Historical story

Interview with prof. Paolo Pombeni

I decided to interview Prof. Paolo Pombeni, Professor of Contemporary History at the University of Bologna, author of several books:Giuseppe Dossetti. The political adventure of a Christian reformer (Il Mulino, 2013), The politics of Catholics. From the Risorgimento to today (New City, 2015), The constitutional question in Italy (Il Mulino, 2016)

As with any constitutional document, even in the 1948 Charter there are many plans, for each of which there are different origins. From the point of view of some general principles, the origins date back to the classic constitutional debate of the nineteenth century:so it is for example for the recognition of a close relationship between citizenship and active political rights, for the reference to representative parliamentarism. Other parts, on the other hand, are to be connected to a maturation that developed in the twentieth century:this is the case, for example, of social rights, of the recognition of the importance of intermediate bodies, and finally of the same role to be recognized for political parties (a theme that actually came only partially elaborated in our Charter). However, it should be emphasized that constitutional thought, both on the political level and on the more strictly juridical one, is a river that continues to flow and collect tributaries, merging different instances.

The event was politically of the utmost importance and characterized the Italian political system for decades, but it had a very relative influence on the Constituent Assembly. The bulk of the work had already been done:let's not forget that the debate on the first general draft of the Charter was in March 1947, while the breakdown of the tripartite came in May 1947. On the other hand, neither the Christian Democrats nor the Communists had an interest in throwing overboard the job done. For the former it was a question of maintaining the goal of having a text that was widely shared, for the latter of having a recognized role as active participants in the re-foundation of Italian democracy. Both of these aspects would prove to be of great importance in subsequent republican history.

The ecclesiastical hierarchy considered itself the custodian of a superior historical knowledge and for this reason it thought it was entitled to give "lessons" to Catholic politicians, adding then that it was in a period in which there was still a rather crude and authoritarian vision of which were the boundaries of the "magisterium" of the Church. Let's say again that the catastrophe in which the world ended with the Second World War deluded the hierarchies that this meant the need for a return to religion in general, and to the leadership of Catholic hierarchies in particular. Thus the Vatican leaders were convinced that the hour had struck for the restoration of a system of "Catholic state" after the decline of this with the French Revolution. Hence the continuous work, and fortunately not very effective, to direct the DC's strength towards these objectives. The "Civiltà Cattolica" was simply the spearhead of these convictions, to whose service he thought of putting particular technical skills that in reality in this specific case he did not have, because the fathers who dealt with constitutional issues had a rather backward culture.

There are three elements to be taken into consideration in order to understand De Gasperi's attitude on the constitutional question, without forgetting, however, that the statesman from Trentino did not feel the fascination of the great theoretical constructions for which he did not participate in the drafting in the proper sense, busy as it was in government matters. The first element is the awareness that De Gasperi gained from his participation in the Habsburg parliament that a policy without parliamentary dialectic was destined not to achieve the objective of building a cohesive national team. In the Habsburg Empire, the parliament had few powers and little relevance, because the system was heavily bureaucratized, but the consequence was the dissolution of the multinational empire in its many components. The second central and little underlined element is De Gasperi's observation of the experience of the Weimar Republic. In that case he saw how without the construction of a system capable of incorporating losers and winners, a continuous quarrel about the "legitimacy" of the new course would open with catastrophic final results. As for the PPI experience in the period between the two wars, De Gasperi was among the few who understood that among the other causes of the victory of fascism there was also the choice of the Church to focus on the new regime by abandoning the Catholic party. Hence his obstinate defense of the single party of Catholics even at the cost of swallowing a few toads and accepting a complicated dialectic with the hierarchies.

In his book a figure emerges who had an important role in the following years, but who already proved to be influential in the Constituent Assembly, that is, Amintore Fanfani. How did the exponent of the DC influence the articles of the constitution that deal with work and the economy already influenced in the constituent by social-communist ideas?

Fanfani was almost the only Catholic constituent who had economic skills especially in the theoretical field. He had always been attentive to the international debate in these matters and had a brilliant ability to find the synthesis between some traditional Catholic theses and the new perspectives that economic development brought to the scene. In this he was truly a man from Father Gemelli's Catholic University. Fanfani as an exponent of a "social" approach to the economic question, and especially of work, was therefore able to offer a mediation that would give satisfaction to the contribution of Marxist theories on the centrality of the workers, without however this happening with the drafting of articles too ideologically "classists", which would have found the obstacle not only of the Catholic hierarchies, but of important components of Italian culture.

The Constitutional Charter was approved while many reflections had not yet been concluded to find points of agreement on various issues that remained open regarding the organization of public powers. However, there was a lot of controversy over the duration of the work of the Constituent Assembly which seemed very long and there was an effort to vote to see who had the majority in the country. To the indeterminacy on some issues (think of the regulation of the right to strike or that on political parties) was added the fact that other institutes had been approved in a climate that later changed. Thus the Constitutional Court, the Superior Council of the Judiciary, the Regions. The forces that had obtorto collo resigning themselves to seeing those rules approved they did everything to leave them ... on the Charter! Finally, the new Constitution presupposed a change of mentality on the part of the holders of public powers, especially bureaucratic ones, but not only and to overcome those obstacles it was necessary to wait for the time for there to be generational changes and for those who resisted surrender to the idea that the battle had now been lost.

Can I confess that I became a historian by chance? I graduated in Law in Bologna in November 1971 and at the time my interest was divided between journalism and religious issues (I was one of the many young people of post-conciliar Catholic dissent). For this I had done a thesis in Church history with prof. Alberigo on the conciliar decree on the liturgy. While I was writing the thesis, a personal crisis distanced me from that type of religious commitment, but Alberigo offered me a scholarship to Political Science in Contemporary History and assigned me as a research topic on dossettism, of which he was recovering a piece of the archive. I had never heard of Dossetti, but I started reading his magazine “Cronache Sociali”. From there I discovered another way of thinking about politics and a perspective that requires a historical vision to understand. At the same time, relationships with people and environments came into play. The then Historical Political Institute of Bologna was a very lively laboratory:there was not only the professor to whom I had been assigned and to whom an increasingly strong and complex relationship tied me, Roberto Ruffilli, but there were Tiziano Bonazzi, Piero Schiera , Anna Maria Gentili and many others. In parallel, a strong path of intellectual exchange with Paolo Prodi opened up.