Culture: Society: Justice:

The Development of a Justice-Based Society

by Dr. Arrigo Colombo
University of Lecce, Italy

1. Basic convictions.- 2. The twenty-year research project upon which these basic convictions are formed.- 3. The Movement for a just society and for hope.- 4. Points for Research and for Action.


That the entire history of humanity, despite many difficulties, strives towards the design of a society based on justice; that since the English Revolution, that is for three centuries, it has been building this society; that this course of history to some extent guarantees its continual construction for the future; and builds hope for the entire human community, for every one of us, a vision of the past, present and future which comforts us, gives us strength and drives us to commitment.


1. The advancement of our research into utopia and the emergence of justice

It is during our research into utopia, its history and its meaning, that we encounter justice and the just society. We had already discerned that literary utopia alone could not provide us with any answers to this phenomenon since it is far greater, far more grand. We had already seen the signs of this in present-century stories of utopia (starting with Mumford, right up to the Manuels and beyond) which centered on the literary,  but which inevitably evoked and briefly contemplated facts of far greater historical importance: Jewish Messianism, millenarism and Christianity. We already had the backing of Mannheim and Ernst Bloch’s significant interpretations of utopia as an historical factor (a subversive factor for Mannheim), as the most essential element in the dynamic construction of history itself, as the historical "process" par excellence. And yet Bloch was unable to satisfy our intuition or our – and others’ – experience, what with his historical-dialectical materialism, which was typical in that he was Marxist and yet atypical; with his subject "matter" and its evolutionary and constructive force of which humanity was part and which fired the entire process to its extremities: the end of alienation, the disappearance of contradictions, and that obscure "true democracy".

Besides, Bloch had never influenced our intuition or our research, rather we had been spurred on by the consideration of the history of utopia mentioned above. Our research had unearthed and replotted a course which followed the trail of those movements, the "religious salvation movements", starting with Jewish Messianism, on which the evangelical message was grafted, while millenarism had already come into being two centuries earlier. Later Christianity developed Mediaeval and modern heresy, which, with Puritanism and its transposition of the religious design to a political one, was to trigger the second series of movements, the "modern revolutionary movements". Both these sets of movements embodied the utopian design as the design of the society based on justice, and later of the fraternal society.

We had already briefly encountered justice in the previous and prehistoric phase: the phase of myth, the golden myth, the golden age at the dawning of humanity, or at least, that is, in the works of poets such as, for example, Hesiod, Catullus and Ovid. Later, however, justice was to become a dominant category in Jewish Messianism. Thus in Jeremiah the "Messiah", the consecrated one, the Redeemer, was known as "Yahveh-our–justice"; His city was known by the same name; throughout prophetism He was heralded as the upholder of justice for His people who were oppressed by other peoples, especially by the great empires of Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Alexandria and Rome. He was also seen as the founder of a just society which would be free of tyrants and oppressors, where the weak – the poor, the orphans, the widows – would be protected.  It is also significant that the charismatic and prophetic figure who founded the Essenian Movement was known as the Master of Justice. Furthermore, throughout Messianism justice was never simply considered in the fundamental biblical sense of the transcendent perfection of God in Himself and in relation to His creation (a perfection which a person of faith strives to imitate) but rather justice was seen as a fair relationship between individuals, in society and in the city.

For this relationship to be fair it had to be one in which human dignity and rights were respected. This was the concept of justice that came to light: justice as the reciprocation of the dignity and rights of human beings, of every person to every person, in his own existence and in coexistence, since a human being is, by constitution, a coexistent being in that he/she is one of a species, a model which exists in multiplicity, in an unlimited potential totality of individuals (and yet persons, not merely a species but a soul-species – soul, a word which is today often avoided or rebuffed but which is crucial). And that is realized through generation, then growth and maturity up to independence; a process which takes place in coexistence, in extremely intimate moments such as intercourse, pregnancy and nursing, but also at school and at work, in short universal human co-operation. Consequently, reciprocation of human person and to human person in him/herself and in all spheres into which human coexistence extends: the family, love, friendship, association, school, the church and the factory. And last of all in his/her relationship with the polis, the state, which through the surrender of their rights by individuals becomes a principle of rights. This involves mutual reciprocation, of the polis to the individual, of the individual to the polis.

Hence Ulpian’s famous definition, "stabilis et perpetua voluntas [speaking here of virtue] ius suum cuique tribuendi" (a firm and perpetual will to attribute to everyone his right) may still be relevant if we attribute this "ius suum" to the human being as such, not to one of his/her particular prerogatives, such as material possessions, class, intelligence and culture or economic and social status.

This concept of justice taking root and flourishing in humankind is, of course, rebuffed by the post-modernists and post-metaphysicians. They either slight anything which has the substance of being, or they deconstruct it until – or at least they think – it loses its substance, leaving us with the individual as the partner of "discourse", since the whole reality is reduced to discourse (according to the theory of Habermas), as the "narrative unit of a life" (as described in a short essay by Ricoeur). However, this writer has already spoken at length in his book L’utopia. Rifondazione di un’idea e di una storia about the philosophical alienation of the post-modernists and their "destructive thinking",  as well as about Rawls with his mental constructs, his justice made of liberty and inequality, his ideological theorization of the bourgeois system (§§ 43.3, 59).

