939 267 2MB
Pages 112 Page size 358.08 x 592.32 pts
li f e a mo n g t h e anth ros and othe r e ssays This page intentionally left blank C L I F F O R D G E E RT Z Lif
529 126 1MB Read more
A l s o b y Dav i d F o s t e r Wa l l ac e Th e B r o o m o f t h e S y s t e m Girl with Curious Hair Infinite Jest
1,802 865 1MB Read more
"What Is Literature?" and Other Essays "What Is Literature?" and Other Essays JEAN-PAUL SARTRE Harvard University Pre
2,395 1,269 10MB Read more
BRONISLAW MALINOWSKI With a Preface by Huntington Cairns A GALAXY BOOK New York OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS 1960 Copyrig
655 296 11MB Read more
STEPHEN HAWKING Author or A Brief History of Ti??ie BLACK HOI4ES ANT BABY YNP-lERSES a s : tn-er essavs BLACK HOLES
5,317 1,558 5MB Read more
RICK WAKEMAN is the most gifted keyboard player of his generation, as at home on stage at a rock concert as in the organ
466 13 4MB Read more
Copyright © this translation Polity Press 2001 First published as De senectute e aim scritti autobiogra/ici, © Giulio Einaudi, 1996 Turin. First published in 2001 by Polity Press in association with Blackwell Publishers Ltd. Published with the financial assistance of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Editorial office: Polity Press 65 Bridge Street Cambridge CB2 1UR, UK Marketing and production: Blackwell Publishers Ltd 108 Cowley Road Oxford OX4 UF, UK Published in the USA by Blackwell Publishers Inc. 350 Main Street MaIden, MA 02148, USA All rights reserved. Except for the quotation of short passages for the purposes of criticism and review, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher. Except in the United States of America, this book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade of otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher's prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser. ISBN 0 7456-2386 7 ISBN 0 7456 2387 5 (Pbk) A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Bobbio, Norberto, 1909 [De senectute e altri scritti autobiografici. English I Old age and other essays / Norberto Bobbio; translated and edited by Allan Cameron. p. cm. Translation of: De senectute e altri scritti autobiografici. Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 0 7456 2386 7 (acid free paper) ISBN 0 7456 2387 5 (pbk acid-free paper) I. Bobbio, Norberto, 1909 2. Aging Philosophy. I. Cameron, Allan, 1952 11. Title. JC265.B59313 2001 305.26 dc21 Typeset in lIon 13 pt Berling by Kolam Information Services Pvt. Ltd, Pondicherry, India. Printed in Great Britain by MPG Books Ltd, Bodmin Cornwall. This book is printed on acid free paper.
OLD AGE Part I 3
Disgruntled old age Where is all this supposed wisdom? Rhetoric and anti-rhetoric The world of memory
5 8 11
OTHER ESSAYS To myself Intellectual autobiography Reflections of an octogenarian Reply to my critics Power and the law Taking stock The politics of culture
Appendix: Notes on the Text Notes Index
60 65 74
80 90 95 97 105
Publisher's N ate
This text is a selection of the essays which originally appeared in the Italian volume De senectute e aim scritti autobiografici (Turin: Giulio Einaudi, 1996).
Disgrunded old age Old age is not an academic subject, but I am an old academic. So allow me to speak this time, not as an academic, but as an old man. I have spoken so often as an academic that I con stantly run the risk of repeating myself, a risk that is all the greater because, as we all know, ageing academics are so in love with their own ideas that they bring them up again and again. I myself am beginning to realize that many of my writings in recent years have been variations on a single theme. I have been observing myself for some time, but, apart from a few aSides,l I have never discussed my experience of old age in public. How long have I been observing my oId age? Its threshold has shifted by about twenty years in recent times. Since Cicero, writers on old age have been aged around sixty. Today, sixty-year-olds are only old in the bureaucratic sense, in that they have reached the age in which they are generally entitled to a pension. An eighty-year-old was con sidered, with a few exceptions, to be so decrepit as to be unworthy of interest. Today, however, physiological rather than bureaucratic old age starts when you approach the age of eighty, which is our country's average life expectancy, although slightly lower fo r men and slightly higher for women. The change has been so great that human life, trad itionally divided into three ages, has been extended to the so called 'fourth age', even in official documents and studies into
Old Age and Other Essays
the question of old age. The novelty of this situation is best proved by the lack of a word to express it - even official documents still only refer to three ages: minor, adult and 'old age pensioner' or 'senior citizen' I am loosely defined in the last category. It is well known that, as well as biological age, bureaucratic age and chronological or birth-registry age, there is psycho logical or subjective age. Biologically, I started my oId age from when I was approaching eighty years, but psychologi cally I have always considered myself to be a little old, even when I was young. While I felt older than my years when I was a youth, in later years I thought of myself as still young and continued to do so until a few years ago. Now I believe myself to be old in every sense of the word. These moods are critically affected by historical circumstance - events occur ring around you both in your private life (such as the death of someone close to you) and in public life. I will make no secret of the fact that during the years of student revolt, when one generation rebelled against its fathers, I suddenly felt years older (I was about sixty) . It is possible to recover from a crisis of psychological old age. It is more difficult to do so in the case of biological old age, although modern medicine and surgery do work miracles . The much more serious historical crisis resulting from the fall of the Berlin Wall affected the entire world, and recently has been the cause of momentous events in Italy too . 2 This appears to confirm the idea that the course of history involves a continuous process of transition from one generation to the next. Like many of my contem poraries, I found this second crisis much more bewildering than the first, to the extent that I sometimes feel that I've lived beyond the generation I belonged to. When I chose this subject, one that I had been mulling over in my mind for some time, I never thought that it would become topical, albeit only fleetingly. Following the elections of March 1994 and the renewal of our ruling elite largely on a generational baSiS, there was a sudden outbreak of those grievances of the young against the old, an ancient phenom enon that always has a freshness about it. I was personally implicated in these events, which occasionally bordered on
Where is all this supposed wisdom?
