts to construct supranational political units like the
European Union, unless the world state we have in mind is
strongly federalist. But such an ideal is a long way in the future,
and no one even knows what it would look like, so let us be
quite clear that our efforts to construct a unified Europe, or
similar supranational units in other parts of the world, are
grounded in the idea that politics is only viable when there is a
certain equilibrium among differences, which in order to be
"recognized" and recognizable have to attain a certain scale.
Even Kojeve, a theorist who was himself averse to the homo-
geneous universal state, theorized (in works that became
known only after his death) the ideal of a "Latin empire," a sort
of Gaullist united Europe, the existence of which was justified
as a third pole capable of standing up to the two dominant
rivals of the time, the United States and the USSR.
As the reader will see, I am making free, but not unfaithful
use of Arendt's "preference" for a polis oflimited size, for it is a
useful yardstick to apply in drafting an "internal" political proj-
ect for a specific society like the states or unions of states already
in effective existence, not for an international political order.
Here it seems to me that two ideas need to be brought forward
and debated.
The first is that a livable society, one that avoids the extremes
of repression, on the one hand, and populism and the violent

disorder they entail, on the other, is one in which the basic
requirements of survival are not only met but there is also
recognition-that ensemble of goods that cannot be quantified
in economic terms but are nonetheless indispensable for the
"good life." And the second: that a livable society, the kind we
would want to live in, would be "political" and not just "eco-
nomic": not to mince words, a "socialist" society.
These are really just two facets of the same idea, as the reader
will grasp. Anyone who looks at the latest developments in the
capitalist system, which has never concealed the fact that it
prospers by virtue of the periodic crises it undergoes, will come
to the same conclusion. One might, it is true, even take the view
that such crises are the price that individuals, families, and com-
munities pay in terms of their livelihoods for the duration and
permanence of our institutions-a sort of law of political
honor, as opposed to the purely economic requirements of the
lives of individuals and groups. But I do not believe that
Arendt's doctrine can legitimately be interpreted this way. The
"success" of capitalism in bouncing back with renewed vigor
from its own crises is only a success in the economic sphere, and
rather than promoting the autonomy of the political sphere, it
depresses it further.
I prefer to believe that the recurrent crises of the capitalist
system, which have become more devastating as the globaliza-
tion of the economy has advanced to new levels, are proof
rather of the need to restore the independence of politics from
.economics. This autonomy, well expressed in the slogan "from
each according to her abilities, to each according to her needs,"
is still the living and relevant substance of the socialist message.
The collapse of "real" socialist systems, which it would be more
correct to call "ideological," in no way reduces the validity of
this slogan nor definitively shows it to be unrealizable. If any-
thing, the opposite has occurred and is occurring: freed of the
aberration of so-called real socialism and faced with the
spectacle of the worsening crises of capitalism, which by now
are threatening to topple even the traditional structures of the
liberal society that was taken to be its necessary political coun-
terpart, today we are able to perceive the "truth" of socialism,
above all as a program for setting politics free of the laws of eco-
nomics, especially the laws of the globalized economy, which, as
we now see on every side, bring with them growing limits to
freedom, to recognition, to the conditions for a "good life."
Without autonomy for politics-without the embrace of
principles not reducible to the laws of survival, above all the
right to recognition-globalized politics inevitably become
imperial politics. With imperial politics goes rising anarchy, or
what Durkheim called "anomie," and the suppression of free-
dom in the name of the battle to defend it against its external
and (especially) internal "enemies." And "socialism" in the sense
in which I have used the term here has to mean a conception of
the state as guarantor of the multiplicity of the communities
that compose it, communities in which individuals confer
recognition on one another because they are not all homoge-
nized into an indistinct mass of citizen-subjects.
Even in the experience of socialism as it was realized in the
countries of so-called real socialism, it was the economic model
that dominated (something that Arendt clearly saw), to the
point of suppressing the recognition of individuals and com-
munities. But this was not a failure of socialism, it was a failure
of politics itself, politics as autonomy from economics and
release from the violence of the laws of survival. Hannah Arendt
hoped for a rediscovery of the autonomy of politics; in the pres-
ent situation, that would mean no less than a rediscovery of the
authentic, forgotten truth of socialism. Or, more modestly, of its
ongoing relevance.
12. Doing the law Justice
ne always feels hesitation as one begins, but hermeneutics-
if you care to use it as a handbook of method-can teach you
to get over that by bringing formal order to your "precompre-
hension": setting out clearly what you do already know about
the matter in question, along with your motives for wanting to
learn more. I could easily get over, or around, my hesitation in
this case by adopting a psychological or "sociology of knowl-
edge" stance: we are academics and scholars from various disci-
plines, coming from different linguistic backgrounds, and so
on, so let us simply register the fact and get on with our agenda.
But is it really so obvious that my initial hesitation boils down
to these extrinsic reasons-which are not all that extrinsic any-
way, even within those narrow limits, since they remind us of
the problematic of the division of intellectual labor, the struc-
ture of the university, and finally of the "conflict of the faculties"
that even Kant made the topic of one of his writings? If we pon-
der for a moment the different cultural backgrounds and aca-
demic departments from which the participants in this confer-
ence have come, not just in the abstract but as regards the effec-
tive content of their respective specializations (law and
philosophy), and above all the topic of the conference-law,
justice, and interpretationI-then we start to see that perhaps
there is something more to my initial hesitation than the usual
difficulty of any conference participant. Please don't think I'm
playing word games if I submit that initial hesitation, at a con-
ference of jurists and philosophers, is also a, or the, constitutive
aspect of the substantial problem we are here to address. More
explicitly: it seems to me that the topic of the conference, as for-
mulated in the three terms noted above, is in fact nothing more
than a different way of expressing the substantial significance of
initial hesitation.
As philosophers and jurists, the problem of how to begin is
not an incidental but a fundamental aspect of our work. Here I
speak from the point of view of a philosopher, but on the basis
of the papers presented by jurists during the conference I
believe the same thing holds true for them. Philosophy, both in
its traditional metaphysical form (prote philosophia: knowledge
of Being as Being, of first principles) and in its "modern" critical
and epistemological form (the exposition of the transcendental
conditions of possibility of all experience), was for a long time,
and maybe still is, albeit in verwunden (distorted) form,
thought about beginnings, about first foundations. It supports
the whole system of "secondary" knowledge. Jurists, even when
they are not engaged in debate with metaphysicians but are
focusing instead on the more specific aspects of their work, are
also dealing with problems of (relationship to) beginning.
Whoever goes to court, argues, accuses, defends, judges and
punishes, or in general studies the meaning and extent of a
given statute, always does so in light of norms that he finds
already given, the legitimacy of which is grounded on the fact
that they in turn are based on decisions already taken or inter-
pretations previously formulated, judicial and jurisprudential
precedents. Even when, in interpreting a norm (a constitutional
principle let us say) the jurist does go back to the moment when
it was instituted-by rereading the debates held in the con-
assembly for the purpose of clarifying the "true" inten-
tIons of those who formulated that principle-she never comes
to a full stop before a pure act of will, itself unfounded. When
the framers of constitutions, and ordinary legislators, do give an
account of the intentions that move them to establish a certain
principle or a given law, they too always appeal to something
in existence, which can even be, at the limit, (puta-
tIvely) natural law. And the constant presence of the idea of nat-
urallaw in the juridical and philosophical tradition is a clear
indication of the fact that every legitimacy needs a precedent or
rather comes down to finding a precedent-an authoritative
one, certainly, whose authoritativeness, however, lies in turn in
being derived from an ulterior precedent, likewise authorita-
and. on. The case of an absolute monarch, legislating
arbitranly, does not disprove this general form of law but
reveals it in the starkest light: the power he has to make law
derives entirely from his being the scion of a dynasty, the eldest
offspring?f a sovereign ... For that matter, even the legit-
imatIOn of a sCientific proposition through experimental con-
firmation or falsification reveals this structure of the "already,"
although in this case one appeals to (already-established) facts
rather than already-taken decisions. And yet, as much episte-
mological thought is making increasingly clear, the legitimating
reach of facts (and their very structure as facts "ascertained"
with methodical rigor) depends in turn on norms, rules, and so
on, which are not pure facts. (The temporality evoked in the
ancient definition of essence as "to ti en einai, quod qui erat esse,"
would thus rightly appear to be inseparable from historicity.
This connection is at the core of Heidegger's long analysis of
truth as a-Ietheia).
Another, in fact the preeminent way to place oneself in rela-
tionship with the beginning is the effort to analyze the pre-
comprehension that motivates us to study a problem, as I am
attempting to do now. Is this an opportune guideline to follow?
It might take us down a vertiginous path, which, in the effort to
consume all its own presuppositions-becoming fully aware of
them and extracting their meaning-would end up never get-
ting past precomprehension to comprehension and the inter-
pretation of the theme. Naturally there is nothing to stop us
from taking this path. Except, perhaps, for another component
of our precomprehension: the experience of, and a certain
impatience with, discourses that aim to be totally radical and
never extricate themselves from the roots. Along with the ques-
tion of how to begin, and of legitimation as reversion to an
authoritative "precedent" (authoritative because of another
reversion and so on), let us attempt instead to analyze the other
constitutive aspect of our precomprehension, the actual topic
of this conference and its significance. Why have we set out to
discuss "law, justice, and interpretation"? One incontrovertible
reading of the meaning of this title might be this: We propose to
clarify the connections among these three terms. They are not
terms chosen at random, obviously, but rather because they
configure a problematic relationship that could be expressed
thus: Law-in the sense of the ensemble of codes and statutes-
does justice only by means of interpretive acts, the application
of given laws by judges in dialogue with lawyers, public prose-
cutors, and various legal experts. The problematic of the rela-
tionship between justice and law goes back to the problematic
of beginning, and interpretation operates on this problematic,
either nakedly revealing its profound lack of foundation (which
can in the last analysis provoke a shift to the plane of mysticism)
or filling the gap by rhetorical expedients, ad hoc adjustments,
what Monateri in his paper calls fabulations.
Note that once we have brought in the term"interpretation,"
with all its implications, even the ontological ones, it will be
very difficult indeed to reframe the linkage between law and
justice in the traditional metaphysical terms with which we
were apparently satisfied for a long time. In those terms, inter-
pretation was both the resort to the norm as an ultimate datum,
at least in the sense of its clarity and objectively graspable defi-
niteness, and also the grounding of the norm on some equally
definitive and certain basis like natural law, the essence of
humanity, the divine will, and so on. I do not know if this way
of conceiving of juridical interpretation has ever been formu-
lated so starkly in these terms. But it is, I think, beyond ques-
tion, that at least as regards the relationship between positive
laws and (putatively) natural law, this was the prevailing opin-
ion for a long time. And what Monateri, whose professional
competence is in a quite different area, has to say in his paper
seems to me to confirm that this is also the case for the mode of
seeing the relationship between the law and its application to
the concrete case, from which, according to Monateri, we must
distance ourselves by recognizing the "fabulatory" character of
interpretation. As soon as we focus closely on the phenomenon
of interpretation, the conception of knowledge as the faithful
mirroring of an objectively defined fact "out there" is cast into
doubt. The disquieting, but evidently productive meaning of
our topic lies precisely in introducing the concept of interpre-
tation with its nihilistic ontological connotations. These are by
no means unquestioningly accepted even in the range of
hermeneutic philosophies of today.
In fact, my paper will tend
to show that an adequate response to the questions implicit in
the title of our conference can only be arrived at by radically
assuming the nihilistic implications of hermeneutics, and that
demands that we fully detach ourselves from the metaphysical
residues that still hinder this assumption.
The nihilistic implications of a hermeneutic gnoseology
begin to unfurl once we acknowledge that to know the truth is
not to mirror faithfully a datum capable of being "objectively"
grasped, but an interpretive act that, although obviously not
limiting itself to expressing the subject, enters into the constitu-
tion of the "datum" in such a way that the two terms, the "sub-
jective" and "objective" elements, are not absolutely separable.
Kant himself got his far, although from his perspective it was still
possible to speak of objectivity because the subjective input into
the constitution of the world of experience was conceived as a
transcendental function of all human reason: Truth is indeed the
outcome of an interpretive process, but this process unfolds in
substantially universal forms that guarantee the validity of a
knowing that is methodically controlled and separated from the
distortions of all that is subjective in the most literal, nontran-
scendental sense of the term. What occurs in contemporary
hermeneutics, with its origins in existentialism, is the revelation
(itself certainly interpretive, and not metaphysical-descriptive)
of the historicity and finitude of the "subject:' The subject is no
longer viewed metaphysically as endowed with eternal stable
structures but as the bearer of a number of a priori, each of
which is historically and existentially characterized. From this
there flows what is known as the crisis, the end, the dissolution
of metaphysics and foundational thought-even thought
about the law, or at any rate thought about the law willing to
take seriously the ontological positions at which hermeneutics
arrives after the turn imposed on it by Heidegger (and earlier
by Nietzsche).
What becomes of the interpretation of law, and thus the rela-
tionship between law and justice, within the framework of a
thought that has taken leave offoundational metaphysics? It may
well be that philosophical thought about lawwill assume the role
of providing analytic support for the work of jurists even with-
out taking into explicit account all the nihilistic aspects and
results of the crisis of metaphysics. Perhaps this is, in the end, the
meaning of the distinction between the philosophy of lawof the
philosophers and the philosophy oflawof the jurists, with a pro-
fessed preference for the latter.
