The San Biagio Declaration[1]

As we know, our era, generally labelled with the term “globalization”, is characterized by progressive processes of differentiation, heterogeneity and fragmentation. And additionally, by the emergence of new economies and industrial countries, the ascendancy of digital technologies (and, more generally, by a rapid rate of technological change), the financialization of economies and the economic and financial crisis, the difficulties of nation states and the critiques they receive, the emergence of new macro-regional and metropolitan identities, the affirmation of diasporas and cultural mixing, strong migration flows, inequalization and poverty that offend civic consciousness, widespread seismic shifts that constantly challenge the economic, social, political and even military structures of the planet, and by terrorism.

Being hostage even today to obsolete modes of thinking and nationalist logic, often disoriented by unexpected trends that alternate between sudden acceleration and exhausting procrastination, and with each of us departing from our specific context, it is not easy for us to conceive of - let alone put into practice - concrete intellectual and material processes that facilitate around us a positive evolution towards a more free, democratic, prosperous and just world.

Undoubtedly, this emerging reality requires careful analysis and inquiry that can grasp and fruitfully use the many new elements unfolding before us. But this should not lead us to a dangerous dysfunction or worse, a discontinuity, despite the best experiences of “saying” and “doing” that have preceded us.

Montepulciano - "bravio" (la spinta delle botti)

The “A Colorni-Hirschman International Institute” maintains, in fact, that innovation and continuity of thought are both indispensable. And to this end, it recommends reflecting on the thought of Eugenio Colorni and his extraordinary teachings that continue to affect and guide us even today; on the various phases of the work of Albert Hirschman, a possibilist maestro of development and of “trespassing” without limits; on his many connections and his partnership with Clifford Geertz at Princeton during the 1970s–90s. These in fact constitute certain “high points,” foundations of an approach to thought and action that, according to us, when re-examined in the light of our era and in open engagement with several other influences and experiences, can help understand the actual state of affairs and thereby illuminate our path.

Below, we propose some points for reflection on which ACHII’s work of research and experimentation can be structured.

In an essay written in 1957, Albert states that it is necessary to plan and experiment simultaneously. Similarly, we think that the most appropriate work the Institute can do would be, on one hand, to begin constructing a platform for thought, a continuously expanding and widely-shared point of reference; and on the other hand, to promote many ad hoc studies on diverse realities, experimentations and inventions.


The reference platform

Its foundations are based on Colorni’s influence on Hirschman and vice versa, on the way in which the evolution of Albert’s thought, in association with many other influences, now allows us to reuse Eugenio’s ideas to understand the present.


Why Colorni, which Colorni

Eugenio’s work is for us a treasure to be brought to light and valued. Currently in Italy, Colorni is slightly better known than before (especially through studies connected with the centenary of his birth - 2009), but this is a Colorni fragmented into politician, philosopher, federalist and partisan. Abroad, Eugenio is unknown: there are no translations of his work. Moreover, there is still no real understanding of the basic theoretical-political motivations in Colorni’s writings.

Colorni was a rebel philosopher who fought against “philosophical illness.” He freed himself from this malady because although philosophy at that time promised a general knowledge without boundaries (between natural sciences and humanities) and a guide to action, it was completely unable to live up to those promises. In his letters, he writes, “I loathe any philosophical system that intends to ‘close the loop’ and explain the universe. But philosophy as an instrument, a ray of light that clarifies misunderstandings and removes prejudices, seems to me always indispensable.”

“Philosophers basically care too little about ‘understanding’ and too much about ‘explaining’. And often these two are antithetical to each other. ‘Explaining’ in fact implies finding a theory, a system, an organization of reality in which there is a place for everything and everything is in its place. ‘Understanding’ implies a putting oneself in a passive position, so to speak, in the face of things, ready to grasp them in the manner that seems most opportune.”

“Understanding,” for Eugenio, means being astonished by facts that surprise us (rather than underestimating and dismissing them), using their implicit messages to correct one’s own thinking every day in order to make it correspond with the demands of reality. Research should lead to the discovery of real factors that were unknown or that have not been decoded: it should be useful. “Saying” and “doing” must go together.

Colorni’s modus operandi (one of his famous stratagems) was characterized by the theory of doubt (or doubtfulness) in which it is necessary to challenge tenets that were thought to have been understood; the need to leave one’s comfort zone and confront the world (the need to ascertain the reasons behind certain discoveries and their limits, to experiment with new lines of thought); the interest in observations albeit small but fresh and candid, that open new doors and are therefore useful, simplifying, illuminating and stimulating; attention to the involuntary projection of oneself on to the subject of study and the undesirable factors that produce this phenomenon; the need to restrain the senses to avoid (as far as possible) superimpositions on reality, so as to be ready to grasp its significance in the most appropriate manner; empathy; acknowledgement of the merits of others; the importance of affective relationships and the highest respect for individual autonomy as a way to understand and truly comprehend each other in the search for truth; research into inductive mechanisms, etc.


Colorni’s influence on Hirschman

These insights are contained in Eugenio’s writings and works during the period in which Albert associated with him (especially during the years in Trieste, 1937-38). They are essentially at the source of Albert’s wide and impressive scientific production, which we cannot discuss at this point. We must underline, however, that from “one things leads - or doesn’t lead - to another”, to how an initiative “can be made to endure,” to the release of social energy, to the construction of inductive mechanisms, to “complicating the economy” in order to render it more efficient from an interpretative point of view and amenable to experimentation, to evaluation, etc., this intellectual inspiration constitutes the most vital part of the background of many of the promoters of our initiative.