Thus if justice is reciprocation of the dignity and rights of human being in his existence and coexistence, then its essential elements must be liberty, equality and solidarity. Liberty coincides with human dignity and rights and this dignity lies in self-consciousness, self-determination, self-construction, autonomy. It is here that human rights take shape and prevail, allowing nobody to interfere but requiring everybody to acknowledge, respect and reciprocate such rights, albeit within the bounds of ethics governing the individual. Equality involves every human being enjoying equal dignity and rights simply by virtue of being human, but with everything such dignity and rights bring with them, in material possessions, spiritual and cultural assets and even social assets. Solidarity is to be found in coexistence, in co-operation, in the great human undertaking in which everyone is procreated, grows and matures to the historic levels of needs and culture; the necessary reciprocation of each individual, the active commitment of everyone.

2. The course of construction: the religious salvation movements, the modern revolutionary movements

Research into utopia, which throughout the past century advanced from the literary to the historical level and then to the peoples’ movements, uncovers a course which hinges on justice and matures in time to construct the society based on justice. It has been mentioned above of the development of two major streams of these movements which have spanned nearly three millennia: the "religious salvation movements» and the "modern revolutionary movements". There is, however, a previous phase which spans this entire stretch of history, that which we call the "implicit popular project" phase, which concerns the conditions of people, above all of peasants (and to a no small extent townspeople): conditions of hard labor, scarcity, ignorance, subordination, exploitation, oppression and widespread poverty; conditions of injustice where human dignity and rights are violated, and later still conditions of servilism and slavery; conditions which embody a conscience, a tending towards justice, the just society, quite simply the implicit popular project. The existence of this project is corroborated (as well as by utopian myths, which will not be detailed here) by three sequences of events: the popular revolt, which is endemic throughout the history of humanity; the processes of democratization (Athens, Rome, the Mediaeval free cities); the modern revolutions. But these events will not expanded upon here, as the writer has dealt with them in the book quoted above, L’utopia, especially the modern revolutions, including the so-called "bourgeois" revolutions, whose motive power and more advanced design are popular (§§ 9 and 25-29).

Thus, if the two streams of popular movements mentioned above chart a particular course through history, one which was eventually to lead to Western civilization, the Jewish-Greek-Christian and later European sphere, that of the implicit popular project and particularly popular revolt is one we might rather call planetary, even though it was restricted to civilizations (not including the so-called "primitive" cultures) which instituted forms of oppressive and despotic power.

Therefore the society based upon justice has its antecedent and together its permanent site, we might say its most profound historical upholder, in the conditions, conscience and popular tension of the "implicit project". This project comes to light in the first of the "religious salvation movements", i.e. Jewish Messianism, and throughout the prophecies several essential elements stand out: justice, of course, as described above; peace (including peace with the animal kingdom); peoples united in worshipping God and in justice; prosperity. And this is no longer merely a project but rather a prophecy, the foretelling of a future reality, of a justice which will be achieved, albeit with the help of faith.

Millenarism, a movement which is not very well-known, has a considerable historical importance in that it runs from the second century B.C. throughout the entire Roman Christian period, the Middle Ages and modern times, with its zenith in America in the 1800’s; a movement, moreover, which always finds much popular support, which is indeed mythical but which expresses admirably how people tend towards justice (see the acute, suggestive work by Norman Cohn). Its utopian design is the same as that of Jewish Messianism from which it derives, although often with a far stronger earthly, material emphasis: justice, peace, prosperity, the unification of humankind which are, however, reserved only for the righteous and the elect, who are first and foremost the poor, since the ungodly were all wiped out in the eschatological battle.  Here we sense a strong spirit of resentment and revenge.

In the evangelical message (an expression preferred here to "Christianity", which is a far too complex and contrasted phenomenon), which stems from Judaism but alters it drastically, the design of a society based on justice has already been acquired, even though it is transcended in a far higher design, the "fraternal society", the law of love. We seldom come across the word justice, except in the transcendent biblical sense mentioned earlier, but its principle and spirit are acquired and exalted. Above all, in the proclamation of the gospel to the poor, in their blessedness which also becomes their earthly and material redemption, as we see in the primitive apostolic community described in Acts where possessions are communal, where those who have share their possessions according to each individual’s needs, so that "there was not a needy person among them" (2, v. 42-47; 4, v. 32-35): earthly redemption for the poor, therefore the end of poverty. It was also the end of wealth in its expropriable, discriminative sense: the rich and the poor, the strong and the weak, the exploiter and the exploited, the oppressor and the oppressed; the all-time extremes of an unjust society.  The evangelical message demolishes wealth and power since they are forms of evil, forms of discrimination and oppression. Wealth is "unjust", a wealthy individual may not receive God’s "kingdom", that is to say the society of salvation, the fraternal society: "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God", as the famous quotation goes. But this is no mere saying, snubbed by ideological tradition, the tradition of a society and a church governed by wealth, rather it is one of the main themes throughout the evangelical message. When it comes to the might, the unilateral power of one person over another, the evangelical message is radical. It allows no form of superiority, social prestige or doctrinal intellectual moral power (one may not be called lord, father or master, occupy the highest seats in the synagogue or the best seats at dinner). Instead we must use our prerogatives as gifts to serve our brothers.