But if one remains unsatisfied
with this solution, in which the urge toward metaphysical foun-
dationalism is not really overcome but only set aside as a source
of confusion, then the nihilistic significance of the dissolution of
metaphysics demands to be taken fully into consideration. This
may come about in different ways. Thought that recognizes the
irreparable unfoundedness that ultimately characterizes the law,
baffling every effort to legitimate it as "just," may decide that its
own task is to reveal this situation by unmasking the imposture
of all foundational claims. This is a stance that, as we know, not
only guides one school of thought about the law but permeates
much of contemporary philosophy, or at any rate that branch of
it that has resolved to take seriously the end of metaphysics her-
alded by Nietzsche and Heidegger. This style of thought can
properly be called "apocalyptic" in the literal sense of the adjec-
tive, inasmuch as it focuses mainly on revealing unfoundedness.
It appears to echo, on the ontological plane, the phenomenolog-
ical cult of the skeptical epoche. Being critical is here interpreted
to mean standing back and so refusing to assent to all that puts
itself forward as a valid foundation when it is really only
"human, all too human." The apocalyptic stance is often accom-
panied by an exegesis of its religious implications, a sort of leap
into mysticism: the meditations of Kafka and Benjamin on the
law (see Derrida's essayS) is a good example of this approach. But
the archetypal model is Kierkegaard's Abraham and his "cham-
pion of faith." The champion of faith is not always called upon to
violate the laws of morality (like Abraham when he was put to
the test of the command to sacrifice his son Isaac), but even
when he observes them, he does so not from love of precepts and
dedication to the General but rather "by virtue of the absurd,"
that is, his absolutely individual relationship with the Absolute.
Faced with the revealed unfoundedness of the law, the post-
metaphysical philosopher-and jurist and ordinary citizen-
can perhaps do nothing except follow the example of the cham-
pion of faith. But the latter, as Kierkegaard explains at length in
Fear and Trembling apropos of Abraham, cannot speak of his
experience to anyone, cannot defend his own conduct with
"valid" arguments; he is obligated, condemned, to silence.
In this apocalyptic perspective, whether the further leap into
mysticism is made or not, interpretation functions as pure
unmasking of the nonjustice of the law. It hardly needs to be
emphasized that the very meaning of the word "interpretation"
is here reduced to its strictly metaphysical acceptation: The
decipherment and discovery of what is hidden, a form of objec-
tive mirroring that is characterized only as more difficult to
perform because of the objective lack of clarity of the interpre-
tandum. There is no trace here of the hermeneutic conception
of interpretation as "knowledge of forms on the part of per-
sons;'6 in which truth is the result of an encounter in which
person and thing are engaged in a process in which both are
active and which gives rise to an event.
We are trying, I repeat, to understand how our topic-law,
justice, and interpretation-appears from within a thought that
has abandoned foundational metaphysics and the objectivism
that connotes it. Is the fact that Kierkegaard's Abraham does
indeed experience the unfoundedness of the law, but only "in
virtue of the absurd;' in a direct and utterly individual relation-
ship with what Heidegger calls the Being most in Being of all,
not perhaps a sign that he still remains within the realm of
metaphysics? Here Nietzsche would speak of reactive nihilism:
we have faced up to the absence of foundations but have not
rid ourselves of our grief at the loss we have suffered, and nos-
talgia for full Being continues to dominate us. The God of
Kierkegaard, albeit no longer attainable through the rational
"five ways" of Aquinas, is still the God of traditional metaphys-
ical theology.
Nostalgia for full Being is also characteristic of the kind of
nihilism (here effectively represented in Monateri's paper) that
aims to take a stand squarely in the unfoundedness of the law,
conceiving of interpretation as fabulation. In the case of the
apocalyptic-mystical version, we could say with Nietzsche that
God is dead but still casts a long shadow-and who knows for
how long?-over the world. Here, though, what greets us is the
merry nihilism of Zarathustra's animals, who have made a
"hurdygurdy song" of the eternal return.? Interpretation confers
justice on the lawonly to the extent that, perfectly arbitrarily but
with close attention to the specific demands of the situation, it
adapts the norms of the law to the unique set of interests and
goals at which it aims in each case, producing consensus around
a specific application of the law, like good rhetorical discourse.
Obviously we cannot speak here of falsification of the norm,
since to do so we would still have to suppose that the norm was
available in some objectively definite way that could be set
against the interpretations. The only criterion by which to assess
the various fabulations is their success, which (Monateri seems
to suggest in his final note), is not necessarily measured on the
basis of strictly individual interests but can also be gauged by
more wide-ranging repercussions (peace, "evolution"). But the
different value of the latter is assigned to a different judgment
(morality perhaps? but then the problem of foundations recurs:
metaphysics returns). Whereas in the apocalyptic perspective
God is dead and therefore nothing is (truly) just (or if it is, then
only because God comes back to life in more absolute form than
ever), in the fictive nihilism so clearly delineated by Monateri,
God is dead and therefore "anything goes." My dissatisfaction
with both of these versions of nihilism is theoretically motivated
by the persistence in them of a metaphysical ground. In one case
we have the mystical form of the God of Abraham, or even just
the purely "revelatory" conception of interpretation: unfound-
edness is the true reality that we discover by interpreting, that is
deciphering, the lies of the false legitimations. In the second case,
grief for metaphysics and the shadow of God persist precisely
because there are no more criteria for distinguishing among the
fabulations: if God is dead, all is permitted. But can we let our-
selves be guided by dissatisfaction at the imperfect self-
consumption of metaphysics here at a conference held to discuss
the law? I see no reason why we should not consider these two
theorizations of the unfoundedness of the law as acceptable
replies to the question implicitly formulated in our topic. Note
that they can perfectly well be considered not as alternatives but
as complements, since the experience of unfoundedness can also
resolve itself in a return to the Kierkegaardian esthetic stage-
"in Ispagna son gia mill'etre:' fabulations are worthwhat they are
worth; they change every time according to the unforeseeable
specificity of the situations, interests, even desires.
But what was the wording of our conference topic really ask-
ing? Certainly, we could make the low-key assumption that all
it was doing was announcing that an important theme, one
worth beginning a dialogue about between jurists and philoso-
phers, is the relationship among these three terms, with special
emphasis on the third (given that the philosophers invited, and
perhaps the jurists as well, have links to the hermeneutic tradi-
tion). Not merely for theoretical motives, as some might think:
the topic of interpretation has become central in many philo-
sophical circles and in the general culture for reasons this is not
the place to go into, so we are here to register the fact. But if
jurists are paying more heed to hermeneuticists, that is because,
for one thing, the latter have profoundly renewed their own dis-
cipline precisely by drawing upon the juridical experience
(think of how much the experience of the law counts as a point
of reference in Gadamer and in an author like Betti), and, more
generally perhaps, because certain "facts" have become more
thorny, for reasons entirely "practical:' social, political, and so
on. The role of interpretation and its conditions in the admin-
istration of justice has become more visible because in a demo-
cratic society the relationship among the powers may indeed be
tendentially regulated by ironbound laws, but it is also made so
explicit by these very laws that the activity of the courts and
other jurisdictional forums is rendered less "sacral" and their
aura stripped away. For another thing, the increasing complex-
ity of state forms has enormously accentuated the distance
between the law and justice. Juridical formalism does not, in
practice, really appear to be taking account of the "reality" of
facts, the truth of the "rights" claimed by individuals and
groups, of new rights, those, for example, demanded by the
"newsubjects" who are pressing for recognition in everyday life,
and its procedural mechanisms for ensuring fairness seem to
proceed so slowly that they provoke impatience in those who
are thirsting for justice. Such impatience is another reason for
interpretation to assume a more active role. In a democracy it
must be seen for what it concretely is, no longer hiding behind
the sacrality of the judge and his (in principle) unquestionable
impartiality, and precisely because it is no longer clouded in a
sacral aura, it is also called upon to heed the concrete demands,
the voices that are rising from the world of new needs.
It is principally with regard to these demands and motives
(which I think may legitimately be seen as the background to the
title of the conference) that we must measure the effectiveness of
the answers we are trying to give. I do not believe, especially in
speaking with jurists and practitioners of the law, that the sole
purpose of this conference should be to set out a certain nexus
of concepts for theoretical purposes. Not that that is not useful
and important, but another aspect of what we have, I think,
learned from hermeneutics is that interpretation always involves
the interpreter. It is something that, as Heidegger would say,
"concerns me." If these demands, which I have listed summarily
and in no particular order, are the ones stirring in the depths of
our theoretical investigation-or at any rate the meaning I
attribute to this investigation, the precomprehension that moti-
vates me and upon which my reply to the question is contin-
gent-then my dissatisfaction with solutions of the apocalyptic
or fictive type is no longer attributable exclusively to their
remaining theoretically confined within metaphysics, despite
their claim to have escaped it. The fact that they have not escaped
these confines could at most be adduced as a theoretical expla-
nation for their inadequacy in supplying answers to the ques-
tions implicit in the topic. If, on the basis of the summary
description of the deep motivations, we try to reformulate the
question posed in the title, we will say: What is driving us to
study this topic is the sensation-the experience-that the law
often fails to do justice, either because it does not grasp the truth
about the case to which it applies or because it is too slow in any
case to correct its own mistakes or because it has evidently fallen
behind the new problems, new rights, and new situations that
need to be regulated juridically. And these various forms of dis-
satisfaction, of need for just justice, are emerging in a situation
that (unlike the past, perhaps) has rendered the interpretive
component of the administration of justice so explicit that it
heightens rather than satisfies or calms this need. Magistrates are
. also members of a society shot through with deep ideological
and cultural divisions, characterized by an irreducible cultural
pluralism that makes it evident, to say the least, that both the
character of the law and the interpretation judges give to it are
always contingent, always historically and culturally condi-
tioned. As I think several of the papers delivered at this confer-
ence show, faced with a situation like this, the thirst for justice
may give rise either to excessive faith in juridical technique (an
extreme juridical positivism that clings to punctual and punctil-
ious adherence to formal procedures) or to an explicit choice in
favor of a political-ideological engagement on the part of the
magistrates. A third option is of course an apocalyptic-mystical
distancing of oneself from the inevitable injustice of the law.
If you are one of those thirsting for justice, in the sense I have
vaguely sketched, what answer do you get from hermeneutic
thought once it has confronted the unfoundedness of the law? I
myself am not satisfied-and this too is certainly a matter of
interpretation and opinion but not, I daresay, purely a matter of
subjective taste-with either the apocalyptic answer that thinks
it can satisfy the thirst for justice either through naked aware-
ness of the unfoundedness of existence (for that is what it
comes down to: I free myself by accepting that there is no solu-
tion) or through messianic hope, a leap of faith (which to avoid
getting overly compromised in historicity, however, has to be
virtually empty of content) or the functionalist answer, which
can only work by appealing to another source of evaluation
(ethical? or what?), unless the success it claims is the pursuit of
interests, pure and simple (ones calculated on the basis of a util-
itarian morality, perhaps, which would still have to be founded
in any case). The mere setting out of these alternatives-lucid
awareness of insuperable unfoundedness; messianic leap of
faith; pure and simple release of the fabulations from any real-
istic constraint (leaving it unclear whether other constraints
and criteria will subsequently be proposed)-reveals with suf-
ficient clarity the disproportion between them and the thrust,
however implicit, of the topic before us. There is another
answer, which seems to me less disproportionate and inade-
quate, albeit still problematic and "inchoative": its basis is the
effort to assume nihilism-the unfoundedness that is revealed
when one faces the ontological implications of hermeneutics-
in terms truly (or more authentically) free of the heritage of
As you will have grasped by now, nihilism remains ensnared
in metaphysics as long as it conceives of itself, even only implic-
itly, as the discovery that there, where we thought there was
Being, there is in reality nothing. Where we thought there were
legal principles, there is only the arbitrariness of the legislator
or the interpreter, a decision unfounded and for that reason
essentiallyviolent, which has to be made acceptable through the
fiction of the fabulations, or mystically motivated acceptance
(in the "Kierkegaardian" version of nihilism).
A nonmetaphysical definition of nihilism can, though, be
formulated by returning to the expression with which Heideg-
ger characterizes the history of Nietzschean nihilism: Nihilism
is the process in which of Being as such nothing (more)
remains,8 Nihilism, if it should (and can) not be understood as
the discovery that instead of Being there is nothing, can only
think itself as the history (endless-without conclusion in a
state in which in place of Being there is nothing) in which Being,
asymptotically, consumes itself, dissolves, grows weak.
nihilism is conceived of in this way, what changes in the reply
given to the question implicit in our topic? Schematically, one
might put it this way: Interpretation is neither the apocalyptic-
messianic unveiling of the violence (injustice) implicit in any
position of law, nor the consolatory masking of this violence by
means of ad hoc fabulations, but a cumulative process of disso-
lution of the violence arising from the initial unfoundedness of
the law. The logic, logicality, and validity (including ethical
validity) of this perfect hermeneutic circularity necessarily
escape those who live nihilism as unconsumed grief for a Being
that ought to be (the foundation) and is not. This hermeneutic
circle is a virtuous circle, the only possible virtue. To interpret
by applying the law to concrete situations in such a way as to
regulate them without violence-without the imposition of
"nonnegotiated" force1o-means neither revealing the violence
of the origins, nor concealing it with ad hoc adjustments, but
progressively reducing it. The word "progressively" is justified
because it is through the accumulation of the interpretations
and through reference to them so as better to corroborate (with
the accumulation of precedents, confirmations, applications
that expand and clarify, and so on) the resolution of individual
cases that the original violence is actually consumed.
