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This issue. Next issues. Call for papers

Michelangelo Bovero
p. 15-20
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Is this issue

1This issue of Teoria politica is divided into three sections.

2The first section is titled Aristotle. The Principle of Politics stems from the seminar held in Turin on May 11th and 12th 2017, in which specialists of classical cultures and philosophers not specialized in the ancient world held a dialogue about the nature of politics, power, constitution, citizenship, democracy, taking the thought of Aristotle and Book III of Politics as a starting point. The exchange was initiated by Mario Vegetti, with an analysis, characterized by its exceptionally broad scope and lucid depth, on the Aristotelian conception of the foundations of political knowledge, in tension with the Platonic conception. Months in advance, Vegetti had accepted the invitation to open the seminar, with some concern but without hesitation: the proposition of the theme had convinced him. During the meeting, in a convivial moment, he told me in a whisper that he was very happy to have made it to the appointment in Turin with our small community of dialogue. He animated the debate after each presentation. He made specific comments and observations to Alberto Maffi who committed himself to unravel Aristotle’s intricate arguments on politeia, politeuma, and legislation; to Silvia Gastaldi, who addressed the kyrion, a central subject in Book III; to Lucio Bertelli, who took the task of rebuilding the complex Aristotelian thought on democracy; to Fulvia de Luise, who reviewed, with theses that he considered «innovative», the controversial problem of the relationship between a good man and a good citizen; and the learned digressions of Giuseppe Farinetti on virtue, happiness, and politics. He also expressed his thoughts on the «functional» theory of citizenship formulated by Patricia Mindus which starts from the thought of Aristotle; to José Luis Martí, who rebuilt the modern fortune of the Aristotelian thesis according to which it is better to let the many judge and decide rather than the few or the one; and to the Bovero’s suggestion to reprocess and redefine the fundamental terms of the Aristotelian logos that share the root poli-. When the time came to transform the reports into the articles that now compose this section of the volume, Alberto Maffi had the additional merit of soliciting the other scholars, especially those specialized in Aristotle, to compare letters on their interpretative theses, the problems encountered, and persistent doubts. I am sure that in this dialogue aneu phonés, resumed and renewed after the meeting in Turin, everyone has listened to the silent echo of Vegetti’s voice, to discuss with him once again. Not only these scholars and the participants in the seminar, but also the readers of this volume will continue to benefit from his teachings through the text that Vegetti sent Teoria politica last autumn, after a first review of his report. Mario Vegetti will still come to visit us often in our thoughts and will remain among the clearest voices and the clearest lights of our inner world. Dear Mario, we dedicate our modest works to you.

