Planetary subsidiarity: an observation on Luigi Ferrajoli. by Gerardo Muñoz

I recently attended a conversation around Luigi Ferrajoli’s most recent book translated into Spanish, Por una Constitución de la Tierra (Trotta, 2022), where the eminent Italian legal positivist defends the construction of a world constitution. The proposal is meant to be taken at face value; that is, unlike world constitutionalism and constituent revolutions models, Ferrajoli departs from the fact that sovereign states are no longer efficient to deal with international indirect powers. For him, a global constitutionalization of the Earth will bring about much needed juridical protection to natural resources, commercial, and migratory disputes that, unlike the already existing international law decrees, will generate binding guarantees between the different global actors. There is a sharp realism in Ferrajoli’s proposal in at least two levels: on the one hand, the insufficiency of state sovereignty is incapable of stable and long term adjudication; and on the other, the lack of guarantees of international law not only do not prevent serious violations of human rights, but also repeatedly provoke it for special interests. What legal positivism promises to achieve at the national level becomes the mirror of international principles that appeal to the concrete techno-geopolitical equilibrium of a historical conjecture.

Perhaps Farrojoli is not willing to admit it, but the crisis of legality is now best understood as the loosening of the formal mediation between principles and norms, which can only complement each other through the executive force and expansion of police powers. This explains why the figure of “equity” has become predominant in both domestic and international legal systems, since ‘aequitas’ is what allows a broad discretionary rule making and norm elasticity in any given situation. It is not difficult  to identify the crystallization of “equity” as the highest axiom that seeks to hold up the structural positionality of social order. But an unchecked legality – now fully detached from modern judicial review – becomes increasingly removed from the conditions of secularized liberal politics. In fact, police powers and principles of equity are no longer dependent on judicial review; on the contrary, it is judicial review that becomes adapted to the balancing of equity of social principles. Obviously, this can only unleash an unbound legal process that is no longer rooted in  judicial minimalism or countermajoritarian rule. 

I am not sure that Ferrajoli is able to escape this problem; in fact, he seems to aggravate it when claiming that what we needed today was “something like a global principle of subsidiarity”. That a great European legal positivist philosopher fully coincided with anti-positivist jurist Adrian Vermeule’s “common good constitutionalism” based on delegated bureaucratic powers of the executive’s discretion, confirms the deep crisis of contemporary legal thought. But such collision is expected, given that the principle of subsidiarity is at the center of a project like that of a constitutionalization of the Earth: the subsidium is no longer understood here as the secularized meeting point between belief and reason, but rather as a policing reserve required to intervene whenever an perturbance  in equity takes place.

It does seem that application of a principle of global subsidiarity rather than crafting a new principle of authority is the result of a “unity of the world” that has turned the world increasingly smaller given the large scales of technological integration, as Carl Schmitt understood early in “La unidad del mundo” (1951). And technological integration presupposes the capacity for total legibility and total transparency, and thus total extraction – it is not difficult to see here a homologous ambition in the Chinese civilizational principle of Tianxia. In this framework, the subsidium can only become compensatory to the ongoing malignant epoch where all authority fails, and thus, in the words of Joseph Roth, “performs  unworthy imitations…with barbarism and falsehood” [1]. A global constitutionalism can only exist through the ongoing production and consumption of mimetic debris; and this is the anomic make-believe that shouts that the world will be given to us in return. 




1. Joseph Roth. “Our homeland, our epoch”, in On the End of the World (Pushkin Press, 2013), 70. 

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