the grotesque: it became apparent that the opposition candi date might get elected using the votes of a few senators for-life, who were mostly in their eighties like myself, and were a negligible and often neglected minority. 'Those old fools', as they were bluntly called, would once have been called 'venerable old men', admittedly an expression that today sounds pretty ridiculous. A great film director with a taste for vilification commented: 'It was amusing to see the dismal parade of senators-for-life, each one more corpse-like than the other: a bygone Italy we no longer want - a bygone Italy that has dug its own grave. As increasingly occurs in times of inflation in printed matter, the whole question had a few days of glory, and one newspaper summed up the debate under the heading: 'Giovinezza, giovinezza' a reference to the fascist hymn to youth translator's note].
Where is all this supposed wisdom? Let's face it: it is impossible to ignore the fact that old people are increasingly marginalized in an age marked by the faster arId faster pace of historical change. In static traditional soci eties that evolve slowly, an old person encapsulates a community's cultural heritage more fully than any of its other members. The old person knows from experience what the others have yet to learn in terms of morals, customs and the techniques of survival. The fundamental rules that govern community life, the family, work, moments of play, the treatment of diseases, attitudes to the next world, and relations with other groups do not change, and the skills involved are passed on from father to son. In developed societies, the accelerating change in both custom and the arts has completely overturned the relationship between those who possess knowledge and those who don't. Increas ingly the old are not in the know, while youth is, mainly because of its greater ability to learn. Centuries ago, Campanella had his traveller say at the end of Citta del Sole: 'Oh if only I knew what our prophets and those of the Jews and other peoples predicted by astrology for
Old Age and Other Essays
our century that has had more history in a hundred years than the world in four thousand, and more books have been produced in these hundred years than in five thousand. Today, it is more like ten years than a hundred. When Cam panella mentioned books, he was referring to the invention of the printing press as a technological advance, just like the computer today, which has increased the number of books exponentially. Now we probably print as many in a year as were printed in the entire century to which Campanella refers. Rapid technological progress, particularly in the produc tion of instruments that proliferate man's power over nature and over other men, is an objective fact that leaves behind anyone who pauses along the way, either because they cannot keep up or because they prefer to reflect upon themselves and turn in on themselves where, according to St Augustine, truth is to be found. But this is not the only thing that needs to be considered here. A phenomenon common to all times also contributes to the increasing marginalization of old people: the cultural ageing that accompanies biological and social ageing. As Jean Amery observes in his book on old age,4 older people tend to remain loyal to the principles and values acquired in their youth and mature years, or even just to their habits which, once formed, are painful to change. As the world changes around them, they are inclined to have a negative view of all that is new, solely because they no longer understand it and have no desire to make themselves under stand. We all know how common it is to praise the past: 'Florence, within her ancient circle from which she still takes tierce and nones, abode in peace, sober and chaste.'s When an old man speaks of the past, he sighs: 'Ah, in my day.' When he speaks of the present, he curses: 'What times are these1' The more old people hold firm to their own cultural uni verse, the more they become estranged from the times in which they live. I can easily relate to this line of Amery's: 'An old man who now finds that Marxists, whom he not unreasonably considered champions of a rationalist army, now identify in some ways with Heidegger, must feel that
Where is all this supposed wisdom ?