Countless telling examples come to mind: there is a certain
violence in the direct relationship between the accused and the
auctoritas that facit legem, applies it to the specific case and, when
all appeals have been exhausted, passes final sentence. The inter-
vention of the judge, the lawyer, and the legal scholar, collecting,
enumerating, and classifying the precedents, is one method of
reducing this violence. Admittedly, even when it is codified in
black and white and placed in the hands of professional jurists
independent of the other powers, entrusted to scholars, and
debated by lawyers, the lawstill preserves its violent origin. But do
all those passages really change nothing? Should the task of
thought really be to re-present the original situation (considered
"true"), making us relive the pathos of the violence that lies at the
origin of existence, especially social existence (a form of
Rousseauism in apocalyptic nihilism)? But the nonmetaphysical
nihilist Nietzsche also taught us that "the more insight we possess
into an origin, the less significant does the origin appear."1l And
the "progressive" meaning, for me not just cumulative but also
emancipatory and liberating, of this process (the increase of
insignificance) lies not in the discovery of the objective insignifi-
cance of the origin, as though it were a matter of acquiring and
setting aside a new, truer, awareness of it; it lies precisely in the
process of endless self-consumption of its claims, whether you
think of it as full, or as a void, a nothingness, a"lie"that is exposed,
The experience of law, of the formalization of statutes and
the institutional systems that apply them and administer jus-
tice, is above all an experience of the origin consuming itself,
not a remembering of its violent traits, nor a masking of them
in such a way as to render them tolerable by forgetting them.
The justice that interpretation confers on the lawhas nothing to
do either with the metaphysical truth of revealed unfounded-
ness or with the pious untruth of fabulation. Interpretation, as
application that weakens the violence of the origin, "does the
law justice": renders it justice against those who accuse it of
producing only summas iniurias; renders it just where it was
violent; and also "executes" it, exhausting its claims to be
peremptory and definitive, stripping off the sacral mask.
It is virtually de rigueur when proposing this kind of philo-
sophical reflection not to get much further than stating your
premises (you back up and take a long run at the problem, and
the full elaboration of it gets put off). Yet the approach I have
expounded makes a difference. It doesn't leave things as it finds
them, doesn't just plead for a sort of resigned contemplation of
them, an amor dei intellectualis vis-a-vis necessity (of unfound-
edness, of pious untruth). One difference it makes is perhaps
the explicit exhaustion of the retributive conception of justice,
which is always based on the notion that there is a "truth" to the
situation; its most primitive formulation is of course the lex tal-
ionis, "an eye for an eye." Those with a thirst for justice always
believe, in perfect good faith, that they know what the situation
was that demands to be restored, what the original equilibrium
was that has been violated. Not only is it authority that makes
the law, not truth, but what the law does when it does justice, is
(once again) not the metaphysical "truth" of the reestablish-
ment of the prior equilibrium that has been disturbed. Could it
be that auctoritatem, non veritatem, facit lex? Yes, at least in the
sense that the result of the application of the law is the installa-
tion of an authoritative order-accepted and acceptable
because sustainable with arguments that "stand up" in relation
to the network, the con-text, of the norms and their progressive
confirmation through precedents. Here we are actually explor-
ing the possibility (or more than just the possibility), that an
ontological-hermeneutic, that is, nihilistic, conception of the
relationship between law and justice would lead to the aban-
donment of the idea of a "substantial" justice in which the law
is supposed to indicate the route back to a realistic restoration
of an original condition that has been disturbed, the truth of
which is taken to be knowable through faithful and objective
mirroring. Such justice-unicuique suum, though any particu-
lar suum is always marked by the violence of the "original"
appropriation, which can only be made into a valid norm
through further violence-is impossible because it is the very
idea of a "true" equilibrium that is a violent invention, much
like the progressive philosophy of history invented by the win-
ners, according to Benjamin, in order to legitimate retrospec-
tively their own power. And so? It would appear that here too,
the only business of philosophy is to justify-make the world
accept as just-the effective reality of the law, its forms and
institutions, its foundation in precedent, meaning in (the vio-
lence of) the already-decided. But again, is there really no sub-
stantial difference, with regard to violence, between the forcible
imposition of the will of an individual on others, and legal pro-
cedure, with its codes, its right to a defense, its variety of juris-
dictional instances, its debate about precedents, and so on? If we
refuse to let ourselves be spellbound by the metaphysical model
of truth as evidence of the datum before us, this is the heart of
the matter, and the meaning of Being itself is perhaps nothing
other than this inconspicuous difference. From this viewpoint,
to thirst and hunger for justice will no longer mean demanding
an absolutely impartial judge who will apply, purely, simply,
and with perfect objectivity, the ancient lex talionis. The "dis-
covery" of the interpretive character of truth will have taught us
that what we think of as the objective equilibrium that has been
disturbed is nothing other than our interpretation, constitu-
tively never disinterested, of the situation. Here I may refer to
the idea of "construction in analysis," which has liberated psy-
choanalytic theory from its realistic self-representation, for
which the meaning of therapy was the discovery of the initial
trauma; once that was brought to consciousness, it was sup-
posed to lose its pathological influence on the life of the subject.
The construction that is produced in analysis is not, however,
any fabulation whatsoever-for that matter not even the fabu-
lations to which Monateri refers are so explicitly fabulatory,
though it would be necessary to try to clarify what makes them
effective, useful, and successful. Rather than handing over to
others-utilitarian ethics or whatever-the task of clarifying
this important point, the idea of justice as weakening, as the
progressive reduction of the original violence of the law, this
argument assumes the responsibility of positing a guideline: It
is the "progressive awareness of the origin" that renders it less
peremptory, less violent. Not all fabulations are equal; the thirst
for justice, even if seen as the pure and simple need for con-
vincing constructions, does not for that reason abandon itself
to the vagaries of individual cases. The "certainty of the law" is
threatened much less from this perspective than it is by apoca-
lyptic messianism and fictionalism: the stability of the law lies
in the network of interpretations that have incarnated it over
the course of time in history, much more than it does in a myth-
ical (because never graspable as such) objectivity of its original
significance. This network is a woven fabric that cannot be
pulled into any shape at will, since it at least defines a domain of
interpretive possibilities and excludes others. The network is
not made up of texts alone (sentences, various jurisprudential
precedents, authoritative readings by scholars of the law) but
also, inseparably, of an ensemble of institutional structures. If
we consider all this together (the texts and the institutions) as a
system aimed at making justice of law through the progressive
reduction of the violence of the origin, we will at any rate be
able to rule out, in principle, the "thirst for justice" that only
masks the revindication, pure and simple, of one's own interest
as a principle of just justice. What I mean to say is that, although
we cannot derive actual consequences for the practice of law
from this nihilistically oriented "philosophy of law," we can and
should make it our starting point for the creation of a different
sensibility about the law. For example, we should renounce the
ideal of perfect restoration and take as our guiding value, even
in the courtroom, a life in society founded on the acceptability
and plausibility of the sentences, measured principally in terms
of the reduction of violence (defined on the basis of a sole cri-
terion: no silencing). When we consider how much weight the
notion of the just as "true," natural, and objective carries, not
only in the subjective attitudes of those demanding justice but
also and more seriously in the statutes themselves, we will have
to agree that the task ahead, even at the level of the slow trans-
formation of philosophical and juridical mentalities, is a large
one. Philosophers and jurists will have to start to think about
this without giving in to the inevitable temptation of estheti-
cism (either apocalyptic-messianic or fictionalizing) that clings
to hermeneutics as long as it has not escaped from metaphysi-
cal nostalgia.
13. An Apology for Proceduralism
!though I would like to begin with a series of clarifications-
what is the philosophical stance that I adopt? Hermeneutics
of the nihilistic or "weak" variety.
What does this strain of
philosophical thought believe it has to offer, what use does it
think it is, since it cannot serve a foundational purpose, as the
various forms of metaphysics characteristically did?-I will
forgo doing so because I believe (and not just because time is
limited) that it is worth the trouble to confront the topic
announced in the title directly and literally, though this is not
an easy business but a tricky one.
Hence I shall try to showthat
an analysis of law and its legitimation-a term I prefer to the
metaphysical one "foundation"-in modernity can only take
the form of an apology for proceduralism; an apology because
the sense of the title is not merely descriptive for me-proce-
duralism is one of the characteristics of modernity, but the
proceduralist position is one of the constitutive traits of mod-
ernization, even more than it is of law, ethics, and political
thought. It is hardly necessary to add that in this more than
purely descriptive and historical acceptation, the term "moder-
nity" also acquires the normative meaning it has always had in,
and for, modernity. The most pertinent definition of modernity
in fact seems to me to be the one I set out years ago in the book
The End ofModernity: The epoch in which being modern is the
supreme normative value.
As for the other word in the title,
"proceduralism:' with which jurists are certainly much better
acquainted than I am, I will aSSume that it is intuitively gras-
pable, though I will specify the meaning I give it as this dis-
COurse unfolds.
To say that modernity is the epoch characterized by the fact
that it conceives being modern as the supreme value also means
contemplating the possibility of its end-and thus of postmod-
ern discourse. If, as I believe, we have today acknowledged the
dissolution of the historicist metaphysics that conferred this
essence on modernity-"il faut etre absolument moderne"
because the course of history is progressive and therefore the
closer you are to keeping pace with time, the closer you are to per-
fection-can we still take seriously the "apologetic" tone that, as
I said, resonates in my title? As one of the few remaining "believ-
ers" in postmodernity, which I consider myself to be, would it not
be more coherent to classify proceduralism and the modern
mentality together as residues of a past that is no longer ours?
But is the discourse of the postmodern really such a radical
departure from modernity? Does it belong to some totally other
dimension where there no longer exists any trace of the meta-
physical concepts that accompanied and inspired modernization?
Modernity is indeed identifiable in many senses as the epoch of
(the culmination of) metaphysics. This might seem to be a scan-
dalous idea, but it isn't. Metaphysics is the philosophy of history
that dominates the Enlightenment and grounds its faith in the
widening cone of light cast by reason. Metaphysics is Hegelian
historicism, marxist historicism, positivistic historicism. That at
least must be our conclusion if we abandon the more traditional,
even banal notion of metaphysics as thought that attempts to go
beyond the sensible world and empiricallygiven reality and assign
it a more pregnant and inclusive meaning: the one impressed on
it forever by Heidegger, according to which metaphysics conceives
true Being as that which objectively occurs before our eyes (those
of the mind or the body) and that maintains itself stably in that
definiteness. In sum, the ontos on of Plato and Aristotle and,
before them, of Parmenides, perhaps.
Heidegger's critique of this metaphysical conception of
Being seems to me ineluctable: If true being were objectively
stable structure, like the Platonic ideas, the Aristotelian
essences, even Kant's a priori, and the experimentally ascer-
tained facts of positivism, human existence could not be called
Being-unless everything to do with historicity and liberty
were excised from it as a deceptive illusion.
If we declare that metaphysics is over (not refuted, obviously,
through some proof that the true structure of Being has a differ-
ent character, that is, through another "objective" metaphysics),
we do not do so just because we have read Heidegger. Histori-
cism was the last great objectivist metaphysics, and it ended
mainly because the Eurocentrism that undergirded it was
"refuted" practically and politically by the anticolonial revolts
and theoretically by the self-awareness of both the experimental
sciences and historical knowledge, which have, each in its own
way, recognized that its own character was interpretive, not
purely mirror-reflective. For all these reasons, the end of m ~ t a
physics is not just a theoretical event, a discovery of s o ~ e philo-
sophical understanding that has supposedly "found out" what
the philosophers of the past (people of the caliber of Plato and
Aristotle) were unable to see. The end of metaphysics is, in this
epochal sense, perfectly entitled to call itself the end of moder-
nity as well, as the end of an epoch, a world, a mentality that bore
it up and characterized it. If we say that we are no longer meta-
physical because something happened, is that not historicism
too? "Good question" would be the informal answer. By measur-
ing ourselves against it, we can go forward and also return to the
topic of proceduralism. In two ways: Recognizing that if meta-
physics is finished in the broad sense I have sketched, then ethics,
law, and politics can only take procedural form, and that the very
mode of argument is procedural, grounding the validity, or even
the truth of proceduralism on these considerations of fact.
This is an intricate argument, but it does not suffer from any
defect oflogic or mental cramp. On the contrary, it seems to me
that it highlights the close relationship between proceduralism
and hermeneutic thought that I wish to elaborate. We could
translate, or reformulate on another plane, the disturbing circle
into which we have stumbled by repeating the words of Nietz-
sche: "There are no facts, only interpretations; and this too is
only an interpretation." Hermeneutic thought is the philosophy
of modernity in both senses of the genitive: It is the theory of
modernity that-going back to the nihilism of Nietzsche, which
Heidegger read as the theory of the self-consumption of"Being"
understood as a represented, stable, given object-understands
it as the epoch of accomplished nihilism. And it is the theory of
modernity in the subjective sense of the genitive because it
argues itself only as a theory corresponding to the event of
modernity and its self-consumption in the irresistible pluraliza-
tion of cultures, of the world that Max Weber called the poly-
theism of values.
Is this discourse applicable to proceduralism? I think that
the answer is yes. What holds for hermeneutics as the philo-
sophical theory of modernity-that it has the modern epoch as
its object and that it has validity only to the extent that it
believes that it corresponds to it-holds as well in my opinion
for proceduralism, albeit in a less direct way, mediated probably
by philosophy itself. Proceduralism too lacks a metaphysical
foundation by definition, at least ifwe try to think it through in
rigorous terms.
