From "scientific progress" to "social progress"
On a not dissimilar assumption, namely, man's ability to dominate experience, is rooted the meaning of the word "progressive."
Underlying the semantic core perceived in this word today is its connection with the social fallout of scientific progress. Beginning in the 18th century, it was found that through scientific and technological progress man is not only able to understand nature and control its processes; he is able to revolutionize - literally - his own human and social condition through more effective production and distribution of wealth. In other words, through scientific progress, through machines, man is able to affect the socio-economic structures of the community and, therefore, the living conditions of those who are part of it: progress, at one point, seemed to be the instrument to free the mass of human beings from centuries-old relations of domination. The words "progress" and "progressive" thus became burdened with vague, but sensitive, ideological veins, so much so that the social sciences preferred to the word "progress" the terms "development" or - as far as economics is concerned - "growth"1.
The most lacerating consequences of the linking between scientific discoveries and ideological instances can be verified in recent times, when biotechnology has been shown to be able to intervene on the very biological basis of the human species, that is, on "nature." By virtue of the aforementioned linking, this has determined and is still determining the attempt to reshape the relations between "nature" and "culture," in the sense that - having artificially redefined the former - the latter is claimed to be conditioned in the same direction, in an attempt to completely rewrite the anthropological structure of society in view of a posthuman or transhuman perspective2, where "the sexes encroach and change, differences fade and become uniform, nature is abolished, and reality is revoked. "3 Thus, a vague and indefinite scenario4 is envisaged, to which inevitably corresponds a "compulsive becoming," a "remaining perpetually unfinished and indefinite"5.
These are significant examples, which make clear the need not to remain prisoners of "word magic." The word "progressive" is just a "label," which is applied to projects, which very often, far from bringing an actual improvement in the human condition, aim at an artificial rewriting of social and political ethical relations.
A liquid dystopian society
The remarks made thus far seem unambiguous in the sense that, despite their apparent positivity, the words "liberal" and "progressive" prove to be in practice functional to an inherently alienating society. The charge of positivity surrounding those words is bound to be challenged when attention is paid to some of their reflections in today's society: both are undermined by the established manipulability of individual choices; both pose the problem of the biological coordinates of the human species. It is no longer just a matter of the "death of ideologies" or ideas; there is more to it than that: human beings are completely deprived of terms of reference the moment in which we aim to dissolve their very biological foundation. Not only is sexual diversity degraded to a "biological factuality," thus depressing its value connotation; not only is an anthropological redefinition of motherhood proposed by hypothesizing an "alternative motherhood" than the "traditional" one,6ut a man is projected - in absolute coherence with "progressivism" - who is no longer such because he is radically transformed from the past thanks to the synergistic action of the leading areas of scientific research7.
In the same direction is the so-called cancel culture8: as is well known, this is a process of censorship/removal of what in the past is considered contrary to orientations of the present, which, although mostly absolutely minority, find prominent stages among the so-called "progressives." This is certainly not a new phenomenon. Damnatio memoriae, that is, the rewriting and cancellation of the past, has always been practiced by the victors in order to corroborate their superiority, even moral superiority, to the vanquished. The examples are so easy as to become cloying; they can range from the negative light cast by the Roman republic on the last Etruscan kings to recent Italian history. Those who try to correct the analysis of the past are treated with condescension, such as "revisionists," if not ridiculed: it is enough to recall the treatment reserved a few years ago for Renzo De Felice only for the fact that he tried to stem a "mutilation of historical reality"9.
Cancel culture deserves the greatest attention, since it represents the unsuspected confirmation of one of the underlying motives of these pages. It, in fact, moves from the assumption - shared by us - that the roots of the present generation are in History, in its culture. To eliminate History and culture, to construct them as a set of errors and aberrations, to "mutilate historical reality" is by no means an expression of "ignorance" or "stupidity," as one would sometimes claim. On the contrary, cancel culture is an integral part of a sophisticated attempt to reconvert society, knowing that this can only be possible through the eradication of society itself from its past.
