The Ends of Ideology

The Ends of Ideology

A seemingly offhand personal note toward the end of this slim but remarkable volume of political theory conveys the earthy origins of an abstract egalitarian impulse. As the child of a bourgeois Italian family, Norberto Bobbio recalls how he would go to the country during summer holidays and play easily with the children of peasants:

Our friendship was based upon a perfect understanding, and the class differences were completely irrelevant; but we could not help noticing the contrast between our houses and theirs, our food and theirs, and our clothes and theirs. . . . Every year when we started our holidays, we learnt that one of our playmates had died the previous winter from tuberculosis. I do not remember a single death among my school-friends in the city.

Now emeritus professor of legal and political philosophy at the University of Turin, an Italian senator, and a nonagenarian, Bobbio offers a compelling blueprint of the architecture of modern liberalism. But the primary aim of Left and Right is rather different and, if anything, more admirably successful: that is, to make a broad theoretical argument not for liberal egalitarianism or the left, but for ideology as such. Amazingly, Left and Right was the best-selling book in Italy in 1994, selling over two hundred thousand copies. Timing played an important part: the book’s appearance coincided with the first bipolar election campaign in memory. But cogency and lucidity helped.