Massimo Cacciari (Venice, 76 years old), philosopher, is an influential thinker who in his country has alternated political experience, —as mayor of Venice, for example, a position he held between 1993 and 2000 and between 2005 and 2010—, with the theory. His ideas about the future of Europe, which he underlines in this interview made from an email questionnaire, have led to a pessimism that makes him say that “the politics of the euro” has consolidated “political and cultural failure” in that have derived the hopes of a continent that will not necessarily emerge better from the pandemic. Cacciari demands decisive attention from the humanities to stop this descent into hell that the metaphor of Europe itself has. His latest book published in Italy is Il lavoro dello spirito (“The work of the spirit”).
Question. What transformations do you think the pandemic will cause?
Answer. The pandemic is a formidable accelerator of cultural and social trends that have existed for decades. Trends on the general organization of work, the hegemony of the economic and financial sectors connected to the new technologies, the crisis of the traditional forms of representative democracy.
P. You live your own form of populism. Despite the differences between one populism and the other, do they have the same effects on political life?
R. There has been too much talk of populism. The issues to really ponder are the ones I mentioned above. All populisms are reactions to that process that anthropologically disrupts our lives. They are phenomena of reactionary resistance and, therefore, in the long run, completely powerless. The problem is that today there does not seem to be a political elite in the Western world capable of governing the transformation into an alternative key.
P. Plato believed that politics should be governed by philosophers. Do you believe it?
R. It’s not about government of the philosophers. The Platonic paradigm, translated into current terms, raises the question: is politics a bad practice, is it a mere job or, to function, must it be structured through organization, bureaucracy and powers? Should the politician be the product of a lottery or a coincidence, or rather an exhausting process of training and selection? In the origins of democratic thought, the answer was obvious: democracy is valid as a selection of the best. The values of democracy are aristocratic! This is the paradox that we have forgotten.
P. In recent years he has reflected a lot on humanism. In what way do the great humanists help to understand and rethink this present?
R. I have tried to offer an image of humanism in an anti-anthropocentric sense, far from any irenist-conciliatory utopianism. The humanism of Alberti, Valla, Machiavelli, and also of Guicciardini and Bruno. They are reasons that also differentiate it from the mainstream of the philosophy of the scientific revolution. And that may bring him closer to the problems that dominate our crisis.
P. You are a philosopher, reflecting on the classics. Do they serve to illuminate a drama that until now we could not even imagine?
R. We have yet to understand the classics; they await us tomorrow. They represent everything that is not past, that which has not been consummated. They are never in fashion, they do not suit any era. Those who want to belong to their time will always be reached and surpassed. The classics teach us never to belong to it.
P. You have referred to Europe as a self-destructing project. He refers to the lack of classical studies as a key factor in the destruction of knowledge. What are the consequences of this negligence?
R. I have worked a lot on the idea of Europe since the early 1990s. It was my Hope principle after the fall of the Wall. My books have also been translated into Spanish Geophilosophy of Europe (1994) and The Archipelago (1997). Today I could no longer write them. The Europe of the euro has been a cultural and political failure. Either it is coldly acknowledged or any recovery will be impossible. A unitary political space of Europe is still necessary (which can only be conceived in a federalist way), or no state will be able to withstand global competition, but it seems that it has become impossible. Europe is fleeing, like Italy in the eyes of Aeneas, but that is where we should go …
P. Beyond religions, faith is a powerful factor in dealing with life’s problems, he said. Does the absence of faith consolidate the fear caused by the virus?
R. The classics of political thought have always recognized the essential role of religious faith in the great processes of social and political transformation. If today “God is dead”, religion has not been dethroned at all. It is the religion – but precisely in the Lucretian sense of the oppressive bond – of money, of exchange, of proceeding indefinitely without any end. The dominant religion is pure superstitious idolatry.
P. The pandemic has once again highlighted immigration as another major European challenge. And there is Lesbos as a metaphor for human selfishness.
R. The way in which the European states have faced the great problem of immigration is the most dramatic sign of the myopia and the helplessness of Europe as a political subject. They have reduced a period problem to emergency or even police problems. As if Europe did not have a vital need, given its demographic trend, for formidable migratory flows within it. As if the biblical movements of peoples between different areas of the planet were a phenomenon that could be stopped with walls, with the blockade of a port or with shameful concentration camps in Libya. Europe has failed and continues to fail in its Mediterranean policy.
P. Over the years you have had a close relationship with politicians, such as Pasqual Maragall in Barcelona, or with institutions such as the Círculo de Bellas Artes, which have awarded you. What is your perception of the role that our country plays in the European construction?
R. I do not see how, essentially, Spanish policy differs from that of other European states. I have not heard him speak autonomously on any of the major issues that I would say have not even been properly understood (such as immigration). I think, I would like to add, that the way in which the dramatic Catalan question has been approached is a demonstration of a non-centralist way bordering on authoritarianism, which contradicts that perspective of European unity as authentic foedus between nations, which is (or was) mine.
P. The German leadership of Europe is criticized. But is there an alternative?
R. I have repeated it several times. There is no federation of European states if the federator. And the federator It can only be the country that wields the greatest power, and not just economic, that is, Germany. If Germany insists that it does not want to be the leader of a well-founded process of European political unity, based on cooperation and solidarity, this process will definitively stop in its purely commercial dimension.
P. In his latest book he seems to speak of a defenseless politics between economics and technology. From this pandemic, will politics emerge stronger or weaker?
R. The lesson weberian nowadays – to which I have dedicated my last essay –, it teaches that the contemporary politician must recognize the power of the apparatus, of the technical-scientific-economic-productive system. But, at the same time, he must know how to compete and test in conflict with himself according to his own vocation, or his own duty-to-be. And this can only be expressed in the will to free oneself from any form of coercion, dependence, of work as punishment, imposition. Purpose somehow immanent in the same philosophy, which has guided European science from its origins. For Weber, this prospect seemed highly unlikely a century ago. Today it may be impossible: in the great empires, the political dimension is already a whole with the technical-economic system, giving rise to a new form of political capitalism. It would really take another Capital to analyze it.
P. You are one of the great contemporary philosophers who has been in politics all your life. Is this relationship of intellectuals and politicians now over?
P. The current elite is emerging, in fact, as a symbiosis between formidable bureaucratic apparatuses, political leaders and leaders of large multinational companies. Between these dimensions there is a continuous exchange, also personal. Each recognizes the need for the other and is ready to support it. In empires that still present a democratic form, conflicts can arise, but, with increasing frequency, they are overcome without difficulty. In authoritarian empires, at the moment, they are not even conceived. But the mechanism is the same. The communication, information and misinformation apparatus revolve around this strong core. The space for a critical elite, oriented towards politics as a vocation, independent of the economic-financial system, is shrinking every day. However, it is not yet his destiny to disappear.
P. On the Italian left you have been a great defender of federalism. Will this pandemic bring back new waves of centralization?
R. The federalist idea is that political power is strengthened precisely by articulating and differentiating itself. It is based on the responsibility of each party; in the capacity of each element of the set to respond, to the extent that it corresponds, to the needs of the system. Greater power means greater responsibility. The federalist idea is based on the belief that a non-centralist, non-hierarchical-pyramidal organization works better, guarantees more efficiency than the traditional form of State; it is not an obstacle, but it favors the speed of decision making. The resistance of the old bureaucratic and political apparatuses has so far prevented this idea from ever being experienced. And yet, European political unity can never be achieved if not on the basis of it.