The evangelical design puts an end to every form of human discrimination, starting with economic discrimination which is the greatest and which has, to a certain extent, given rise to and sustained all other forms: between the rich and the poor, the strong and the weak, the master and the slave, servant or subordinate (here the wage contract comes in). It brings the end of all kinds of religious, ethnic, social and sexual discrimination. As Paul explains, there is no difference between Jews and Greeks, between Greeks and barbarians, slaves and free persons, between men and women, there is only brotherhood which contains the highest form of justice.

So if Jewish Messianism was prophecy, then the Gospel is proclamation and foundation ("I will found my ekklesìa", my ecclesial assembly, community); it is already a construction of the fraternal society which incorporates and transcends the society of justice. This construction is marvelously elevated, it is an historical novelty, but it does not last because it immediately gets entangled and lost in the webs of power and hierarchy of society in its attempt to alter it, even as early as the apostolic era, as we see in the Pastoral Epistles, the last in Paul’s corpus. It then continues to get lost in the webs of power and wealth until it finally goes adrift in the "imperial model": the pope, emperor and super emperor; the bishops and princes; all coming together in the long-lasting feudal system. A model which basically still lives on today. There had been, however, some form of construction: that of a community. 

Next comes Mediaeval heresy, as it is called, a term which will be used for the moment (although strictly one should speak of alternative ecclesial movements and leave the question of orthodoxy for the time being), which is nothing other than an attempt to return to the evangelical message in its authenticity, the ecclesial community in its original, unaltered state. This is why poverty is so important here (the poor of Lyons, the poor of Arnold of Brescia, and of Lombardy), as is the "spirit" (in Joachim of Flora and throughout the "spiritual" stream) and the lay state; redemption of the poor, of the people. It is an attempt to carry on building what Christ and his Apostles began, i.e. the just and fraternal society, since the fraternal society embodies the just society at its highest level. Thus we have a whole chain of movements spanning five centuries, starting in the eleventh century, in 1056, the year which saw the rise of the Milan Pataria, all of which are immediately wiped out by opposition only to regroup and start all over again. This chain continued up to the days of Wyclif, of Hus and of the Bundschuh, to 1517, the year of Luther’s "theses", reaching the age of modern heresy and therefore Lutheranism, Calvinism, Anabaptism and Puritanism, its pillars, if we can call them that. However, with so many complex movements, the design inevitably modulates and swings on its axis. Nor can we say that Luther or Calvin fight for a church of the poor; the former enjoyed the support of princes and was a fierce opponent of the "peasant war" and the latter was backed by the bourgeoisie, yet both strive for a people’s church. But it does not matter that the design oscillates.  What does matter is that its substance remains intact until we reach English Puritanism in the 1600’s, when it moves from the religious into the political, triggering off and shaping the first of the modern revolutions, the first sine addito revolution. There are no revolutions before modern times, no global subversive movements by the people for freedom, which is the meaning of the word revolution in its strict sense.

Here we are talking about four revolutions: the English Long Parliament Revolution, 1640-1653; the French Revolution; the Russian Revolution; and the student revolts of the Sixties and Seventies. Their design is the same: the society based on justice. However, we seldom encounter this term in debates or in "charters", unlike other words such as liberty, rights and equality, though, as we have seen, these are nothing other than factors of justice. What does appear are the structures of the just society, its progressive construction. Therefore, if the "religious salvation movements" phase is the design phase and the attempted abortive construction phase, in alienation and annihilating struggle, then the "modern revolution movements" phase is quite definitely the construction phase. Construction begins, proceeds, reaching our times and continuing through our disheartened skeptical age.

There are various reasons for this pessimism, the historical skepticism of our age, especially this last decade, the end of the millennium.  Firstly, the modern bourgeois conscience, modern reason, has reached a crisis point, after much violent exaltation in attempting to resolve the whole of reality in itself. This crisis has lasted a century and a half, bringing with it the death of God, of man, of values and moral obligations, of history, provoking the mythical wait for the end of the West, of civilization and history, and finally nihilism. This is true, at least, in the intellectual, philosophical and literary world. Secondly, the scourge of the two world wars, the persistent rage of peoples against peoples, global slaughter, atrocities, death camps, and then the institution of totalitarian regimes, Communism and Nazism, oppressive and despotic regimes, the surge back of barbarities into and out of "civilized" Europe. In particular, the seventy-year-long duration and expansion of Soviet Communism which becomes a galaxy of police states and attempts to enslave the planet with the brutal death toll of a hundred million (see S. Courtois et al. 14). This is followed, paradoxically, by the collapse of communism and with it of the utopian design it embodied which had, to a certain extent, engendered this communism which was to bring about the "kingdom of freedom" with the end of alienation and expropriation of human labor, the raising of working conditions and living standards so that man could be a "total man" (Marx’s phrase),  radical equality and consequently a classless society, all this giving hope and strength to humanity. Inevitably, the collapse of communism brings about a surge in capitalism, in the "liberal state", an unjust society with capitalism as its warped soul. At the same time the working class climbs into the middle class and slowly disappears after two centuries of being the historic upholder of the process toward freedom and of the construction of the just society.

