The Italian philosopher, who was also mayor of Venice, reflects on the European drift in the face of the challenges of the coming times
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 The work of the spirit (“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 economic and financial sectors connected to 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 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?