From the title “The problem of war and the paths of peace”, written by Norberto Bobbio in 1978, I was always struck by the conjugation of the singular with the plural. War always seems to be a singular problem; on the other hand, peace can always be accessed in the plural. The Italian title confirms the contrast. From this work there are two concepts that inspire this article: labyrinth and blocked path.
Bobbio offers three representations that help to understand human reality and the historical process: the fly in the bottle, the fish in the net and the labyrinth. He notes that for Wittgenstein the job of philosophy is to help the fly out of the bottle. Such a representation is transferred to the simple and complex problems of the human being, since there is an exit and a spectator who helps to find it. For others, the human being is trapped, like a fish in a net. Their efforts to find a way out are futile. When the net is opened, it will find death. For Bobbio, on the other hand, the human condition is represented by the labyrinth: whoever enters a labyrinth knows that there is a way out, but does not know which of the many paths lead to it. The labyrinth involves moving forward and backward. Advance until you encounter the blocked path; go back to the last starting point to try a new path.
In Bobbio’s conception, the labyrinth never offers a final exit, so the “only lesson of the labyrinth is the blocked street”. Such is the case of nuclear war that is the subject of his book, because that war – which is no longer expressed in kilotons but in megatons – does not imply a finality, but an end. The fact that the parties to the nuclear conflict have found what Bobbio called the “balance of terror” (technically known as “MAD” – Mutually Assured Destruction) does not imply that peace has been achieved, but simply a balance in the power of reciprocal destruction – the assurance that the violence of one will be replicated in similar terms by the violence of the other.
A blocked path is, in Bobbio’s vision, the impossible one, because it closes the historical course, or that, being possible, is unjustified or illegitimate. He gives slavery as an example: at one historical moment there were human beings who concluded that it was an impossible, unjustified or illegitimate institution. Slavery was to be abolished, because it was a blocked road for the historical course. When the human being acknowledges being faced with a blocked path, a “decisive change” is adopted.
Thinking about the historical process of today’s Chile, the concepts mentioned, labyrinth and blocked path, could help us to describe two facts: one past and one in full development.
On the one hand, one could interpret that the unease expressed by a significant part of the citizenry on October 18, 2019, was the reaction to a via bloccata. This is because a significant part of the citizenry considered that the Chilean institutional system (political, social, economic, cultural) was impossible or unjustified: a blocked path that did not have a shared purpose. The popular mobilization of October 18, 2019 was expressed through a legitimate democratic protest, but there were also expressions of violence unknown since the return to democracy in 1990, which merit a reflection that exceeds the present text.
In contrast, the “Agreement for Social Peace and the New Constitution,” adopted by a significant majority of the National Congress on November 15, 2019, represents bobbiano’s “decisive change” well. This agreement was an institutional response that points to a political and legal solution to the blocked path denounced on 19 October. The implementation of this Agreement implies the reordering of Chile from the last starting point: the constituent rules on which chile’s political, social, cultural and economic structure will be built. This Agreement was confirmed by 5.9 million citizens who voted to approve the drafting of a new Political Constitution. Only 1.5 million opted for rejection. Among those who voted for approval, the majority of those who preferred a “Constitutional Convention” won, which will be the first to be equal and with representation of native peoples.
The fact that the protest of October 2019 has been channeled by a process illuminated by the law, is a trace of the greatest relevance and corresponds to the observation that the law is not only normative content, but also has a functionality, in this case, the function of restoring the pre-eminence of peaceful means as instruments for resolving human conflicts. The law also has the potential to facilitate the political, social, cultural and economic changes that a democratic society can demand, through the use of majority rule and respect for minorities, at a given historical moment. These are the functions of the law in peace-building and as a facilitator of sustainable development, respectively.