These, then, are the reasons for this historical pessimism, but there are even stronger reasons for the optimism, the confident hope in the present-future. These lie in the very process of history reconstructed herein thus far, starting with Jewish Messianism in around 1000 B.C., the era of David with its early Messianic allusions (see 2 Sam 7; 1 Chron 17, the prophecy of Nathan), and the religious salvation movements right up to Puritanism and the English Long Parliament Revolution. It is here that construction, the phase of construction, begins. The task now is to briefly trace and review this last crucial phase, highlighting its structures.

3. Construction from the English Revolution to the present day

A good starting-point would be the main ethical principles which reach maturity in the modern conscience: the principle of the human being which emerges with Humanism in the 1400’s and shines and develops throughout the age through the human dignity, the dignity of person, dignity and rights; the principle of liberty and liberties (conscience, thought, speech, the press, action, association), of equality and of the sovereignty of the people which comes to the fore in the English Revolution (but the principle of equality is, of course, fiercely opposed by the privileged classes and their ideologists, by capitalists and the bourgeoisie: in my argument the bourgeoisie is the class holding the capital); the principle of reason and interiority – by which it is one’s right and indeed duty to act according to his inner reasoning – which reaches maturity in the sphere of modern reason; the principle of solidarity which takes shape in the united fraternal struggles of revolutions, as well as in the united struggles of the working class; also in the process of the unification of humanity which possibly begins with the great geographical discoveries, developing with the birth and growth of a universal technological and political practice, one of communication and information which result in ubiquity and collective presence, in the forming of an international community which spans the planet, of a global economy. The sense of solidarity has been touched upon above.

The historical endorsement of the development and establishment of these principles is to be found in the peoples’ charters: the English Agreement of the People in 1647; the Declaration of American Independence in 1776; the First Declaration of the Rights of  Man and of the Citizen in 1789; the Constitutional Charters of America and the French Revolution in particular; and then the other democratic constitutions; the Atlantic Charter, the United Nations Treaty and subsequent charters and pacts. Herein lie the mark and seat of the modern ethical conscience and its principles, not in the thinking and writings of philosophers which are often alienated or aberrant, especially since the great crisis mentioned earlier, which is still under way. As a result of a rejection of the foundations, of powerlessness to found a principle, and of a rejection of truth and certainty, albeit finite (human truth can be but finite), ethical obligations cease being peremptory, "categorical" in the Kantian sense, only to become "weak", valid only if accepted, albeit within the supposedly universal "community of discourse" (the theory of Habermas again). Consequently, in the face of so much uncertainty, we need to know whether "not to kill", "not to enslave our fellows" is a final obligation, one which is inflexible and unyielding, because if it is weak then it will not bind the conscience inflexibly and thus man may kill; if it is not accepted by the community of discourse, then again he may kill. But what unyieldingly binding force can this community exert on a person, on his autonomy? If ethical obligations are not categorical then individual judgment comes into play, leaving humankind at the mercy of social chaos. This brings us back to the concept of bellum omnium contra omnes, but no longer as a mere hypothesis. Thus philosophers go on expressing their impotence and defeatism in books and newspapers. Thank goodness the principles and ethical obligations taken up by the modern conscience are securely safeguarded in the peoples’ charters.

Another important stage in the construction of the society based on justice is the democratic model which comes into being with the English Revolution. Fundamental to this model is the law (the will of the monarch or aristocrat is no more); secondly parliament, which acts as the organ of the law elected by the people so that the people themselves, through their representatives, are the principle of law, subject only to laws made by themselves; and thirdly a single judicial organ which is the same for everyone. At first parliament invited little participation by the electorate, especially since one of the Houses was based on hereditary peerage amongst the nobility, but it later broadened until universal suffrage was finally achieved, with an upper House based on a hereditary system which still partially survives in Britain nowadays, though only with a limited power. Otherwise, the democratic model prevails on a global scale.

It is one of the first major stages in the restitution of power into the hands of the people, though here only half complete: representative democracy, mediated control, where the people’s only intervention is as voters once every four or five years (and in referenda in certain countries) with no chance of a prior examination of the candidates, a set mandate, or an assessment of their work. The representative body is governed by the parties which in a practical sense handle the election side of things by themselves, manipulating the consensus in more ways than one, through both their supporters and mass media persuasion. Similarly the same parties tend to handle power outside parliament on its own too, taking possession in more ways than one, in every way in fact. The consequence is the so-called party power whose price we have already paid and are still paying today.

