Year LVIII, 2016, Single Issue, Page 83
ALTIERO SPINELLI, HERO OF REASON*
Even in his style of life, inspired by an exemplary simplicity, and a realism which feared no truth, however bitter, Altiero Spinelli incarnated Max Weber’s conception of the political hero perfectly. Weber, you may recall, concludes his essay on “Politics as a profession” with these words: “Politics consists in a slow and tenacious surmounting of great difficulties, which must be achieved with passion and discerning at the same time. It is perfectly true as history has borne out time and again that what is possible would never be achieved if someone in the world did not keep on trying to achieve the impossible. But whoever attempts to do so must be a leader, and not only that — in the sober sense of the word, he has to be a hero as well. And whoever is neither, must, from the outset, forge that temper which will stand him in good stead when all hopes collapse, for otherwise he will not even be able to fulfil the little which really can be achieved today. Only the man who is sure he will not fail despite a world too stupid or vulgar (from his point of view) to appreciate what he is offering and who can still stand up and say: ‘never mind, let’s press on!’ has a vocation for politics”.
It could not be put better and Altiero Spinelli could not be recalled in any other way. We should merely add that he was a hero of politics because he was a hero of reason. He had come to be recognized throughout Europe as one of the “founding fathers” together with Monnet, De Gasperi, Adenauer and Schuman. As the years pass, and as values are selected and the meaning of historical undertakings comes to be established, he will certainly be recognized as one of the few great political figures of this century. Certainly no-one more than he ever founded his political design more exclusively on reason. It is a fact that, though an Italian, Spinelli did not consider Italy as a reality to be accepted before being submitted to the scrutiny of reason. And it is a fact that, although he was converted to democracy after his Leninist experience in early youth, he never considered the great ideologies of our political tradition (liberalism, democracy and socialism) as exclusive schemes, nor as a mental boundary within which political thinking should be confined. It is against this background that the meaning of Spinelli’s European design emerges clearly. The whole political process, despite the increasingly unitary nature of the historical process, still remains directed towards changes to be made in one’s own nation, as if this were sufficient to resolve the great and pressing problems of a continental and world nature: even peace, in this prospect, is seen as an objective which would be pursuable by merely adding up the sum of national policies. Spinelli was on the other side of the fence. Having freed himself of the national and ideological conditioning of the past, and starting from basic principles, he managed to map out supranational constitutional action for the strategic objective of our times in Europe: Unity, or to put it another way, the European Federation. He was thus the first to undertake political action based on the struggle for the creation of new powers rather than on the conquest and use of existing (national) powers. For this is the only way to re-establish the balance between technological capacity and political capacity and move the world down the road to true civilisation: organised peace.
* This year marks the thirtieth anniversary of the death of Altiero Spinelli. This editorial was written by Mario Albertini as a tribute to him, and originally published in issue n. 1, 1986 of this review.