Norberto Bobbio

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Norberto Bobbio
Born 18 October 1909
Turin, Italy
Died 9 January 2004(2004-01-09) (aged 94)
Turin, Italy
Alma mater University of Turin
Era Contemporary philosophy
Region Western philosophy
School Liberal socialism
Main interests

Norberto Bobbio (Italian: [norˈbɛrto ˈbɔbbjo]; 18 October 1909 – 9 January 2004) was an Italian philosopher of law and political sciences and a historian of political thought. He also wrote regularly for the Turin-based daily La Stampa. Bobbio was a liberal socialist in the tradition of Piero Gobetti, Carlo Rosselli, Guido Calogero (it), and Aldo Capitini. He was also strongly influenced by Hans Kelsen and Vilfredo Pareto.

Early life

Bobbio was born in Turin on October 18, 1909 to Luigi and Rosa Caviglia. The middle-class status of his family (his father was a doctor) allowed Bobbio to have a comfortable childhood. He wrote verses and loved Bach and Verdi's opera La traviata. Later, he would develop an unknown illness that give him "the feeling of the fatigue of living, of a permanent and invincible tiredness."[1] The feeling worsened with age but became an important part of his intellectual growth.

Bobbio studied at the Liceo Classico Massimo d'Azeglio, where he met Leone Ginzburg, Vittorio Foa, and Cesare Pavese, who would all become major figures in the culture of the Italian Republic. From 1928, like many other youth in the era, Bobbio registered with the National Fascist Party.

Life and views

Bobbio was born into what his Guardian obituary described as "a relatively wealthy, middle-class Turin family" whose sympathies Bobbio would later characterize as "philo-fascist, regarding fascism as a necessary evil against the supposedly greater danger of Bolshevism".[2] In high school he met Vittorio Foa, Leone Ginzburg and Cesare Pavese, and at the university he became a friend of Alessandro Galante Garrone (it).

In 1942, under the Fascist regime of Benito Mussolini and during World War II, Bobbio joined the then illegal radical liberal socialist party Partito d'Azione ("Party of Action") and was briefly imprisoned in 1943 and 1944. He ran unsuccessfully in the 1946 Constituent Assembly of Italy elections. With the party's failure in a post-war Italy dominated by the Christian Democrats, Bobbio left electoral politics and returned his focus to academia.

He was one of the major exponents of left-right political distinctions, arguing that the Left believes in attempting to eradicate social inequality, while the Right regards most social inequality as the result of ineradicable natural inequalities, and sees attempts to enforce social equality as utopian or authoritarian.[3]

A strong advocate of the rule of law, the separation of powers, and the limitation of powers, he was a socialist, but opposed to what he perceived as the anti-democratic, authoritarian elements in most of Marxism. He was a strong partisan of the Historic Compromise between the Italian Communist Party and the Christian Democrats, and a fierce critic of Silvio Berlusconi. Bobbio died in Turin, the same city in which he was born and lived most of his life.

Academic career and honors

Bobbio studied philosophy of law with Gioele Solari (it); he later taught this subject in Camerino, Siena, Padua, and ultimately back in Turin as Solari's successor in 1948; from 1972 to 1984, he had a chair in the newly created faculty of political science in Turin.

He was a National Associate of the Lincean Academy and longtime director (together with Nicola Abbagnano) of the Rivista di Filosofia. He became a Corresponding Associate of the British Academy in 1966; in 1979 he was nominated as Senator-for-life by Italian President Sandro Pertini. Bobbio received, among others, the Balzan Prize in 1994 (for Law and Political Science: governments and democracy) and doctorates honoris causa from the Universities of Paris (Nanterre), Madrid (Complutense), Bologna, Chambéry, Madrid (Carlos III), Sassari, Camerino, Madrid (Autónoma), and Buenos Aires.

To celebrate the centenary of Norberto Bobbio's birth, a committee was established, constituted by more than a hundred Italian and international public institutions and intellectual figures, which formulated a wide-ranging programme of activities to promote dialogue and reflection on the thought and figure of Bobbio, and on the future of democracy, culture and civilisation.[4] Celebrations were officially opened on 10 January 2009 at the University of Turin.