But it’s not all enlightenment. At this point, with the 155 constituents having been elected to the citizens, the continuing deficit on the common meaning and purpose of this historical course is striking. This could be part of a larger phenomenon represented by the lack of convergence on means and ends. The macro discussion seems to have opted for contrasting positions between supporters of a “minimalist Constitution” and those who advocate a “substantive or programmatic Constitution.” For some, Constitutions incorporate general declarations and boundaries that are then mostly elaborated by secondary legislation, since Constitutions are not “government programs.” Thus, it is argued that constitutions should establish state institutions, set the rules of the political game and leave room for citizens, in subsequent election processes, to choose the social, economic and cultural emphases that best represent their political positions. For others, on the other hand, due to the existing distrust in the institutions – of which the social unrest of October 18, 2019 would have been only a reaction -, what corresponds in this historical moment is to move from a declarative vis to a coercive vis at the Constitutional level. This discussion seems to recall the words of Norberto Bobbio “not only veritas, but also civitas filia temporis” (Il problema della guerra e le vie della pace, 1978) – not only truth, but also institutions are daughters of time.
The picture of divergences is reinforced by the opinions of people who might consider themselves educated, educated or moderate in their judgments and who express skepticism about the possible outcomes of the constituent process. Thus, it describes a process that “goes nowhere” or that “will not deliver anything new”, “a waste of time” or “they will never agree on anything”. The constituent process is assumed as an additional scenario for “current polarization.”
The panorama described above best evokes the via bloccata of the labyrinth of Bobbio. In my view, however, these are only partial traces and not necessarily the permanent characteristics of the process. You have to be optimistic because each stage has its own spirit.
In this sense, it is reasonable to think that the opening of the sessions of the Constitutional Convention will generate a new dynamic that will contribute to the achievement of the popular mandate: to agree on a new Political Constitution for Chile. The 155 constituents have the same legitimacy at source and, in order to fulfill the popular mandate, they need to create an atmosphere of understanding that implies an attitude of knowing how to listen and be heard, of giving confidence and gaining trust. One of the challenges that the constituents will have is to overcome their own mistrust and fears, for which the only known formula is recurrent dialogue and conversation. Speech acts, commitments and feedback.
For some, it does not escape the observation that the constituent dynamic is a multilateral game and, therefore, no one can reasonably claim that it possesses the whole truth and demand from others the unconditional support for its proposals. The multilateral game is always one of balances, compromises and the search for that “middle ground” where consensus flourishes and disagreements wither. Furthermore, as the result of the elections indicated that there is no clear majority, the constituents will be in the best of multilateral habitats – although they do not know it – the one in which they must convince through the sincere attitude of being able to be, in turn, convinced, to create majorities on the different issues. They are in the dilemma of the most perfect prisoner, where only cooperation offers the most equitable distribution of results.
The optimism is that the representation of the labyrinth will prevail in the constituent dynamism and that means that there is always a way out. What is perceived today is that the citizens are hoping that the constituent effort will be translated into results. Along these lines, it would be important for the constituents to be able to generate a more sophisticated view of the Constitutional telos and the mandate received. Substantively, from my perspective, there is an opportunity to explore a new legal frontier in the field of guaranteed social rights. Bobbio himself said that liberal democracy should take charge of the unfulfilled promises of democracy (The Future of Democracy, 1984) and that social progress in democracy should always be directed forward, but also step by step. I would add that a responsible fiscal effort should accompany the results of the constitutional process in this area, without populism.
Labyrinth and blocked path, a metaphor that explains well, in my opinion, not only the historical process, but also the mystery of the human condition. Bobbio chose to live intensely that “short Twentieth Century” (1914-1991), in the expression of the historian Eric Hobsbawn, reflecting, debating and writing and left us, among other legacies, the two concepts that have inspired this article. Legend has it that, in his last days, the Turinese philosopher frequently repeated “taedium vitae” before his death on January 9, 2004. It is always the question whether the natural phenomenon of the cessation of human life is part of the labyrinth or the last via bloccata. If it were the former, then the labyrinth would be the theory of everything, of the mystery of life and death, and that part of the book would have to be rewritten.
The content of this opinion column is the sole responsibility of its author, and does not necessarily reflect the editorial line or position of El Mostrador.