the times are out of joint, indeed suffering from a split per sonality: the philosophical mathematics of his own era has been transformed into a kind of magical calculus. ,6 We experience the way one philosophical system is continuously replaced by another as a series not of advances but of steps backward. The system that you believed to have eclipsed the previous one is then eclipsed by the one that follows. How ever, with the passing years you don't realize that you have become the mould-breaker whose mould has been broken. You are paralysed by your estrangement from the system that preceded you and your estrangement to the one that fol lowed. The more rapid this succession of cultural systems, the greater the sense of estrangement. There is barely enough time to acquaint yourself with a new current of thought, let alone assimilate it, before the next one comes along. It would not be entirely mistaken to speak of 'fashions' My head swims when I think of how many highs and lows, how many meteoric rises and sudden falls from grace, and how many sudden shifts from prominence to oblivion someone of my age has witnessed. You cannot possibly follow them all. There comes a time when you have to stop, your breath faifing, and you console yourself by saying: 'it's hardly worth it.' It is the time, as Amery observes, that marks 'the end of any possibility to develop yourself further in the cultural sense' 7 He also implies that fifty years is the age when this occurs. Although it is impossible to generalize, I am ready to admit that there are many philosophical, literary and artistic works that I am no longer capable of understanding and, because I do not understand them, I shun them. Our thought runs with the 'spirit of the times' in the Hegelian sense. Consider how classicism and romanticism contrasted each other for a long historical period, itself divided by an explosive event in the shape of the French Revolution. Such a contrast is no longer possible. There has been nothing similar in the last fifty years, a period in which we have witnessed a succession of trends and personalities rapidly appearing and equally rapidly dis appearing under the following wave. You had a figure like Sartre, but after Sartre, came Levi-Strauss, Foucault and
Old Age and Other Essays
Althusser, just to keep our examples to France. Many intel lectual mentors, but no single one that dominates all others. The only division that we have come up with is the one between modern and postmodern, but it is slightly odd that as yet the only name for this innovation in our time involves the addition of a feeble 'post' to the preceding era. 'Post' merely means that it comes after.
Rhetoric and anti-rhetoric I am fully aware that our literature has a long rhetorical tradition of treatises exalting the virtues and pleasures of old age, stretching from Cicero's De senectute, written in 44 BC when the author was 62, to Elogio della vecchiaia by Paolo Mantegazza, which appeared at the end of the nineteenth century when he was 64. These works are nothing less than a literary genre that provides both an apologia for old age and a belittlement of death. Cicero discusses the subject in accord ance with the classical model of contempt for death. 8 Youth itself is no stranger to death. Besides, what is there to worry about when my soul will survive my body? 'Nature has given us this dwelling-place in which to stop for shelter, not to live in forever. Magnificent will be the day when I will depart for that divine meeting-place and assembly of souls, leaving behind this disorderly throng. ' The positivist and Darwinian Mantegazza dispensed with troubled thoughts of death more briskly and prosaically: 'There is simply no need to think about it. ,9 Why torment yourself with thoughts of death? Besides, death is nothing more than a return to nature into which all things come together. It goes without saying that I find this eulogistic genre nauseating. It is all the more tiresome now that old age has become a great social problem that remains unsolved and difficult to solve, not only because of the increased number of old people, but also because of the increased number of years that we live as old people. More old people and a longer old age: put these two factors together and you get an idea of the exceptional gravity of the situation. A doctor once told
Rhetoric and anti-rhetoric
me that when he was discussing old age with a group of sick people, who were naturally complaining, one of them interjected: 'It's not that old age is so bad, the problem is that it doesn't last long. ' Really, it doesn't last long? For many sick old people who cannot look after themselves, it goes on for far too long! Anyone who lives amongst old people knows that for many old age has become a long wait for a longed-for death, partly thanks to medical progress, which often doesn't so much keep you alive as prevent your death. You don't continue to live, you just can't die. Dario Bellezza has written: 'Fleeting is youth / mid-life a murmured breath / old age draws out eternal / its slow and ghastly tread.' Yet there is still a rhetorical presentation of old age, but not one that nobly defends the final age of man against the derision or even contempt of the first. No, it is found mainly on television and consists of a disguised and highly effective attempt to ingratiate potential new consumers. In these advertisements, the elderly rather than the old, to use the more neutral term, appear sprightly, smiling and happy to be in the world because they can finally enjoy seme particularly fortifying tonic or exceptionally attractive holiday. Thus they too have become highly courted benefici aries of the consumer society, depositories of new demands and welcome participants in the enlargement of the market. In a society where everything can be bought and sold, even old age can become a commodity like any other. If you look into rest homes and hospitals, or small apartments of the less well-off where an old person has to be continu ously supervised and cared for, because he or she cannot be left alone even for a second, then you will realize the falseness of the supposedly disinterested but in reality self-serving and flattering expression, 'old is beautiful. This banal formula, well suited to a society based on the market, has the encomium of the virtuous and wise old Innumerable inquiries, using painful first-person accounts, have shown what it is like to be old and poor, and have revealed the no less painful and sometimes more pitiful
Old A� e and Other Essays
circumstances of their close relations. I refer in particular, because I took part myself, to such collections of writings and accounts as Vecchi da morire (1987) and Eutanasia da abbandono (1 988), published in the series Quaderni di promozione sociale edited by Mario Tortello. I particularly recommend Sandra Petrignani's short book, Vecchi, 11 whose intense and effective examination of the life old people lead in a hospice makes a fascinating and disturb ing read. It made me think about the question of life and death more than any philosophical work. The old people who confided in the author had nearly all given up hope. Even religion almost never provides succour. They were literally in despair. An 8S-year-old widow whose son had died in a terrible accident: 'Life is always a mistake. Nothing would induce me to live my life again . . A good life does not exist anywhere for anyone. An architect of eighty-one whose wife had died: ' You believe that you are fond of things, memories and your own property. You spend a life making a home with its little corners, its armchairs. Then one day you no longer care. Really, you don't care about a thing. ' An old woman of eighty-five has 'stopped living' following the death of her husband: 'I mustn't start crying, it is all so awful . You cannot understand what it is like to wait for this void. You just can't. I can't explain it. I immediately want to cry . It is as though our life never existed, and I'm gradually forgetting everything. When I've forgotten absolutely everything, I'll die and that will be that. ' An old embroideress who never married and lost her only friend when she committed suicide: ' I sleep, and when I'm not asleep, I cry. I would like to smash my head against the wall. I am eighty-three years old. That' s too many. I should be dead by now: no one cares whether I'm alive or dead. An old mother remembers her little girl who died aged six many years ago, and still cannot resign herself to it: 'It was terrible after her death. I never had another day's happiness . . I have always been frightened of the world, old age is just another misfortune. How can you be happy in such a terrible world? Things are indifferent to our fate, nature is indifferent, God is indif ferent.'
