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Journal of Political Ideologies (February 2006),

11(1), 6176

Ideology and government

Department of Politics, Institutions and History, University of Bologna

ABSTRACT The root of the modern issue of government and ideology lies in
the awareness that political power is no longer underpinned by any a priori
ideology, any system of beliefs, values, behaviour, and culture that can be taken
unquestioningly by a government as read. The state now has to handle ideological
communications, and that is only possible if it manages to secure a monopoly on a
unifying political ideology which becomes, or at least should become, a patrimony
of beliefs, values and cultural interpretations shared by all its members. This could
be realized by two eminently ideological operations: peoples ability to elaborate
and to hierarchically arrange values and judgments about the world. So
discourse becomes central and the ability to dominate discourse determines
who occupies the position of government. Over the nineteenth and twentieth
centuries the scope of government became more and more ideological through
being forced into two classic forms of expression: the appeal for popular
confidence, and the announcement of a platform. It seems that the success of a
government is linked to its ability to predict the future ideologically far more
than to its capacity of confronting concrete political problems.

This duty of making political speeches is an aggravation of the labours of Your

Majestys servants which we owe entirely to Mr. Gladstone.1 Lord Salisburys
complaint from a letter to Queen Victoria in 1887 forms a nice gloss on the
transition from ancien regime politics (and government) to the encroaching
world of ideologies as an essential part of political legitimation and hence
It might be objected that, even prior to that date, ideology had played a large
role in constructing and maintaining political systems, a much-needed reminder
that there is truly nothing new under the sun. But, cavilling apart, that is not quite
the case if we go into the matter. The question is not the grounding of political

Correspondence Address: Paolo Pombeni, Department of Politics, Institutions and History, University of
Bologna, Italy.
ISSN 1356-9317 print; ISSN 1469-9613 online/06/01006176 q 2006 Taylor & Francis
DOI: 10.1080/13569310500395933

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power on systems of belief and shared cultural interpretations, but the legitimate
handling of power2 which, up to a certain point of history, had never been detached
from its foundational roots (if power is legitimately grounded, he who wields it in
daily government has no need for additional legitimation), whereas from that
certain point on there was a constant need to communicate and explain to the
community, to justify the conduct of government affairs.
I will try to illustrate this by a rough and ready image which, though not
technically exact, is quite effective. Up to a certain date the question of a
governments legitimacy might simply have been framed by asking whether such
sovereign power had the credentials for being acclaimed as such and, possibly,
whether it acted within the confines assigned to it by prevailing political theory.
Granted those two conditions, the sovereign power was at liberty to act and was
not called on to justify what it did, either in advance or in the upshot. Its means of
communicating with the beneficiaries of its dealings were confined to bills, laws
and by-laws: tools that explain nothing, but simply make public certain courses
of action and parameters of behaviour.
With the turn in events lamented by Lord Salisbury, the government was driven
to new tactics of explanation. The magnitude of the change was marked by the fact
that such behaviour was no longer even confined to the seat of legislation and
policy decision (Parliament), but extended to the public at large. Nearly ten years
earlier (29th November 1879), The Times had noted the development with horror,
a` propos of Gladstones rhetorical addresses to the people: In a word, everything
is overdone . . . Does it [the country] wish the conduct of public affairs to be at the
mercy of excitement, of rhetoric, of the qualities which appeal to a mob rather than
those which command the attention of a Senate? To be fair, Gladstone had
already forestalled such criticism when he told the House on 9th February 1877:
I suppose it may be said that the House of Commons represents the country; but
still it is not the country, and, as people have lately drawn a distinction between the
country and the Government, so there might be circumstances in which they might
draw a distinction between the country and the House of Commons.3
The root of the modern issue of government and ideology lies precisely here: the
awareness that political power is no longer underpinned by any a priori
ideology, any system of beliefs, values, behaviour, culture which can be taken as
read by a government and no further questions asked. What we now see is a
process of gaining consensus, involving an operation of disclosing the goals (we
tell you where we are heading and why it is right to head there). And in that very
operation, a communicable ideology tends to be created. Indeed, only while it
manages to put across that new ideology and keep it polished and renewed, will a
government stay in power. Failing that, it will have to yield to others more able at
disclosing goals and reaping consensus thereon.
It will be seen that this process opens up enormous scope for political dialectics,
going far beyond what surrounded the control of foundational legitimacy; for in
the latter case it was a short step to acceptance on faith. (Who is one to believe
when a title to legitimacy is being disputed? The objective historical position
is almost impossible to check.) The issue would be resolved by Hobbess