Major works

  • L'indirizzo fenomenologico nella filosofia sociale e giuridica (The Phenomenological Turn in Social and Legal Philosophy, 1934)
  • Scienza e tecnica del diritto (The Science and Technical Aspects of Law, 1934)
  • L'analogia nella logica del diritto (The Use of Analogy in Legal Logic, 1938)
  • La consuetudine come fatto normativo (Custom as a Normative Fact, 1942)
  • La filosofia del decadentismo (The Philosophy of Decadence, 1945)
  • Teoria della scienza giuridica (Theory of Legal Science, 1950)
  • Politica e cultura (Politics and Culture, 1955)
  • Studi sulla teoria generale del diritto (Essays in the General Theory of Law, 1955)
  • Teoria della norma giuridica (Theory of Legal Norms, 1958)
  • Teoria dell'ordinamento giuridico (A Theory of Legal Order, 1960)
  • Profilo ideologico del Novecento italiano (An Ideological Profile of Twentieth Century Italy, 1960)
  • Il positivismo giuridico (Legal Positivism, 1961)
  • Locke e il diritto naturale (Locke and Natural Law, 1963)
  • Italia civile (Civil Italy, 1964)
  • Giusnaturalismo e positivismo giuridico (Natural Law and Legal Positivism, 1965)
  • Da Hobbes a Marx (From Hobbes to Marx, 1965)
  • Saggi sulla scienza politica in Italia (Tests of Political Science in Italy, 1969)
  • Diritto e Stato nel pensiero di E. Kant (Law and State in the Thought of Immanuel Kant, 1969)
  • Ideological Profile of Italy In The Twentieth Century (1969)
  • Una filosofia militante: studi su Carlo Cattaneo (A Militant Philosopher: Essays on Carlo Cattaneo, 1971)
  • Quale socialismo (Which Socialism, 1977)
  • I problemi della guerra e le vie della pace (The Problem of War and the Roads to Peace, 1979)
  • Studi hegeliani (Hegelian Essays, 1981)
  • Il futuro della democrazia (The Future of Democracy: A Defence Of The Rules Of The Game, 1984)
  • Maestri e compagni (Teachers and Companions, 1984)
  • “The Future of Democracy”. TELOS 61 (Fall 1984). New York: Telos Press
  • Liberalismo e democrazia (Liberalism and democracy, 1985)
  • State, Government and Society (English-language publication, 1985)
  • Il terzo assente (The Absent Third, 1988)
  • Thomas Hobbes (1989)
  • L'età dei diritti (The Rule of Law, 1989)
  • The Age of Rights (English-language publication, 1990)
  • A Just War? (1991), a defense of the Gulf War, about which he later changed his mind.
  • Destra e sinistra (Right and Left), Roma, 1994
  • In Praise of Meekness (1994)
  • De senectute (Of Old Age; the Latin title is an allusion to Cicero's Cato Maior de Senectute, 1996)
  • Autobiografia (Autobiography, 1999)
  • Teoria Generale della Politica (General Theory of Politics, 1999)
  • Dialogo intorno alla repubblica (Dialogue about the Republic, 2001)
  • Etica e politica: Scritti di impegno civile (Ethics and Politics: writings on civil obligation), ed. Marco Revelli. Milano: Mondadori, 2009.


  1. «la sensazione della fatica di vivere, di una permanente e invincibile stanchezza» Bobbio continued: «[Fui] esonerato, per mia vergogna, dalle ore di ginnastica per una malattia infantile restata, almeno per me, misteriosa». (Norberto Bobbio, De senectute, Einaudi, Torino 1996, pp. 27, 31 e passim)
  2. Obituary Norberto Bobbio, The Guardian, 13 January 2004
  3. Bobbio, Norberto, Left and Right: The Significance of a Political Distinction (translated by Allan Cameron), 1997, University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-06246-5
  4. Anticipated from the Bobbio Centenary Archived 2011-09-12 at the Wayback Machine website

Further reading

External links