If a German is European and an Italian is European, is a German an Italian?

by Lorenzo Piccoli

I have a fascination for an Italian contemporary philosopher who is not known in Italy. Giorgio Agamben became very popular in the United States after his timely publication of State of Exception (2005), a book in which drawing from Carl Schmitt he investigated sovreignity as the power to proclaim the exception. The book traced this concept back to Roman justitium and auctoritas, but obviously it was directly connected to the states of exception established by George Bush’s Patriot Act (13 November 2001), an evident violation of basic human rights through the increase of power structures governments employ in supposed times of crisis. Within these times of crisis, Agamben refers to increased extension of power as states of exception, where questions of citizenship and individual rights can be diminished, superseded and rejected in the process of claiming this extension of power by a government. Agamben made references to a continued state of exception to the Nazi state of Germany under Hitler’s rule. Agamben’s work is a fundamental reflection for political scientists, as it shows how the suspension of laws within a state of emergency or crisis can become a prolonged state of being. I studied Agamben when I was an undergrad at Trinity College Dublin in 2009 and I have been interested in his work since then.

Now Agamben is on the headlines again as he has revived the idea of a union of Southern European countries, a proposal first launched by another philosopher, Alexandre Kojève, just after World War II. The idea is that we are going towards the end of nation states which would cede the way to political formations that would transcend national borders. These empires could not, however, be based on abstract units that were indifferent to genuine cultural, lifestyle and religious ties. A Latin Empire, argues Agamben, could act as a counter weight to the dominant role played by Germany in the European Union and to resist to the destruction of a cultural heritage that exists as a way of life in Greece, Italy, France, and all the other Mediterranean countries.