A new Italian book on sovereignism
In recent years, in Italy, several works have been dedicated to sovereignism. Among the most interesting are the Manifesto sovranista by Paolo Becchi (recently repeated with a "sequel"), La rivoluzione sovranista of Marco Gervasoni and Sovranismo by Giuseppe Valditara (the last two authors are members of the Scientific Council of the Centro Studi Machiavelli). To the list was added, a few months ago, Sovranismo. La grande sfida del nostro tempo, written by the lesser known (also for anagraphic reasons) Valerio Benedetti, but which deserves to stand alongside the three titles just mentioned.
Unlike the others - which we could almost define as pamphlets, or in any case brief manifestos - Benedetti's has more the characteristics of a treatise. In the more than 300 pages of the book, accompanied by an ample set of notes and bibliography, the author tries to fill the definition of "sovereignism" with content. It - Benedetti notes - "is not a fact, but a to-do", a political category still being defined.
This different approach makes his book less "immediate" than those of Becchi or Valditara, in which few guiding ideas stand out and can easily be grasped by the reader. On the other hand, the choice of deepening and critically discussing each point, comparing Italian and international literature (Benedetti's familiarity with German literature should be noted), gives the reader ample excursus, perhaps not quickly translatable into political action, yet among the most valuable parts of the book (notable, for example, the one on racism, which traces the scientific debate on the subject).
Thymos: the wrath of the sovereignist
One such excursus is on the category of thymos, the "emotional soul" associated by the ancient Greeks with wrath. Benedetti delves into this category because, in his view, the sovereignist revolt is driven not by hatred but by ire, that is, by the energy of the man whose honor and dignity have been offended. And he shows us how this category of thymos was central not only in the ancient Hellenic philosophy (in which it represented one of the three souls, together with the concupiscible and the rational), but also in the modern one. For Hegel, history is a dialectic between lord and servant: the former, moved by the thymos, risks his life to gain prestige, while the latter renounces it out of a spirit of self-preservation. Self-preservation and material enjoyment were praised as the correct human motive by Hobbes and Locke, who condemned honor as an irrational sentiment. The theme has been taken up again, in recent times, by Fukuyama, according to whom democracy would defuse "megalothymia" (the desire to be recognized better than others) by giving it an outlet in economics.
The emotional side and, in particular, the motion of wrath in the name of "ancient" values such as honor and dignity (today denied in the name of a rationality that should annul everything) is therefore re-evaluated by Benedetti as a foundation for sovereignism. Capable of giving it a positive revolutionary thrust. Reconnecting, moreover, to a rich and ancient philosophical debate.
The sovereignism to be done
As mentioned above, according to Benedetti, sovereignism is not so much a fact as a to-do. In recent years it has found political referents ready to flatter it but not to put it into shape. It should not be confused with populism, which is a mere political style and, in many ways, unserviceable to the sovereignist cause because of its post-ideological nature, hostile to grand narratives, attentive only to everyday problems.
Benedetti also proposes the same "dynamic" vision of sovereignism for the fundamental concept of identity. Identity - he explains - is multidimensional (national, political, professional, etc.) but not multiple. National identity is the most political of all identities, because nation states are the main political actors. This identity is not natural but cultural: it derives from a historical process of identification of a people. Identity, therefore, is not a fact but a possibility.
The people is also a flux. It is born from a community that reaches full self-awareness and becomes a nation, but it remains vital only as long as it is to be made, as long as it can still be forged in history. Stasis inevitably kills it.
The globalist enemy
One of the best ways to define oneself is "in the negative", i.e. by highlighting what distinguishes us from others - and more than anything else, from those we identify as enemies. The enemy of sovereignism is undoubtedly globalism. Benedetti describes it as a "liberal-Marxist incest", which on an intellectual level is post-Marxist and on an economic level is neoliberal. The meeting point is the cancellation of nations and borders, which Marx already praised as a benefit brought about by bourgeois globalization. As class prejudices disappeared in the second half of the last century, the encounter with neoliberalism was without obstacles. The two ideologies have come together, like tributaries of a great river whose current pushes towards the ideal of the "end of history".
