Local and global
Interview with Furio Cerutti; Professor Emeritus of political
at Firenze University, Italy
Note: Furio Cerutti is Professor Emeritus of
Political Philosophy of the Department of Philosophy, University of
In the past years Cerutti has been a Visiting Scholar at the Center
for European Studies, Harvard University, and a Visiting Professor
at the Université de Paris 8, the Humboldt Universität zu Berlin and
(in 2010) the London School of Economics and Political Science.
Moreover, as an associate of GARNET team (a Network of excellence
funded by the EU), he worked on the issues of risk and
responsibility in environmental governance.
Although political philosophy remains his main interest, Cerutti's
research is interwoven with elements deriving from political
science, International Relations and environmental studies.
He is the author of many books and articles such as "Global
Challenges for Leviathan: A Political Philosophy of Nuclear Weapons
and Global Warming", "The Search for a European Identity: Values,
Policies and Legitimacy of the European Union", "Rethinking European
Security", and editor of several books such as "Debating Political
Identity and Legitimacy in the European Union", "The Search for a
European Identity","A Soul for Europe: On the Political and Cultural
Identity of the Europeans","- Identities and Conflicts: The
I conducted an interview with him in August 2005, which was
published in Iran's "Hatef Weekly Magazine".
Nasrin Pourhamrang: firstly, I would like to present you a
definition of Identity. In my view, personal identity is what the
people can prove and proclaim their existence by using it.
What is your description of the identity of world population?
Furio Cerutti: If you mean identity of the humankind, there is none
at the moment. Some philosophers or theologians or poets may try to
evoke it, but in fact the real men and women around the planet
accept to feel like members of the same community only as long as
this is a particular and exclusive one (a country, a religion, an
ideology or party).
The only presently binding element, the respect for the human rights
of other people regardless of their particular features, is not yet
enough widespread and is often overwhelmed by the allegiance to a
particular community. Also the common fear that global challenges
(the threat of nuclear war or catastrophic and manmade climate
change) can inspire is not strong enough as to move everybody to
feel like we are all on the same boat and need to act jointly. It is
disappointing, but this is how things actually are, I am afraid.
NP: What is your opinion about the identity of contemporary
people, in comparison with that of the past generation?
At least, in ancient and traditional world, people were identified
by the means of religion, faith, race and ethnic issues. But the
same is not true in the modern world. Identities are
individual-oriented and each man searches for a certain identity for
himself. What’s your take on that?
FC: You have correctly identified the shift in identity occurred in
modernity, that is, if we look at Europe, from the sixteenth century
on. The recent wave of economic and cultural globalisation has
further destabilised traditional identities and pushed individuals
to put together his\her identity by his\her own choice of several
components. However, this is a difficult and even painful job, which
makes many people struggle and some time resort to strong, if
outdated and aggressive beliefs (religious foundamentalism, sects,
ethno nationalism) that seem to provide a firm answer to the search
NP: what are the differences between the application of
individual identities and the consequences of communal identities?
Perhaps we can accept that liberty, freedom and human rights are the
positive consequences and applications of individual identities.
What’s its negative outcome?
FC: I would like to introduce a distinction between individual
identities, which as a matter of fact everybody has (even if he\she
believes to exist only as a member of a community), and
individualistic identity, whose content is the priority of the
individual human being over his\her own community as well as over
power and authority. Human rights and human dignity, I am afraid,
are hardly to defend if you think the religious or political
community and those who exert power in it are always entitled to
take the life and the liberty of the members for the sake of the
community’s superior good. However, I also believe that individuals
and community, individualistic and community-oriented identities can
coexist and do in fact coexist in many countries and civilisations.
NP: In my view, there are a lot of differences between the
philosophical nature of individual identities and communal
identities. We can find these differences in their application and
consequences. The communal identity makes the sense of power and
truth. But the individual identities aren’t the same. At least, they
don’t create the sense of power and humour. In the age of individual
identities, people have a sense of need for a powerful shelter. It
seems as if the sense of weakness and loneliness are created by the
Of course, I think that the regard of moral principles is the
positive result of individual identities. What is your view?
FC: I share your view, except that plural or (as I prefer to say)
group identity does not seem to me to be necessarily in opposition
to an individualistic identity. In the West, some of the models of
group identity deriving from Enlightenment and cultural modernisation have been able to keep them in a balance, and have
made possible to win the fight against the anti-human identity model
of the various European totalitarianisms, or to rebuild a democratic
society in the former Fascist countries after 1945.
NP: Can we call the individual identities the starting point of
communal identities? For example, let us suppose that the activities
of new-conservatives in the United States are the results of the
appearance of communal identities. What do you think about that?
FC: For the first question, please see my answer to question 4.