The final stage is direct democracy where the people have direct control of political power at all level through assemblies, the earliest and best example of which is ancient Athens, an unparalleled model, a point of brilliance which has been aspired to ever since. There was a tending towards such direct democracy through the whole modern democratic process, which was already evident in the political designs of the Peasant War of 1524-25; then again in the English Revolution with Winstanley in particular; in the French Revolution through the Constitution of ’93, in the revolutionary sections of Paris City Council, in the Babeuf movement; throughout the French utopian stream of the 1800’s from Fourier to Proudhon; in the Paris Commune in 1871; in the Soviet Revolution of February 1917, the real start of the Russian Revolution; in the student revolts of the Sixties and Seventies; and finally in the political design of perestroika. Such an insistent return indicates historical and moral tending towards sovereignty of the people, its achievement. The bourgeois theorists – as early as Rousseau - claim this is impossible and scoff at the idea: such an achievement could only be possible in a small country the size of a canton or a province, whereas today’s cities alone are big if not enormous. Ancient Athens was not small, however. It numbered around 500,000 inhabitants, though its citizens, those who had the right to take part in the assembly, totaled only around 30,000, a number which seems quite awesome for an assembly today. In actual fact, these scholars were so skeptical because they never seriously considered the matter. We, on the other hand, have tackled it and certainly haven’t found it impossible to solve. Big comes out of small (see a project in La Russia e la democrazia 63-153; and Schiavone 1997). As parliaments fall prey to party power, to lobbies, to corruption and to the greed of political parties, the people begin to show intolerance and disgust for politics and politicians, which is a further sign of a historical tendency towards direct democracy.

There are still further stages in the construction of the society based on justice. The French Revolution sees the destruction of the power of the monarchy and the aristocracy, which had dominated the entire history of humanity, the beginning of the end for monarchies and empires until by 1848 monarchs are surrendering their power to the law, to parliament. With the First World War the continental empires come to an end: the Hapsburg, the Prussian, the Russian and the Ottoman Empires. Even the Chinese Empire had ceased to be by 1912, leaving only the Japanese which comes to an end with World War II. It is when at last the colonial empires expire that the principle of the self-determination of peoples comes to the fore. Moreover in the French Revolution slavery was abolished; reintroduced by Napoleon, the great despot and butcher, suppressed again in 1815, subsequently abolition was gradually accepted everywhere throughout the century. Then the death penalty was abolished in the 1800’s and more definitively in the next century, even though there are still major exceptions and huge delays in countries such as the United States, despite their claiming to be the moral guide for the human race – a poor claim. The state has no right to kill a citizen because its power comes from the surrender of rights of the citizens themselves (“sovereignty and laws […] are but the sum of minimal portions of the private liberty of each individual”, as Beccaria forcefully pointed out in his Treatise on crime and punishments § 28) and such surrender cannot be total or he who surrenders is lost; nor can individuals surrender the right to live or die since it is a right they do not possess.

One of the main stages in such construction, possibly the most important and most crucial in the history of humanity, is the rise of the working class and the improvement in working conditions and living standards in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries:  a rise in income, and an improvement in social security, education and culture and general well-being. This process is still under way to this day, even in economically and culturally advanced countries. Indeed labor is still mostly subordinate work, often exploited, and will continue to be so as long as the wage contract lasts, until the workers themselves own and run the business. Income, on the other hand, falls due to exploitation and the unilateral profits of the owner and is cut into by illegal uncontracted labor and all kinds of underpaid labor, before finally being devoured by consumerism as people are coaxed into making purchases which are often superfluous and useless. This is the “affluent society”, a society of material well-being which blows up out of all proportion resulting in waste and causing serious problems of justice, of fair distribution of wealth and problems of resources and the environment. Social security, welfare, and national insurance, have reached a good standard, at least in Western Europe. Yet there are still major problems, especially with the expansion and quality of health care, with relief for the underprivileged and with fair pensions. A key point here is job security, which in recent years has been under vicious attack by technological unemployment under the tendency of capital towards profit in a system which still lacks global provisions by the community for all its members.  In particular what is lacking is what we call the “framework society” in which the production-labor-wealth situation is handled rationally (there is no shortage of instruments to this end these days) so that each individual can be guaranteed not only a job, but “his/her” job, one that suits the person he/she has trained to become. Compulsory, free education, regardless of quality, is still too short-term, consisting mostly of just elementary and middle school, whereas it should at least go up to university level if people are to acquire an adequate grasp of their cultural heritage, seeing as it belongs to them in any case, and if, at this crucial point, the all-time disparities, popular ignorance and incompetence regarding a work of art, a Greek temple or classical music, are to be ended. Well-being or prosperity has always been part of the utopian design, of its archetype (cp. L’utopia § 4); one of the highest aspirations of humanity, of those all-time popular conditions discussed above, which are marked by hard work and destitution.

This economic and cultural rise as part of the construction of a just society is significant in that it finally overcomes that popular condition for the first time; a condition which saw people reduced to poverty and ignorance, to the hard materiality of labor which consumed all their time and energy, restricting any mental or personal growth, any personal expansion, and yet their potentially marvelous world contained such unlimited potential for expansion. Such expansion, such humanity, humanitas, homo humanus, was available only to a small privileged minority while the majority were trapped in the inhuman. The fact that all this went on in supposedly civilized regimes leads us to conclude that “primitive” conditions must have been better. We need only think of Columbus’s admiration for the “primitive” people he encountered. This is why this process, this monumental transition, is so critical. It marks the beginning of “history” in the Marxian sense, no longer inhuman but human. The beginning: a brief account has already been given here of what has been built and what, in an inevitably limited view, is still lacking. This leads to the conclusion that well-being is imbued with ill-being. But this issue will be discussed later within this text.