- .:
Here, however, a difficulty arises, one that needs to be
resolved before taking our discourse any further. Not every
defense of proceduralism is really free of metaphysical nostal-
gia. I should point out that this too is a typical trait of the
hermeneutic problematic-so much so that we could, if we
wished, ask whether the analogy is not rather presupposed than
"found." Consider Habermas and his Between Facts and Norms,
for example.
In discussing proceduralism, Habermas takes up,
with a few slight modifications that derive from his having had
much (too much?) intercourse with American analytic and
postanalytic philosophers, the ethics of discourse that he and
Karl Otto Apel worked out together in the 1960s and 1970S. In
every discursive act, there arises, according to him, an unavoid-
able normativityvalid as a peremptory imperative that must be
followed to avoid what Apel calls a "performative contradic-
tion." In sum, if I speak, I have to respect certain rules, above all
the supreme rule that dictates that I recognize the same rights
and the same dignity in my interlocutor that I attribute to
myself. The scheme is more complicated than I can layout in
detail here, but this is what it means. Proceduralism thus turns
out to be founded on a sort of categorical imperative of the
Kantian type, that speaks through my speaking and promises it
meaning and communicative capacity only as long as it is
observed. Clearly Habermas's position excludes the closeness
or analogy between proceduralism and hermeneutics that I
hypothesized above.
Habermas is, for the rest, a stubborn adversary of Heidegger
and of Nietzsche too in many basic ways, hence also of the rad-
ical hermeneutics that derives from them. He is probably
unable to assimilate hermeneutics into his own theory of com-
municative action because it explicitly denies the metaphysical
foundation he wants to attribute to proceduralism.
His concern with grounding proceduralism on this species
of transcendental structure of human communication is philo-
sophically unacceptable, though as far as the ethical and political
consequences go, it contains nothing to object to, in the short
term anyway. And if you look more closely, even its political
consequences in the longer term arouse some apprehension. If
there is a"natural" norm-transparency and unlimitedness (no
opacity, no "subjective" limitations on ideal communication)-
then the classic distinction between those who have escaped
opacity and those who still need to be freed from it can hardly
fail to reemerge or take the form of social and political cate-
gories. But in that case, even "formal" democracy runs the risk
of not being taken seriously, of having to be entrusted to a class,
a caste, a category of professional revolutionaries legitimated by
their own attainment of transparent consciousness. It is not
hard to detect in this the workings of the model of proletarian
class consciousness (with no interests of its own to defend other
than its own generic being, Gattungswesen, and thus free of ide-
ology) and the psychoanalytic model (albeit read in a highly
ideological way). So it is not out of the question that even on the
political plane the metaphysical residue present in the theory of
communicative action may produce undesirable effects (a
down-to-earth example from Italy is the eternal split between
the part of the left that never stops dreaming of revolution and
the liberal left that radically refuses the notion of one class
endowed with messianic legitimacy that allows it to exercise
power in the best interests of everyone else).
Naturally Habermas would counter my remarks by saying
that a proceduralism bereft of this "transcendental" basis-the
word "transcendental" itself, ever since Kant, masks a violation
of "Hume's law;' since it transforms fact (in Kant, the factum of
the moral law that speaks through me) into law-is insuffi-
ciently strong to supply the legitimation it requires and that it is
philosophy's job to provide. (A passing note: we are back to the
philosopher-king, albeit in a different guise, perhaps that
of Husserl's philosopher as "functionary of humanity"-a
philosopher-king who seems to be the inevitable corolIary of
any and all metaphysical-foundational conceptions. For the
rest, the "transparent" society to which Habermas certainly
looks as a guiding ideal is only a transposition of the academic
communityof scholars and its rules onto a more general plane).
Here I merely note that even Habermas's transcendental
foundation (which, like every other claim that morality, law,
and politics have a transcendental foundation, replicates Kant)
really has no more legitimating force than that of any rela-
tivism, any psychologism, any radical proceduralism. What the
philosopher says is that if I speak, I cannot not accept, if only
implicitly, the rule ofequality between interlocutors, and there-
fore that of the ideal transparency of society, from which there
flow a number of consequences, including ones touching the
distribution of resources and positive rights. Very well. But will
anyone in our society who enjoys a privileged position, however
arrived at, really let herself be ruled by the discourse about per-
formative contradiction? To me it seems highly doubtful. In any
case, the historical fortune or misfortune of the classic argu-
ment against the skeptics ought to telI us something about the
matter. So once we get rid of this putatively greater founda-
tional (really only persuasional) effectiveness of transcenden-
talism, the philosophical question of proceduralism remains
entirely open, like that of hermeneutics. Habermasian tran-
scendentalism is an interpretation, too, although it doesn't
know it is, or want to be.
When you get right down to it, the nexus of proceduralism
and modernity means essentialIy this: That we have become
modern to the extent that we have realized that every juridical,
political, or other system is "only" procedure, or, in other words,
that any truth is "only" interpretation. Does "we have realized"
mean that we finalIy know the truth about how things really
are? Emancipation once again by means of lucid, objective
knowledge of howBeing is? But even in Habermasian language,
this "metaphysical objectivism," this Spinozism (amor dei intel-
lectualis) may be described as an improper application of the
rules of strategic action to the field of pure communicative
action: that is, I apply methodological norms like objectivity
and experimental repeatability that in the case of scientific
knowledge are required for practical purposes, but have no
value in themselves, to "knowledge of life," as though it were
better to know than to not know.
Habermas may be just one example, although an extremely
weighty one, but I believe that discussion of his position serves
at least to highlight another meaning of the closeness/analogy
between hermeneutics and proceduralism. In both cases the
effort is made to avoid letting a residue of metaphysics-
thought with an objective, given structure that becomes the
source of choices, norms, and so on-prevent the theory from
developing according to its own principles, so to speak. Is this
just another in a long line of metaphysical imperatives? I would
say not; what is at stake is the correspondence of the thing itself
to its own vocation; it claims our attention because it promises
certain conclusions, and merely in order to see what they are, we
feel ourselves committed not to betray its forma formans. Here
I am referring to Luigi Pareyson's theory of interpretation,
which in fact we all follow when we ask, for example, whether it
is possible that a given author, Plato let us say, really wrote such
and such a text, which contrasts sharply in places with all the
other texts that we know we can attribute to him with cer-
tainty.s We might simply say that if it claims to found itself on
an objectively given principle, even the factum of Kantian rea-
son itself, proceduralism is no longer proceduralism and is of
no interest to us here.
Still, that doesn't get us very far. Or at least, we have only cov-
ered the first part of the journey. We know what proceduralism
cannot be. Here again, let me go back to Heidegger. He too
knows what thought that wants to surpass metaphysics cannot
be: it must free itself of any residual expectation of objective
data, of "foundation." But then? The key terms that Heidegger
uses in thinking about the overcoming of metaphysics are
"Andenken [to remember]" and "Verwindung [distorting
acceptance, resignation, convalescence]:' That is: on the one
hand, the effort to overcome metaphysics keeps encountering
its residues (one is reminded of the shadow of God in Nietz-
sche, which still falls on the world for centuries after his death),
and, on the other, Heidegger thinks that we can never really
uberwinden metaphysics, only verwinden it. The mode of this
Verwindung is, precisely, remembering that knows that that is
what it is: not an effort to make Being (which objectifying meta-
physics has forgotten) present again but to recall it as something
gone for good.
I know that this account is sketchy, but it will have to do. In
the case of post-Heideggerian hermeneutics, Verwindung and
remembering signify that philosophical discourse can lay claim
only to the rigor that derives from the evocation of historical
experiences to which it acknowledges being linked; rationality,
in sum, is founded on a certain interpretive fidelity to prove-
nance. That which is formulated in the logos is logical, and the
logos is the continuity of a chain of reasoning-just like in
metaphysics, except that here the chain recedes into infinity, it
has no point of commencement, no arche.
In Heidegger's discourse on Being, there is a high degree of
negativity. That is, it seems that the overcoming of metaphysics
consists almost exclusively in the dismantling of the founda-
tional claims of objectifying thought. Reiner Schurmann, a
great interpreter of Heidegger who died prematurely a few years
ago, called his book on the German philosopher Le principe
Yet to regress to the archai that have undergirded
the metaphysics of the past and that are the historical back-
ground from which we come-since we cannot even jettison
them as errors, given that we have no other archai to put in their
place-also means recognizing them in their historicity and
contingency. We recognize them for what they are truly worth,
but in so doing we assume them in a weak sense that does not
condemn them to oblivion but lets them stand as pure heritage,
stripped of the sacral aura in which traditions were wont to
cloak themselves.
This is the point at which a discourse on proceduralism
ought to begin, I realize. As often happens to those who "come
from afar"-either because philosophy demands that a certain
background be filled in or because as a discipline it is often
remote from the phenomena with which it wants to come to
grips-I too have got no farther than the premise. For the
analysis of proceduralism, it does seem to me, though, that even
from these few observations some not entirely futile indications
may be derived. I would emphasize the following.
The relationship of proceduralism to modernity, read in its
full significance, means that, like hermeneutics, it is legitimated
not in relation to some normative and given structure of
human reason but in correspondence to a condition, more
postmodern than modern, in which metaphysics, meaning
foundationalism, has lost credibility (not: has been, still meta-
physically, refuted). In this situation, as I have tried to show by
referring to the example of Habermas, what proceduralism
must do if it does rigorously correspond to its modern vocation
is to free itself of the metaphysical residues it still contains, for
reasons of theoretical coherence, but also to escape certain
undesirable outcomes as regards political consequences. This
task comprises a large pars destruens: I say this not as a jurist but
" I
as a philosopher interested in political events who is preoccupied
by the return of absolutizing claims on the part of authorities
who present themselves as the voice of natural lawitself, imposing
norms that supposedly derive from "essences" and so on. A
more explicit proceduralistic awareness, not just among politi-
cians but also among jurists, is imperative, in my view, for the
fate of democracy, which is both procedural in itself (being no
more than the rule that majorities decide questions of the
common good, with due respect for minority opinion) and
in its application to individual problems. I believe however that
Heideggerian Verwindung and remembering can give us
precious insights in thinking about proceduralism, to the
extent that these concepts point to a sort of weakening and sec-
ularizing path for thought. What would happen, or is already
happening, if we start to think of law as a mode, analogous to
philosophy vis-a-vis myth and religion, as a form of desacral-
izing secularization of justice? Here too, the directions in
which such a hypothesis might develop are not clear. But in a
world in which the tendential reaction from many quarters to
the polytheism of values is the revival, the artificial and often
violent construction, of mythologies, belongings, and rooted
identities of various kinds, it is likely that we ought to be
paying attention to what these developments may be.
14. On the fxternality of Crimes and Punishments
Men of application and goodwill assist in this one work: to take the
concept of punishment (Strafe) which has overrun the whole world
and root it out. There exists no more noxious weed.... It is as
though the education of the human race had hitherto been directed
by the fantasies of jailers and hangmen.
he reasons advanced by Nietzsche in this passage from Day-
and many others to undermine the legitimacy of the
concept of punishment are certainly influenced by positivistic
determinism, according to which crime is simply the necessary
manifestation of a diseased mind.
From this position many
different consequences may be deduced. Belief in freedom of
the will, Nietzsche writes in Twilight of the Idols, arose in order
to make punishment legitimate: "Men were thought of as 'free'
so that they could become guilty:' and today "we immoralists
especially are trying with all our might to remove the concept of
guilt and the concept of punishment from the world, and to
purge psychology, history, nature, the social institutions and
sanctions of them."3 The most radical opponents of this trend
are the theologians: "Christianity is a hangman's metaphysics:'4
As often happens with other texts and theses of Nietzsche, this
one seems like overstatement at first reading, but that impression
dwindles and virtually disappears. If we set aside his elimination
of freedom of the will in the name of metaphysical determinism,
which for Nietzsche comes to the same thing as believing in the
absolute randomness of all natural becoming and therefore
excludes the existence of free and responsible agents (metaphysi-
cal positions all of them, which a radical Nietzschean really can-
not permit himself, whatever Nietzsche's text says), the remainder
of what he has to say on this topic can perfectly well serve as a
point of departure for some reflections on punishment today.
Nietzsche invites us to abandon belief in freedom of the will,
but all we want to abandon is the pretence that punishment has
any "metaphysical" legitimation. We are in the presence of a
metaphysical legitimation of punishment whenever we assume
that it is in any case justified by the violation of an order. Instead
of doubting, as Nietzsche wishes us to, that agents are free and
therefore responsible, we doubt that there exists anything that
can be called violation of an order because we doubt that there
is anything like an order-value that can be violated. Even the idea
that the author of the violation can only be punished if he has
freedom of choice appears to be a particular instance of the gen-
eral concept of a "natural" order that must be respected. Hence
it is at the very least coherent not to take into account Nietzsche's
objections to belief in free will. If we are no longer convinced
that there is a given order-given as metaphysically valid-then
we have to begin here: Is it possible to rid our social institutions
and sanctions of the idea of (the natural legitimacy of) punish-
ment? What becomes of the legitimacy, the significance (and the
social function) of punishment within the framework of a post-
metaphysical, nonfoundational, ultimately nihilistic thought?
