Norberto Bobbio

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Norberto Bobbio in 1988
Norberto Bobbio signature.

Norberto Bobbio (October 18, 1909 – January 9, 2004) was an Italian philosopher of law and political sciences and a historian of political thought.


  • Lewis has written that "man makes history." Althusser unleashes a pamphlet at him maintaining that such is not the case: "Ce sont les masses qui font I'histoire." I challenge anyone to find a social scientist outside the Marxist camp who can seriously pose a problem of this type.
    • In: Telos Nr. 35-38, (1978), p. 11
  • If, then, at the end of this analysis, I am asked to take off the mortar-board of the academic and put on the hat of someone deeply involved in the political developments of the age he lives in, I have no hesitation in saying that my preference is for the rule of law rather than of men. The rule of law is now celebrating its final triumph as the basis of the democratic system. What is democracy other than a set of rules (the so-called rules of the game) for the solution of conflicts without bloodshed? And what constitutes good democratic government if not rigorous respect for these rules? I for one have no doubts about how such questions are to be answered. And precisely because I have no doubts I can conclude in all good conscience that democracy is the rule of law par excellence. The very moment a democracy loses sight of this, its inspiring principle, it rapidly reverts into its opposite, into one of the many forms of autocratic government which haunt the chronicles of historians and the speculations of political thinkers.
    • The Future of Democracy: A Defence Of The Rules Of The Game (1984), Ch. 7: The Rule of Men or the Rule of Law

Quotes about Bobbio[edit]

  • Philosophically, Bobbio’s response to the contemporary political condition of the West is the opposite of that of Rawls and Habermas. Where they have sought to efface the difference between sein and sollen, in a continual slide between idealizations of the existing world and factualizations of velleities beyond it, he has held fast to the principles of the legal positivism and political realism that formed him: values and facts are categorically separate domains, that are not to be confused. This is certainly an intellectual advantage he enjoys over them. But it comes at a price: to cut all connexion between the historical and the desirable risks delivering the world to what is undesirable, in the name of the same realism.
  • Bobbio’s account of human rights is thus a far cry from the deontological versions of Rawls or Habermas. It is radically historical.
  • Bobbio’s realism, what can be seen as the conservative strand in his thinking, had always coexisted, however, with liberal and socialist strands for which he is better known, and that held his primary moral allegiance. The balance between them was never quite stable, synthesis lying beyond reach. But in extreme old age, he could no longer control their tensions.

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