At the basis of this rise, what made it possible, are the two great inventions of the modern bourgeoisie: technology and capital.  Technology, or rather science-technology-industry, is production according to universal models and thus can satisfy universal human needs; «technics», i.e. production of single models and items, could not meet these needs since production remained too limited in size. The process of capitalization through the reinvestment of part of the profits, which results in continual expansion, prepares the material   – financial and instrumental – ground for unlimited expansion of technological production, the growth of global wealth and of the availability of goods to meet human needs. Such a rise, however, would never have taken place, without the working class struggle, one which involved a hundred years’ fighting, and revolution.

The student revolts of the Sixties and Seventies form the fourth modern revolution which, albeit atypical, brings about the end of the repressive society, a society which acknowledges human rights but stops them from being enforced through customs, ideological pressure – false reasoning, false morals – and the law,  for reasons of privilege and power: male power, religious power, power of the adult, of the “normal” person, of a race (a word which is in frequent use but of uncertain meaning) or an ethnic group. With this comes the end of every kind of discrimination and marginalization: the assertion of the dignity and rights of children, women, youth, social outcasts, the disabled and the sick (especially the mentally ill with a really human attitude towards all kinds of mental illness); the rights of blacks in a white society (the great struggle for civil rights in America), and of ethnic and religious minorities. At the same time there is a reassessment of sexual morals. Here again we have a monumental leap, even though this process is still under way.

With the environment crisis in the Seventies human claims to an unconditional rule over nature collapses: claims that are foolish in that a human being is him/herself a part of nature and cannot live or survive unless he/she is in a natural environment that suits him/her. The unconditional instrumental use of technology by profit-making capitalism had led to unconditional exploiting of nature with its potential destruction for profit. So  nature as a principle is reaffirmed, not because nature is a person, but because nature comes before humanity and conditions it: hence the right relationship (not in the sense of justice, but almost) will be based on recognition, respect and protection, reciprocation in that sense. In particular, respect for animals as humankind’s younger brothers (“teenage brothers”, as Péguy describes them): this is another analogy, in that throughout evolution animals have prepared and developed the advent of humanity, without catching it up, and humanity  should acknowledge this, we owe it to animals, to reciprocate.

Perestroika and the collapse of the conflicting hegemonic blocs bring about not only the end of the arms race but also – for the first time in history – the beginning of a process in which arms start to be destroyed and regular armies reduced in size. The will for peace, which had been expressed throughout the last century through the various movements and which was sanctioned by the Atlantic Charter and the United Nations Treaty, grows stronger. The Security Council (albeit unjust in its structure and organization of deliberative power) becomes more efficient in its interventions to prevent and resolve local conflicts. An age of more widespread peace dawns, with the breaking up of national armies to form a multinational peace-keeping force governed by the community of nations.

Thus far a picture has been painted of the monumental process which begins with the English Revolution and is still under way, in the present-future: the construction of a society based on justice.  But before going any further several points must be considered. Firstly, this construction is still in motion and a long way from completion (though it is impossible to speak of completion when it comes to the finiteness and historicity of human matters) in those very countries where it is most advanced in terms of the economic, political and ethical levels reached. This is the case in Western Europe and North America where there is tremendous imbalance. We need only look at the statistics concerning the poor, for example (around 10 million in Italy, 40 million in the United States –  by “poor” we mean with a family income which is lower than half of the average per capita income), concerning unemployment, drugs, neurosis, and crime. Then there are the poor standards of education, health and welfare, and inequality with often huge differences in income. In short, innumerable unsolved problems.

Secondly, this construction proceeds at different rates in the different continents and nations. The difference in economic and cultural standards is great, often immeasurable. We need only  think of Africa or Latin America with their widespread  poverty, illiteracy and lack of services, their bidonvilles and favelas ; and then other global problems such as dictatorships, fundamentalism, conflicts, and tribal massacres. Furthermore there are no reasons why these differences cannot be wiped out. Indeed in many nations they already have been, yet elsewhere they live on with disastrous, painful results.

Thirdly, this process is uneven, irregular, except maybe in the global vision of the course replotted by research and conscience. It follows a broken line, bending, stopping and turning back. It is a difficult course because of the complex variety of contrasting positions and forces, of opposite interests, because the past runs back into the present-future and because the whole is marked by mistakes and transgression.

Finally, I should point out that it is not exactly a Western or European process – even though the strictly constructive phase, which starts with the English Revolution, begins and develops mostly in the West –  because the first phase of the process, i.e. the religious salvation movements, Jewish Messianism, millenarism and even Christianity, are of Asian origin, from the near East. This is not too important, however, as the process is universal and concerns humanity as such. We cannot say that human dignity, liberty and equality only matter in the northern and not in the southern hemisphere, or that the moral restraints “do not kill” and “do not enslave your fellows” bind the European but not the Asian conscience. Ethical principles, the democratic model and the structures of the just society are universal, as are science and technology and capitalistic accumulation which contribute to the process, as we have seen.

