The paradoxes of post-war Italian political thought

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This article examines the complex nature of post-war Italian political thought, stressing the importance of Italy's unusual institutional and historical political arrangements, but also the vibrancy of its political ideologies in this period. In the past it has often been argued that the dysfunctional nature of post-war Italian democracy with its rapidly changing governments, and widespread corruption- which nonetheless coexisted with the one party, the Christian Democrats, being constantly in power-led to the atrophying of political theory in general, and political ideologies in particular. But this picture is strongly disputed here-on the contrary it is argued that Christian Democratic, Left and liberal political ideologies were all complex and interesting. Thus if Christian democracy should ultimately be seen as an 'ideology of transition' which existed to help Catholicism adapt to the parameters of modern mass democracy, and which lacked a thinker of the calibre of Jacques Maritain, it nevertheless contained within it important debates on the role of the state, between such interesting thinkers as Giuseppe Dossetti and Alcide De Gasperi. And if anything, political thinking on the Left in the post-war period was even more complex, with visceral debates within the (large) Communist Party (PCI) over whether to work within the law-between such thinkers as Palmiro Togliatti and the Il Manifesto group. Equally on the more revolutionary Left, there were important debates about how quickly capitalism could be made to collapse through revolutionary action between thinkers such as Raniero Panzieri and his more radical disciples, Mario Tronti and Antonio Negri, while later, due to the general failure of these revolutionary efforts, post-modern thinkers such as Gianni Vattimo sought to abandon grand metaphysical narratives, whilst retaining a commitment to Left of centre political commitments. Finally, although not part of a widespread mass movement, the liberal thought of Norberto Bobbio was also highly interesting and sophisticated-borrowing from Hobbes and Kelsen, he sought to advocate a modest form of liberal democracy which allowed for civilised forms of conflict, and the protection of minorities, and which rejected the contention of Marxists that civil rights could not be distinguished from economic ones. Overall, if normative aspirations in post-war Italian politics were often frustrated in practice, this was certainly not due to any lack of theoretical vibrancy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)79-102
Number of pages24
JournalHistory of European Ideas
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2013

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Philosophy


  • Bobbio
  • Christian democracy
  • Communist political theory
  • Gramsci
  • Negri
  • Vattimo


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