Let me draw attention to another truth in what Nietzsche
says: Today, appeals against the menace of nihilism and for a
return to metaphysics, values, and rigid certainties are always
voiced as part of a cry for defense of the social order through
penal sanctions. Some believe it necessary to theorize that
"there are" universally valid norms and "natural" laws so as to
be able to sanction and punish, whereas it is difficult today, in
every field of experience, not to feel like the person described by
Wittgenstein who, when faced with someone else whose calcu-
lations differ from his, always wonders whether the other is only
making a mistake in arithmetic or actually applying a different
mathematics altogether. Even Nietzsche's insistence on crime as
illness, in the exquisite aphorism 202 from Daybreak, retains its
currency. Not in the senses that immediately spring to mind
(the sociological excuse that it is society's fault or the literal
therapeutic approach, which might entail compulsory treat-
ment) but in the precise sense of which Nietzsche speaks here:
"presupposing one believes that the usual mode of moral think-
ing is the mode of thinking of mental health," the criminal is like
a mental patient and no more. As we would put it: Perhaps he
just functions differently from what is "normal." The desire to
cure him, no less than the desire to punish him, is only legiti-
mate on the presumption that we are the normal (or "just")
ones and he is the one who is deranged.
As Nietzsche argues in these pages from Daybreak, the crimi-
nal is one who "disturbs" everyone else's life, the way sick people
do. Society (if only to reduce the disturbance) must find a way to
prevent him from repeating his actions and "cure" him of the
impulse that drives him to delinquency: "One should place
before him quite clearly the possibility and the means ofbecom-
ing cured (the extinction, transformation, sublimation of this
drive), also, if things are that bad, the improbability of a cure;
one should offer the opportunity of suicide to the incurable
criminal who has become an abomination to himself. Keeping
this extremest means of relief in reserve, one should neglect

nothing in the effort to restore to the criminal his courage and
freedom of heare' As we see, here Nietzsche continues to think
(or is he just being paradoxical?) that the equivalence between
the prevalent morality and sound health holds good. But in his
advice that we should try to wipe the pangs of conscience from
the soul of the criminal (who ought to feel like someone who is
ill and goes to see the doctor; thus the horror that might drive
him to suicide is drained of its force), we may also perceive an
implicit recognition of the purely social and external character
of the commonly accepted norms that he has violated.
The Elternality of Ploishmelt
Perhaps this very recognition of the inevitable "externality" of
punishment points to how we might overcome the metaphysi-
cal conception of it. This conception assumes the existence of a
given order that, as such, is good and should be preserved or
restored: by making good the harm done in the many forms
that are required; by restitution of the material balance (repay-
ment of ill-gotten gains, payment of damages); by reestablish-
ing the moral and social order that has been violated by means
of punishment; by bringing the guilty party back into line
through reeducation. But if we no longer accept the givenness
of an objective moral order (the law of nature, the divine com-
mand, a rational imperative of precisely defined content), nor
the existence of a secure and straightforward ideal of humanity
to which to conform, nor even the sanctity of everyone's private
property (does the heir of a dynasty of kleptocrats deserve pro-
tection for his "private property"?), then all these goals of pun-
ishment become delegitimated and unfounded. Punishment
remains violence exercised against a member of society in order
somehow to remedy the "disturbance" he creates in the "nor-
mal" flow of social life. Rights are what everyone legitimately
expects of everyone else within the framework of a given code
?f laws and rules. Whoever fails to meet this expectation, legit-
Imate only because sanctioned by the code, is a delinquent.
Punishment is aimed, and can only be aimed, at treating this ill-
ness in the social body.
Nietzsche suggests that the more the treatment can dispense
with the traditional apparatus of notions like guilt, remorse,
and horror (on the part of the criminal; and the corresponding
wish for vengeance on the part of the victims of crime), the
more effective it will be. Is it possible or desirable "to rid our
social institutions and sanctions" of all these incrustations from
the "theological" tradition that has made history a "hangman's
metaphysics" (Heidegger would merely say "metaphysics," with
the adjective implied)? Perhaps the clearest point is the one
regarding the elimination of the wish for vengeance on the part
of the victims of crime. Yet it is closely tied to the reasons for
remorse and guilt. The victim demands, in good conscience,
that the criminal should be "adequately" punished on account
of the horror he feels for the crime (and thus the possibility that
he too might perpetrate it); here the adequacy of the punish-
ment is obviously not tailored to the goal of treating society but
rather to the victim's desire for vengeance.
Apart from getting over or past the lex talionis, the problem
of penal justice has always been that of reducing the role of the
desire for vengeance in determining the sentence. But in general
we can safely say that the difficulties of penal justice, even the
recent examples of which we are keenly aware, are deeply linked
to the perseverance of these metaphysical elements. The highest
point the penal system has reached since Beccaria is the idea
that the criminal ought to be reeducated. As much (indeed
almost all) of the evidence shows, this is exactly what penal jus-
tice does not succeed in accomplishing. It would gain clarity at
least, and maybe even effectiveness, if it were frankly viewed as
external pressure, motivated purely by the need to guarantee
the security of social life. But without a sense of guilt, without
horror (shared by the perpetrator and everyone else, especially
the victims) at the crime, how can we imagine that punishment
will serve this purpose?
The idea of reeducation, even when explicitly motivated by
respect for the humanity of the convicted criminal, is always
thought of as the most useful for society too, because it led (was
intended to lead) to the introjection of common morality into
the mind of the delinquent: if we do not want a policeman on
every street corner, we have to make the criminal feel within
himself the impulse not to recidivate. But if punishment were
severed from this idea of reeducation or recuperation, it could
still be thought of, and structured as, mnemonics, a way of
inculcating a "healthy" fear in the mind of the delinquent,
strong enough to keep him from recidivating. Is it the same
thing? Yes and no, because, for example, a conception of this
sort (which is at bottom much more respectful of the personal-
ity of the perpetrator, who is not being asked to change his
mind [metanoia], only to avoid certain behaviors) proposes less
ambiguously that the punishment should hurt.
The loss of freedom of movement for those confined to
prison is certainly a serious hurt, but it is not very effective. That
ought, perhaps, to make us look for different forms of punish-
ment. Recently, for example, there was a proposal to bar football
hooligans from entering the stadiums for a certain period; per-
haps it might work. For many social deviants, which most
hooligans probably are, a spell in prison doesn't mean much,
especially since the time is not usually served thanks to sus-
pended sentences, parole, and similar measures.
The same function of control is served by the so-called elec-
tronic bracelet, but with less hurt. Naturally many conse-
quences follow from the notion that punishment only has the
"external" purpose of guaranteeing the social order, and it
would be worthwhile to explore them further from the "techni-
cal" standpoint of penal justice. Let us look at a few. First and
foremost, it would entail a drastic reduction of prohibitions, or
to speak more bluntly, of prohibitionism, which is mainly moti-
vated by the identification of the penal law with a putatively
"natural" morality. The typical example is the prohibition on
drug use, with all the costly apparatus of repression it entails,
and which is generally justified as a way of protecting the
human authenticity of potential or actual drug users: they are
to be kept from "doing themselves harm." It is well known that
much of the social disorder caused by drugs results from their
prohibition, the harm from which is incomparably greater than
what all the drug users in the world would cause if they were
free to ingest their favorite substances.
The idea of "ridding" penal justice of its metaphysical resi-
dues, however, has much in common with what, in Heidegger's
philosophical program, and fundamentally Nietzsche's as well, is
called the overcoming of metaphysics. It is inconceivable that this
could ever be accomplished at one stroke, and perhaps it is some-
thing that could never be conclusively accomplished at all. When
it comes to metaphysics, says Heidegger, we cannot look forward
to an Oberwindung (overcoming), only a Verwindung (an accept-
ance that twists it and so promotes remission, as from a disease).
In the case of punishment and its foundation of legitimacy,
we can and should take a similar view. The very fact that a penal
system is impossible to imagine (for reasons of efficiency, inter-
nal coherence, and the like) without some "foundation" is in
fact a sign that metaphysics never really is overcome, that it per-
haps has something to do with the limitations of existence itself,
but that nonetheless, in various historical settings, it reveals its
own limits and its own unsustainability.
The crisis of our penal justice system, beyond what can be
i i
put down to "functional" difficulties of a kind particularly
severe in Italy (lengthy trials, overcrowded prisons, and so on),
is precisely one of the ways in which the crisis of metaphysics
makes itself felt in our world: at least to the far from negligible
extent that it can be put down to the collapse of a morality
accepted (though not always heeded) by most of the popula-
tion, and the generally pluralistic, multiethnic, multireligious
character of late modern society.
Even for those who do not reject foundationalist meta-
physics on theoretical grounds, it is clear enough that today, in
the conditions of late modernity, penal justice can only be con-
ceived in the external terms set forth here. This too, if I am not
mistaken, is the thrust of the discourse of Michel Foucault, who
stigmatizes the would-be panopticon of modern "humanitar-
ian" justice (Bentham's theories were indeed aimed at creating a
more humane system of justice).
The (tendentially) exclusive linkage between penal justice
and the social order that needs defending (but only because it is
the"usual" one, accepted and preferred by democratic majorities
and open to political debate within the limits fixed by the con-
stitutions of the different states) could also give rise (again one
thinks of Foucault and his history of madness in the premodern
period) to laws that, from the antiprohibitionist stance noted
above, would permit the existence of relatively wider areas of
social marginality than those society is prepared to accept today.
I am thinking here of social groups that, without becoming any-
thing like as dangerous as satanic sects, choose to live on the
margins of the society of consumption and production, the opu-
lent society. Not all squatters are unemployed people living
hand-to-mouth involuntarily, for lack of work and "integra-
tion:' Here too, as with drug users, society may very well choose,
democratically, to facilitate and promote their reintegration (or
get users to quit harmful drugs, the way we now try to get them
off tobacco). But will it be a more free society if, with no detri-
ment to the freedom of others, populations marginal by choice
are given more latitude to stay that way? Will they be a drain on
the public purse? That too could be borne, at least as long as
"forcing them back into step (with society)" proves demonstra-
bly costlier than the path of toleration and assistance (as our
approach to drug dependency currently does).
The elimination of the horror, the sense of guilt, and the urge
for vengeance are particularly topical for penal justice in a world
like ours, with its ever more intense integration of the conditions
of life, for this makes it particularlyvulnerable to "deviant" behav-
ior on the part of individuals and groups, from pedophiles to ter-
rorists. The example of the all-out witch hunts that have occurred
recently in different countries in the wake of particularly savage
cases of violence against children speaks volumes. From the
standpoint of guaranteeing the social order and preventing fur-
ther violence, does it make sense to publish the full names, photo-
graphs, and addresses, of those who have been involved in cases of
violence and are now out on release? Many people rightly think
not: the homicidal maniac who is made into a public spectacle
moves somewhere else and starts again or decides that, with noth-
ing to lose, he might as well have another go at satisfying his
impulses. And so on, not forgetting the numerous cases of gen-
uinely "innocent" people who have been driven to suicide.
Certainly those who sit on the bench (judges in the Anglo-
American sense of the word) have a duty to apply the law and
therefore to impose the penalties the law provides for. In Italy,
where magistrates both conduct investigations and sit on the
bench, debate (often of a specious kind) has recently arisen about
the "politicization"of their professionS; but, to the extent that this
debate can be taken seriously, it reveals another aspect of what I
regard as the crisis of metaphysics in relation to justice. Magis-
trates, as citizens with their own political orientation, can and
sometimes must experience doubts about the "justice" ofthe laws
they apply: but certainly not to the point of not applying them.
Here too, "external" controls on jurisdiction, and the plurality of
instances to which the accused and the injured parties may apply
for relief, carry more weight than the unshakeable faith of the
magistrates themselves in their profession. "Summum ius, summa
iniuria" is a lament that is meaningful only to those who believe
not just in the metaphysical legitimation of the lawbut also in the
possibility of a justice capable of applying it to perfection, assign-
ing to each his due. It is ingenuousness when someone who has
finally won a civil suit feels herself "in the right," and also when
someone who has finally convicted a guilty party or absolved an
innocent one (or merely been present in court) at the conclusion
of the appeal process likewise feels in the right. Admittedly, with-
out this "innate sense of justice" perhaps no one would attempt
to correct judicial error any more, or even go to court, perhaps
preferring private justice instead. This is precisely one of those
metaphysical residues that can only be verwunden and never
totally overcome and eliminated. In this case, the Verwindung lies
in resisting the (true and genuine) temptation to identify (one's
own) justice with justice tout court.
We are always parties to the cause; what appears just to us is
always bounded by an interest in some fashion. We can pursue
justice only if we decide (have decided, at the origin of the social
contract) that for social life to be livable we must accept that
when all the appeals provided for by the law (to the making,
preservation, and modification of which we have contributed)
have been exhausted, the final sentence will be held to be just.
Perhaps through this awareness punishment may really be
"humanized" and never inflicted without "fear and trembling."

1. The Italian original of this book, Credere di credere, was published
by Garzanti in 1996. The English translation by Luca D'Isanto and
David Webb was published by Stanford University Press in 1999.

1. I have discussed these ideas in The Adventure of Difference: Philoso-
phy After Nietzsche and Heidegger, trans. Cyprian Blamires with
Thomas Harrison (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1993), originally pub-
lished as Le avventure della differenza (Milan: Garzanti, 1980); The
End of Modernity: Nihilism and Hermeneutics in Post-modern Cul-
ture, trans. and intro. Jon R. Snyder (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1988),
originally published as La fine della modernita (Milan: Garzanti,
1985); Etica dell'interpretazione (Turin: Rosenberg and Sellier, 19
and Vocazione e responsabilita del filosofo, ed. F. D'Agostini (Genoa:
Il Melangelo, 2000).
2. G. Vattimo, Belief, trans. Luca D'Isanto and David Webb (Cam-
bridge: Polity Press, 1999), originally published as Credere di credere:
Epossibile essere cristiani nonostante la Chiesa? (Milan: Garzanti,
3 G. Vattimo, After Christianity, trans. Luca D'Isanto (New York:
Columbia University Press, 2002), originally published as Dopo la
cristianita: Per un cristianesimo non religioso (Milan: Garzanti, 2002).