3The second section, called After the elections. Europe’s political landscape, aspires to offer first of all an overall view of the transformations in the European scenario resulting from the cycle of political elections celebrated in many countries of the continent in the year 2017 through the analysis of individual relevant cases and comparative considerations. This section originates from a discussion held between scholars of various disciplines: the seventh seminar of Teoria politica, held in Turin on 26th and 27th October of that same year, with the aim of attempting a budget of the series of electoral consultations started in March in Netherlands and continued with France, Great Britain, Austria, and Germany. Italy would then be included in this series in March of the new year. Nevertheless, the Italian case had an electoral outcome that gave rise to a very long process for the formation of a parliamentary majority and a new government, both of an unusual nature and composition. The case will not be included in this issue for obvious reasons of time, other than reflectively and in a marginal and partial way in some contributions of this section, more recently reviewed by the authors. The change of government and political direction in Spain in 2018, not achieved in new elections but in the dialectic of the parliamentary system would still need to be included to the list of changes on the European public scene. Teoria politica is committed to promoting new analyses to complete the reconstruction of the overall landscape and the identification of current trends. The task is anything but easy. In Europe, during the 2017 electoral year, fear that a general wave of social discontent and political mistrust would raise to the point of upsetting the balance of all political systems, giving power everywhere to the (so-called) populist movements, in particular to those that portray the right-wing radicalization scattered among participant observers. Something similar had happened the previous year in Great Britain with Brexit, and in the United States with the election of Trump. It does not seem to have happened in Europe with the 2017 elections, certainly not in the forms and proportions many feared, even if numerous steps have been taken in that direction. It may have happened or be happening in Italy in 2018, where, beyond the same electoral outcome, the post-electoral political process has unveiled the meaning and direction of the transformation, scattering any doubts about the potential identity of the (non) relative majority party. An ongoing process, characterized by its uncertainty and fragility, with wide margins of ambiguity and which will be outlined by the consonance or dissonance in the overall panorama to which this section of the volume offers a contribution. The articles by Mauro Volpi, which draws attention to the crisis of the majority model as a general outcome of European consultations; by Michel Troper, who invites us to reflect on the vices and virtues of the French system after 2017; by Gian Enrico Rusconi, which outlines the profile of the populist alternative in Germany; by Edoardo Bressanelli, who reconstructs the peculiar aspects of the British case; by Mario Caciagli, who offers a significant analysis of the political culture of Italians prior to the elections; by Dario Tuorto, which examines the phenomenon of abstention in Italy before and after the 2018 vote; and by Andrea Greppi, who analyzes the depths of the Spanish non-party Podemos, are all originated from the reports they presented at the Seventh Seminary of Teoria politica of October 2017, reviewed and reworked in the light of subsequent developments. The section is enriched by two articles originated by another initiative for public discussion, promoted by the Scuola per la Buona Politica di Torino: the article by Michele Prospero reflects on the rules for political competition through the reconstruction of the incredible events of the electoral laws in Italy. While that of Damiano Palano, offers a theoretical and historical-conceptual contribution on the «party» form, on its crisis and its future.

4The third section titled Essays, maintains its usual miscellaneous character. It includes four contributions. Pier Paolo Portinaro’s article is dedicated to critically address the wide literature on the notion of «power», in relation to those of «violence» and «authority». Marco Solinas’s essay analyzes the neo-Hegelian turn imprinted by Honnet on the Frankfurt’s critical theory tradition. Antonio Campati’s contribution gets ideas from the recent (and late) Italian translation of Hanna Pitkin’s The Concept of Representation, in order to analyze the transformation of democratic representation.

In the next issues

5As confirmed by the results of the scientific analysis published in this volume of Teoria politica, in many countries social discontent and political mistrust are displayed in the form of a protest vote that shows many similarities from place to place, and that it is almost always relevant, if not decisive, for the results of the most recent popular consultations. A widespread perception —which should not be regarded as trivial or superficial— that human communities are, at all levels, mostly poorly governed, circulates around the globe and, the protest vote (also very extended) is scattered virtually everywhere. Moreover, the transformations initiated directly or indirectly and in a more or less incisive way by this reactive, and often reactionary, vote do not seem to have improved the quality of government and political classes. On the contrary, one could say that the trend of the world proceeds from bad government to worse government. Of course, the axiological judgments, in politics as in any field, are in themselves controversial and controvertible: they depend on the scales of values that each individual assumes and uses as a parameter. Yet, the faces, the characters, the connotations of «bad politics», of the various forms of bad politics throughout the centuries of Western culture have been identified, classified, and ordered in a prevailing and persistent phenomenology: in a «notional» and an imaginary that continues to operate with paradigmatic efficacy. Teoria politica intends to dedicate a generous section of next issue to the phenomenology of bad government, welcoming contributions from philosophers, historians, sociologists, political scientists, law scholar, analysts of concepts and facts, theorists of power and norms, specialists of the present and of the past, and scholars of different worlds and cultures.

6Classical political thought has elaborated and transmitted two prevailing general criteria for distinguishing bad government from good government. According to the first criterion, good government pursues the public interest (the bonum commune) while bad government follows private interests of the ruler (the bonum proprium). According to the second criterion, good government rules in compliance with previously established laws, while bad government exercises an arbitrary rule.