ideology and government

well-known dictum: auctoritas non veritas facit legem, which means in practice
that if you wield power and go unchecked, that is your justification.
From now on, though, the picture broadens: the system of government can
always be attacked on two fronts. The first, and perhaps more banal, is that
alternative goals can be proposed for power to achieve. Since a governments
power rests on its ability to explain and persuade that its doings are suited to
achieving what is conventionally compressed into the phrase the common good,
it is perfectly lawful and possible that any rival may tackle the same tasks. And
just as the government in office explains and persuades, so can its opponents. If
they do so better, they can legitimately take over from the current holders of that
But the process of hanging on to or competing for power is not confined to this
sphere, which is the customary area for examination, responding to the alternative
discourse model.4 The second front on which ideology comes into play is the
critique of the incumbent (or aspiring) governments policy design. In such case
the question is not so much explaining and persuading as to the merits of rival
platforms, but explaining and persuading that the government in office is unsuited
or not up to carrying out the programme it is implementing.
This is no minor variant: when I introduce the theme of populism later on in this
paper, we shall mainly be talking of the second way of using the relation between
government and ideology.5 To understand this slant on our subject, of course, we
need to go further into the context. In the first place we must recall the revolution
described by Sir Henry Maine in a famous passage of Ancient Law as the law of
progress and etched in the formula from status to contract.6 Only with the
demise of the medieval approach to politics, seen as a communitas communitatum,
and more broadly the guild approach of the ancien regime, is it possible to talk of
a properly ideological discourse. It is the single individual, able and free to commit
himself, who becomes the recipient of the ideological discourse; a community as
such is not strictly persuadable (it can only reach an agreement or settlement,
whilst rigidly preserving its own nature as an autonomous political entity). In
todays so-called multi-cultural societies, such issues are being thrust back onto
the stage, though I cannot afford to be side-tracked by them here.7
In the second place, the representational, as opposed to what we might call the
factual, dimension begins to bulk larger in politics. The more politics becomes not
about recognition of facts, but about promotion of abstract rights (equality, liberty,
solidarity, etc.),8 the greater the need to tie this factor to some discourse pertaining
to them. Politicians in general, and rulers especially, must explain and persuade
that such abstract rights do obtain. This can only be put across by reasoned
argument, since no system provides complete freedom, equality, fraternity, etc., so
that these may be found and identified, if at all, by some cultural mediation and
certainly not by pointing simply to hard facts of experience.
My remarks so far regard the general picture. That is by no means to say the
complete picture, for the variables are legion. We will first of all have to go into the
problem of conflict between what, for brevitys sake, we may call government
ideology and the other conflicting social ideologies. In the ancien regime such

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a conflict need not potentially exist (in practice, of course, things worked out
otherwise), since the ideology system had a unity guaranteed by two factors: (a) the
separateness of ideological subsystems within the recognized individual
communities, which ruled out conflict (thus for example, an idea might be
acceptable to the nobles but unacceptable to the plebs, and this created no
contradiction); (b) the presence within the political ideology of a socially accepted
hierarchy embracing and consacrating the ultimate unity of the system (generally
its subordination to natural or divine law).9
The moment such a context collapses, there arises the question of how the upper
ranks of the political communityby then known as the Stateare to handle the
ideological communications they so much depend on for the reasons stated
previously. In practice, that only becomes possible if the State manages to obtain a
monopoly on the unifying political ideology, which becomes, or should become at
least, a patrimony of beliefs, values and cultural interpretations shared by all its
members. At that point conflict arises with all other cultural communities, be they
religious or social in origin; and these are faced with the dilemma of either
accepting a subordinate status to the wellspring of state ideology or of being
outlawed as constitutional enemies.10
The solution that some situations found to the conflict between state and
churchabsorbing the latter into the former (as, typically, in Great Britain, but
also to some extent in Prussia and other Protestant countries)might be seen as a
way out of this conundrum. When that proves impossible, as where the Catholic
Church claims its own separate (and in some cases superordinate) status, which
occurred in France, the solution will be to expunge religion from the political
arena which is declared to be secular.
In any case, however, the state or its government is driven to produce an
ideological platform as a structured framework giving form and intelligibility to its
public relations with citizens. From this context there stems the need for a
constitutional ideology which is the new prop for policy communication, both
explanatory (stating the goals and the means of implementing policy in progress)
and interpretative (giving sense and purpose to episodes that involve the nation).
The constitution thus becomes at once the representation of a nation and a
practical tool for building the community that it represents.
One of the governments prime objectives accordingly becomes that of
informing public awareness of the ideological system contained in the
constitution. Without this, the divulging of policy, when not impossible, is
fraught with the risk of misunderstanding and back-firing. I should stress that by
constitution I do not simply mean a constitutional charter, but the whole system
organizing and regulating the public sphere and accepted by the political
community.11 This naturally extends to the mechanisms for activating and
implementing the policy decisions that keep the system alive and working. The
citizens pick up the ideology through a number of overlapping concrete factors:
from the typical culture for the masses, like the school system, to forms of
participation in politics, ranging from joining the army to being a member of a
state-guaranteed protection system (public security or welfare), down to the more

ideology and government

or less token inclusion in decision-making mechanisms (typical of which is the
suffrage that appoints parliaments).
Down the history of evolving ideological government various ways have been
tried of making and keeping the ideology both constitutional and national (the
nation is the new name given to the political community that comes to share such
an ideology).
The first phase seems dominated by a naturalistic approach to setting up what is
to all intents and purposes no longer a social community (since that would
generally be smaller in scale and above all based on strong prior, and pre-legal,
features of adhesion), but an invented community: one created via a specific
cultural operation (the culture being partly juridical) for that very purpose. What is
interesting to note is how at this early stage the process is not seen as artificial. This
can easily be grasped if one considers the question of a national language.
Ideological government absolutely needs the people to speak one and the same
standardized language if it is to communicate at all, and for this purpose chooses
the cultivated language prevailing in one particular area as the national idiom.
That language is actually by no means common to all members of the body politic
being set up; it is imposed by the school system and top-level cultural
manifestations (literature, theatre, periodicals, and so on). The other languages
being used lose their legal value and are demoted to dialects. To be a member of
the ruling class and therefore count in the constitutional system, one must be able
to employ this national language. Political systems where such linguistic
unification fails to catch on do not survive for long: the Habsburg Empire is a
classic case in point. The Swiss exception is explained by its being a confederacy,
which keeps alive the old spirit of the communitas communitatum.
And yet the naturalistic way to community building has its drawbacks. Political
education is more difficult than one thinks and the body politic dies hard.
A middle way needs to be found to progressively integrate citizens into the
constitutional system, over and above the coercive channels that view the
inclusion process as simply one of cancelling pre-existent community structures.
In western systems (which, I say on this occasion, seem to me the only examples
of a modern political formation as defined earlier on), this mediating function is
provided by what I call the party form.12 The golden-age political party, grounded in
participation in the constitutional system (if only by opposition13), but grounded too
in social identification with sectors within the nation, becomes the chosen means of
channelling political commitment into forms and ways that at the same time bond
with the constitutional, representative system and yet preserve the right to
independent organization by social power groups. The parties have also another
feature: they maintain a universal quality of group belonging (clearly in relation to
the system they form part of). To use a simplifying formula: they are not natural
communities springing up again within the modern state, but angles of
interpretation, slants on the constitution; though rooted in the social system, they
develop as a result of the national-community-modelling effect that the
constitution generates. What were previously social roots get generalized. To cite
two examples, this was so with the worker parties (who do not represent actual

