political revue


Year XXVI, 1984, Number 2 - Page 134



The first volume of Spinelli’s memoirs[1] is a great book written by a great historical man. No federalist can afford to ignore it. Nor can anyone intensely involved with the history of our age turn his back on this book. Like all those who have read it, I could not fail to be deeply moved by the story of how Spinelli, thrown into the fascist gaols at a very young age, managed to turn the sixteen years during which he was first imprisoned, and subsequently condemned to forced residence in two small islands, into a source of spiritual wealth and liberty. Only later did I go through the pages of the book once more, this time guided by an inquisitiveness to learn the reason why, despite this, someone, like me, who has been a federalist for almost thirty years, whose life was transformed by the new line of the Ventotene Manifesto and who is today committed to the battle Spinelli leads, nevertheless, while never failing to respect and to admire him, still feels this man to be a complete stranger.
I looked for an answer to my curiosity in the beautiful passages, scattered here and there in the book, in which Spinelli condenses the main lines of his Weltanschauung.
One of them, for instance, deals with his conception of history. Spinelli is a post-Hegelian: he read and understood Hegel, but then set him aside, firstly, because Hegel’s philosophy did not meet Spinelli’s need to change the world rather than being merely contented with interpreting it and, secondly, because Spinelli could not accept considering himself and his actions as a part of a design or of a wider meaningful context. «I very much enjoyed, Spinelli writes recalling his reading of Hegel, the grandiose philosophy of history in which the world mind incarnates itself in an adventurous, yet dialectically rigorous, succession of epochs and philosophies, ending up in the both Apollinean and Dionysian awareness of having achieved itself and ... all of it proclaimed in a lecture hall in the University of Berlin in the eighteen twenties. All this enchanted me like a poem, and I have often re-read some of those wonderful pages, but have remained unconvinced. Having foresaken the Marxist philosophy of history which believes that, after many adventurous metamorphoses, mankind is bound to achieve a perfect communist society, I could no longer take the Hegelian one seriously, or indeed any other. I felt much more in sympathy with Croce’s idea of history as a history of freedom, i.e. of continuous human creation, in which there is no final point of arrival, but each landing is a departure for a new route ».
A second significant reflection, again conveyed in the form of a recollection, concerns the foundations of Spinelli’s ethics. Here too, he pays homage to historicism, but rejects it. In fact, he goes beyond such rejection and, quoting St. Paul, denies «any obligation to abide by a pre-existing idea of good». «What fascinated me, Spinelli adds, was the existential problem of deciding what to do, on the very brink of the existent and of the non existent. And I felt obliged to acknowledge that good is not something we apply: it is we – and in the last instance each of us – who are creating it through our action. Protagoras was right: ‘Man is the measure of all things’, even of good». This phrase does not, of course, have for Spinelli the sense of the existentialist dizziness of utterly arbitrary choice. Man must on the contrary create good by «constructing», i.e. with his own labour. But the relationship between man and good is always one of creation ex nihilo.
A third splendid passage concerns the idea Spinelli had, and presumably still has, regarding divinity. For him «it was not something high, perfect and immovable, towards which one has to strive, but something low, powerful, eternal and chaotic, from which one must attempt to emerge, as if from darkness, to create for oneself a brittle world of light. Such a divinity is not Spinoza’s quiet, harmless substance. It is an abyss mercilessly swallowing and endlessly generating among men a sense of humiliation and impotence... ».
Another, somewhat enigmatic, facet of Spinelli’s philosophy can be seen in some passages taken word for word from something he wrote in the Ventotene period. «There is a language of the night. It is not a reasoning unfolding in the sunlight and taking on a clear shape, comprehensible to all, or at least to those ready to make the effort to understand. It is a language which rebuts the others because it is a sheer monologue.
The language of the day, on the contrary, can only be a realistic language. gauging the existing forces, calculating how they are interwoven with each other, how it is possible to act upon them and in what way.
To speak the language of the day with assurance, one must know the language of the night, only by means of which the themes to be unfolded during the day are sketched.
Thinking in the day with the language of the night only exposes one to the risk of being misunderstood. But thinking in the night, i.e. in the hour of panic contact, when one experiences detachment from one’s own particular personality and from one’s own lot – thinking in the night with the language of the day means going astray in any meditation, striving to preserve one’s self when one should get lost. It means depriving oneself of the meaty food, full of a mysterious nourishing force, for the realistic language of the day.
That is why during the day one must attach importance to calculations, manoeuvring, skillfulness; but during the night one must refrain from trusting them entirely. The problem, in this case, is to understand what happens, not by virtue of calculations, manoeuvring, opportunities, but in spite of them».
And later: «Mythical language is a necessity. It is impossible to speak otherwise when one has grasped something essential, but does not yet succeed in understanding it. Plato realized this perfectly, and his superior intelligence is proved by the ease with which he gives up reasoning and goes about modelling and remodelling myths, with the sole purpose of not losing sight of something essential for the stupid reason that it cannot yet be expressed in the common language of reason».
