East/West Relations: Toward a New Definition of a Dialogue

By Kirkpatrick, Jeane J. | World Affairs, Fall 2007 | Go to article overview

East/West Relations: Toward a New Definition of a Dialogue


Kirkpatrick, Jeane J., World Affairs


The pleasure of being in Rome is greatly enhanced by the honor of addressing this most renowned forum, where so many distinguished persons have presented papers in the past thirty years. My sense of honor at appearing before this forum grew as I paged the report on the activities of this society since 1947, and I saw there the photographs of many whose writings and international works and diplomacy have shaped the contemporary mind and the contemporary world: Alcide de Gasperi, Paul Henry Spaak, Joseph Luns, Cardinal Casarolli, Mrs. Margaret Thatcher, to name just a few. It is a privilege to participate in this distinguished lecture series.

It's also a marvelous pleasure to be in Rome in the spring. For me, Rome is a pleasure of a very special sort. It is the kind of pleasure which Samuel Johnson called "the wine of life" and of which St. Augustine wrote it "rejoices the soul." For me, truly, the significance of this city lies less in the undoubted beauty of its fountains and its squares, less in the richness of its museums and its galleries, or the majesty of its great public buildings, less in its dazzling sun and its Mediterranean visage than in its place in our shared history. It takes only a bit of poetic license to see Rome as the heart of Western Civilization--our civilization. Capital of antiquity, capital of Christendom, home of the Renaissance and the modern mind; Rome has for more than two thousand years reflected the essential aspects of the Western style of civilization--the rule of law, the mixed constitution, the idea of constitutionalism itself.

These and other key elements of the modern liberal democratic tradition are explicated in Italy's rich contributions to modern political philosophy. Certain of these elements seem to me especially crucial to the contemporary scene. When I think of the Italian tradition in political philosophy and its contributions to the world, I think of the contribution of Marsiglio, whom many consider the very beginning of the modern tradition in political philosophy. Marsiglio gave us the first modern version of a doctrine of social contract with all that implies about the nature of government and political obligation.

I think of Machiavelli, who not only understood better than anyone before or since the tactics of winning and keeping power but also understood the spiritual aspects of society and politics, the dynamics of political change, and the inestimable advantages of republican government.

I think of Benedetto Croce, who illuminated so effectively aspects of freedom, nationality, and the modern temper.

I think of Gaetano Mosca, whose analyses of the relations among social structure, culture, and politics made a major contribution to our understanding of social process and political change.

I think too of a contemporary political philosopher whom some of you doubtless know--Giovanni Sartori--whose writings, especially his writings on democracy, are, I believe, the most profound since those of John Stuart Mill.

There are, of course, various other distinguished Italian political philosophers--but even though I am a professor, most at home in the classroom, I do not quite desire to turn this into a seminar on Italian political thought. I do wish, however, to underscore my own strong personal appreciation of the Italian tradition in political philosophy, and more: I do intend to insist that the Italian tradition of political thought is notable not only as part of the Western tradition but also because it illuminates and emphasizes the key elements of that Western, liberal political tradition.

It is especially important, I am persuaded, that the Italian tradition--at least since Machiavelli--has understood so well and depicted so clearly politics as a human activity, carried on by persons who have purposes, plans, skills, and visions of the public good. This interpretation of politics, sometimes called the "Hominocentric," is, finally, the only interpretation consistent with democracy, because democracy must conceive human beings as thinking beings capable of knowing their own interests, capable of acting on them, and not merely as blind automatons reflecting impersonal, superhuman "forces" of history.

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