4. The meaning of history, the foundation of hope

The construction of a society based on justice, then,  proves to be a procedure which incorporates and unites the entire history of humanity – at first this was merely the intention, then it became a fact –  as it takes on universal value, bringing the whole of humanity together into one universal history. We might say that all this reaches maturity in the present day. For the moment everybody only talks of “economic globalization”, but the process is deeper, more comprehensive than that. It is a process of universalization which embraces the whole of the human world starting with ethical principles, the political model, science and technology and therefore industry, the world of objects and the consumer behavior, the economy, culture, information and communication, resulting in ubiquity and collective presence. It is true that today there are historical cultures that assert their identities by differing from and opposing the West. First of these is Islam with its ethics and laws which are in some ways archaic and unfair (polygamy, women’s subordination in more ways than one and the law of retaliation) and its political models, which are clerical and/or despotic, both unjust. However, the injustice of such practices is beginning to become evident within itself.

In short, this process, this construction of the just society, incorporates the entire history of humanity and gives it new meaning. This meaning is precisely the construction of the just society and, later, the fraternal society, a meaning which is truer than the models of meaning given in the past. the providential one, of human history guided and built by providence (just think of the nodal points of the incarnation and redemption of the Son and Christ, of the presence and actions of the Holy Spirit), a transcendental principle, history made by God not by human beings, accessible only through faith; the modern rational model, a model of reason and liberty which are indefinitely expanding, an a priori principle even in its fundamental truth; the Marxian, Marxist model, historical-dialectical materialism, history shaped by the evolution of production systems which result in the culture, conscience, society and all its forms, a model which amplified beyond all limits the role of the economic basis, claiming to draw the entire history of humanity from it. This was where Bloch came in. Instead, the utopian process, the design and construction of the just society through the popular movements, religious salvation movements and modern revolutionary movements, is obtained from history itself, it is simply history: a thread of history which is the meaning of all history.

This history is a foundation of hope, the foundation of our hope for humanity. Hope for the past which is so inhuman but which in this thread of history is redeemed; its inhumanity is transcended by this human tension which is deeper, more forceful; inhumanity brought and provoked by the ruling but unjust marginal classes, while the popular tension towards a society based on justice was human and more forceful, the tension of the vast majority, of near totality, which, by becoming first a design, then prophecy, proclamation and construction, gradually eliminated the inhuman.

For the present, on the other hand, there is the awareness of what has been built over these last three centuries and of what is still being built, through the modern revolutions, the working class struggle, its sacrifice, all the movements and their endless contributions, whose benefits we reap today. This means an incomparably more human condition, though it cannot be denied there is still a lot to do. As a result, it is precisely in our times and among our peoples here in the West that it is hard to understand historical pessimism and skepticism. Maybe this is because of a poor knowledge and understanding of history or because of the plight and fall of post-modern philosophers and intellectuals. Yet fear penetrates and pervades the popular conscience too. Hope and fear, fear where there should be hope. Nevertheless, there are reasons for this, but contingent reasons, which do not affect the great historical foundations of hope. Beginning with the precariousness, the wavering and trembling existence people lead when there is no job security, insecure or low income and poverty. Then in cases where one’s job is secure and one’s income good, other factors come into play, such as organized crime which hounds businessmen and entrepreneurs, petty crime lying perpetually in wait, drugs and prostitution which plague certain districts, the invasion of immigrants (as they are regarded, unfortunately). The fear even penetrates our souls in quieter areas, in small quiet towns; fear more than hope. Why? Who generates this fear? Certainly the mass media, newspapers and television, which feed on fear, on crime, accidents and catastrophes, on anything that attracts attention through fear; they foster evil and neglect good as the latter is not newsworthy. Then there are the consolidated powers – capital, party power, the church –  which are keen on conservation; fear encourages this, holding back and holding fast. It is vital that we fight those who spread this fear through our personalities, our culture, our critical and creative ability, our ability to resist and fight and our will for freedom.

At the same time this historical course forms a guarantee for the future, a course which has run for three millenniums with three hundred years’ construction. Consequently, it is the foundation of our hope in the present-future, of our confident certainty. The category of hope was introduced by Bloch and it was to hope that he dedicated his monumental and  plethoric work Principle of Hope. It was a great intuition which offset the other fundamental category and existential tone, i.e. anguish, the feeling of nothingness in the human psyche and  conscience; this feeling of nothingness was offset by the feeling of  being in this nothingness, his operational and constructive capacity for redemption, by what humanity has actually constructed and redeemed. This hope, this confident certainty comforts us along the labored walk of life and history, giving us strength, driving us to and supporting us in our commitment: to a society based on justice which we will build and build in fellowship.


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1. Its origins

The idea for this Movement first came to us in Lecce, Italy, in January of year 1998, following a debate entitled "The society based on justice. What we can and must hope for", one of the many debates this writer had held around that time after publishing his book L’utopia. Rifondazione di un’idea e di una storia (Bari, Dedalo, 1977) and once it has been realized that it was no longer simply a book, but a message, i.e. the just society, its construction, the meaning of the history of humanity, the dawning of hope for humankind, a message that would have to be passed on to the people, everywhere and in every way. This book was the result of about twenty years’ studies carried out in a "research community", a group whose members have been working together for a long time in an environment where it is possible to exchange and pass on ideas and criticism and where creativity is encouraged: the Lecce University Interdepartmental Group and Centre for Research into Utopia.