The world of memory
The world of memory Strangely, traditional attitudes to death based on fear and hope never appear in these personal accounts. Fear is chal lenged by the tedium of living (taedium vitae), which turns death into something to be hoped for rather than feared. Hop� of getting better or moving on to a new life, which comes to the sufferer's assistance even in situations that appear desperate, is opposed by the desire to dissolve and cease to exist (cupio dissolvi). However, taedium vitae and cupio dissolvi have nothing to do with the mystics' con tempt for the world (contemptus mundi). For them life was also miserable, but its misery was not the product of a cruel or indifferent God, but of sin, and contempt for the world was a 'natural transition on the ascent towards God' Now for those who are tired of life and long not to exist, death is the desired repose after the colossal and pointless bur den of living. According to one writer: 'My vital forces are so exhausted that I can no longer see beyond the grave, I cannot manage to fear or desire anything beyond death. I Gamlot believe in a God who would be so hard-hearted as to wake someone tired to death and sleeping at his 12 feet.' The self-satisfied old man of traditional rhetoric and the old person bereft of all hope are opposite extremes. I have given them particular emphasis to force us to reflect once again upon the variety of our attitudes to life amongst the myriad contradictory values we find around us, and therefore upon the difficulty in understanding the world and, within this world, ourselves. Between these two extremes, there are infinite other ways of experiencing old age: passive accept ance, resignation, indifference, or the various disguises of those who refuse to see their own wrinkles and accept their own increasing weakness and who hide behind the mask of eternal youth and inflexibly continue the same work as before, a conscious rebellion often doomed to failure; or conversely there is detachment from worldly cares and absorption in thought or prayer, living this life as though the individual
Old Age and Other Essays
concerned were already in the next. Old age is not divided from the rest of your previous life: it is a continuation of your adolescence, youth and middle age. It reflects your vision of life and changes your attitude towards it, depending on whether you perceived life as an impassable mountain to be climbed, as a river in which you are immersed and which carries you slowly towards its mouth, or as a wood in which you wander uncertain of which path will lead you out into the open. There are happy old people and there are dismal ones. There are the satisfied ones who have peacefully reached the end of their days, and the troubled ones that remember above all their own misdeeds and anxiously await the final fall from grace, from which they will be unable to lift themselves up. There are those who savour their own victory and those who cannot forget their own failures. There are those who have lost their reason, to the distress of others rather than them selves, victims of a cruel penance, whose cause is unknown both to them and to us. Cosima, a character in Petrignani's book, affectionately says: 'The half-witted are wonderful, they are like crazy children. They will follow you into any fantasy, so that you end up not knowing what is fantasy and what is their reality, the life they had and forgot or wanted to forget.' The world of old people, all old people, is to a greater or lesser extent the world of memory. People say that ultimately you are what you have done, thought and loved. I would also say that you are what you can remember. The attachments you have nurtured, the thoughts you have thought, the actions you have taken and the memories you preserved and did not leave to perish, are all your personal wealth of which you remain the sole guardian. As long as you are not aban doned by your memories, you are free to be abandoned with them. The past is the dimension in which the old live. Their future is too short for thoughts of what is going to occur. Old age, as the sick man said, does not last long. But precisely because it doesn't last long, you have to use your time not for making plans for a distant future that is no longer yours, but in trying to understand, if you can, the meaning of your life or the lack of it. Think hard. Do not waste the little time left.
