The legacy of Adriano Olivetti in politics

L’ordine politico delle Comunità (The political order of the Communities) is the main legacy of Adriano Olivetti in politics. The text remains of a paramount importance, even though Olivetti himself wrote other texts on the subject.

He was elected to Parliament in 1958 with the Community Movement, founded in 1948.

The book, written in 1945, has been reprinted in 2014 by the Edizioni di Comunità (, a publishing house founded by Olivetti himself in 1946, is also available in Kindle format.

At that time, in Italy, the institutional and constitutional debate was underway and some of the issues that are found in the book are not alive any more.

Substantially, Olivetti brings forward a project for a federalist constitution, combining socialist (not necessarily Marxist) themes with an aristocratic conception of the government. His proposal is definitely original.

Olivetti envisages a democracy based on people instead of being based on political parties, it was the kind of democracy that existed in the liberal governments of the XIX century.  It has been wiped out by universal suffrage before and by the mass media afterwards, to enter into a crisis perhaps final with the widespread use of the so called  social networks.

What is worth doing today is not so much reviewing the book as asking us: what, of that political project that we can define as ancient, is valid and possible even today?

The basic cell of its institutional architecture is a new territorial entity, the Community, which is both an electoral and an administrative constituency, with common economic and social characteristics.

Its population would range from 75,000 to 150,000 inhabitants (according to 1945 data): in fact, an economically self-sufficient unit in various economic sectors.

“The fundamental idea of the new society is to create a common moral and material interest among men who carry out their social and economic life in a geographical space determined by nature or history (op. cit. cap. I)”

Below some of the qualifying points identified in the Olivetti’s proposal that are worth reflecting on:

  1. Federal state composed of Regional States divided into Communities, enhancement of the family as an elementary and indestructible cell of the human society as well as of the person considered complete with his vocation (cap. I par. 14).
  2. Recognition of a higher moral law that Olivetti identifies with the Gospel, acceptable to believers and non-believers (I.17).
  3. Social reform with the progressive transformation of some large enterprises into public corporations (I believe that Olivetti referred to companies of strategic interest), whose capital would belong to the Community, to employees and to the Regional State.
  4. The administrative structures and the mechanisms of electing administrators are rather complex and perhaps dated. However, the new order respects the concept of democratic political representation, with classes of competence divided between the various levels and specialties, where the economic representation remains subject to the political representation.
  5. The principle of territorial representation is judged to be prevalent over others and in particular on the functional principle, this is why the territorial representation is synthetic while functional representations and political orders have an analytical character (a debate that today may seem senseless, but which made sense in 1945)
  6. The principle of selective specific competence was assumed to complement the elective systems. For some political assignments, Olivetti proposes the obligation not only of being University graduated, but further capacities either as lecturer (at the time there was still the institute of the “libera docenza” in the Universities) or through a title issued by a Political Institute of his own conception, having the task to create a political élite.
  7. The creation of a plurality of spheres of interest, in which the will of the majority can be determined, as well as of an articulated system of direct and indirect elections that can guarantee the specific competence and moral and cultural preparation of the elected. The political equilibrium of the state was considered as three dimensional: culture, democracy, work.
  8. Administration, both at the Community level and at the higher levels, divided into functional divisions:
    1. general affairs, which includes finances and has a hierarchical dominance over others;
    2. social relations;
    3. culture;
    4. justice that includes the police;
    5. care, hygiene and social security;
    6. urban planning;
    7. social economy.
  9. Electoral mechanism able to guarantee the democratic principle and the specific competence, through a requirement of a proper cultural level as well as through mechanism that provides access to a higher body only after a defined stay in a lower body. In the complex framework of local autonomy, the Federal State is nevertheless attributed the setting of general principles.
  10. Olivetti respects private property, but considers that, on the death of the owner, the Community, if it is the common interest, can invoke it in itself by corresponding the value to the natural heirs. Olivetti seems also in favor of distinguishing ownership from command functions.
  11. All elected or appointed representatives are grouped in a Political Order (or, rather, in various orders of different levels) which is part of the legislative system through a Chamber of the Orders aiming at replacing the Senate.
  12. The Chamber of Communities, also a legislative body, is elected by a system of second-degree elections without organized political parties. Olivetti supports the validity of a bicameral system by virtue of the universal presence of transforming and stabilizing forces, innovation and conservation, practical forms and theoretical forms.

Olivetti defines the system he himself devised as a democracy for the freedom of accession and aristocracy for the severity of choice. The three principles that must regulate the political order at all levels were:  universal suffrage, labour democracy, cultural aristocracy.

Furthermore, he envisages a global social security plan aiming at eliminating the pauperism, socializing medical and hospital care for all citizens, unifying social care with social security, giving the possibility to access the culture in accordance with personal gifts.

The book is not easy to read, not least because it presents itself not only as a treaty on politics but also as a model of constitution: however, the effort of reading is compensated by the ideas that are drawn from it, many of which are valid even today.

Gianluca di Castri  (CC BY-NC-ND) – 16/07/2020



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