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sections of the working class but the national working class as an abstraction), and
also the Catholic parties (who, in turn, represent not the individual local churches,
but an abstract notion of Italian Catholicism, German Catholicism, and so forth). As
evidence of this one can cite the factwhich many observers noted when the
phenomenon first began to gather momentumthat the modern party form is
organized on exactly the same lines as the constitutional state: with an inside
representative system, rights and duties for members and a central decision-making
mechanism which overrides the decisions of individuals.
This point had been made in the 1870s by Joseph Chamberlain at his Liberal
Federation, first in Birmingham and then at a national level. He said explicitly:
We hope that the time is not far distant when we may see the meeting of what may
be a real Liberal Parliament outside the Imperial legislature, and, unlike it, elected
by universal suffrage, and with some regard to a fair distribution of political
power.14 Though from a very different angle, similar comments were passed on
the fin-de-sie`cle organization of German Social Democracy by an acute French
political commentator, Edgar Milhaud,15 while Gaetano Moscas study Elements
of Political Science (1896) bears one most significant chapter heading: Churches,
sects, parties.16 The peculiar nature of political parties was thus well understood
in the second half of the 19th century. Far from being honourable connections
among people having an idem sentire de re publica, in Burkes famous phrase,
they were institutions able to imbue their members with value systems and a
Weltanschauung which constituted them as community orders that as such needed
equipping with the tools of self-government and action. Membership, above all, no
longer followed the old liberal tradition whereby groups of men recognized that
they shared certain ideas (already formed before they banded into a party);
the ideas were now generated by the party and thereupon attracted to it new
members who came to find in those ideas a fitting explanation for the world
surrounding them.
Inevitably, however, such dynamics tend once again to fragment the unity of the
political world. Competing ideologies spring up, and with them mechanisms of
community identity that complicate the governments dialogue with its citizens.
As Carl Schmitt remarked about the Weimar Republic, political commitment
ultimately lodged directly with the parties, which then extended it to the state at
their own pleasure.17 In terms of the theory of ideologies which we are discussing
today, the divulging of government policy met with a communications barrier
formed by party ideology as distinct from governmental national ideology. It
would be more precise to say that government ideology itself became partisan (for
historical reasons we will not go into, the government began to be seen as a party
government) and hence lost its effect in dialoguing, or more simply
communicating, with a community whose real or assumed ideological
compactness had dissolved with the birth of a plurality of party ideologies.
One response to this crisis was the Nazi-Fascist dictators solution. By
demagogic tyranny18 they reinstated the monolithic national ideology and
community where this had seemed to be tottering. It is odd to observe how the
forms of fascism were essentially communicative structures, based on pure

ideology and government

political discourse. They are basically rhetorical forces, reducing issues to a
discursive representation of them, solving contradictions and employing quite
fascinating oxymorons and linguistic invention.19
Of course, the moment they turn into regimes, they take the utmost care to
dominate all forms of ideological communicationschool, the press, the arts, the
fledgling radiosince monopoly there guaranteed continuity in power. The
tyranny of such regimes is strictly linked to their political discourse: on the one
hand, because seizing power follows on the announcement that they offer the only
road to salvation amid looming catastrophe endangering the nations survival
(revolutionary turmoil at the gates); on the other hand, because maintaining the
monopoly is justified by the claim to be fighting the virus of anarchy everresurgent and incarnated in a gallery of enemies conjured up by political rhetoric
itself (Bolshevism, the international Jewish conspiracy, other nations envy at
ones own successes).
In a way it is by passing through the failure of this experience that the theme of
constitutional democracy revives as a common foundational ideology giving the
whole community scope for political dialogue without preventing it from dividing
into sides. The revival of constitutional ideology as national ideology, now rid of
one-party overtones (including identification even with the party that may have
nursed it through the teething phase), is a phenomenon that deserves attention.
In broad outline, constitutional ideology here gets reduced to a kind of
portmanteau ideology, if I may so phrase it, embracing the various ideologies
present in the nation which, under this proviso ideology, can grow harmoniously
whilst still sparring with each other. The term normally used to describe this
picture is competitive democracy. This is once again strictly linked to the
discursive plane of political power: the dynamics of positive self-representation
and negative other-representation (or derogation), as described by Van Dijk in his
already mentioned essay, are prevented from sliding back into excluding others
by the recognition that such others are also inside the framework of constitutional
The transition is an extremely delicate one. Note, first and foremost, that such an
approach by no means rules out mechanisms for exclusion: ideologies standing
outside the constitutional context are not acceptable, as they clearly make political
discourse impossible. This is seen in the banning of fascist ideology, and still more
so in the complex relationship with communist ideologies since, while claiming to
be different from (liberal) constitutionalism, these last ended by accepting it as a
positive stepping-stone to the ultimate building of a different society. Thus
(revolutionary) communist ideology had to be accepted in the end (at least in the
western world) because in that way it would indefinitely postpone the final
transition (The Revolution).
Such a sequence was most marked in Italy at the time of drafting what in
January 1948 would become the new Italian Constitution. Against the view of leftwing socialist Lelio Basso,20 the PCI leader, Palmiro Togliatti, claimed that the
constitution about to be penned might differ from the old bourgeois constitutions
(with which no orthodox communist could have had any truck) and coined the