The world of memory
Retrace your steps. Your memories will come to your aid. However, your memories do not emerge unless you seek them out in the furthest corners of your brain. Remembering is a mental activity that you often fail to engage in because it is either arduous or embarrassing. But it is a healthy activity. By remembering you rediscover yourself and your identity, in spite of the many years that have passed and the thousands of events you have experienced. You come across the years lost in time, the games played as a child, the faces, voices and gestures of your school friends, and places, especially the places of childhood, that are most distant in time but most clearly defined in the memory. I could describe every step and every stone along the country road we used to walk as chil dren to reach an isolated farm. When in your memory you return to places of the past, the dead crowd around you, and their number increases with every passing year. You have been abandoned by the majority of those whose company you kept. But you cannot cancel tlrem from your memory as though they had never existed. When you recall them to your mind, you bring them back to life, at least for a moment, and they are no longer entirely dead - they have not disappeared completely into nothing: the friend who died as a teenager in a climbing accident or the school friend whose plane crashed during the war, whose body was never found and whose return his family expected for many years. You wonder why. The death of Leone Ginz burg in a prison in German-occupied Rome. Pavese's suicide. And again you wonder why. As I have referred to the many ways of experiencing old age, some might wonder what has been my experience of it. I believe that I have given a clue in this latter part of my argument. In a word, I would say that mine is a melancholic old age, and by melancholy I mean the awareness of what has not been achieved and what is no longer achievable. It corres ponds to the view of life as a road, along which the destina tion constantly shifts further down, and as soon as you reach it, you realize that it is not the final destination you first thought. Old age is the moment when you become fully aware that not only have you not finished your journey, but
and Other Essays
you will also never have the time to do so. You are obliged to give up on that final stage. Melancholy, however, is tempered by the constancy of affections that time has not devoured.
Two years have passed since I wrote the preceding pages. Now I am approaching eighty-seven. The two leading think ers of my generation, Benedetto Croce ( 1 866- 1 952) and Luigi Einaudi ( 1 874- 1 96 1 ), both admired for their hard w6rking old age, died at the ages of eighty-six and eighty seven respectively. I would never have dreamed of living so long. I have no recollection of anyone living beyond eighty years on either my mother's or my father's side, with the excep tion of a paternal great-grandfather. My father, whom I resemble, died at sixty-five, and I never expected to live beyond that age. I had reached my sixtieth year, when the years of student protest started in Italy, and sons rebelled against their fathers. I suddenly felt old. I wrote that 'it would be foolish, indeed vain, to spruce oneself up, hide the wrinkles and affect a youthfulness that has long been left behind.' 13 Another twenty years have passed since then. I was a delicate child, and to my great embarrassment I was excused from gymnastics as a teenager owing to an ill ness whose identity is still a mystery, at least to me. That is when I acquired my world-weariness, a permanent and invincible lethargy that was to get worse with the passing years. Tiredness as a natural state has for many years been a recurring theme, when I'm complaining about life in let-
Old Age and Other Essays
ters and conversation . My friends consider it a bad habit of mine, almost an attempt to attract attention, and they don't take me seriously. 'I'm increasingly falling apart', I recently told an old friend. He replied with a slightly mock ing air: 'You've been telling me that for twenty years. But the truth is - and it is difficult to explain this to anyone younger - that the descent into the void is long, much longer than I would have ever imagined, and slow, so slow as to appear almost imperceptible (although not to me) . The descent is continuous and, what is worse, irreversible: you descend one step at a time, but having put your foot on the lower step, you know that you will never return to the higher one. I have no idea how many more downward steps are to follow. I can only be sure that their number is steadily decreasing. In spite of it all, in spite of my fears and forebodings, I am still here two years after my first statement on old age, sitting at my desk in my large study whose four walls are covered with increasingly useless books. Two large windows brighten the room, one looking onto the hills and the other looking up an extremely long avenue to the mountains in the distance. It appears that nothing has changed. In reality, many things have changed over very few years, both in the world, with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War and the Soviet empire, and in Italy, with the elections of 5 April 1 992 and the beginning of the transition from the First to the Second Republic. And there have been changes in me: in 1 988, at the approach of my eightieth year, I suffered the first afflictions of real old age, and not just the old age I had imagined and feared. My feeling at being still alive is mainly one of astonishment, almost incredulity. I cannot explain by what good fortune I have survived, or who has protected me, sustained me and taken me by the hand. I cannot understand how I have managed to overcome all the obstacles and even mortal dangers: the diseases, accidents, natural disasters and infinite misfortunes that threaten human life from the moment of birth. I often recall these words of Achille Cam panile, the much-loved comic writer of my generation, which I read many years ago :
I am still here
I've always wondered about these old people. How come they managed to pass through so many dangers hale and hearty to reach such old age? How come they didn't end up under a motor car or succumb to a fatal disease, how come they managed to avoid roof tiles, muggings, rail crashes, shipwrecks, lightning, falls and pistol shots? Truly these old people must be protected by the devil himself! Some even dare to cross the road ever so slowly. 14 Are they mad?
