This 500-page volume is Alberoni's most important theoretical work. From his point of view as a sociologist,
the great, long-lasting social formations - churches, nations, political parties, sects - are all due to the
action of collective movements, the only ones capable of creating solidarity. In the Anglo-Saxon tradition
society and the state are the product of a national agreement, a contract (think of Hobbes and Locke).
According to Alberoni, however, a contract establishes weak bonds. Strong bonds, on the contrary,
spring from an inner change, the nascent state, which permits a process of fusion between individuals
and the creation of a community.
The historical process is determined by two types of
transforming processes. The non-solidarity kind of transformation due to scientific, technical
and economic development does not create social solidarity, but, on the contrary, produces social
disintegration as it gains strength. At a certain point, however, movements recreate solidarity by
generating a new collective entity, a social mutant which clashes with the existing situation.
The nascent state of a movement is characterized by enthusiasm together with reconstruction of
the past (historicizing) and the future (project). The movement then creates a structure (institution)
which will last through time.
A collective movement is therefore a process that goes
from the nascent state to the setting up of an institution, from the exploration of possibilities to the definition
of certainties and roles. An institution always betrays the nascent state, but is at the same time its heir, holding
on to its hope and promise . Every new movement therefore challenges the institution in the name of the self-same
values it set up.
Great movements are formed by the merging and fusing of smaller groups -
units in the movement - each with its own leader. The charismatic leader of a great movement is usually the person
who succeeeds in unifying and controlling the countless units in the movement. Or it may be the person whose
actions have set in motion the process that gave origin to them.
A movement may be of a religious, ethical or political kind. It is
religious when the power experienced in the nascent state goes back to a transcendent entity. It is ethical
when the group becomes the instrument for liberating the individual. It is political when the group seeks power,
in order to transform a wider society.
The great institutions (The Catholic Church, Islam, Marxism, etc) are cultural civilizations born from movements but
having the ability to modify the social structure so as to become permanent and absorb the movements that challenge
them from within. The Catholic Church, for example, has grown by absorbing such movements as the Benedictine, Cistercian
and Franciscan ones in the form of orders.