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term progressive democracy. This was to be a different phase from bourgeois
democracy, marking a step forward on the road to socialist democracy.21 One
sees how the words of the politician manipulate the perception of an historical
process. What is being produced is an ideology, though for the time being the aim
is to achieve inclusion in a governing role. Not in the sense of obtaining a place in
the Cabinet, mark you, but that of acquiring a legitimate right to take part in
shaping ones own community of destinies and building the political decisionmaking mechanism, in so much as one is neither extraneous to nor outside the
In the same circumstances something quite similar was done by the Catholic
party, the Christian Democrats, who themselves needed to acquire standing as
protagonists of the new constitution-forming process. The group led by the young
jurist Giuseppe Dossetti used political discourse to get round the historical
impasse with liberalism, which inevitably lay at the root of any modern
constitution, yet was condemned by Catholic social doctrine. One ploy they used
was to claim that the key political figure was now no longer the individual
(as liberalism had proclaimed) but the person (as proposed by Emanuel Mouniers
political philosophy and partly, too, by Jacques Maritain). In their representation
of the case, the individual propounded by liberalism was a solitary figure cut off
from society, while the person was the fruit of a social context from which he/she
could never be divorced. As I have already shown in an essay on this specific
subject,23 what these Catholic left-wingers meant by person was no different
from what many liberals meant by responsible individual. The need was for a
change of word by which to say the same thing. Here too the aim was to be
included among those who should govern; that is, to shoulder the social destiny of
the community by identifying with it. To do so, however, they needed to get over
the historic rift existing between Catholicism and modern politics ever since the
French Revolution. The bridging of this gulf needed representing as much as
justifying. The theme of the European crisis of the 1930s now proved convenient,
since it had revived the sense of a common humanistic basis among all the great
ideologies (liberalism, Marxism, socialism and social Christianity), as well as
tolling, for these Catholic intellectuals, the knell of the liberal ascendancy.24
A new question has arisen of late, however: how can the constitutional dialogue
system be got to embrace the new reality of integrating citizens from cultures
radically differing from western constitutionalism (Islam in the prime place)
cultures which, for the moment at least, do not accept integration within this fold.25
The subject is too delicate for me to deal with here. I will go back to the issue of
competitive democracy: that form which contains the conflict among differing
ideologies within the framework of dialogue among differing interpretations of a
common, shared, underlying ideology. Here again, there is clearly a certain
difference between the theory as just enunciated and the reality in actual fact.
What is simply defined in principle becomes far more complex to handle in the
experience of individuals and the institutions they recognize themselves in. An
opposition party may well take its place on the political scene as Her Majestys
Oppositionto use the historical term that first transformed parliamentary debate

ideology and government

into a system hallowed by the constitution (once again, note that it is all a question
of words)but then find it has to play up the points wherein it diverges from the
status quo in order not to lose the cohesion of identity among its own members.
The way out of the impasse, it seems to me, was a modification of the political
ideology which gained more and more ground until it became one of the main
features of political discourse: the concept of the system undergoing development
(a new cloak for the old notion of progress). This rhetorical device shifts the
yardstick of political debate from the right/wrong dichotomy to that of
possible/impossible. In practice, revolutionary ideas no longer entail destroying
the system, but developing it, radically. In such a way the system is not formally
denied validity, but is actually accorded unsuspected positive potential. The
dialectics for opposing such ideas no longer involve condemning them for being
against the shared constitutional ideology, but simply proclaiming them
impossible or, in the last resort, incorrect according to the inner logic of what
the constitutional ideology can or cannot envisage.
All we have been describing so far still refers to the sphere of high cultural
elaboration, to simplify the context of political theory and the places designed for
developing it (parliament, university, the press, etc.). In its concrete experience,
the community does acquire what I have called a national ideology by mechanisms
which are not confined to the chain of discoursethough undeniably this carries
more weight than many people would admit. The first link in that chain is mass
education which, down the generations, hands on a system of shared values,
common cultural references, relational mechanisms extended onto a broad general
footing. The fact that this system is now in trouble, having lost positive impact as a
social triumph (going to school is no longer a form of distinction) should not dull
us to the importance it had in the past two centuries.
The second link in the chain is, as mentioned, taking part in the political
relations system, whether obligatory (state or local government bureaucracy, tax
collection or traffic control) or voluntary (political parties or the voting system,
bottom rung of the ladder).
The third link becomes more problematic, since it concerns the means for
divulging the ideas. This is one area where a change brought in by the reign of
television has not yet been fully explored. There is now a media-created (yet also
immediate) nation-wide forum open to the government, and more generally to
politicians; what is more, a new style of communication has come in, in which the
representing medium is often as important as the message (we see speakers, not
just hear what they are saying), while the message is often cut down in time space
compared with more traditional forms of coverage (parliamentary speeches,
political meetings, press communiques). Television, note, is not just a direct
channel of action, but a privileged channel for broadcasting political debate
reduced to current affairs, which again drastically shortens the coverage. Political
discourse in such a setting is hardly ever argumentative (a process of reasoning),
but assertive (slogans launching take-it-or-leave-it propositions). Lastly, digestion
of political ideas is no longer a group thing or mediated by Hansard or press
releases, but ever more individual, private above all.