7However, neither of these two criteria has managed to establish itself beyond discussion. From the very beginning, political realism has resisted the possibility of distinguishing the common good from the interests of the rulers. Trasimachus takes for granted that «every kind of regime establishes the laws according to its own purposes: democracy will do it democratically, the tyrant tyrannically, and the same goes for the others» (Rep. 338e). Moreover, even if one wants to distance from the theories of political realism, it is difficult to refute the objection that the very notion of public interest always supports different interpretations and even opposing ones. In fact, there is no objective parameter that allows us to determine unequivocally what is the common good. Nevertheless, the ruler who pursues his own advantage in detriment of the public interest (in any way this is interpreted) has always been identified as an emblematic figure of bad government. This gives way to the tenaciously persistent issue of corruption. Although, as Norberto Bobbio once said, in tough times (and therefore, as it is usually said «unexpected»), «the rule of the honest is not enough». A dangerous illusion is revealed, paired with a naively simplified conception of the exercise of political power, a deception or a self-deceptive omen of catastrophic outcomes.

8Moving on to the second criterion, even the superiority of the rule of law, as opposed to the irrational and arbitrary rule of men (or of one man), restated in infinite variations by ancient and modern constitutionalism, has been repeatedly criticised. From the very beginning, the possibility of the advent of an exceptional figure, capable of ruling better than the best laws has been considered as a viable alternative. It is the perverse charm of the good tyrant, the man of destiny, the cosmic-historical hero, holding charismatic power, that emerges from the pages of Plato and re-presents itself in various forms, regardless of the changes of times and fashions. However, throughout the centuries the figure of the tyrant has always returned to the centre of attention as the exemplary model of bad government

9Drawing from the canon of the most typical forms of bad government identified since the origins of our culture, alongside the tyranny, prototype of personal and arbitrary power, we have the oligarchy, in the Aristotelian sense of the power of money, but also of the power of the wise, of the castes of priests and intellectuals. These have reincarnated in our time in the elitist power of experts, holders of specialized and exclusive knowledge, the technocracy or as we say today the epistocracy, with iridescent faces according to the evolution of the socially dominant sciences and techniques. We also find ochlocracy, in the Polybian sense of power of the crowds, which has come back to the scene in more recent times with the polychrome disguise of a family of phenomena to which the generic identity of populisms is attributed.

10Tyranny, starting from the name itself, may appear an obsolete notion. Yet, the extraordinary abundance of reflections conducted in the history of our culture on this form of bad government, its dimensions and its variations —the regimes of force and of fraud, of violence and of deceit— may be revisited to reconstruct the profiles of the forms of monocratic rule that have returned to the scene of contemporary regimes commonly considered democratic, at least from a broad notion, common though imprecise, that identifies democracy with the institution of elections and the decision of the majority.