4. See Vattimo, The End ofModernity.
5. K. O. Ape!' Towards a Transformation ofPhilosophy, trans. Glyn Adey
and David Frisby (London: Routledge,1980).
1. PlsllIHll'llny, TechlllllY. Intlllgy
1. Translator's note: The English word "actuality" is used throughout
to render the Italian word "/'attualita;' which, as the author explains
here, he uses in the sense of the French word"/'actualite," meaning
"the present situation in its entirety;' "current affairs;' "the state of
the world:'
2. Jurgen Habermas, The Philosophical Discourse ofModernity: Twelve
Lectures, trans. Frederick G. Lawrence (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT
Press, 1987), 392-93n4.
3. Ernst Bloch, The Spirit of Utopia, trans. Anthony Nassar (Stanford,
Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2000).
4. Martin Heidegger, "The Origin of the Work ofArt," in Off the Beaten
Track, ed. and trans. Julian Young and Kenneth Haynes (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 2002), 37: "One essential way in which
truth establishes itself in the beings it has opened up is its setting-
itself-into-the-work. Another way in which truth comes to presence
is through the act which founds a state. Again, another way in which
truth comes to shine is the proximity of that which is not simply a
being but rather the being which is most in being. Yet another way
in which truth grounds itself is the essential sacrifice. A still further
way in which truth comes to be is in the thinker's questioning,
which, as the thinking of being, names being in its question-
worthiness [Frag-wurdigkeit]:'
5. Martin Heidegger, Identity and Difference, trans. and intro. Joan
Stambaugh (New York: Harper and Row, 1969), 37.
6. Martin Heidegger, Discourse on Thinking: A Translation ofGelassen-
heit, trans. John M. Anderson and E. Hans Freund (New York:
Harper and Row, 1966).
2. PhillSlfhy aid Ihl Ilclilllllhl west
1. I may refer here to my own The End of Modernity: Nihilism and
Hermeneutics in Post-modern Culture, trans. and intro. Jon R. Sny-
der (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1988); originally published as La fine
della modernita (Milan: Garzanti, 1985).
2. .Dilthey, The Essence ofPhilosophy, trans. Stephen A. Emery
and WI1lIam T. Emery (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina
Press, 1954).
3 Dilthey, The Essence ofPhilosophy, 31.
4 Wilhelm Dilthey, Introduction to the Human Sciences, ed. and intro.
Rudolf A. Makkreel and Frithjof Rodi (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton
University Press, 1989).
5 I am thinking of chapter 5 of Rorty's Contingency, Irony, and Soli-
darity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989).
6. Dilthey, The Essence ofPhilosophy, 65-66.
7 Dilthey, The Essence ofPhilosophy, 66.
8. Martin Heidegger, "Overcoming Metaphysics," in The End ofPhilos-
ophy, trans. Joan Stambaugh (New York: Harper and Row, 1973),
9 I have discussed the meaning and range of this term in Heidegger's
thought in several places, starting with The Adventure ofDifference:
Philosophy After Nietzsche and Heidegger, trans. Cyprian Blamires
with?homas Harrison (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1993); originally
publIshed as Le avventure della differenza (Milan: Garzanti, 1980).
1O.Benedetto Croce, Perche non possiamo non dirci cristiani (Bari-
Rome: Laterza, 1959); first published in Critica, 20 November 1942.
4.lihlrly aDd Placl iD IbI PDlllldll'II CID'ililD
1. Nietzsche, "On the Uses and Disadvantages of History for
chapter 2 of Untimely Meditations, trans. R. J. Hollingdale,
mtro. J. P. Stern (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983),
2. Friedrich Nietzsche, "European Nihilism;' in Writings from the Late
Notebooks, ed. Rtidiger Bittner, trans. Kate Sturge (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 2003), 116-21. The standard designa-
tion of this fragment in all editions and translations is 5[71 J.
3. Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash ofCivilizations and the Remaking
of the World Order (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1997).
4. Martin Heidegger, " 'Only a God can save us': Der Spiegel's Inter-
view with Martin Heidegger (1966);' in Richard Wolin, ed., The
Heidegger Controversy: A Critical Reader (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT
Press, 1993), 91-116; first published in Der Spiegel, 13 May 1976.
1. I think for example of Jiirgen Habermas, Between Pacts and Norms:
Contributions to a Discourse Theory of Law and Democracy, trans.
William Rehg (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1996).
2. See chapter 1 above. I may also refer to previous writings of mine on
this subject, for example: The Transparent Society, trans. David
Webb (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1992), originally published as La
societa trasparente (Milan: Garzanti, 1989); and "Ontologia dell'at-
tualita," in Pilosofia '87, ed. G. Vattimo (Rome-Bari: Laterza, 1988),
3. On the tendency of a good deal of twentieth-century philosophy to
present itself as a reflection of the contemporary epoch, to the point
of assuming the traits of a sort of "sociological impressionism;' see
chapter 1, above.
8. HerlleDeutics ID.IIIIICrlCJ
1. Editor's note: The national elections of 27 March 1994, to which Vat-
. timo refers, were held in the wake of the scandal of Mani Pulite
(Clean hands). This was the code word for a judicial investigation led
by the now-famous magistrate Antonio Di Pietro. It marked a fun-
damental shift in Italian politics, since so many charges were laid that
the political class as a whole was discredited, along with a number of
industrialists, businesspeople, intelligence agencies, the fiscal police,
and senior civil servants. The Italian Communist Party had already
transformed itself into the Partito Democratici di Sinistra (Party of
Left Democrats) in 1991. In the wake of Mani Pulite, Democrazia
Cristiana (Christian Democracy) followed suit, adopting the historic
name of the Catholic party of 1919, Partito Popolare Italiano (Italian
Popular Party). Alleanza Nazionale (National Alliance, the "postfas-
cist" party of Gianfranco Fini) emerged on the right, while a number
of longstanding smaller parties simply disappeared. Finally, Forza
Italia ("Go Italy!") was created by Si/vio Berlusconi, the proprietor of
a number of private television networks and a large holding com-
pany, Fininvest-Mediaset, with the aim of blocking the electoral
growth of the left and defending entrepreneurial initiative, higher
employment, and reduced taxes on business. The new electoral sys-
tem, based on simple majorities, favored alliances or "poles" among
the parties. The elections were won by the Polo Delle Liberta (Pole of
Liberty, comprising Forza Italia and the Lega Nord [Northern
League]) and the Polo Del Buono Governo (Pole of Good Govern-
ment, comprising Forza Italia and Alleanza Nazionale), while the
alliances of the center-Ieft and left were the losers. Berlusconi formed
the new government, which, for the first time since World War Two,
included ministers from the postfascist party. Internal tensions and
external difficulties led to the fall of this government in December
1994 Si/vio Berlusconi continued to be the controversial protagonist
ofItalian politics and, at the time the English edition of this book was
in preparation in late 2003, was prime minister ofItaly and president
of the Council of the European Union.
2. Martin Heidegger, "Nihilism as Determined by the History of Being,"
in Nietzsche, vol. 4, Nihilism, trans. Frank A. Capuzzi, ed. David Far-
reil Krell (New York: Harper and Row, 1982), 201: "The essence of
nihilism is the history in which there is nothing to Being itself."
10. SDcillislI, iH mher Wlrds fln,e
1. Editor's note: "Catto-comunismo [Catholic communism]" is a collo-
quial term referring to the mixture of elements from the communist/
socialist and Catholic value systems that did actually characterize
part of the Italian population in the second half of the twentieth
century, paradoxical though that may seem. Historically, a number
of Catholics were militant members of, or sympathizers with, the
Communist Party of Italy, during and after World War Two. Over
the years this produced an unusual fusion of Catholic and commu-
nist cultures: party members expressed their basic beliefs in the
language of religious protest, independently of the party's political
program, and Catholic thought was seen as propaedeutic to com-
munist conviction.
11. Gllbalizalian aid Ibe of
1. Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire (Cambridge, Mass.: Har-
vard University Press, 2000).
12. Doilg Ibllaw
1. An early draft of this text was delivered at a conference in Trento,
Italy, on the themes of law and justice; the final version translated
here incorporates further insights gained during the conference and
later while editing all the papers delivered there, which were pub-
lished in G. Vattimo and J. Derrida, eds., Diritto, giustizia einterpre-
tazione: Annuario filosofico europeo (Rome-Bari: Laterza, 1998).
2. G. Monateri, "'Correct our Watches by the Public Clocks': L'assenza
di fondamento dell'interpretazione del diritto;' in Diritto, giustizia e
interpretazione: Annuario filosofico europeo, ed. G. Vattimo and
J. Derrida (Rome-Bari: Laterza, 1998), 189-207.
3. For a broader discussion of this problem see my Beyond Interpreta-
tion: The Meaning of Hermeneutics for Philosophy, trans. David
Webb (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1997); originally published as Oltre
l'interpretazione: Il significato del/'ermeneutica per la filosofia (Rome-
Bari: Laterza, 1994).
4. On all this, see the long essay by U. Scarpelli and C. Luzzati,
"Filosofia del diritto;' in Le filosofie speciali, ed. P. Rossi (Milan:
Garzanti, 1996), especially 222-27
5. J. Derrida, "Diritto alla giustizia;' in Diritto, giustizia e interpre-
tazione: Annuario filosofico europeo, ed. G. Vattimo and J. Derrida
(Rome-Bari: Laterza, 1998),3-36.
6. This is the definition of interpretation put forward by L. Pareyson; see
his Esistenza epersona (1950; reprint, Genoa: Il Melangelo, 1985), 218.
7. See Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book for Every-
one and No One, part 3, "The Convalescent;' trans. and intro. R. J.
Hollingdale (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1969), 232-38.
8. Martin Heidegger, "Nihilism as Determined by the History of
Being;' in Nietzsche, vol. 4, Nihilism, trans. Frank A. Capuzzi, ed.
David Farrell Krell (NewYork: Harper and Row, 1982), 201; cf. chap-
ter 8, note 2, above.
9. I take the libertyof referring once more to myBeyond Interpretation.
10. It is curious how hard it is to find a definition of violence in the host
of authors who discuss it in connection with the problem of law. For
my part, I am convinced that-unless we want to revert to an essen-
tialist metaphysics that in the end carries us right back to Aristotle's
doctrine of natural places (fire seeks its natural place by rising, a
stone does so by falling, and so on), on the basis of which violence is
whatever keeps the object from fulfilling this natural urge-then we
have to start thinking of violence in terms of"silencing;' the breaking
off of the dialogue of question and answer. That is precisely what
"ultimate" foundations do: They impose themselves as impervious to
further questioning, as objects of contemplation and amor dei intel-
lectualis. Perhaps the permanent relevance of the metaphysical ques-
tion, "why Being in general rather than nothing?" lies precisely in its
refusal of such silencing, for it certainly does not lie in its capacity to
lead to any sort of answer. (Rorty's famous principle, "provided only
that the conversation continue;' also acquires a different meaning-
and is saved from the risk of sounding like simple vitalism-from the
standpoint of this interpretation of the meaning of violence.)
11. Friedrich Nietzsche, "Origin and Significance;' aphorism 44, in
Daybreak: Thoughts on the Prejudices of Morality, trans. R. J.
Hollingdale, intro. Michael Tanner (Cambridge: Cambridge Uni-
versity Press, 1982),30-31.
13. AI A,ology IIr Proce'lralism
1. Editor's note: "Hermeneutics of the nihilistic or 'weak' variety:'
refers to the philosophical current known as pensiero debole (weak
thought), of which Vattimo is the most famous representative. Weak
thought is not just philosophy that has become aware of its own
limitations and therefore abandoned the claims of the global visions
of metaphysics; more than that, it is a theory of weakness as the con-
stituent character of Being in the epoch of the end of metaphysics.
2003 marks the twentieth year since the publication of the famous
book by Vattimo and P. A. Rovatti, II pensiero debole (Milan: Fel-
trinelli, 1983), where Vattimo explains that to think "weakly" means
to be aware of the end of the absolutist and fundamentalist claims
of philosophy and to take one's distance from the modalities of the
West, which conceive of the world as an object in front of a subject
and impose rigid categories on it to reduce its contingency and
endow it with a stable order. Weak thought emphasizes the impos-
sibility of silencing argumentation and suppressing plurality in the
postmodern world, in which difference and dialogue constitute the
fundamental factors of every culture, politics, and religion. "Weak
thought" by no means asserts a weakness of thinking as such; rather,
it is a strong theory of the weakness of philosophy, which no longer
demonstrates apodictically, but only edifies. Hermeneutics is the
philosophical tool of weak thought because it focuses on "interpre-
tation" as a process of weakening the weight of objective structures.
Nihilism is the "residue" of the weakening process of hermeneutics.
For further discussion of weak thought, see Santiago Zabala, "'Weak
Thought' and the Reduction of Violence: A Dialogue with Gianni
Vattimo:' Common Knowledge 8, no. 3 (Autumn 2002): 425-63.
2. Editor's note: For an outline of the author's philosophical positions
on these topics, see chapter 12, "Doing the Law Justice."
3. Gianni Vattimo, The End of Modernity: Nihilism and Hermeneutics
in Post-modern Culture, trans. and intro. Jon R. Snyder (Cambridge:
Polity Press, 1988); originally published as La fine della modernita
(Milan: Garzanti, 1985).