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As I was saying, however, it is not just the chain of discourse that shapes the
acquisition of a national ideology. The individuals experience is, once again,
affected by the creation of memories which then go to form the national culture in
the strictly anthropological sense of the term: that is, they create tools for
interpreting and giving meaning to political events. Political analysts (to quote
Van Dijk again) talk of autobiographical and semantic memory at work in the
construction of representations and interpretations shared across society. For our
purposes the most important type-case of autobiographical memory is a political
crisis, and that of semantic memory would be the impact made by how the
constitutional system functions.
Crises play a great role in constructing a shared political discourse. The most
obvious example is still the two wars, but, more generally, political transitions also
fall within the ideal-type. A crisis is a moment when a community discovers itself.
The existence of us as subject is called in question; transformations are called for
and these entail judgment (which is what krisis means, of course, in ancient
Greek): judgment as to a legacy of ideas and experience. It is also a moment when
certain political forces claim the leadership, offering their interpretation of and
solution to the crisis.
In either case, we see here two eminently ideological operations; that is, they are
linked to peoples ability to elaborate and hierarchically arrange values about and
judgments on the world. So the discourse is once again central and the ability to
dominate the discourse will decide who occupies the position of government. It is
never clearer than at such moments what government really means in the context
of the contemporary world and ideological politics: not holding the bureaucratic
title and relevant position accorded it by the formal constitution, but having the
power to impart political commitment to the people at large, making it possible for
real decisions to be taken.
The question of semantic memory is rather different. This refers to how a
community experiences the working of its constitutional system. Different in kind
from the experience of crisis, it implies much more a relationship to the
interpretation system of the natural community in question. Leaving aside the wild
theorizing of certain liberals, the private individual has limited scope for action, in
concrete political reality. All individuals relate personally to the context they
happen to be (or choose to be) in, and accordingly read their experience in the light
of feedback from their own companions. The reading given to the political system
is not only the fruit of ones own individual experiences (going to the polls, being a
party member, contact or conflict with public bureaucracy, enjoying welfare state
facilities or not, and so on), but of the expectations and judgments produced on
such experiences by ones own specific community and in the end by the national
community. We are not assessing psychological attitudes, mind (whether the
individual is happy or not to take part in such and such a polling session) but the
conferring of meaning (by and large the social background thinks it right and
useful to choose MPs by an electoral system).
Clearly the two types of recollection are not cut and dried or noncommunicating; on the contrary, they intersect and can each turn into the other.

ideology and government

Let us give two quick exampleson which one could easily get side-tracked.
Autobiographical memories which tend to become semantic memories are, for
instance, those giving body to so-called foundation myths; thus, the experience of
resisting fascism during the Second World War later transformed into setting up
the postwar democracies. Semantic memories turning into autobiographical ones
might be the sort exploited by populist movements to turn crisis to their own profit:
when the social awareness is of being on the receiving end of an unsatisfactorily
working constitutional system, populist rhetoric persuades the public that
everyone has first-hand experience of such malfunctioning, the proper purpose of
serving the people having been betrayed.
The historical instances of such dynamics interacting are numerous. Here I have
had to generalize and simplify, at least to some extent.
We might, for example, take a more detailed look at cases where memory had
both an autobiographical and a semantic interest. The first example I would cite is
the use Winston Churchill made of the war theme. Up to 1945 it was painted in an
ethical light (the battle against a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps
more protracted, by the lights of perverted sciencean emergency calling us to
brace ourselves to our duties so that 1000 years on men will still say: this was
their finest hour18 June 1940). The change of tone after 1945 is unmistakable
(Party ties have been considered honourable bonds, and no one could doubt that
when the German war was over and the immediate danger to this country, which
had led to the Coalition, had ceased, conflicting loyalties would arise. Our
Socialist and Liberal friends felt themselves forced, therefore, to put party before
the country4 June 1945).26 Before the victory the war was a factor
highlighting the community of destinies (to use Max Webers well-known
term); thereafter it serves to distinguish those in favour of grandeur (the
imperial role of Great Britain) from those deemed alien to such a dimension, and
hence responsible for jeopardizing the gains of the whole patriotic effort. Of
course, the country was treated to another version by the Labour Party. Without
denying the heroics of Britains wartime stand, Attlees party now saw the true
interpretation of that conflict as a stepping-stone towards the founding of a new
Another fairly clear example of a shift between autobiographical recollection
and semantic recollection over one and the same event is provided by the
Resistance: the Italian partisan war against the Nazi invader and the fascist Salo`
Republic between 1943 and 1945. Here again two kinds of memory intertwine:
the autobiographical kind, which covers all those taking part in the civil war,
stressing the dramatic side as experienced on various levels; and semantic
recollection which lends events either a founding significance (the new Italian
democracy was born at that moment; the occasion showed how the peoples sense
of sacrifice and commitment outstripped the values of the old ruling class, etc.)
or a veil of catastrophe (the memory of defeats marking the collapse of state
power, etc.).28
As will be seen, both crises mark a transition in the lives of political
communities. What I have tried to show is how political discourse tends to