I am mad. I am increasingly tottery on feeble legs, and I cross the road leaning on my stick and holding my wife's arm. Even my friends, with whom I have shared the same passions, ideals and scholarly interests, do not cross the road any more, and they seem a great deal fitter than I. Fortune is blind folded, but misfortune, my doctor son tells me, has excellent Iyesight: once it has taken a dislike to some sickly soul, it will give that poor person no peace until he is completely drained of all life. Up until now, I have been protected by the lady with the blindfold, whose proteges have no cause for boast ing, precisely because they were chosen entirely at random. For how much longer, I cannot say. I cannot even say whether my end will be due to chance, and thus unforeseeable and imponderable, or to destiny, and thus an event foreseen and pondered upon by a power unknown to me . I neither know nor wish to know. Chance explains too little, necessity too much. Only a belief in free will helps us to feel masters of our own lives, but it too could be an illusion. Yet, although by and large no one wishes to die (there are exceptions, but very few and they generally meet with disapproval), death comes to us all without distinction. Whether by chance or as a result of destiny, it matters little to those who die. Whether an event occurs 'by misadventure ', as lawyers would say, and thus could have not occurred, or occurs by force majeure, and therefore could not have not occurred, the result is the same: we are exonerated from all responsibility for that event. In the case of something malign like death, the only point of attributing it to an event that was not foreseeable or to one that had been foreseen for all eternity is perhaps the
Old Age and Other Essays
consolation of saying that 'you couldn't have done anything to stop it.' We can only speak in a considered manner of our destiny, which is by its very essence unknown and therefore shrouded in mystery (one of the many themes that philosophers have endlessly discussed) , once it has been fulfilled. But once it has been fulfilled, in the very moment of its fulfilment, it is no longer a mystery. The fulfilment of mysterious destiny is, paradoxically, not at all mysterious. It is no different from any other event that occurs before our eyes every day. There is absolutely no relationship of necessity between the unknown destiny while it remains unfulfilled and the event that fulfils it. This does not stop th� external observer from asserting that that which has occurred had to occur, out of our essential need to find a rational explanation for the occur rence, and it is a causal explanation that most satisfies and comforts us . Only other people can speak of my death . I can give an account of my life using my memories and the memories of those who are close to me, as well as documents, letters and diaries. I can speak of it up to my very last minutes. But I can never speak of my death. That is up to others . We rush to give our condolences to relations of a friend. They compete with each other in their detailed accounts of how the friend has passed away, repeating the last words that possibly the dying man never heard and describing every last gesture that per haps he was unaware of. I alone will not be able to speak of my death . My death is unforeseeable for everyone, but for me it is also unspeakable.
After death What follows is even more unspeakable. What will come after? Do we really believe that something will happen that could later be described, and that one day someone will describe? People differ a great deal. We distinguish them by endless different categories: race, nation, language, custom, intelli-
gence, looks, health, wealth - it would be impossible and pointless to list them all. But I have always been astonished by how little importance we attach to a distinction that should express most profoundly their deep-rooted difference: the belief or disbelief in life after death. It is a fact that human beings are mortal. It is a belief and not a fact that death, that most tangible of events, which we see occurring around us every day and on which we never cease to ponder within ourselves, is not the end of life, but a transition to another form of life perceived and defined in different ways according to the individual, religion or philosophy. There are those who believe in this and those who don't. There are even those who do not think about it, and those, perhaps the majority, who say 'Well, who knows1' Since I was a child ind first started to think about the problem of death, I have always felt closer to the non-believers. What are my arguments? We could talk about it forever, but what I have never been able to accept (I admit it's a failing on my part) is the way Pascal's wager is used to bring discussion abruptly to a close. For the non-believer, the main argument is an awareness of our insignificance compared with the immensity of the cosmos, an act of humility when faced with a universe of worlds whose boundless, even immeasurable, grandeur we have only recently begun to understand. The non-believer's response puts an end to all other ques tions. For the believer, on the other hand, the most agonizing questions arise from the moment in which he accepts the existence of another life after this one. Another life: but what kind of other life? As we know absolutely nothing about it on the basis of experience, a different answer is provided by every religion, every prophet or visionary, every wise man who believes or pretends to know, and all human beings, however simple, who are horrified by the idea of their own death or cannot accept the passing of a loved one. All these answers are equally credible. There is only one world, of which I only know a tiny fragment through my experience and the accumulated experience passed down over the cen turies by endless thousands of people who lived before me. There are infinite other worlds that are only imagined. Plato's
Old Age and Other Essays
other world is not that of Epicurus . The other world of the Jews is not that of the Christians . When I say that I do not believe in a second life or any further lives after that (in accordance with the belief in re incarnation), I do not mean to assert something that is incon trovertible. I merely mean that I have always found the arguments of doubt to be more convincing than the argu ments of certainty. No one can be certain of an event for which there is no proof. To use the title of a recent book by Gianni Vattimo, even those who believe, only believe they believe. I believe that I don't believe. It seems to me that anyone who has reached my age should have only one desire and hope: to rest in peace. I often recall the short prayers for the rosary, learnt as a child and repeated I know not how many times: ' Grant eternal rest unto them, 0 Lord. These are the words that appear over entrances to Christian cemeteries. Of course, the prayer then continues: 'And let perpetual light shine upon them. But perfect rest, particularly if eternal, requires not only silence but darkness. The images of rest and light are conflicting. More usually associated are those of