Federalism: Re-Imagining the Future and Overcoming Presentism

Gabriele Casano
PhD student in “Risk, Security and Vulnerability” at the University of Genoa & CIMA Foundation, Italy. Supervisor of the “Internship Research Project” at the Einstein Center for International Studies


Today's world is crisscrossed by a multiplicity of contradictions that are being addressed in a scattered way and through inadequate instruments, be they political, economic or technological. While on the last issue it seems that research and the development of innovative techniques can indeed offer adequate solutions to the challenges in not very long terms, if we look at political action and economic trajectories it is evident that time is running inexorably short for human society to act. The latest IPCC reports reveal an increasingly alarming situation and push, for the umpteenth time, for decisive and cohesive political action at the international level to reduce emissions, protect biodiversity, and stop deforestation and other activities heavily disrupting ecosystem balances. At the same time, the world economy, which is extremely vulnerable due to its highly interdependent nature, does not stop proceeding along the same path; it is even pressed by the growing political instability in many world regions towards global development scenarios that imply greater risks and vulnerabilities for human societies and the planet as a whole. We are used to living in a context of crises, often permanent or repeated. Uncertainty too often becomes a tacit and inescapable brake on ambitions and change, although they are perceived as necessary.

The effects of the Ukrainian conflict on global food security and on the international energy market, in particular the European one, are a more topical example than ever before; as are the risks associated with military and nuclear escalation; as are the environmentally unsustainable growth trajectories of the great Asian nations, India and China in particular; or the continuation and escalation of internal and international conflicts in Africa and the Middle East. All these phenomena contribute decisively to large-scale displacements, regional and intercontinental migrations. The announced suspension of Russia's participation in the New START treaty aggravates the precarious international political equilibrium. Not only the extremely fragile one between the Cold War main players, but also those between other nuclear powers. The doomsday clock seems to tick increasingly loudly. The combined effects of these phenomena and the inability to decisively limit the externalities caused by globalisation and international anarchy place global communities, both human and non-human, at ever-increasing risk.

The vulnerabilities inherent in socio-environmental systems are likely to become more severe, and with them the impacts and consequences in psychological and social terms. Numerous studies on the youngest members of the wealthiest societies show that levels of eco-anxiety – i.e. chronic fear of environmental collapse – are on the rise. While, on the one hand, this phenomenon can induce individuals to take action to change the status quo, on the other hand excessive levels can lead to counterproductive behaviour in terms of proactivity and extremely negative effects on the individual himself. In fact, ‘presentism’ is the condition that most characterises social action in our time, and it is increasingly so for the youngest, who find themselves crushed by the weight of the contradictions of globalisation and its externalities in socio-economic, environmental and even personal terms. It is necessary to return to imagining the future, to sow the grains of hope in a world capable of remedying, over time, the injustices and aporias of a global economic-political system incapable of offering concrete answers to new generations.

Global federalism, with its universal vision, constitutes a concrete example of a socio-environmental and political structure capable of offering long-term solutions, capable of considering all levels and dimensions of current and future challenges. Being federalists must no longer be a mere act of faith, or a personal awareness, but must aim to constitute the renewing thrust capable of generating the change and vision of a possible future that we need now more than ever, especially among the youngest.

The principle of subsidiarity, the primacy of law over the law of the strongest, the recognition of differences in identity in the awareness of the unity of human society, the consideration of nature as a whole and not as a part clearly separated from the human sphere are the pillars of a federalist thought enlightened by the goal of global peace and justice. These principles – which we must proudly affirm to be values – also constitute the cornerstone on which to build a time horizon of hope and radical transformation of life on our planet. Federalism can – and I believe it has to – be that concrete narrative capable of bringing young people closer to a politics of action and to a concrete thought of a possible future.


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