The original idea for the Movement came into being among people talking after the debate since they had realized its potential. They had realized that this message required further discussion in order to get to the bottom of it, to feel it and experience it, to make it a principle for action within society, a principle for commitment at all levels. Then the message would have to be conveyed so that more people could grasp and experience it, so that the hope could be passed on to the many. The idea was, then, for a movement made up of people who would meet to discuss the problems of the just society at its various levels, to foster hope in the face of difficulties, to help one another act justly in their existence, in social life, in their work, and to help found just institutions.  Meetings would be held monthly or fortnightly in local groups in various towns and villages. This project was debated in various venues until the movement’s basic charter was drawn up, one which also acts as the membership document and which is set out as follows.

2. The basic charter and membership document


This Movement was formed as a result of certain fundamental convictions:
that the entire history of humanity, despite many difficulties, strives towards the design of a society based on justice;
that since the English Revolution, that is for three centuries, it has been building this society;
that this course of history to some extent guarantees its continual construction for the future;
and builds hope for the whole of human community, for every one of us, a vision of the past, present and future which comforts us, gives us strength and drives us to commitment.

The nodal points of this construction of justice through the last three centuries:
the great ethical principles which reached maturity in the modern conscience: the principle of human being, dignity and rights of a person; the principle of liberty and liberties, of equality, of sovereignty of the people; the principle of reason and interiority, the principle of solidarity;
the establishment and endorsement of these principles in the peoples’ charters: the English Agreement of the People of 1647; the Declaration of American Independence of 1776; the first Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen of 1789; the democratic constitutions of nations, starting with the American and French; and then the Atlantic Charter, the UN Treaty and the other UN charters and treaties, particularly the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948;
the democratic model which came into being in the English Revolution and its development through the stage of mediated and parliamentary democracy to direct democracy;
the destruction of the power of the monarchy and aristocracy;
the abolition of slavery; the abolition of the death penalty;
the rise, in the 1800’s and 1900’s, of the working class and the improvement in living standards as regards work, income, social security, education and culture, and well-being;
the expiry of the continental empires, and subsequently of the colonial empires, the principle of the self-determination of  peoples;
the assertion of the dignity and rights of children, youths, women, social outcasts, the disabled through the student revolts of the Nineteen sixties and Seventies;
the rejection of war, the beginning of the destruction of arms, cuts in the size of regular armies;
the principle of respect for nature and its balance, respect for animals as man’s younger brothers,  recovery of the environment.

This construction goes on but, inevitably, there are still many problems to be solved:  poverty and unemployment; drugs, neurosis, and crime; local tension and conflicts; hegemonies, dictatorships, fundamentalism; migration of peoples.

This construction progresses at different rates in different continents and nations and will continue to do so until the process of universalization gains ground.

This tending towards a just society and towards hope brings about commitment:
to spreading the message of the just society and of hope;
to acting justly, in our own lives and in social life, in our work;
to founding just institutions.

The Movement is made up of people who share this commitment and meet to experience it intensely, to pass it on to others as best they can, to help build the society based on justice and spread hope. It is formed of local groups who meet monthly or fortnightly for discussion meetings based on a report drawn up on a set topic concerning man’s problems and the problems of national and local society, a topic all those attending will have read up on. In order to carry out its activities the group can nominate a board with a moderator.
Signing in acceptance of this proposal constitutes membership.


Proposals for the research activity:
Development of single points of our historical research.
Development of our research into the history of other cultures (we conducted our research in Jewish-Christian-Western culture).
Development of the great ethical principles of the modern conscience sanctioned by the peoples charters: the principle of liberty, of equality, of people’s sovereignty, of interiority, of solidarity (the value of these principles is universal and represents a bond for every culture).
The meaning of justice.
The structures of a society based on justice.

First attempt at project proposals:
The principle of equality, the difficulty of its realization: gender equality, especially in eastern cultures (Islam and India, for example); equality between individuals, between peoples.
The associated problem of poverty: the takeoff of democracy and the takeoff of economy in these peoples.
The problem of overcoming capitalism (source of inequality, of dependence, of exploitation): the passage to worker-owned and worker-managed firms.
From parliamentary democracy to direct democracy.
How to overcome the hegemony of singles states in the world.
How to conceive a cosmopolitan democracy.

Dr. Arrigo Colombo received his Doctorate in Philosophy at the State University of Milan, and has devoted his career to the research of Utopia, with a radical reworking of its meaning.  Dr. Colombo's vision finds its definitive expression in his book L'Utopia: Rifondazione di un'Idea e di una Storia, and then in Materiali per l'Utopia: Il Diavolo, and Materiali per l'Utopia: La Società Amorosa. His other published works include Il Destino del Filosofo, Le Società del Futuro: Saggio Utopico sulle Società Postindustriali, Utopia e Distopia, and numerous others. In 1998 he founded the Movement for the Just Society and for Hope, which is focused on the development of a society based on justice, utilizing a positive vision of history, in order to involve the people and give them clarity and hope.

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