sleep and darkness. You cannot imagine life without death . Not unsurprisingly humans are called 'mortals' Even the most cynical, dispas sionate, imperturbable, contemptuous and indifferent take death seriously at some point in their lives; if not that of others, then at least their own. The only way to take it seriously is to think of it as it appears to you when you see the immobility of a body that has become a corpse: it con trasts with life which is movement. Death taken seriously is the end of life, the ultimate end, an end beyond which there is no new beginning. Anyone who has regard for life, also has regard for death. Those who take death seriously also take life seriously, that life, my life, the only life that I have been granted, even though I do not know why or by whom. Taking life seriously means accepting firmly, coherently and as se renely as possible your own finitude. It means knowing with certainty, absolute certainty, that you have to die, that this life exists entirely within time, and within time all existing things are destined to die. Canetti has queried whether many
people would discover that life i s worth living, i f they didn't have to die. The strongest argument in favour of death being the final end and death being nothing more than death, is that you only die once. The end of life is both the first and the last end. Even those who argue that there is a second life after death, do not argue that there is a second death, because the second life, if it exists, is eternal and a life without de�th. My death is the end of me as an individual, and it alone is an absolute end. Many things in the world of nature and in history finish in order to start again. Day is followed by night, which is followed by day again. The ancients had a cyclical vision of history, and the phase that ended one cycle was destined to reappear in the next. The cycles follow one the other ad infinitum, as with Nietzsche' s ' eternal If death is the ultimate end, then life becomes extinct. By 'extinction' we mean an end without a new start. The dinosaurs are an extinct species. The Sumerian civiliza tion is extinct. The Seleucid dynasty is extinct. Marx believed that the state was destined to become extinct. Anything that is extinct, has finished for always. 'Just as all human things have an end', wrote Montesquieu, 'the state of which we speak will lose its liberty and perish. Rome, Sparta and Car thage all perished. We know so little of this other world that everyone im agines it as befits their hopes and fears - in accordance with the dreams that have deceived them and nightmares that have tormented them, and under the influence of the teachings and doctrines to which they have been subj ected. It can be a remedy for your sufferings or a recompense for your unhappiness. The next world should be completely different from this world. The only thing we can be sure about is that, if it exists, it is different. But in what way is it different? Science fiction books indulge in descriptions of worlds, but they are worlds created in the image of this one, albeit with bizarre, extravagant and fanciful, although not entirely unreal, characteristics. They are worlds of the here and now, and not worlds of the hereafter. It is impossible to portray the next world to which the part of us not destined to die is supposed to go and live after death,
Old Age and Other Essays
leaving our bodies to rot underground or to be completely destroyed in a crematorium. There are no limits to our im agination. I am curious to know how those who believe in life after death imagine it. Such curiosity is quite legitimate, for how else are we supposed to believe in something about which we have neither an idea nor an image. There are many possible replies . Apart from the one provided by our religious tradition in which the other world is the place where divine justice rewards the good and punishes the bad, one of the most common images comes from popular tradition, according to which the hereafter is where the dead meet other dead people who were most dear to them in life: the inconsolable mother is reunited with her daughter who died young, the daughter who reacquaints herself with the father who died when she was a child and of whom she only had the vaguest memory in life, or the old man who died alone in a hospice once again embraces his wife and relives the happiest days of his life.15 But these simple and all too human replies betray the illusory nature of this belief. They are all replies that reveal a distressing attachment to life, and a craving for survival, compared with which survival in memories of those who knew us, loved us or held us in esteem, is a too tenuous and ephemeral consolation. How long does memory last? Memory is so short when compared with the desire for or hope of immortality1 Only a few men, who are considered great for their good or evil deeds, leave indelible memories and are in fact referred to specifically as 'immortal' But what of the others, the infinite others whose memory is lost without trace? My parents had a baby girl who was born before my brother, considered the first-born. She lived for three days, and my parents often spoke of her when we were small. Gradually, however, they spoke less of her. All that is left of that brief life is a slight trace in my memory and a tiny gravestone in the family cemetery. When I'm dead, no one will have any memory of her. If any of my children or grand children visit that grave in the future and read that small stone, they will wonder who she was . No one will know the answer. She came from nothing and returned to nothing
within a few hours of life. Can you give a meaning to that fleeting life of which I alone in the universe still retain a fading memory? Death takes me into the world of not being, the same world that I inhabited before my birth. That void that was me knew nothing of my birth, my coming into the world and what I was to become; the void that I will be will know nothing of what I have been or of the nfe and the death of those who were close to me and enriched my days, and the events that caught my interest every day as I read newspapers, listened to the radio and spoke to friends. If I die before my wife, with whom I have shared more than half a century of my life, I will k,riow nothing of her death. Not only will she die without me, but without me knowing about it. Equally I will know noth ing of what will happen to my children and the children of my children, whose lives will continue beyond 2000. I will know nothing of world events, about which I have puzzled so many times vainly attempting to infer uncertain predictions. I will know nothing of the alternating periods of war and peace, or of the transformations affecting the society in which I have lived and whose vicissitudes I have witnessed and partici pated in with fervour. Everything that has a beginning also has an end. Why should my life be an exception? Why should my life be any different from other events, whether natural or historical, and have a new beginning? Only that which has had no beginning, does not have an end. But something that has neither beginning nor end is eternal.
