Year XXX, 1998, Number 1, Page 38
The thinking of Ernesto Balducci emerged fully in the essay published two years ago under the title L’uomo planetario (Brescia, Camunia, 1984). The author goes some way towards founding an authentic peace culture and for this reason it merits specific, if tardy attention from those who, like the federalists, consider the end of the political divisions of the human race as their main objective and the inspiration behind their work.
It must be said immediately that the condition of contemporary man is defined in this book in terms of its ambiguity: it becomes really planetary precisely at the moment when the extinction of the species ceases for the first time to be theoretical and acquires a high level of historical probability hanging over the immediate future. Scientific and technological progress which has given planetary proportions to mankind, establishing real co-existence for much of the human race and, potentially, for all men, has also introduced the possibility of universal destruction, which is thus shown not to be an unforseeable and inevitable natural necessity, but instead a possibility created by the decisions man can take in the course of his freedom.
In Balducci’s vision, the radical novelty of this situation marks the definite end of anthropocentrism which survived the Copernican revolution. The very hypothesis of the oneness of life in the cosmos, stressed by the author with an insistence that may appear excessive, far from contradicting this idea, acquires an emblematic value, as the image of an anthropological solitude rendered more acute by the perception of a catastrophic risk. The person is thus encouraged to assume overall responsibility for living nature, in terms of service and not possession, an approach which would seem to bring the author closer to an environmentalist position.
Behind the cosmological representation there is, in fact, great evidence of urgent moral preoccupation. Man liberated from all anthropocentrist leftovers has for Balducci recovered the sense of his own precariousness, not just in an individual sense, renouncing for ever the triumphalism of “magnificent, progressive destinies” and the ideologies and theologies that founded them. This type of existential modesty is the primary condition for pulling up the deepest psychological root of war culture. In a historical situation in which — according to the image of Franco Fornari mentioned by the author — St. George is no longer able to kill the dragon without killing the virgin and himself at the same time, and it is not longer possible to disperse the fear of death by sacrificing a scapegoat: “The only road to salvation is through man reconciling himself to his own death”.
It may seem, at this point, that reflection on planetary man is taking on a purely subjective value based on conscience irreparably estranged from the political field which interests us most, spilling over into religious meditation or even psychoanalysis. But this is not so. Balducci’s essay uses the psychological roots of aggression to characterize historically and to demystify “the laws of nature” that war culture has constructed to justify behaviour whose continuation would cause the end of the species. His polemic against the ideologies of the past never confines itself, which is far from being the usual case, to refuting every guiding principle; rather, Balducci’s reflection on planetary man is designed to find a possible response to the challenge which today faces all mankind. His bête noire is entirely different: it is the now desperate attempt to divine the historical future by extrapolating past tendencies, ignoring the radical quality of a break which has succeeded in questioning the very identity of the species and the sense of its evolution. From this derives his obvious lack of patience with that part of the political culture which continues to think of the future in the categories of war, victory and defence, as if nothing irreparable had happened, while the condition for planetary unity is the knowledge of possible catastrophe and its universal character.
Putting an end to war culture, by means of the evolutionary change that the circumstances require, is for Balducci necessary for the survival of the human race. In his view, faith now identifies itself, in a secular fashion, with the certainty of this change, a certainty which however appears to him to be “the historical path to practising theological faith”, since the choice on which it is based is more than a political choice: it is the choice between life and death or, as he says, Creation and Anticreation.
This summary of the essay could suffice to show its interest for federalist thought, as it corroborates our ideas about the present urgent need for a global political horizon, placing the end of the political division of the human race at the centre of the contemporary political perspective.
However, there are many points in this book which link up more directly with traditional themes of our thought. It is worthwhile recalling here what he said about the non-fulfilment of the hopes for peace awakened by the bourgeois and proletarian revolutions, founded on the dogma implicit in all “ideology about technological progress”, according to which the means will produce their own ends. Although he makes no explicit reference to the nation-state type of involution of traditional ideologies, this analysis comes to conclusions not very different to our own, since this kind of involution is in fact an example of the reversal of means and ends and the deterministic illusion that comes with this.
We are even closer to his ideas, which are in fact very critical, concerning the contemporary sprouting of political separatist movements with an ethnic and religious basis, which he interprets as a search for ancestral identity, in the face of the crumbling of the aggregating capacity of “progressive” ideas. Every federalist could thus share his judgment on this point, when he says: “The historical salvation of man lies not in religion, but in reason, taken as the foundation of an ethical conscience, proportionate to the new problems”.