paolo pombeni
manipulate historical events, benignly or otherwise, overlaying them with
meanings they would scarcely take on without the existence of such external
moulding processes.
Enter, at this point, certain common mechanisms of political discourse that are
found wherever governing legitimation is sought by a proposed blend of
traditional values to uphold and innovative equilibria to be promoted, or perhaps
by some claim to possessing a formula for governing conflicting cultures.
The first version may be illustrated by the examples of De Gasperi and
Adenauer and their styles of leadership in the postwar reconstruction of Italy and
Germany.29 Both leaders offered themselves as guarantors of the traditional values
of a national community (enshrined in Christianity as the countrys cultural
identity), but at the same time founders of a new political equilibrium, whether at
home (government by the centre coalition in Italy; an end to the
Catholic/Protestant rift in German politics) or on the international scene (both
countries choice of the Atlantic alliance and European integration). In many
respects the case of De Gaulle in France falls under this heading, since the General
combined defence or revival of a traditional imperial tone in the French attitude
to the rest of the world (la grandeur) with the introduction of an institutional setup at variance on many points with his countrys political tradition, restoring
sovereign power of decision to one political figure invested with the representation
of the whole nation.30
When it comes to managing conflicting cultures, this invariably requires an
ideological operation geared to manipulating the mutually incompatible political
categories; a kind of cohabitation needs to be sought between diverging political
forces over the management of some crisis. Here, too, some examples may be
given. At the turn of the 1950s 1960s in Italy, the problem was to find a coalition
government embracing the Christian Democrat and the Socialist parties. The
obstacle that needed surmounting was that the Catholics could not see eye to eye
with socialist atheists and revolutionaries, while the socialists would not lie down
with Catholic conservative bigots. Behind each formation lurked the watchdog of
orthodoxy: most of the Catholic hierarchy, in the one case, and the top
intellectuals and politicians of the communist party, in the other. The cultural
manoeuvre that allowed the alliance to take off was peculiarly complicated. The
Catholic leadership had to persuade their own cultural world that the socialists had
somehow changedtactics which the socialist leaders were in turn forced to
mirror. A culture needed building that would harp on the novelty of the times, such
that the traditional content of each ideology might be seen as outmoded, especially
where there were taboos on cooperation. Both had to claim that their own strength
now made the danger of their counterpart sliding back into unacceptable vices a
matter of little moment.
Point-by-point analysis of this process, which reached the heights of complexity
in Italy, would be most interesting. It would show how a new government ideology
gets thrashed out, and we would also see the limitations encountered by such
an undertaking. The Italian case was indeed a largely botched job: it called for an
excess of sophistication amid rigid ideology where innovators had to dodge the

ideology and government

cries of betraying sacred principles that were hurled continually by champions of
the foregoing orthodoxies.31
Something similar, though less of an ideological minefield, occurred in the
German Federal Republic under the grand coalition government of 1966, and in
Great Britain with the advent of Harold Wilson as leader (1964). In the former
case, a way had to be sought around the idea that democracy demanded political
dialogue between majority and opposition. The only liberal party in opposition
(the FDP) could hardly safeguard that principle of liberal constitutionalism, the
demise of which in previous history, especially between 1870 and 1918, had
allegedly been the root cause of why German politics foundered (their Sonderweg
clashed with the experience of contemporary politics). Synthesis was reached in
the 1966 case by proclaiming the exceptional nature of the event: it was necessary
to stem the danger of an incipient economic crisis that seemed all set to ignite a
new neo-Nazi challenge.32
The issue that Wilson had to face was both an in-house affair (the battle
between revisionists and left-wingers within the Labour Party) and an outside
one (the question of economic stagnation in British society at the time, but not
only there). The two problems were linked by the nature of the means chosen to
solve them: a socialist style intervention in the economy (guaranteeing the
social umbrella but probably depressing the economy) or modernizing tactics
(which would launch development once more, though perhaps at the price of new
social inequality). Once again the issue was solved by political discourseat
least when it came to gaining consensus and winning the election: the odd happy
slogan like thirteen wasted years; the famous science speech heralding a new
turn in British science and technology bringing wealth without affecting the new
class balance created by the welfare state; or again, the playing down of the
battle over further nationalization as a theological dispute irrelevant to any
concrete platform of government. (Wilsons famous bon mot was that throwing
Clause IV out of the party statute would be to take Genesis out of the Bible;
you dont have to be a fundamentalist in your religious approach to say that
Genesis is part of the Bible. That also hinted that Genesis was not exactly
scientific truth.33)
One may conclude from more perspectives than one that such dynamics were
common throughout Europe in the 1960s.34 They lend themselves to application of
Quentin Skinners twin interpretative yardsticks, meaning and intentionthough
more generally the whole of that scholars thinking on interpretation would seem
to apply.35
I may end by pointing out how over the 19th and 20th centuries the scope of
government became more and more ideological through being forced into two
classic forms of expression: an appeal for popular confidence, and the
announcement of a platform. This development has been matched at a purely
institutional level. First, the government nowadays emerges from the polls and is
no longer an expression of sovereign power at work but of popular consensus for a
certain policy line acquired through discourse. In the second place, parliamentary
confidence in the governmentone of the pillars of constitutionalismhas

