Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

The Italian James Burnham

I want to call a little attention to this new monograph by Professor Lorenzo Castellani, L'ingranaggio del Potere ("The Gear of Power"). The book is Castellani
just published and it is in Italian. But it intervenes insightfully in debates about political power that ought to be of great interest to American and British scholars of administrative law, though its primary focus is on "Eurocracy." 

The book is a sweeping study (in just a few pages)--a history of ideas or, as he puts it in an early chapter, an analysis of the "real thing"--of how "competence" and "technical expertise" has come to dominate our political world. It helpfully contrasts the realms of "politics" and "policy." While we often think of these as united, or even one and the same, Castellani distinguishes them, locating the latter squarely as the province of the experts and not really about democratic politics at all. But policy has "hidden itself" well as derived from politics in modern democratic societies. The thesis: "In advanced modern societies, the principle of aristocracy has a much greater weight in the organization of those societies than we are commonly led to believe or admit. In contemporary democracies, this aristocratic element is based on competence--that is, on the specialized knowledge of individuals supplied and certified by the structure itself through educational institutions, programs of study, titles, exams, and competitions. This aristocratic-hierarchical principle exists together with the democratic-representative principle from which, in recent decades, it has progressively eroded significant spaces." (25)

If this sounds in some ways reminiscent of James Burnham's early work in The Managerial Elite, it is. Indeed, I think Castellani has taken on a good deal of Burnham. But the applications he sees in Burnham's work (and the work of others including Daniel Bell) for the "techno-democracies" that rule us now, and that are nevertheless the subject of such controversy, are fresh and insightful.

American publishers take note! This book deserves a good English translation. It has a lot to say to Anglo-American concerns today.

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DeGirolami, Marc | Permalink