4. Jlirgen Habermas, Between Facts and Norms: Contributions to a Dis-
course Theory of Law and Democracy, trans. William Rehg (Cam-
bridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1996).
5. L. Pareyson, Estetica: Teoria della formativita (Bologna: Zanichelli,
1960; 2d ed., Milan: Bompiani, 2002).
6. Reiner Schurmann, Heidegger on Being and Acting: From Principles
to Anarchy, trans. Christine-Marie Gros in collaboration with the
author (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987); originally
published as Le principe d'anarchie (Paris: Seuil, 1982).
1. Friedrich Nietzsche, Daybreak: Thoughts on the Prejudices ofMoral-
ity, trans. R. J. Hollingdale, intro. Michael Tanner (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1982), aphorism 13.
2. Friedrich Nietzsche, Daybreak, aphorism 202.
3 Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols, part 7, "The Four Great
Errors:' trans. and intro. with commentary by R. J. Hollingdale
(Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1968), 53.
4. bid.
5 Editor's note: Vattimo alludes to the charge repeatedly made by the
Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, that he has been persecuted
for years by a cohort of "politicized" (left wing) investigative magis-
trates for political rather than genuinely legal reasons. Berlusconi's
battle with the justice system began in the early1990S, at the time of the
Mani Pulite investigations (see chapter 8, note 1, above). His charges
have brought into question the legitimacy of the entire Italian magis-
tracy, and even the principle of separation of powers. Berlusconi's
opponents accuse him of entering politics in the first place in order to
defend himself against judicial proceedings, and a number of meas-
ures taken by his government have in fact shielded him personally
from such proceedings. One of them, the so-called Cirami law, makes
it possible for a defendant to have a trial moved to another jurisdiction
if he can adduce "legitimate suspicion" that the judges in his case are
not impartial. From within the magistracy itself, an investigative and
disciplinary counterattack has been launched against magistrates con-
sidered enemies of Berlusconi, including Antonio Di Pietro.
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Bloch, Ernst. The Spirit of Utopia. Trans. Anthony Nassar. Stanford,
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--. Introduction to the Human Sciences. Ed. and intro. Rudolf A.
Makkreel and Frithjof Rodi. Princeton, N.].: Princeton University
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Habermas, ]iirgen. Between Facts and Norms: Contributions to a Dis-
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Heidegger, Martin. Discourse on Thinking: A Translation ofGelassenheit.
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--. The End of Philosophy. Trans. Joan Stambaugh. New York:
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--. Identity and Difference. Trans. and intra. Joan Stambaugh. New
York: Harper and Row, 1969.
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la filosofia (Rome-Bari: Laterza, 1994).
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Annuario filosofico europeo. Rome-Bari: Laterza, 1998.
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Zabala, Santiago. " 'Weak Thought' and the Reduction of Violence:
A Dialogue with Gianni Vattimo:' Common Knowledge 8, no. 3
(Autumn 2002): 425-63.
academics, 133-34
actuality, 7-8. See also ontology
of actuality
Adorno, Theodor, 4-5, 12, 20,74,
125; vision of technology, xvii,
alterity, 44-45, 70
analytic tradition, xiv-xvi, 55-56
anarchy, 112-13, 120, 129
Anaximander, sentence of, 76,
antifoundationalism, xxviii,
Ape!, Karl Otto, xxix, 27, 47,
apocalyptic stance, 139-40
Arendt, Hannah, 120-21, 124-26,
Aristotle, xxvi, 48
ascesis, 71-72
Augustine, St., 12
authoritarianism, xiv-xviiii, 55,
65, 85, 93, 116; ethics and,
avant-garde, 8,74
Being: aperture of, 6, 8-9, 12-13;
epochality of, 6, 11-13; as
event, 5, 8, 16, 74, 86; histori-
cal situation and, 4-6;
meaning of, 10, 20, 87-88,
149; metaphysical concep-
tion of, 153-54; oblivion of,
4, 28, 68-70, 86; present sig-
nificance of, 6-7; recollec-
tion of, 86-87, 160, 162; as
temporal succession, 76-77;
weakening of, xvii-xviii,
Being and Time (Heidegger), x,
xi-xii, 6, 18, 74, 76, 86
Belief(Vattimo), xix, xxvi
Benjamin, Waiter, 4, 5, 18, 51, 53,
Berlusconi, Silvio, 91-92, 114, communitarianism, 91, 100
dominant classes, 51, 85
and, 42-43; respect and,
Inn. 1, 18m.5 competition, 99
drug use, 73, 169
46-47; responsible to epoch,
Between Facts and Norms conscience, 32, 61, 69
Dworkin, Ronald, xii
39-43; social aspects of moral
(Habermas), 156 conscientious objection, 106
norms, 61-63; social transfor-
Bloch, Ernst, 4, 5, 8 consensus, 67, 105-6, 107, ll5,
economic order, 91-92, 120-21,
mation and, 38-39, 63-64;
Bush, George W., xxviii, 121 116
transcendence and, 60-61, 64
construction in analysis, 150
education, 82-83, 108
Eurocentrism, 35, 52, 154
capitalism, 122, 128-29 crime, as illness, 165-66, 167
emancipation, xi, xxvi, 18, 26,31;
European Union, 114-19, 127; as
Carnap, Rudolf, xv Critique ofDialectical Reason
modernity and, 14, 21-22
antinaturalistic, 116-17; con-
categorical imperative, 42, 46, 64, (Sartre),123
Empire (Hardt and Negri),
stitutional reform, 111-12;
67,156 Critique ofPure Reason (Kant),
globalization and, 120, 121
empiricism, 88
Catholic Church, xxix, xxvii, 45, XIV
Experience and Nature (Dewey), -.!!!
61-63, 84, 117 Croce, Benedetto, 30, 33, 36
End ofModernity, The (Vattimo),
catto-comunismo, 115, 177-78n.1 cultural pluralism, 28-29, 38-39,
charity, xxvi, 35, 59, 67 52, 54-55; hermeneutics and,
England, 108
fabulations, 136, 137, 141, 142, 150
Christianity, 56-57,123; moder- xxviii, 90, 92-93
Enlightenment, 50, 51, 95
faith, 139-40, 145
nity and, 30-32; seculariza-
environmental issues, 34, 98-99,
Fear and Trembling
tion and, xviii-xx, 31-32; death,74-75
socialism linked with, 114-16; death of God, xxvi-xxvii, 40, 42,
epistemological thought, 134-35
Fini, Gianfranco, 91
view of ascesis, 71-72. See also 51-52,141-42. See also Chris-
equality, 98-99, 103, 107-9
finitude, 43-48, 76-n
death of God tianity
Essence ofPhilosophy, The
first principles (arche), 9-10, 160;
citizenship, llO decline of the West. See West,
(Dilthey), 22, 26
dissolution of as provenance,
Coccioli, Carlo, 61-62 decline of
essentialism, 46, 85, 98, 135
40-43; ethics and, 37-43
;; coherence, 55-56, 93 deconstruction, 26, 28, 45
estheticism, 55-56
Flores d'Arcais, Paolo, 102, 105-7,
democracy, xxix, 19, 124, 143; dis-
ethics: authoritarianism and,
.. Cold War, 122
- .!!
colonialism, 21; end of, 33, 35, solution of metaphysics and,
46-47; cultural pluralism and,
Foucault, Michel, 3, 55, 170
65-66,81-82,154 81,83-85,87,89; legitimation
38-39; of finitude, 43-44; indi-
foundationalism, 21, 29; dissolu-
common sense, 66, 69 of,84-85
vidual conscience and, 61, 69;
tion of, xxv, xxvi, 85-87;
commonsense Heideggerianism, Derrida, Jacques, 24, 26, 28, 87
naturalism and, 45-46, 67-68;
interpretation and, 138-39;
ix-x, xiv Descartes, Rene, 12
obligation and, 37,69-70; of
rejection of, 90, 92, 169-70
communicative action, theory Dewey, John, xi-xii, xviii, xx
other/Other, 64, 66-67, 69-70;
free-market economy, 91-92
of, 4, 46-47, 84, 125-26, dialectical philosophy,S
postmetaphysical, 41, 64-68;
fundamentalism, 20,34, 55,
156-57,159 Dilthey, Wilhelm, 22-23, 25, 26,
principles and, 37-43; of
Communist Party of Italy, 30
provenance, 40-41; reasons for
177-78n.1 Di Pietro, Antonio, 176n.1, 18m.5
position, 64-66; relativism
Gadamer, Hans-Georg, 14
Galileo, 76 metaphysics, 9-10, 22, 27, 154,
history: linear time and, 49-51;
136-37; plurality of, xxviii,
Geisteswissenschaften debate, 8-9 160; vision of technology, xvii,
of modernity, 96-98; philoso-
16-17,20,42-43; role of in law
Gentile, Giovanni, 83 14-15. Works, ix-x; "The Age
phy of, 51, 53, 94-97, 153
and justice, 134-37, 143; truth
Ge-Schick, 7, 13, 20 of the World Picture;' 15;
homogenous universal state, 127
and, 138, 149-50; Obermensch,
Ge-Stell, 13-15, 16, 18 Being and Time, x, xi-xii, 18,
Horkheimer, Max, 20
globalization, 33-36, 118; Ameri- 74,76,86; Discourse on Think-
Hume's law, 39-40, 42, 48, 74, 157
interpretive agencies, 16-17
can discourse, 121-22; federal- ing: A Translation ofGelassen-
Huntington, Samuel P., 54, 58, 122
Introduction to the Human Sci-
ist alternative, 124-26, 127; of heit, 20; Identity and Differ-
Husserl, Edmund, 4, 43, 86
ences (Dilthey), 22
politics, 125-26; populist ence, 14, 16; Off the Beaten
invisible hand, 36
alternative, 120, 123-24, Track, 76; "The Origin of the
identity: strong, 99-100; weak,
irony, 54, 55, 57, 59
126-27; recognition and sur- Work of Art;' 12-13; "Why
irrationality, xi-xii, 37
Poets?", 15
Il cielo e la terra (Coccioli), 62-63
Italy, xxvii, 82-83; 1994 elections,
vival, 127-28
gnoseology, 25, 26, 137-38 Heideggerianism, commonsense,
image of the world, 15-16
91,100, 176-77n.l; left, 91,
God: death of (Nietzschean ix-x, xiv
individual conscience, 61, 69
114-15; Mani Pulite scandal,
view), xxvi-xxvii, 40, 42, hermeneutics, 20; antifounda-
information technology,
176-77n.l, 18m.5; terrorism,
51-52,141-42; Heidegger's tionalism of, 90, 92, 93-95;
view, 56-57; Kierkegaard's interpretation and, 90, 92-93,
inheritance, abolition of, 105,
view, 140-41 95,133,137-38,146-47; juridi-
justice: dissolution of violence of
grands recits, 5-6 cal experience and, 142-43;
intellectuals, 45, 82, 89
law, 150-51; failure of, 143-44;
nihilistic, xxv, xxviii, 94,
interlocutor, xxix, 98, 156-58
forms of need for, 144-45;
Habermas, Jiirgen, xii, xx, xxviii, 96-97; philosophy of history,
International Monetary Fund,
nihilism and, 145-46; retribu-
7,27,84-85; colonization of 94-95; as philosophy of
tive, 148-49, 166; role of inter-
lifeworld, 120, 126; theory of modernity, 90-91, 154-55;
interpretation, 11, 159; apocalyp-
pretation, 134-37, 143; thirst
e communicative action, 4, pluralism reflected in, xxviii,
tic stance, 139-40; of concrete
for, 144-45, 149-50. See also
:= 90,92-94; proceduralism
cases, 134-35, 137; conflict of,
46-47,84, 125-26,156-57,
159 and, 155-56, 159; as weak
90, 92-93, 95; as dissolution
justification, 19, 64-66
Hardt, Michael, 123-24, 126 thought, xvii-xix, 152, 180n.l
of violence, 146-47; faith and,
Hegel, G. W. E, x, xv-xvi, 5, 23, 88 historical context, xii-xv, 41;
139-40; hermeneutic, 90,
Kant, Immanuel, xii, xiv, xvi, 12,
Hegelianism, 5, 72, 88-89 Being and, 4-6, 87-88; of
92-93, 95, 133, 137-38, 146-47;
Heidegger, Martin, 7, 12, 14, 95, interpretation, 65, 87-88, 144;
historical context, 65, 87-88,
Kantian position, 6, 29, 42,
140, 174n-4; sociological left and, 102-3; relativism
144; interpreter and, 143-44;
88-89; categorical imperative,
impressionism of, 4-5, 7-8; and, 42-43
Nietzsche's view, 93-95, 155;
Verwindung concept, 27-28, historicism, 31,153-54
nihilism and, 93-95, 136-39;
kenosis, xix
160; view of Being, 4, 11-13; historicity, pain and, 74-76
nostalgia for Being, 140-42;
Kierkegaard, S0ren, 139-41
view of God, 56-57; view of historiography, 17-18
ontological implications,
Kojeve, Alexandre, 127
Krisis (Husserl), 4, 86 marginal groups, 112-13, 170-71 Milosevic, Slobodan, 111, 112
of, 40, 52, 146; on origins, 147;
Kuhn, Thomas, xv Marx, Karl, 5, 113 modernity, 7, 11; being modern
view of history, 50, 51-54;
Kulturkritik, 125 marxism,S, 95, 114-16 as value, 21-22,152-53; Chris-
view of interpretation, 93-95,
meaning of Being, 10, 20, 87-88,
tian heritage, 30-32; defini-
155; view of punishment,
language, 4, 16, 87 149 tion, 49-51; emancipation
163-66. Works: Daybreak, 163,
law: failure to do justice, 143-44; media, 16-17, 29, 45, 85, 111, 125 and, 14, 21-22; end of, 153-54;
165; "European Nihilism;'