The absence of points of reference, in fact, is not without consequences: he who has no compass to direct him in any way, has no course to follow; he goes wherever the impulse of the moment or of the media suggestions may lead him; he loses himself; he confuses freedom with arbitrariness. "Arbitrariness" is an absolutely fitting and appropriate word, not so much because it is the one made his own by Kant, but more so because it represents absolutely faithfully, both the situation of unconditional "freedom" desired by the most consistent and important theorist of liberalism of the late twentieth century10and the remembered projects of sociobiological remodulation of human beings, with the difference that in them there is no trace of the "moral law," which according to Kant should have guided the actions of individuals.
Just as there is no trace of "moral law" in the freedom that would characterize - according to a recent analysis - today's society, whose distinguishing feature is identified in "liquidity": "Feeling free means not having hindrances, obstacles, resistance or other impediments to present and future movements."11.
Here, too, the foundational moment of society is the individual, with his interests and choices: at the basis of "liquid society" is the "self-assertion of the individual," who redefines over himself "the ethical-political discourse." The latter, in particular, is translated in the terms of "a right of individuals to remain diverse and to choose and adopt as they please their own patterns of happiness and a lifestyle that suits them"12.
Except, by that route, "liquid society" exposes itself to the same "bug" already encountered regarding the "progressive" perspective, not unlike the "liberal" perspective. In fact, the "liquid society," too, far from being a space for the realization of people, turns into the arena of their mystification and alienation, since the "free will," of which Bauman speaks, is very often anything but "free": "free will," in fact, is not at all a faithful reflection of the authenticity of human beings. On the contrary, as we now know, human beings and their free will can be manipulated, heteroconducted by pressure groups of economic and mass media power, influencers of various kinds, who feed a cultural and noncultural industry, obviously functional to the interests of those who generate it: in such a context, objectively of problematic refutation, any reference to a free and conscious self-determination seems entirely extemporaneous.
The dissolution of liquid society
This brings us back to the underlying theme of the "liquid society," namely the "self-assertion of the individual," which would be substantiated - as mentioned before - by "the right of individuals to remain diverse and to choose and adopt their own patterns of happiness and a lifestyle that suits them as they please."
The disruptive element present in this "right to self-assertion" cannot be missed. We are faced with a right insusceptible of any conditioning: each individual not only has the right to be "different," but also chooses "at will," that is, in an evidently unquestionable and unlimited way, "models of happiness and a lifestyle that is appropriate to them." We must guard against the error of assuming that we are dealing with sociologist's hyperbole: the Zan bill configured the "right to gender identity" in these terms and claimed to elevate it to a parameter accepted by law. What we are interested in emphasizing here is that such a "right to diversity" becomes of very difficult composition with the "diversity" of the other "members of the polis,"13with the consequence that, from this perspective, the very survival of the polis itself becomes problematic, all the more so since the latter is condemned to conquer unity by starting from scratch every day because of the diversity - sovereign and unquestionable - emerging daily14.
It outlines, in other words, a society intrinsically bound for dissolution, since it lacks the indispensable prerequisite for the beliefs, values, and lifestyles of its individual members to find that continuous composition desired by the sociologist. Indeed, any composition of "diversity," like any "social contract," any organized coexistence15, necessarily postulates some sense of shared "community" among the participants. Except that Bauman rules out such a sense of community a priori: in his view, there would be (no longer) room for a "community dream"16.
"Nature," "culture" and community: the constitutional perspective
One must beware of the mistake of underestimating Bauman's perceptions. He grasps that the process of privatization and individualization of society has led the human being in the Western world to a loneliness, from which Bauman sees no way out.