To this false pluralism, which becomes a flight into the past to avoid the responsibilities of the present and the risks of the future, Balducci links the false universality of Western bourgeois ideology: the latter, according to the Hegelian scheme, “making the whole of concrete history coincide with its own logical ideas, ended up in a celebration of the present which left no leeway for alternatives”. Such a double refusal of the Western past, both remote and recent, brings the contemporary European (and not only those faithful to historical religions) up against an objective separation between his own original identity and the universality of the planetary vocation which the times call for. Religious conscience feels the anxiety of this separation very acutely, but, here too, Balducci has a secular proposal, a recognition of the past founded on the “critical instrument of verification and causal co-ordination”, with the aim of going beyond the opinions with which different cultural contexts have linked and conditioned the message of the individual historical religions, making the name of God a cause for division. He maintains that the discussion should go beyond the divisions between historical religions, submitting theists and atheists to a common judgment, both enslaved in different situations to schemes of power and oppression. A faith which contains the traditional anti-theist objections is in his opinion one in which “God is not thought of or imagined through conceptual filters, but instead is realized in love, devotion, the testimony which destabilizes this world dominated by self-sufficiency”, proposing not the reconciliation of believers with believers, but the reconciliation of man with man.
Clearly, even though not immediately occupying a position within political thought, L’uomo planetario nevertheless comes to bear on such questions as the difficult conciliation between universality and pluralism, which are the cultural prerequisites of political federalism and whose investigation is essential if the federalist proposal is not to be unduly reduced to its institutional dimension. In this light the polemical reference to the Carolingian Europe of the fifties and the insistence on the end to divisions inherited from the Second World War should be read as they appear in the particular context of this essay, adverse to every political abuse of the Christian name, but justly favourable to giving the churches an autonomous role as a critical conscience for civil society. In more general terms the insufficient or tardy sensitivity of the author to the political plan of European federalism must be understood as a reflection of a historical impatience which though censurable in a politician, is much less so in someone like Balducci, who has a prophetic vision of history in the long term: his main preoccupation has always been the Pauline aspiration to dialogue with the Gentiles — and in this case the so called developing peoples — beyond the limits of a Western Christianity now in his opinion undergoing dissolution as a social and religious reality.
In fact, this judgment on Europe, which in the book coincides with his judgment on Western culture, is necessarily ambiguous, because the West’s contemporary historical situation is ambiguous. It is worth looking here at two passages from the last chapter. 1939 is defined as “the year of the explosion of the civilization of those who had invented everything, explored everything, civilized everything, an explosion that thus revealed itself to those who six years later invented the uranium bomb and now are spreading their death strategies through space”. And yet, two pages later we read: “Despite the reservations which we must have about the technological organization of relationships between man and culture and between man and society, there is no doubt that technology created the structural conditions of planetary man”.
Within these obvious limitations, there are, however, ideas of great intelligence, which are perfectly capable of inclusion in a federalist perspective. This is the case of the chapter dedicated to Judaism, perhaps the most original among those dedicated to a summary appraisal of individual religious realities, where with reference to anti-semitism he speaks of “rejection processes by the social body in a search for compactness in the name of the idea of nation”, in terms which recall the federalist analysis of political totalitarianism as a radical refusal of diversity, seen as a cause of weakness for the state. No less interesting, in the same chapter, is the reference to the European roots of Zionism: “It must not be forgotten that the founders of Israel left Europe in order to become Europeans.” But most stimulating of all, from our point of view, is the consideration “that the historical destiny of the Jews is to aspire towards universality through their own uniqueness, so that they will remain a scandal and a symbol until the different human families, faithful to their respective differences, join together in a universal community”. “Until now”, continues Balducci, “if we have chosen the line of ethnic faithfulness, we have tampered with the criteria of total equality between people, and when we have chosen the line of this equality we have shown hostility, theoretical and practical, to every form of diversity, individual and collective. The Jewish question prevents us from squaring the circle, i.e. finding a solution to a problem which has not yet been resolved because the right conditions do not yet exist.”
Plainly, Balducci’s penetrating analysis here moves very close to its inevitable federalist conclusion.
What is lacking in historical analysis is however made up for by what I would call a prophetic element, but which could also perhaps be defined in more lay terms as a prepolitical or politico-cultural approach.
From the statement that “every judgment which does not take the indissoluble unity of the destiny of man into account is immoral”, and from the recognition of the relativism of every spiritual form, which deprives the change from one cultural form to another of all meaning, according to the traditional idea of conversion, Balducci finds arguments which lead him to propose “the option of a new identity in which all the identities of the human race could be included”. Here, and not by chance, he uses the image of the fragment of a shattered vase which, according to the custom of the primitive Christian communities, was given to the brother about to go on a long journey, as a sign by which he would be recognized on his return. The new identity would not, therefore, be an alternative to that which everyone builds up for himself, but would emerge from a knowledge of the limits of this first identity, and from a definite refusal of all totalizing presumptions.
With this happy image, even more than through any conceptual formulation, “planetary man” seems to achieve that unity in diversity which is the aim and final aspiration of our federalism. This attempt at reconciling seemingly contradictory needs appears to be precisely the change which the world needs as man becomes “increasingly free from need, but for this very reason increasingly more fragile and endangered in the vastness of the universe”.
Carlo Ernesto Meriano