foundationalism and, 138-39; metanarratives, 94, 100 hermeneutics as theory of,
53-54, 57; Twilight of the Idols,
legitimation of, 149, 152, 157; metaphysics, xiii; authoritarian-
90---91,154-55; history of,
163; Untimely Meditations, 50
origins as self-consuming, ism of, xiv-xvi, xxvii-xxviii,
96-98; linear time and, 49-51; nihilism, ix, xxv-xxviii, 180n.l;
147-48; precedent and, 55,65,85,93,116; fragment a- move toward perfection,
benefit to leftist politics, xi,
134-35; truth and, 147-49; as tion of existence, 10-11; Hei-
21-22,31,153; proceduralism
97-101; as dissolution of prin-
== unfounded, 139-42, 145-46; degger's position, 68-69, 71; and, 152-53, 158-59, 161; spe-
ciples, 41-42, 46; as
violence of, 146-49. See also Hume's law and, 39-40, 42, cialization, 15-16, 86; Weber-
hermeneutic, xxv, xxvi, 94,
natural law; proceduralism 48,74,157; objectivity and, ian sense, 86, 90-91. See also
96-97; Incarnation as prefig-
left, xi-xii, 90, 124; abstract prin- 93-95; as oblivion of Being, 4, postmodernity
uration of, xix, 57; interpreta-
ciples and, 104-S; defense of 28,68-70; as subjective vision Modern Times, 74
tion and, 93-95, 136-39; jus-
pluralism, 97, 100; equality of world, 22-23; violence of, Monateri, G., 136, 137, 141
tice and, 145-46; negative,
and, 107-9; historical condi- 11,77,94. See also meta- morality, xviii-xix, 18, 106-7
xxvi, 161-62; Nietzschean
tion of, 102-3; Italy, 91, 114-15; physics, dissolution of multitudes, 124
sense of, 40, 52, 146; non-
natural law and, 96, 103, metaphysics, dissolution of,
metaphysical, 146-47; nostal-
105-7; nihilistic approach, xi, xvii-xix, 9-10, 42; democracy natural law, xxix, 45-46, 115-17,
gia, xxvi-xxviii, 140-42; pun-
97-101; peace and, 111-12; phi- and, 81, 83-85, 87, 89; end of 162; ethics and, 65, 67-68;
ishment and, 164-65; as series
losophy of history and, colonialism and, 33, 35, 65-66, juridical tradition and, 135, of negotations, x-xi; tragic,
95-97; procedures and, 104-5; 81-82,154; law and, 138, 137; left and, 96, 103, 105-7; xxvii-xviii, 146
security and quality oflife 153-55; as negative, xxvi, punishment and, 164-65, No Global movement, 121
issues, 109-10 161-62; postmodernity and, 169 normativity, 156-57
Levinas, Emmanuel, 67 11-12; proceduralism and, 155, natural sciences debate, 8-9
norms, 61-63, 74, 141
Levi-Strauss, Claude, 52 159-62; punishment and, Negative Dialectic (Adorno), 12
North Atlantic Treaty Organiza-
liberalism, xxix, 81, 105 169-70; subject-object rela- Negri, Antonio, 123-24, 126 tion (NATO), 111
liberty, 9-10, 49, 56 tionship, 15-16, 68-69; tech- neopragmatism, 19, 27
nostalgia, xxvi-xxviii, 140-42, 156
Lyotard, 5-6, 94 nology and, 10-11; universal- Nicomachean Ethics (Aristotle), Novalis,114
ity and, 22, 27-28; weakening xxvi
magistrates, 144-45, 171-72 of reality and, 16-20. See also Nietzsche, Friedrich, x, 18, 23,32,
objectivity, 17-18, 35, 93-95. See
Mani Pulite scandal, 176-77n.1, metaphysics 92,140; death of God con-
also subject-object relation-
18m.5 metatheories, 27 cept, 40, 42, 51-52; nihilism ship
obligation, xvi, 37, 39,42,69-70,
ontology: interpretation and,
136-37; weak, xvii-xviii, 19-20
ontology of actuality, 3-4, 6-9,
12, 174n.1; politics and, 86-89
onto-theology, xiii, xv
organized crime, 106-7, 112
Origins of German Tragic Drama,
The (Benjamin), 5
other/Other, 64, 66-67, 69-70
pain: ascesis, 71-72; death and,
74-75; friendship and, 71, 75,
76-77; historicity and, 74-76;
metaphysical view of, 71-73;
pathei mathos, 72, 75; practi-
cal and medical treatment of,
72-73; respect for sufferer, 72,
Pareyson, Luigi, 159
peace, xxix, 49, 53-54, 56, 111-12
penal justice system, 169-70
Perche non possiamo non dirci
eristiani (Croce), 30
performative contradiction, 156,
philosopher-king, 157-58
Philosophical Discourse ofModer-
nity (Habermas), 7
philosophies of life, 22, 25
philosophy, xiv, 10,36,60; as
interpretation of epoch,
87-88; as novelistic, 23-24;
periods of transition, xxvi,
22-23; post metaphysical,
24-25; relationship with poli-
tics, 81-83, 92; sociology iden-
tified with, 5-9, 18
Philosophy and the Mirror of
Nature (Rorty), 19
philosophy of history, 51, 53,
Plato, x
political parties, 82, 89, 111,
politics, xxviii-xxix, 29; auton-
omy of, 128-29; economics
and, 120-21, 128; globaliza-
tion of, 125-26; intellectuals
and, 82, 89; left and, 107-11;
ontology of actuality and,
86-89; philosophy's relation-
ship with, 81-83, 92; separa-
tion from private sphere,
125-26; strengthening of
democracy, 83-85; truth and,
polytheism of values, 54-55, 155,
Popper, Karl, xv
populism, 120-21, 123-24, 126-27
postmetaphysical philosophies,
postmodernity, xxvi, 3,7,94,153;
disappearance of unilinear
history, 49-52; dissolution of
metaphysics and, 11-12; as
term, 49-50
practico-inert, concept of, 123-24
precomprehension, 133, 135-36,
principles: dissolution of, 16-18,
40-43, 46; ethics and, 37-39,
43; first (arche), 9-10, 37-43,
160; left and, 104-5
private property, 107-8
proceduralism: dissolution of
metaphysics and, 155, 159-62;
Habermas's view, 156-59;
hermeneutics and, 155-56,
159; modernity and, 152-53,
158-59,161; normativity,
156-57; transcendental basis,
156-58. See also law
projects, xxviii-xxix, 103
projectuality, 103-5, 107, 112
Proust, Marcel, 23
provenance: alterity and, 44-45;
dissolution of first principles,
40-43; finitude and, 43-48; of
West, 31, 33
psychoanalysis, 73, 97, 150
public health system, 108
public opinion, 82
punishment: appeals against
nihilism and, 164-65; crime
as illness, 165-66, 167; disso-
lution of metaphysics and,
169-70; externality of,
166-72; freedom of will and,
163-64; legitimation of, 164,
166-67; natural law and,
164-65, 169; reeducation of
criminal, 167-68; restoration
of social order, 166-69. See
also justice
Putnam, Hilary, xv
quality of life, 35, 127-28
Quest for Certainty, The
(Dewey), xii
rationality, 30, 32, 37-39, 96,
rationalization of society, 8-11,
reactionary thought, 50
reality, xiii, 16-18,20
reason, xvi, 37-38, 81, 107
recognition, survival and, 126,
127-2 8
redescriptions, theory of, 26
relativism, xv, xviii, 25-26, 41-43;
of truth, 53-54, 56
resentment, 77
Ricoeur, Paul, 17
rights, 103-7
Roman Empire, 123
Rorty, Richard, 6, 19, 23-24,
26-28,88, 179n.1O
Russell, Bertrand, xv-xvi
San Patrignano, 73
Sartre, Jean Paul, x, 75, 123
Schmitt, Carl, 19
Schopenhauer, Arthur, 20
Schurmann, Reiner, 160-61
science, xxviii, 11, 16
= ....
secularization, xiv, 30, 97, 162;
Christianity and, xviii-xx,
31-32; West as site of, xix,
32-33, 57-58
security and quality of life,
senior citizens, 108-9
silencing, 179n.1O
Simmel, Georg, 5
SIM (Stato Imperialista delle
Multinazionali), 120-21
sin, 68-70, 72
skepticism, 45, 139
socialism, xxix, 105; as anti-
naturalism, 115-16; autonomy
of politics, 128-29; Christian-
ity linked with, 114-16; disso-
lution of, 81,83
social order: marginal groups,
170-71; restoration of
through punishment, 166-69
society, rationalization of, 8-11,
sociological impressionism, 4-5,
sociology, philosophy identified
with, 5-9, 18
sovereignty of mind, 26-27
specialization, 15-16, 86
speciesism, 98
Spengler, Oswald, 21, 30
Spirit of Utopia, The (Bloch), 8
subjectivity, 22-23, 68, 69
subject-object relationship,
supermarket culture, 91, 98, 99
survival, 126, 127-28
technology, xvii, 3, 62, 125; Geis-
teswissenschaften debate, 8-9;
image of the world, 15-16;
mechanical model of, 14-15;
as rationalization of world,
terrorism, 120-22
time, linear, 49-51
tolerance, 19, 33
totalitarianism, xv-xvi, 125
total organization, 9, 74, 93
Touraine, Alain, 122
Tractatus (Wittgenstein), xviii
transcendence, 60-61, 64, 84,
truth, xii-xiv, xxvi, 31-32, 174nA;
aperture of Being and, 12-13;
interpretation and, 138,
149-50; law and, 147-49; poli-
tics and, 83-86; as relative,
Obermensch, 45, 53-54, 55, 59,
ultimate context, xii-xiv, xxv
United Nations, 111, 121
United States, xxvii-xxviii, 118,
universality, xii-xiv, xxvi, 38;
decline of West and, 27-28;
multiplicity of interpreta-
tions, 42-43
values, polytheism of, 54-55, 155,
Verwindung, 27-28, 39, 71, 73,
violence, 65, 107, 179n.lO; cultural
pluralism and, 54-55; ethics
and, 46-47; of international
order, 121, 122; interpretation
as dissolution of, 146-47; jus-
tice and, 150-51; law and,
146-49; of metaphysics, 11, 77,
94; populism and, 120-21;
punishment as, 166-67;
reduction of, 57-58, 98-99
war, left and, 111-12
weakening: of principle of real-
ity, 16-20; of westernization,
weak ontology, xvii-xviii, 19-20
weak thought, xvii-xix, 152,
"Weak Thought" (Il pensiero
debole) (ed. Vattimo), xviii
Weber, Max, 10, 30, 31, 54
Weltanschauung, 25, 26
West, as site of secularization,
xix, 32-33, 57-58
West, decline of, 21, 52; as disso-
lution of universality, 22,
27-28; as historical vocation,
32-34, 57; plurality of cultures
and, 28-29; Verwindung,
27-28; as vocation, 33-34, 57
westernization, weak, 33-34, 57
will, freedom of, 163-64
Wittgenstein, Ludwig, xviii, 165
World War I, 9
Julia Kristeva .
Theodor W. Adorno
Richard Wolin, editor
Antonio Gramsci
Jacques LeGoff
Alain Finkielkraut
Julia Kristeva
Pierre Bourdieu
Pierre Vidal-Naquet
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Gilles Deleuze and
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Karl Heinz Bohrer
Julia Kristeva
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European Perspectives
ASeries in Social Thought and Cultural Criticism
Lawrence D. Kritzman, Editor
Strangers to Ourselves
Notes to Literature, vols. 1 and 2
The Heidegger Controversy
Prison Notebooks, vols. 1 and 2
History and Memory
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The Field of Cultural Production
Assassins ofMemory: Essays on the Denial
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Critique of the German Intelligentsia
What Is Philosophy?
Suddenness: On the Moment ofAesthetic
Time and Sense
The Defeat of the Mind
New Maladies of the Soul
XY: On Masculine Identity
Martin Heidegger and European Nihilism
Gilles Deleuze
Pierre Vidal-Naquet
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Negotiations, 1972-1990
The Jews: History, Memory, and the Present
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Writings on Psychoanalysis: Freud and Lacan
Jacques Lacan: His Life and Work
Julia Kristeva Interviews
The Portable Kristeva
Realms ofMemory: The Construction of the
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vo!. 1: Conflicts and Divisions
vo!. 2: Traditions
vo!. 3: Symbols
The Singular Beast: Jews, Christians, and
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Critique and Conviction: Conversations
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Critical Models: Interventions and Catch-
Village Bells: Sound and Meaning in the
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Globalization: The Human Consequences
Entre Nous
Food: A Culinary History
In the Name ofHumanity: Reflections on
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The Sense and Non-Sense ofRevolt: The
Powers and Limits ofPsychoanalysis
Transmitting Culture
The Politics of the Sexes
The Life of an Unknown: The Rediscovered
World ofa Clog Maker in Nineteenth-
Century France
Michel Pastoureau
Julia Kristeva
Carlo Ginzburg
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The Devil's Cloth: A History of Stripes and
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Hannah Arendt
Wooden Eyes: Nine Reflections on Distance
Why Psychoanalysis?
Blasphemy: Impious Speech in the West
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Melanie Klein
Intimate Revolt and The Future ofRevolt:
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vo!. 2
Skin: On the Cultural Border Between Self
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After the Empire: The Breakdown of the
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