Among American neocons I would see the prevalence of extreme
individualism (deregulated freedom based on self-interest) rather
than a strong conception of community faith. This for sure also
exists, but in an odd mixture with un-solidaristic individualism.
NP: I think that the people of the Netherlands and France or other
European states have assumed that their “will” and “inclination”
have been undermined by voting for the European Constitution. The
constitution of the EU can originate a strong and powerful union
throughout the entire world but politicians and diplomats will
mainly profit from this power and force. This power has an
upside-down influence and affects the people’s daily life. It means
that people’s will and desires will be weakened and humiliated and
they cannot act as they please based on their wills.
In the other word, they will run away from the communal identity
(European Union's constitution) and take refuge in the other
communal identities (local identities of their hometown) by voting
against the EU constitution. What’s your view?
FC: The French and Dutch referenda have been a very complicate
event, which I cannot explain in this answer. In the October issue
of European Review, the quarterly of the European Academy published
by Cambridge University Press, you can read my analysis and my
In a word, you are indeed right: the European Union has a lot of
(mostly benevolent) power, even if it lacks the supreme power of
deciding over peace\war and taxation, which remained with the
individual member states even in the now failed Constitutional
Treaty. But most people around Europe know little about this power
and its mechanisms, nor do the national governments any serious
effort in order to make the citizens know better about the Union and
participate in its political life. If something (loss of jobs caused
by globalisation, failed integration of immigrants, for example)
goes wrong in our countries, they blame not just their own
governments, but also the Union (as it happened in France, where
they voted against the EU Constitution because they wanted to give
Chirac a lesson) or believe (as in the Netherlands) things will be
better if they remain just Dutch and do not become Europeans (but,
whatever demagogues may say, nobody asked them to give up their own
national identity in favour of the European one, which is rather
bound to cohabit with local and national identities). As a matter of
fact, the Dutch and French vote has the perverse effect to leave the
Union’s large power in the hands of national and EU bureaucracies,
just as it was before. As you can see, the interplay of power and
identity is a complicate and tortuous one in today’s Europe.
NP: Reaction for returning to the ethnic and national identities
is not just limited to European people's decision in voting against
EU constitution. Globalization is another field and area for the
appearance of such reactions. I want to know your idea about
globalization process. Is globalization a really concrete process or
an abstract and imaginary process?
FC: Globalization is a very real process, you can perceive it with
your senses if you have the ability to grasp what has changed in the
way how we communicate for the past ten years, or to see the global
forces in economy and technology that, once they have formed, now
invade our space in a matter of months or weeks. Globalization is
the first cause for ethnic and exclusive identities to come up in a viru.
lent way. It is the sense of falling mental and physical borders, of
new opportunities mixed with new insecurity that drives people to
find refuge in illusory strong identities. This defensive reaction
can cause great harm, but is bound to have no success in its attempt
at stopping or reversing globalization. What is at stake and can be
redefined is the direction of the globalization process, in other
words. how can we have influence on global governance?
At least in France, the opposition to the EU Constitutional Treaty
derived largely from the attitude of seeing it as a further step
towards "wild" globalization, particularly more jobs leaving France
and finding a new home in the Eastern European countries or the
Third world. This is a misperception, but misperceptions can be very
powerful and very damaging.
NP: Is returning to national and racial identities, a background
of increasing and aggravating ethnic and personal disunities and
battles, destroying human rights and returning to former wars?
FC: I do fully agree, with two qualifications. First, beyond ethno
nationalism religion has gotten to be a major cause of hatred, war
and disregard for other human beings. Not all religions, as in
recent times this development regards only Islam and Hinduism. Nor
Islam and Hinduism as such, but rather some aggressive and
backwards-oriented version of them. As they have proved unable to
receive acceptance by the majority of the Muslims and Hindus, they
have turned to violence and war propaganda.
Second, it is not "former wars" that are fomented by those forces.
On the contrary, these are the wars of the present, caused by the
dynamics of a short-sighted ideological reaction to globalization.
This kind of reaction will not prevail, because the positive forces
in globalization (more openness, more exchange of goods and ideas)
are overwhleming, but they will cause a lot of damage and sorrow for
a long time ahead.
NP: How we can guide and lead the trajectory of globalization and
reduce its negative consequences? How we can feed the world
population by the positive results of globalization, especially the
3rd world people?
FC: Globalization can be lead only if all parties stick to a
rule-based behavior, abstain from war (except when a nation's
survival is at stake, or genocide is attempted) and from hate
propaganda. Famine crises can be avoided if war and dictatorship are
restrained and the rich countries (US,EU) stop to protect their own
agriculture products and import more agricultural and industrial
products from the Third World.
A new organization would be welcome, is however far from
materializing. Not even a sensible reform of the UNO has much chance
to come about. For a while at least, we will be only able to pick up
the best chances of action that are possible within the present
spectrum of international institutions.