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The importance of rediscovering “fraternity” Maria Rosaria Manieri, with her long experience as Senator of the Italian Republic behind her, dedicates her latest book Fraternità. Fraternità. Rilettura civile di un’idea che può cambiare il mondo (Fraternity. Civil re-reading of an idea that could change the world), published by Marsilio, to the philosophical analysis of the category of fraternity, lost in the democracies of our times.
Kant and Marx had intuited its importance
by Laura Tundo Ferente
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Returning, after a long break, to a theoretical work, a philosophical reflection, a scientific analysis is always a demanding enterprise, a challenge, and Maria Rosaria Manieri has taken this one on almost as if to re-create a bond with the University and with Moral Philosophy, after years of absence, which saw her as Senator of the Italian Republic for five legislatures.

The challenge in question is taken up in a volume of philosophy whose subject of research is the category of fraternity, regarding which, as the subtitle indicates, she wants to “re-read” the valence of the “civil idea” capable of changing the world. Thus she circumscribes and defines the relevant philosophical terrain to be explored with the particular aim of dealing with the potentialities of political change that this category embraces. It’s a practical motivation, that acts as an ethical and political stimulus to the research, as Giuseppe Vacca points out in the Preface: “The crisis of democracy that the world is suffering from originates in the loss of the principle of fraternity. By means of a re-visitation of modern political thought, this essay contains the proposal to reclaim that principle as part of the republican, secular thought of our time”.

And if the “religious” connotation of fraternity is well-known, and has been present in the Sacred Scriptures since the mythical-symbolical tale of Genesis, where it emerges with all its weight of ambivalence (Cain’s fratricide), the text explains that it is Christianity that universalizes the idea of “brotherly love” by tying it to the love of one’s “neighbor”; and that, by asking itself who should be considered one’s neighbor – brother in faith, compatriot, the just man, the “other” in general? – Christianity redefines the contours and the extension, overcomes the restricted reference of the Hebrew culture to one’s neighbor as a brother/neighbor/ally and extends it to the “other” who suffers, who is in need.

Christianity, therefore, profoundly renews the sense of the concept of fraternity, it binds it intimately to the heart of the evangelical message, the love for the stranger, the enemy, the repugnant (the lame, the leper). Thus Christianity consigns to modernity a new and incisive ethical category; a legacy that gets picked up on the theoretical level by those philosophers who pay more attention to the analysis of ethical, social and political relations, and on the level of the praxis of the French Revolution, in a historical phase that was one of the most complex from the point of view of its critical and pro-positive capacities.

The Revolution assumes “fraternity” in its motto, in its devise, while a lay, secularized society emerges. Although in a moment in which an organic model of society stable in its values and in its hierarchies is over, kept together by the integrating force of religion, we can consider the categories of “liberty” and “equality” over; they don’t seem to satisfy the range of political needs and it seems necessary to invoke fraternity too.

What did the “fraternity principle” have that the first two didn’t? What founding idea-values for a new society did it hark back to?

We can say that it had above all the strength of its moral nature, a unifying-affective strength, of cohesion amongst men who recognize each other as brothers, and had a super-cultural and universally human value. And, by taking on the fraternity principle, the Revolution tried to transfer that strength and the excess of moral sense that the principle contained onto the social and political terrain, onto the unity of society. It was the intrinsic tie to the belonging to the same species that was enhanced, while they tried to rationally program its transformation into a political virtue for republican and democratic society.

As is well documented in the text, with appropriate references, it is Kant who is the interpreter of this theoretic enhancement, and it is the Kantian reflection of his mature years – the last years of the 18th century dedicated to writing on History, on Law, on Peace and on Cosmopolitanism – that gives us back the ethical weight of the fraternity principle, by associating it with duty. Over time we have come to understand how this new “weight” represents the leap in quality that the modern age makes the category of fraternity take, by redesigning its perimeter.

Maria Rosaria Manieri pays her conclusive attention to Marx and his vision of the world, saddened by the marginalization and retaliation that his writings are subject to these days in comparison with the decades of the middle of the 20th century. A definition of “the society of brothers” is sought in vain in Marxist writings; the materialistic approach cannot ignore the social antagonism, the inequalities, the conflict of interests; it cannot delude itself about the effectiveness of the universalism of the rights guaranteed by the State, nor can it stop denouncing the alienation of the individualistic and competitive model of society; it’s easier to find what a society of brothers is not or cannot be: neither an abstract ideal nor edifying sentiment, not a canonization of the world looking forward to its sanctification. Fraternity, for the Communist movement, emerges as a special link, it is the aim that it pursues.

Of all those possible, one analogy could not be avoided in this idea of fraternity, and some particularly significant passages of some speeches by Nelson Mandela – an extraordinary example of a politician able to produce a historic change in his country, South Africa, socially lacerated by the rigid system of apartheid. His recent demise brought his words to our attention again: “Nobody is born slave or master, nor to live in poverty; we are all born to be brothers”.


Maria Rosaria Manieri, Fraternità. Rilettura civile di un’idea che può cambiare il mondo, Marsilio, Venezia 2013, pp. 156, euro 15,00.

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