The sovereignist, on the contrary, wants to bring his nation back into history. The post-1968 society has lost historical time: people no longer live for their predecessors or posterity, but in an eternal present. The elite is no longer the guide of the people, but it disconnects from them: it flees from the community, it secedes from the natives, it seeks its own (uniform) spaces in the world. Politics is submitted to law in order to castrate it. The new political dimension is identified in "civil society", where lobbies and pressure groups move. The historical community and destiny is replaced by a legal community: there is no longer a sharing of past and future, but only the coexistence of the present. The people is deconstructed and diluted in an undifferentiated humanity.
EU as a globalist project
The European Union, Benedetti explains, is not a project of civilization but it is focused only on the market and currency. Behind the EU there is no will to power, only escape from history.
His critique is not limited to the ideal but also goes into the merits of its factual functioning. Accurate and interesting is the reconstruction of the events of 2011, with the attack on the Italian government of the time and an authentic bloodless coup by the EU and ECB. Benedetti rightly notes that, where the U.S. after World War II paid for their hegemony with a structural deficit in the balance of trade, Germany - the European hegemon - instead adopts a mercantilist strategy, with the result of impoverishing its "satellite" states. Not that this has been of much benefit to the German worker, who since the time of Schröder at least has had to deal with wage compression and precariousness in order to guarantee the country's commercial competitiveness. However, Angela Merkel has exploited this competitiveness to widen the trade deficits of her neighbors, eventually forcing them into austerity policies.
Valerio Benedetti's proposal is radical: the EU must be abandoned in order to rebuild, on its ashes, a totally different European project.
Sovereignism and Conservatism
According to Benedetti, the latest evolution of the populist style is that of the leader who identifies with his electorate, strives to appear one of them. A leader who, in spite of his appellative, is guided by the "people", that is, by the moods of his electorate. Benedetti's critique is well centered. One problem with populist politicians, especially those on the right (who, unfortunately, generally have more labile bases of political culture than populist leaders and voters on the left), is the lack of firmness and courage in sustaining lines consistent with the overall vision of things. There is a spasmodic search for consensus always and at all costs. Which, in practice, ends up translating into incoherent and inconsistent positions, linked to tactical contingencies and never with strategic awareness. This behavior - incidentally - can give immediate successes in popular support, but soon melts like snow in the sun because, in the long run, the image that is transmitted to citizens is that of transformationist demagogues.
It must be said, however, that there is a nobler interpretation of "being guided by the people", and that is to be faithful to their customs, traditions and even to their "will", at least in its most general and sublimated manifestation. The essence of populism, in this sense, should be - in the opinion of the writer - found in a rejection of social engineering of a "progressive" matrix. This is not mere hyper-conservative entrenchment in the defense of the existing as it exists, but a predilection for progressive evolutions of society that are as "natural" as possible.
When Benedetti indicates globalism as "naturalization of the existing" and, therefore, its indefinite conservation, he is probably missing a point. It is certain that it wants to fix the hierarchical status quo that sees the cosmopolitan oligarchy, of which it is an expression, at the top. Benedetti neglects, however, the revolutionary charge that globalism still expresses today: of a revolution (from above) that is transforming our society at an unprecedented rate. The globalists do not hold power for power's sake: they are not a medieval aristocracy defending the existing; they are not a conservative bourgeoisie championing the "established order". The globalists want to sweep it away, the existing; they want to demolish it to the foundations and rebuild it according to their utopian vision. Appreciating the revolutionary dimension of globalism would lead the Author, perhaps, to partially re-evaluate the conservative instances.
Sovereignism and liberalism
What has just been said does not want to deny that the State can have, as Benedetti indicates, a guiding role in social evolution (i.e. indicating "what the good life is", to use his words). Neither does it want to contest the reconstruction presented in the work, in which the parallel (but finally convergent) criticism of the State and popular sovereignty by liberals and Marxists is retraced: for both, the sovereign State is an instrument of oppression (for the former of the individual, for the latter of the subordinate classes). Benedetti attacks with particular vigor liberalism, which reduces society to impersonal mechanisms (market and law), thus emptying the role of politics.