Albert never wished to write about Eugenio’s works, but always acknowledged his intellectual debt to the latter. Hirschman speaks of the diffusion of “small ideas” that can be gradually developed from any angle or social (and literary) discipline. He pursues specific “good and new” knowledge, not claiming original observations as much as the capacity to develop them to their logical conclusions (and also in this regard, he notes that Eugenio had “too many ideas” to be able to lead them to completion during his short life).

Many of Albert’s works are consonant with Colorni’s ideas and working methods. For example, concerning the positions of Democrats and Socialists with regard to internationalism, Eugenio (Preface to the Ventotene Manifesto, 1944) uses a phenomenological analysis to describe the state of affairs simply; similarly, in The Rhetoric of Reaction (1991), Hirschman presents an innovative phenomenological analysis of ultraliberal (and progressivist) thought. Eugenio speaks about the interests and sentiments of modern states, concepts that Albert would certainly have recalled while writing The Passions and the Interests (1977). The idea of federalist Europe can represent, according to Colorni, a turning point entailing a change in the various aspects of politics: he considers it necessary to concentrate energies on it to open doors to the future; likewise, Albert elaborates his ideas on unbalanced growth (The Strategy, 1958) and of sailing against the wind. Not to mention, of course, the importance accorded to doubt, and the numerous Colornian stratagems that (among others) form the basis of the Hirschmanian idea of the micro-foundations of democracy.

The concept of “trespassing” (Hirschman, 1981), namely the application in one field of results obtained in another, recalls Colorni’s method of interjecting into politics what he had learned through the study of philosophy and the natural sciences (in which, for example, he had borrowed from Einstein’s physics to develop the Kantian idea that space and time are relational rather than real entities).

Naturally, it must be added that Eugenio had elaborated these lines of reasoning based on the cultural horizons of his time, which were characterized by the distinction between natural and humanistic knowledge, while Albert developed precisely that “tertium” that exists between the two: the social sciences.


Hirschman at Princeton: the cultural turnaround and its consequences

During his Princeton years, Albert established a strong intellectual partnership with Clifford Geertz. The research program they conceived for the School of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) aims to instill in social science in general an interpretive and hermeneutic significance - different from the quantitative and causal significance typical of the American tradition.

Albert became a professor of social science and all his work during this period reflects that definition. Hirschman’s cultural turnaround, therefore, urges us to become acquainted with his friends and interlocutors.

Geertz opens up new frontiers, both from the point of view of disciplines (anthropology, a relationship with history and with Robert Darnton, the involvement with Wolf Lepenies who wrote Die drei Kulturen (1985) at the IAS) and from that of the problems of our time (the consequence, among others, of the global process of so-called decolonization). Lepenies, for his part, enables a better understanding of Europe (and especially Germany, where the tragic events of the 1930s precipitated the experiences of Eugenio and Albert).

This new development can help us not only to understand the present state of affairs bust also to re-appropriate the thought of Eugenio and appreciate its vitality.

Here we can discern some points for reflection:

  • Globalization, metropolitan cities and Jihad can be better understood in the light of Geertz’s writings, and by readjusting our concepts of federalism (Cattaneo’s opposition to centralism and Colorni’s opposition to nationalism), democracy, self-determination, fraternization. Globalization represents, among other things, a great post-Westphalian “reshuffling.”
  • The European construct can be reconsidered in the light of Wolf Lepenies’ critique of “the seduction of culture in German history”, and the link between internal and external (European) federalism, which Eugenio examined.


Experiments and Inventions

Eugenio’s and Albert’s influence on us is evident in

  • Our striving “to say” and “to do,” to “know how to do”
  • Our “stories” and “narratives” illustrated briefly at Montepulciano
  • The journal “Bollettino degli Improbabili” published during the 90s[2], etc.

The Institute we have founded emerges from a peculiar set of experiences[3] over several decades, and has its origins in Italy because of the particular subjective and objective conditions that have occurred in the Peninsula in the past, first in certain areas of the South and later elsewhere; it inevitably has its roots and its point of departure in Italy[4].

But its scope and its intent concern, as far as possible, Europe and the entire world. The logic of the tradition of thought described above requires it. We intend to revive its deepest aspirations by means of a new impetus in a situation which, according to us, has (unfortunately) not lived up its long-held promise of civilization. It is the need for a cultural revival that, deriving from the complexity of the world around us, allows the rediscovery of the common values of a European construct that is open, that can listen, understand, share, and is farsighted; one that is able to make a contribution, with particular attention to the problems of East Europe and the Mediterranean.

[1] Excerpts from the San Biagio Declaration - The need for and the essential terms of this declaration emerged during the first meeting of the Advisory Board of the “A Colorni-Hirschman International Institute,” held at Casina di San Biagio, Montepulciano di Siena, on 15-17 May 2015.

[2] Published by the chair of Economic and Financial Policy at the Faculty of Economics, University of Naples Federico II (30 issues).

[3] This refers to work initiated at the University of Naples Federico II in the 1980s, in the wake of a fruitful dialogue with Albert Hirschman. In this context, among other things, the bulletin mentioned in the previous note was published for many years.

[4] More precisely, the Institute’s long process of evolution (in Universities, in government and in localities) along Hirschmanian axes (“one thing leads - or doesn’t lead - to another”) has created a very close - if at times intermittent - interactive and iterative relationship between specific important realities and the development of theory. And this experience now allows us to transcend our limits and re-present ourselves, mutatis mutandis, in more general terms.