paolo pombeni
changed from an a posteriori judgment on the doings of the government (which
must obtain parliamentary confidence on every act, or resign) into an often
anticipatory judgment on the platform the government presents on taking power
(nowadays common practice, though unknown in classical constitutionalism36).
Moreover, the whole of politics has become government, the simple distinction
being between forces that actually occupy the relevant constitutional position and
forces that claim to know better than the government in office and so propose their
own programmes and alternative measures.
In this setting the importance of political discourse (and hence ideology) has
become fundamental. Everything hangs on proposing and interpreting and trying
to palm that off as ideology shared by the electoral majority. It is hard now to
imagine wielding power outside this schema. As a borderline example, note how
the papacy has changed within the Catholic Church. If ever a power existed that
could claim to be outside and different from the dynamics of modern
constitutionalism, it was that of the Roman pontiff.37 But the fact is that, from
the mid 19th century on, Popes have done nothing but increase the number of their
utterances, down to John Paul II who has probably set a record in this respect (by
the adroit use of TV, as well, which confirms another development that I have tried
to illustrate).38
There have obviously been times when the central role of ideology has been
called into question (see the popular title the end of ideology), the claim being
that government (and political forces in general) might best be seen as a simple
exercise in pragmatism. Yet it would not take much to show that such a phase is
itself based on some discourse, and hence actually on an ideologywhich is what
the proclaimed end of ideology boils down to.

Notes and References

1. Quoted in M. Pugh, The Making of Modern British Politics 18671939 (Oxford: Blackwell, 1982) p. 3.
2. On Webers approach to legitimacy which I follow here, see F. Ferraresi, Il Fantasma della comunita`.
Concetti politici e scienza sociale in Max Weber (Milan: Franco Angeli, 2003), pp. 36271; O. Brunner,
Osservazioni sui concetti di dominio e di legittimita` (1962), Italian translation, Filosofia Politica,
1 (1987), pp. 10120. See also, F. Ferraresi, Fra liberta` e coazione. Figure del consenso e della
legittimazione in Lord Acton e in Max Weber, in R. Gherardi (Ed.), Politica, consenso, legittimazione.
Trasformazioni e prospettive, (Rome: Carocci, 2001), pp. 223 39.
3. Quotations from H. C. G. Matthew, Introduction to The Gladstone Diaries, Vol. IX (Oxford: Clarendon,
1986), p. LXIX.
4. See T. A. van Dijk, Ideology and discourse analysis, paper presented to the Conference The Meaning of
Ideology: Cross Disciplinary Conversations, Oxford 1718 September 2004. A full version will be
published in the next issue of the Journal of Political Ideologies.
5. On the debate on populism, see the special issue of Ricerche di Storia Politica, 7 (2000), no. 3
(Il populismo: una moda o un concetto? Ed. L. Zanatta). My essay in that issue, Il populismo nel contesto
del costituzionalismo europeo, pp. 36787, is a revised version of my Typologie des populismes en Europe
(XIXe et XXe Siecle) Vingtie`me Sie`cle, 56 (OctoberDecember 1997), pp. 4876.
6. On H. S. Maine see M. Piccinini, Fra legge e contratto. Una lettura di Ancient Law di H.S. Maine (Milan:
Giuffre, 2003); S. Collini, D. Winch, J. W. Burrow, That Noble Science of Politics (Cambridge: CUP, 1983),
pp. 207 46.
7. See P. Rosanvallon, Le mode`le politique francais. La societe civile contre le jacobinisme de 1789 a` nos jours
(Paris: Seuil, 2004).