This condemnation, this situation of loss of human identity itself, does not actually seem without appeal. Two centuries ago Hegel, with the Elements of the Philosophy of Right, gave answers to a man who - like today's man - had been uprooted from the past certainties by the industrial revolution. Not unlike today's man, that man also felt "alone" because he had lost the anchors that constituted his founding moment. To that man, Hegel indicated that the path to redemption passes through the various communities in which, on closer inspection, his life was continuing to unfold: work communities, local communities, associations, the state. All of these aggregations, Hegel observed, would be different from what they are without the action of each individual, who, in turn, invests in them the concreteness of his existence and freedom.
The meaning is obvious. If the "self-affirmation of the individual" is not to be reduced to a mere affabulatory exercise, it can only be expressed in that "sociality" which is the inevitable condition of every human being17. In other words, the "self-affirmation of the individual" can only take place within "community," to the quality of which he contributes precisely by his "self-affirmation." There is, however, a necessary condition for this "individual-community" symbiosis to actually take place: it consists in the fact that a "community" actually exists.
It may not seem easy to think about "community" in the third decade of the 21st century, when "around the world" is no longer done in eighty days, but in a few hours, and technology allows us to relate directly and immediately with distant people. Moreover, these findings do not invalidate the fact that even in a "global" world, human relationships are built on proximity: family proximity, proximity of work, proximity of interests, proximity of customs, proximity of culture, proximity of values.
Hence the need to interrogate and recover the connective tissue of communities in which one's life unravels. There are valuable pointers in this direction in the very recent Italy's constitutional reform of Article 918. More precisely, in the reformed Article 9 Const. three "concepts" are juxtaposed, on the connection of which there does not seem to have been complete attention: "culture," "Nation," relationship between generations19. To imagine with Bauman a society that "invents" itself every day is only a vague and sterile intellectualistic exercise. Today's communities are, in fact, the fruit of those of the past, of their History, with its lights and shadows: Article 9 Const. merely acknowledges this. Communities express values, customs, and culture, and they in turn are the expression of values, customs, and culture, which, therefore, must be recovered, reworked, and preserved, in the awareness that only communities, nations, and states confident in their values can, on the one hand, collaborate equally with other nations that historically share their values and culture, and on the other hand can measure themselves against the challenges of a global world and the consequent openings - including humanitarian ones - that only a mature self-awareness makes balanced.
On closer inspection, Article 9 lays the foundation for a new environmentalism, based on "culture" and "nature," and in this direction it connects with Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution, which are notable here for the centrality assigned to the individual (Article 2), seen in its biological characterization as a "human person" (Article 3).
The connection does not seem devoid of interest. First of all, Articles 2 and 3 intervene on Article 9, defusing the possibility that its reference to "biodiversity" and "ecosystems" could be seen as a capitulation to so-called "anti-specism"20. Article 9 Const. in fact, not only does not contain any element capable of undermining the centrality of the "human person" established by Articles 2 and 3 Const. but, on the contrary, it reinforces this centrality, first, when it explicitly subordinates "biodiversity" and "ecosystems" to the "interest of future generations," in which the human person perpetuates itself; second, Article 9, with its emphasis on the environment, biodiversity, etc, confirms that the biological, natural declinations of the "human person" must necessarily partake of the intangibility reserved for biodiversity and the environment and, therefore, cannot be altered, in their natural cadence, by technology, including, of course, with regard to reproductive modes.
Articles 2 and 3 pose the delicate relationship between the individual and communities, which are none other than the "social formations" mentioned in Article 2 itself. In such social formations, in such communities, Article 2 recognizes the condition for the "unfolding," that is, for the actual materialization, of the individual personality. Not differently, Article 32 Const. draws an obvious parallel between the "development of the human person" and the "effective participation of all workers in the political, economic and social organization of the country."