The radical critique of liberalism (the author also rejects the distinction, proposed by Croce, with " liberism ", considering the ethical-political and economic levels inseparable) poses, however, an unavoidable question for those who, like Benedetti, are publishing a book in 2021: that of assigning the space of individual freedom in the imagined and proposed society. It is perfectly consistent with the theme - sovereignism - that the work focuses on the defense and revaluation of sovereignty. It is a legitimate choice that this sovereignty is mainly declined as national and statual (unlike Becchi or Valditara, who privileged popular sovereignty; in Benedetti's vision, the three appear indistinguishable).
However, in a phase in which the State (firmly in the hands of the globalist oligarchy) cancels the spaces of freedom of the individual, how should the sovereignist position himself? Should he accept it out of deference to the state sovereignty that "finally" cancels the constraints placed on him by liberalism? Undoubtedly an author like Valerio Benedetti would not give such a crude answer, but he would be able to propose, if not a solution to this aporia, precious and stimulating ideas. Unfortunately, however, the theme has been eluded in this book. The mention made in the book of ordoliberalism - i.e. the normative dimension of neoliberalism, which exploits the State in a "constructive" key, thus interfering in society - is not developed by Benedetti in order to elaborate the problem of the relationship between the State and the individual.
A couple of objections have been made at the work. A third one that could be made is that of excessively indulging in anti-Americanism. Benedetti seems to find possible interlocutors everywhere but not in the USA, described as a globalist monolith. The same globalist project is strictly limited to Europe: it would serve to keep "out of history" only our continent. The opinion of the reviewer is that, instead, the same globalist attack is underway even within the USA and that, even within the USA, there is a sovereignist resistance (I would add, indeed, that it is even more vital and fierce there than in Italy - unfortunately). Certainly a more equal relationship between Rome and Washington is desirable, but the impression is that Benedetti's refined and erudite argumentation is, from time to time, suddenly lowered in level in order to support a prejudicial line of ontological hostility to America as "public enemy number 1".
These objections, however, are only meant to be a starting point for debate and certainly not a rejection of the work. Benedetti's Sovranismo is a book that stands out in the literature on the subject. It is a book that, behind its academic complexity, hides a passion and a mobilizing drive that will not escape the reader who is the least bit disposed towards the values that inspire it. Regardless of the importance, always relative and purely functional, that one wants to give to labels - including that of " sovereignism " - Benedetti's lesson is clear and to be carefully memorized: the purpose of the Right (my term, not Benedetti's) is to bring the Italian people and, more generally, the West (my term again), back into history. Globalism has ousted them, it has sedated them while making them into smaller and smaller pieces: one day, not far away, it will have erased them completely, if in the meantime the awakening and the reaction will have been lacking. But being in the story is not easy. It requires taking risks and making sacrifices. What a softened, debased, demoralized, hysterylised people certainly cannot do. This is why, writes Benedetti, "sovereignism, in order to be futuristic, must carry out a true cultural, or rather anthropological, revolution".
Those who live now need to be reminded whose children they are. Remind them of the example of their fathers and their responsibility to their children. Reawaken their dormant virtue. In a word: resurrect the thymos in them and channel it towards a just and sacrosanct cause. Those who want to engage in this mission would do well not to neglect reading Valerio Benedetti's essay.
Founder and President of Centro Studi Machiavelli. Graduated in Historical Sciences (University of Milan) and PhD in Political Studies (Sapienza University), he is professor of "History and doctrine of jihadism" and "Geopolitics of the Middle East" at Cusano University. From 2018 to 2019 he was Special Advisor on Immigration and Terrorism to the Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs Guglielmo Picchi. His latest book (as editor) is Topicality of sovereignism. Between pandemic and war.