One last sentence deserves quoting, the closing sentence to the book, which describes the moment when Spinelli, having returned from Ventotene, went back to civilian life: «While directing my steps towards the house of my parents with the wary walk of a peasant newly come to the city, unaccustomed as I had become to the traffic, I bade an imaginary farewell to my gaol comrades of all tendencies. Their innermost gregarious pride lay in the awareness they were one by one returning to their fighting post in their own political formation, which was there, was well-known, had been waiting for them and was getting ready to receive them joyfully for their tenacious faithfulness. My lonely pride was of a wholly different nature, as no existing political formation was waiting for me, nor was setting about to welcome me, to receive me in its ranks. It would be I who would create front nothing a new and different movement for a new and different battle – a battle that I, and probably for the time being only I, had decided to consider, even though it did not yet exist, more important than those which were then being fought and to which all the others were going to commit themselves. I had nothing with me, for the moment, but a Manifesto, some Theses and three or four friends who were waiting for me to learn whether the action about which I had spoken to them so much would really begin ».
* * *
The kind of relationship with life and with history emerging from these and many other passages in the book, made me think of an essay by Heidegger. (Heidegger does not in fact appear among Spinelli’s cultural references, but Nietzsche is repeatedly referred to). I am thinking of the first essay of Holzwege,[2] entitled «Der Ursprug des Kunstzverkes», on the nature of the work of art, but which considers the foundation of a state (die staatsgründende Tat) to be profoundly akin to the work of art. According to Heidegger the essential meaning of the work both of the artist and of the state founder is the founding of truth (Stiftung der Wahreit). Truth, like Spinelli’s good, is not thus something which «has always existed somewhere among the stars», but something which happens, which is not discovered, but created. ‘Work’ is the result of the permanent conflict between the world (die Welt), the principle that sheds light on things, opens up clearings in the inextricable forest of being, determines the decisions upon which a people’s destiny depends, thus giving a sense to its historical existence (Spinelli’s «brittle world of light») and the earth (die Erde), the primitive, dumb and dark element of hidden-ness (Verborgenheit), which is at the same time the foundation supporting both the work of the artist and the State founder and the material he uses to create his world, something very akin to Spinelli’s divinity, «low, powerful, eternal and chaotic».
Thus, in no sense does history link its successive phases into a single design. It is not a discourse each generation receives from the preceding and hands on to the subsequent one, to continue it in its turn (even, of course, by coming to grips with the past and denying it). Rather it must be said that each people and each epoch have a truth and a sense of their own: the one they receive from the creators of the works which found the truth («each landing is a departure for a new route»).
But for truth to live in any work, we need more than the creator (der Schaffende). Since founding the truth means opening a space, a clearing in the forest of being, raising a part of being above the earth, which remains its foundation, but tends to swallow it up once again in its closed impenetrability, we need the presence of someone who stays in the clearing opened by the creator, who guards the work (die Bewahrenden). Truth is thus founded by a few creators and entrusted by them to those capable of guarding their work.
All the others, with an everyday existence, addicted to the Alltäglichkeit, play no part in the game. History is a theatre in which a handful of men act, there are a few onlookers, while the rest pass by without noticing anything.
* * *
Even more precise are the correspondences between Spinelli’s reflections and the features of that stage of Eric Weil’s Logique de la philosophie[3] which Weil himself calls «the work», l’oeuvre. In Weil’s phenomenology the man who embodies the «attitude» of «the work» is post-Hegelian: he knows Hegel, but transcends him, not by refuting him, but simply by rejecting him. «He knows that all knowledge leads to absolute science; he does not want to know, not because he believes he is not ‘particularity’ – in point of being and of knowing he knows he is thus and nothing else –, but because he does not want to be ‘particularity’, i.e. something having its meaning not in something else (not to say: not even in something else), but in what is its disappearance in the universal».
This does not mean that «the man of the work» (l’homme de l’oeuvre) is an egoist, or an egocentric. On the contrary, he has no interest in his own ego: «he is ‘the work’ and nothing but ‘the work’». «The work», on the other hand, is a creation, «making something that did not exist before». And it «has no meaning in the world; it only gives meaning to the world, and this meaning cannot be anticipated, because it lies in its creation». The creator is one and the same with «the feeling of the work», (le sentiment de l’oeuvre) «which receives the name of violence in the language of those for whom the truth of existence is living together, and this is how it is called by «the man of the work» himself, when he thinks it appropriate; it is a total violence, no less complete than discourse, a violence which knows nothing but itself, which has created, is creating and will create all that has been, is and will be. Discourse is refuted by fact; nothing is understood, nor comprehensible, vis-à-vis the creative fact; history is not at an end: there is no history, nor comprehension, nor discourse vis-à-vis the ‘feeling of the work’». The «man of the work» does not have a language, he is the master of it. Hence, because he is not plunged into a discourse which is already there before him and which is the constituent element of the «generic» character of man, underlying the innermost communion of every man with each of his fellows (to whom he feels equal because he shares the same meanings) , the «man of the work» is «not only unique... but alone. It would be absurd for him to imagine himself in somebody else’s position, since there are no comparable places, nor beings. ‘Men’ do not exist, save in the sense in which the species homo has to be dealt with separately from the species canis; there is he, and even this is almost false, because the question is not about being, but about making, and any theoretical judgement has no bearing, save in the practical domain, He is alone, absolutely alone, not isolated like someone who has been outcast, or has withdrawn from a community to which he still belongs. The others look on him as one of them: so much worse for them; he can let them goon believing this, indeed even credit it, just as he can show himself to be a staunch enemy of theirs, with whom ‘one cannot live’, who is ‘mad’ or ‘a genius’: all this depends on him, on his ‘work’ and on the means he thinks fit to achieve it».