In both, the thought goes to the Hegelian motif of the individual's embodiment in the social formations, in which he lives and operates. These assonances are certainly tempered by the character assigned to certain rights of the individual: more precisely, Article 2 of the Constitution requires the Republic, thus the state, to recognize and guarantee the "inviolable rights of man," without, however, specifying what these may be. Certainly such "inviolable rights" cannot be confused with Bauman's egotistical - as much as evanescent - "right to self-affirmation." This, not only because they must necessarily measure themselves against the "inviolable rights" of others, but - above all - because they cannot separate themselves from the "mandatory duties," which also emerge from Article 2. Thus, an ethical-political principle with constitutive value emerges: the "inviolable" rights of individuals are intimately connected with their "non-derogable duties," with which they cannot but be reconciled. This connection defines the fundamental fabric of the national community in that perspective of solidarity, in which the Constitution identifies one of the primary tasks of the Republic.
In conclusion, no longer just the essentially one-sided ethics of "rights" preached by "liberals" and "progressives" regardless of human reality, but an ethics and politics that combine rights and duties within the community in which people's lives take place. This - in the inevitable vagueness of a few pages - may be a first step in understanding the possible meaning of the word "conservative" in the 21st century.
1 Pie. Rossi, Progresso, entry of ’Enc. delle scienze sociali, Roma, VII, 1997.
2 V. Erario, Transfemminismo istituzionalizzato, “Dossier del Machiavelli” n. 32, 2022.
3 M. Veneziani, La Cappa. Per una critica del presente, Venezia, 2022, 11. Possible examples of such demands, routinely taken up by those who claim to be "progressive," are the run-up to "gender identities" in the so-called Zan Bill (v. La Rocca, Tecnica legislativa e conflitti culturali nel d.d.l. Zan, in www.ilcaso.it) and the aspiration to use surrogacy by same-sex couples.
4 It mentions this M. Malaguti, La Destra affermatrice.
5 Z. Bauman, Modernità liquida, Roma-Bari, 2011, VI.
6 Zatti, Di là dal velo della persona fisica. Realtà del corpo e diritti “dell’uomo”, in Maschere del diritto. Volti della vita, Milano, 2009, 205 ss, 221.
7 Among many others Reichlin, Oltre l’uomo? L’ideologia scientista del transumanesimo, in “Aggiornamenti sociali”, 2012, 753 ss.; Rossetti, Il transumanesimo, in “Rassegna di teologia”, 59 (2018), 373 ss.
8 Veneziani, op. cit., 67 ss.; N. Greppi, Contrastare la cancel culture. Inquadramento e proposte pratiche, “Dossier del Machiavelli”, 2021.
9 E. Gentile, Introduzione in Modernità totalitaria. Il fascismo italiano, a cura di E. Gentile, Roma-Bari, 2008.
10 Friedman, Liberi di scegliere, ed. it., Milano, 1981, especially 67 ss.
11 Bauman, op. cit., 4.
12 Bauman, op. cit., 20.
13 Bauman, op. cit., 208.
14 Così ancora Bauman, op. cit., 208.
15 For necessary clarifications on the concept see at least Gough, Il contratto sociale. Storia critica di una teoria, ed. it., Bologna, 1986.
16 Bauman, op. cit., 196 ss.
17 Perhaps it is not redundant to recall Aristotle, Politica, Roma-Bari, 1993, 1253 a, 1-5, where - said incidentally - there is no shortage of observations that seem "shocking" today: "If one were to study things unfolding from the origin ... one would have as clear a view as ever. It is necessary, first of all, that we unite beings who are unable to exist separately ... for example, the female and the male with a view to reproduction." (1252 a, 25-30).
18 On the new Art. 9 see Agnoli, L’ambiente nella Costituzione.
19 The connection between these aspects does not arise today: v. ad es. Al. Rocco, Scritti e discorsi politici, Milano, 1938; for the connection between Homeland, pietas and culture see recently Ronco, Essere “patriota”, ossia la verità della Patria, in L-JUS, 2-2021.
20 As feared by Milano, Con la riforma degli artt. 9 e 41 Cost. l’ecologicamente corretto entra in costituzione.
Former Head of the Legal Department of a bank, he is currently Full Professor of Civil Law at the University of Milan-Bicocca. He has published six books and about a hundred articles and minor writings on private, commercial, banking, and financial law.