ideology and government

8. See P. Rosanvallon, Le sacre du citoyen. Histoire du suffrage universel en France (Paris: Gallimard, 1992);
P. Rosanvallon, Le peuple introuvable. Histoire de la representation democratique en France (Paris:
Gallimard, 1998); P. Rosanvallon, La democratie inachevee. Histoire de la souverainete du peuple en
France (Paris: Gallimard, 2000).
9. See P. Costa, Il problema della rappresentanza politica: una prospettiva storica, Il Filangeri, 3 (July
September 2004), pp. 33351.
10. Carl Schmitt is the classic author on this problem. On his perspective, see C. Galli, Genealogia della politica.
Carl Schmitt e la crisi del pensiero politico moderno (Bologna: Il Mulino, 1997); G. Preterossi, Carl Schmitt
e la tradizione moderna (Rome-Bari: Laterza, 1996).
11. I am following the approach of Otto Hintze in his writings on constitutional history (see The Historical
Essays of Otto Hintze, Ed. G. Gilbert (Oxford: OUP, 1975) and the developments proposed by Otto Brunner.
See his collected essays, Per una nuova storia costituzionale e sociale (Milan: Vita e Pensiero, 1970).
12. P. Pombeni, Partiti e sistemi politici nella storia contemporanea (Bologna: Il Mulino, 1994, 3rd edition). See
also the French translation of the second edition, Introduction a` lhistoire des partis politiques (Paris: PUF,
13. The concept of negative integration is largely due to Dieter Grohs study of the German SPD: see D. Groh,
Negative Integration und revolutionarer Attentismus. Die Deutsche Sozialdemokratie am Vorabend der
1.Weltkrieges (Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 1973).
14. Quoted by R. S. Watson, The National Liberal Federation (London: 1907), p. 8; on the development of the
debate on the Birmingham model see P. Pombeni, Ritorno a Birmingham. La nuova organizzazione
politica di J. Chamberlain e lorigine della forma partito contemporanea (18741880), Ricerche di Storia
Politica, 3 (1988), pp. 3762; P. T. Marsh, Joseph Chamberlain. Enterpreneur in Politics (New Haven, CT:
Yale University Press, 1994).
15. E. Milhaud, La democratie socialiste allemande (Paris: Alcan, 1903).
16. See the text now in G. Mosca, Scritti politici (Torino: Utet, 1982), pp. 73876.
17. Carl Schmitt, Verfassungslehere (1928) (Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, 1987, 7th edition).
18. For my definition of fascism as demagogic tyranny, see P. Pombeni, Demagogia e tirannide. Uno studio
sulla forma partito del fascismo (Bologna: Il Mulino, 1984).
19. See E. Gentile, Il Culto del littorio. La sacralizzazione della politica nellItalia fascista (Rome-Bari: Laterza,
1993). In more general terms, E. Gentile, Le religioni della politica. Fra democrazie e totalitarismi (BariRome: Laterza, 2001).
20. On Lelio Basso, one of the most distinguished Italian scholars of Marxism and with a solid competence in
law, see C. Giorgi, La sinistra alla Costituente. Per una storia del dibattito istituzionale (Rome: Carocci,
2001), pp. 14181.
21. See A. Agosti, Togliatti,(Torino: Utet, 1996); P. Pombeni, Cultura Politica e legittimazione della
costituzione, La costituzione italiana, Eds M. Fioranti, S. Guerrieri (Rome: Carocci, 1999), pp. 139 89.
22. On the process of legitimacy-building, see P. Pombeni (Ed.), Crisi, legittimazione, consenso (Bologna: Il
Mulino, 2003).
23. P. Pombeni, Individuo/Persona nella costituzione italiana. Il contributo del dossettismo, Parole Chiave,
1996, no. 10/11, pp. 197 218.
24. On this topic, P. Pombeni, Il gruppo dossettiano e la fondazione della democrazia italiana (19381948)
(Bologna: Il Mulino, 1978); P. Pombeni, La costituente. Un problema storico-politico (Bologna: Il Mulino,
1996); P. Pombeni, The ideology of Christian Democracy, Journal of Political Ideologies, 5 (2000),
pp. 289300. For a more general approach, see G.-R. Horn and E. Gerard (Eds), Left Catholicism 1943
1955. Catholics and Society in Western Europe at the Point of Liberation (Leuven: Leuven University Press,
25. V. Colombo and G. Gozzi (Eds), Tradizioni culturali, sistemi giuridici e diritti umani nellarea del
Mediterraneo (Bologna: Il Mulino, 2003).
26. The Speeches of Winston Churchill, Ed. D. Cannadine (London: Penguin, 1990), quotations, pp. 177 78;
p. 270.
27. K. Morgan, The Peoples Peace (Oxford: OUP, 1990), pp. 3 70; P. Hennessy, Never Again (London: Cape,
1992), pp. 5686.
28. For an analysis of the discussions among historians on this topic, see, G. Guazzaloca (Ed.),
Resistenza/Resistenze in Europa, special issue of Ricerche di Storia Politica, n.s. 5 (2002), pp. 938
(essays by E. Aga Rossi, R. Chiarini, C. Pavone).
29. For a synthesis with bibliographical references, see P. Pombeni, La stabilizzazione politica in Italia e in
Germania 19451960, in Italia e Germania dopo il 1945, G. E. Rusconi and H. Woller (Eds) (Bologna: Il
Mulino, 2005), pp. 233 58.
30. See G. Quagliariello, De Gaulle e il gollismo (Bologna: Il Mulino, 2003).


paolo pombeni
31. See P. Craveri, La Repubblica dal 1958 al 1992 (Torino: Utet, 1995), pp. 1181; I. Favretto, The Long
Search for a Third Way: the British Labour Party and the Italian Left since 1945 (London: Palgrave, 2003).
32. A. J. Nicholls, The Bonn Republic. West German Democracy 19451990 (London: Longman, 1997),
pp. 186 220; K. Hildebrand, Von Erhard zur Grossen Koalition, 19631969 (Stuttgart, Klett-Cotta, 1984);
R. Schmoeckl and B. Kaiser, Die vergessene Regierung (Bonn: Bouvier, 1991).
33. See Ben Pimlott, Harold Wilson (London: Harper Collins, 1992); K. O. Morgan, The Wilson Years: 1964
1970, From Blitz to Blair. A New History of Britain since 1939, Ed. N. Tiratsoo (London: Phoenix, 1998),
pp. 13262; T. Bale, Harold Wilson 196376, Leading Labour. From K. Hardie to Tony Blair, Ed.
K. Jeffreys (London: Tauris, 1999), pp. 11632.
34. This is what I have argued in P. Pombeni, Leredita` degli anni Sessanta, in LItalia Repubblicana nella crisi
degli Anni Settanta, Vol. II, Culture, nuovi soggetti, identita`, ed Fiamma Lussana & Giacomo Marramao
(Soveria Mannelli: Rubettino, 2003), pp. 2352; P. Pombeni, Social Democracy and the Affluent Society:
Politics in Europe at the Turning Point of the Sixties, to be printed in the proceedings of the Conference on
Rethinking Social Democracy, Ed. by I. Fravretto and K. Callaghan.
35. Q. Skinner, Dellinterpretazione (Bologna: Il Mulino, 2001).
36. F. Rossi, Saggio sul sistema politico dellItalia liberale (Soneria Mannelli: Rubettino, 2001).
37. P. Prodi, The Papal Prince: One Body Two Souls (Cambridge: CUP, 1987).
38. A. Riccardi, Il potere del papa. Da Pio XII a Paolo VI (Rome-Bari: Laterza, 1988); A. Melloni, Chiesa
Madre, Chiesa Matrigna (Turin: Einaudi, 2004).