This does not mean, of course, that the creator should refrain from using the language which existed before him or from using it for speaking to other men. «The work» is carried out in the world – and hence through men as they actually are. But language is only an instrument for achieving «the work». «Men are nothing but means... language serves to use them, but has no meaning in itself, i.e. independently from its function». Behaving in this manner, «the creator is sincere, for he is ‘the feeling of the work’, which as such is not at all concerned with logical consistency, with having de la suite dans les idées». «The language of the ‘man of the work’ is therefore a language of feeling, which is directed towards feeling. And that is why he can be sincere, because it is not his words or their content that rnatter... What the creator says does not therefore constitute a discourse; if we want to label its changing yet ever-identical content with a specific term, then we may call it myth». These words remind us in a very suggestive way of Spinelli’s opposition between language of the night and language of the day (where the language of the night, the «sheer monologue», the «panic contact» is the «feeling of the work»).
But, if it is true that it is upon language that the «genericalness» of the human species is based, i.e. if language is the tie that links men in their feeling that they all belong to humanity, the fact that language is used as a mere instrument implies that men are used as instruments as well. This comes out clearly from Weil’s sentence quoted above: «Men are nothing but means... »; and later: «Men are the mass, the material of ‘the work’ », «the ‘man of the work’ cannot speak with the others, but only to the others». 
This is evidently true also for those who share his design, for «the ‘man of the work’ has nobody beside him. He has collaborators, he may have friends among those who, albeit not collaborating in his ‘work’, accept his myth, he has enemies, those in particular who oppose another myth to his ... but he cannot have equals».
* * *
I am inclined to recognize myself, and those fighting on the same front as I am, in another of Weil’s categories (where recognizing oneself in a category means taking it as a regulatory criterion for one’s political behaviour): this is the category of «action» (l’action) (a category which in reality falls in with that of «meaning») even though Weil could not concede this since, as a pure philosopher, he was obliged to keep them apart and to hypothesize the latter as consequent on the former). The «man of the action» (l’homme de l’action) is not the master of language, but is aware of himself as a link in a significant chain) which is history. He is, to be sure, a link that continues the chain and which, therefore, helps determine the meaning of the whole context. That is why he acknowledges the reality of a language which was already there before him and through which he has given a name to things and a shape to the main decisions in his life. It is a language in fact whose meaning is not «somewhere, among the stars », but inside men, inside every man, and which makes up the atmosphere rendering communication among men possible, and enabling. them to collaborate with a view to enriching the meaning of their living together: i.e. with a view to continuing the choral discourse of history, by setting up a continuity of meaning between the dead, the living, and those to come.
It is precisely this language, in which everybody participates but of which nobody is the master, which is the foundation for that essential equality among men that enables each of them, potentially at least, to see the truth that is inside others and to work towards achieving it. Meaning, in fact, is often buried in men’s soul: it will come out explicitly only at the end of prehistory. For the present, the struggle for human emancipation cannot completely dispense with cunning and violence. But the main instrument of the «man of the action» is rational discourse, the dialogue between men of equal dignity, in a common search for truth in history.
Hence the «man of the action» does not have two languages but, at least tendentially, only one. And historical transformation is not for him a creation from nothing by a single individual, but a collective undertaking, at once theoretical and practical, through which man becomes what he is, i.e. uncovers and reveals his essence.
* * *
I believe that in order to bring about, in our age, a great historical transformation such as founding the European Federation, both the «man of the work» and the «men of the action» are necessary, however deep the psychological gulf dividing them may be. Moreover, it must be recalled that the «man of the work» is a hero, and hence is one and one alone, and cannot be replaced, whereas each of the «men of the action », taken individually, is replaceable. That is why I profoundly admire Spinelli, though feeling no affection for him, and, although not ranking among his followers, I support him at present with all my strength.
Francesco Rossolillo

[1] Altiero Spinelli, Come ho tentato di diventare saggio. 1. Io, Ulisse, Bologna, Società editrice Il Mulino, 1984. The following quotations are drawn from pp. 166, 208, 277, 319, 343.
[2] See Martin Heidegger, Holzwege, Frankfurt a. Main, Vittorio Klostermann, 1963 (1st. ed. 1950), pp. 50-62.
[3] Eric Weil, Logique de la philosophie, Paris, Librairie philosophique J. Vrin, 1974 (1st ed. 1967). The following quotations are drawn from pp. 362, 363, 352, 357, 354, 353, 357, 358, 359.





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