11With the same perspective of a fruitful reprise of the lesson of the classics, among the ancient concepts of «rule of man» which are surrounded by a negative aura, like that of tyranny, there are those of despotism and dictatorship. From Aristotle to Marsilius, Bodin, Locke, Montesquieu and beyond, despotism is scrupulously distinguished both from «royal» monarchy and tyranny: it refers to a separate form of regime, defined by its own historical and geographical coordinates, and is formulated from an Eurocentric point of view, in order to study phenomena conceived as characteristic of the Oriental political regimes. Therefore one of the aims of this research consists of investigating how persistent this Eurocentric prejudice is, how often it has been picked up and reformulated for its adaptation to new realities and, at the same time, how many apparent reasons may be invoked in favour of the pertinence of this concept. With Montesquieu despotism becomes the emblematic kind of bad government as such, and that happens because the author of the Esprit des lois fears its «transplantation» into the West. However, even within the same cultural climate, there is no shortage of opposing opinions: an emblematic example of this is the fortune of the category of enlightened despotism. In this perspective, the reconstruction of the China debate in France during the eighteenth century assumes special interest. Furthermore, there are significant variations in the meaning of the concept, as in the Kantian interpretation, which identifies in paternalism rather than in patrimonialism an extreme form of despotic rule, or as in the invention of Tocqueville of «mild despotism». In the political dictionary of the twentieth century, the concept of dictatorship gradually took the place of those of tyranny and of despotism. In the period between the two wars, the use of the term «dictatorship» became a synonym of bad government par excellence, with an actually different meaning from the original one, which denoted a Roman institution. The well-known study by Carl Schmitt (1921) is credited with the distinction between delegated or «commissary» dictatorship, an exceptional but established and therefore limited power, and sovereign dictatorship, which is a revolutionary power that overturns the legal order. With reference to this second meaning, the contrast between dictatorship and democracy gradually settles in current language and in the common opinion in the West, also and especially understood as an axiological antithesis. Once again, there is no shortage of differing usages. Yet, the peculiar history of the word dictatorship leads to the sedimentation of a common nucleus of descriptive meanings, though nebulous and imprecise, which seems distinct from the meanings associated both with tyranny and with despotism: a semantic difference worth reconstructing, clarifying and making explicit. In current usages the three concepts of tyranny, despotism, and dictatorship refer mainly to forms of monocratic power. However, this connotation is not at all exclusive. It suffices to mention, as an example, the Thirty Tyrants and the Jacobin dictatorship, which may be set alongside a rare expression, indeed a genuine hapax, in Montesquieu, who speaks in a certain context of the «despotism of all», in an eccentric but rather interesting sense. Nevertheless, the identification of these three concepts with monocratic power is significant in itself: generally, the risk of bad government is considered to be inherent to personal power. In fact, the three innovative figures that have been created and modelled over the last two centuries by European political thought, from Constant to Marx, to Roscher, to Treitschke, and to Max Weber are Caesarism, Bonapartism and charismatic power. These are three kinds of «rule of man», with many variations. Here again, we find fluctuations and sometimes inversions of value judgements, just as and sometimes even more than in the classic case of tyranny: it suffices to think of the infinite apologies of the eponymous heroes, Caesar and Napoleon, as well as the recurring invocation, starting from Weber, of plebiscitarian democracy; but the identification of these three figures with forms of bad government remains prevalent, also and especially caused by the concentration of power in the hands of a single person. The complex issue of fusion and confusion of powers opens wide horizons to the phenomenology of bad government: on the one side, there is a multiplicity of figures of merging and synergy between political and economic power, while on the other, there are forms of conjunction between politics and religion, between temporal and spiritual power, confessionalisms of the most varied faiths and, at the top level, theocracy, the rule of the masters of the souls.

Call for contributions

Phenomenology of bad government

12Teoria politica aims at retracing and reconstructing the names and concepts of bad government in the history of political culture, the forms of dysnomia that have been identified and stigmatized as such in different times and places, in order to sort out the confusion within political language, set constants, isolate exceptions, and identify distinguishing criteria. The secondary aim is to test the explanatory and interpretative effectiveness of these concepts in relation to the different geographical and historical realities in which they have been or may be applied.

13In particular, Teoria politica welcomes contributions on the following topics:

  • tyrannies of the ancient and the modern;

  • oligarchies of the ancient and the modern;

  • ochlocracies of the ancient and the modern;

  • Oriental and Occidental despotism;

  • dictatorship: the many faces of ferocious power;

  • caesarisms and bonapartisms, then and now;

  • charismatic power: tragic and grotesque.

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Notizia bibliografica

Michelangelo Bovero, «This issue. Next issues. Call for papers»Teoria politica. Nuova serie Annali, 8 | 2018, 15-20.

Notizia bibliografica digitale

Michelangelo Bovero, «This issue. Next issues. Call for papers»Teoria politica. Nuova serie Annali [Online], 8 | 2018, online dal 26 mai 2020, consultato il 28 février 2021. URL:

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