Slow motion One of Erasmus's aphorisms, Bellum duice inexpertis, is trans lated into the proverb: 'He who praises war, has not stared it in the face. ' 16 When I read praise of old age, with which the literature of all times is stuffed, I am tempted to alter Eras mus's expression to : ' He who praises old age, has not stared it in the face. ' The ' gay science' of geriatrics is in part respons ible, albeit involuntarily and with the best intentions, for
Old Age and Other Essays
covering up the afflictions of old age. I would never challenge either its effectiveness in improving the old person' s lot, to my own considerable benefit, or the nobility of its aims, which are not only the alleviation of physical suffering, but also encouragement for those entering the final stage of life, who no longer need to feel so overcome by fear of decrepi tude, which at times can be obsessive. It allows the old person to feel a winner in relation to those who died young and are the losers . Old age is the final stage of life, mainly depicted as deca dence and degeneration: the downward curve of an individual but also, in the metaphorical sense, of a civilization, a people, a race or a city. According to the cyclical interpretation, it is the moment at which the cycle finishes . Indeed, winter is depicted as a decrepit old man who trudges wearily through the snow. An old people is a people destined to be subjugated by a young barbarous people lacking a history. In the distinc tion between old and young, 'young' represents the positive side of the whole, and 'old' the negative side. Youthful Adam is contrasted with the old man who has to be reborn. The new order that should be installed is contrasted with the old order that has to be buried under its own ruins . The Old and the New Testaments. The 'New World' as against old Europe. The Young Europe of peoples against the Old Europe of princes. The new bourgeois class will replace the old aristoc racy, just as the new proletarian class will in turn overthrow the old bourgeois class. The passage from old to new is a sign of progress, and from new to old, of regression. To take a topical matter, will the new constitution correct the defects of the old one? I don't deny that there are expressions in current use in which the value of the two terms is inverted, and 'old' becomes a term of respect. But they are more rare: ' an old head on young shoulders', 'grand old man', 'the old guard', 'veterans who fought for their country' 17 Hegel explained the difference between the positive and negative meanings of old age in these terms: 'Natural old age is weakness; old age of the spirit, on the other hand, is perfect maturity, in which it returns to unity as the spirit. '
I n my experience, although it may not b e the rule, old age is distinguished from youth and middle age by the slowing down of the workings of both the body and the mind. Old people's lives unfold in slow motion. The hands and fingers move ever more slowly, and this makes it difficult to use equipment such as computers, for which agile fingers are indispensable if you are to get the most out of your machine. The legs walk ever more slowly: during my short promen ades, I have come to realize (although until recently I never noticed) just how many old people like me drag themselves along the pavements, often accompanied by a younger Their little steps are cautious, as though they find on an impracticable road full of obstacles, and not on a flat and well-paved city pavement. There is slowness imposed by circumstance: the solemnity of a priest in a procession, the majesty of a statesman at a public ceremony or the mournfulness of pallbearers and the bereaved that follow. Every solemn occasion requires slow time: the measured gesture, the rhythmic step, the ceremo nious gait, and the calculated and emotionless speech inter rupted by measured pauses, each word distinct and slow to follow its predecessor. The slowness of old people, however, is distressing for themselves and painful for others to watch. It evokes forbearance rather than compassion. It is a matter of course that the old man lags behind while others push ahead. He stops and sits on a bench. He needs a bit of a rest. Those who had been behind come up to where he sits and then pass by. He would like to quicken his steps, but simply cannot do it. When he speaks, searching for words as he does so, others listen possibly with respect but nearly always with some sign of impatience. Even one's own ideas come out of the mind more slowly, and those that do are always the same. What a bore1 It is not that an old man is particularly fond of his own ideas, it is just that he doesn't have any others. And hasn't everything been said already? Is there anything new to be said? He repeats himself without realizing it, because even the mechanics of memory have been hampered. He does not recall that he said or wrote the same thing almost in the same words the
Old Age and Other Essays
previous year, the previous month and, as the process of decadence becomes really advanced, even the previous day. He turns in on himself but also fools himself into thinking that he continues to go through life with the same boundless curiosity. Both ideas and words struggle to come out. Often when he writes and particularly when he speaks, he has the impression that his vocabulary has been impoverished, that the reservoir from which he drew the flow of his words has dried up or, for some inexplicable reason, has become inac cessible. At an age like mine, the well of memory has become so deep that I cannot see the bottom, partly because the light that shines into it has become so dim. In order to reconstruct even just a fragment of my past life, an episode I would love to tell, a conversation that once inspired me or a letter that once told me so much, I have to engage in the time-consuming business of identifying brief tracts of memory that appear and disappear like flickers of light in the dark. It is a very slow operation, and you are never happy with the end result, as there is always some piece missing from the jigsaw puzzle. I cannot remember a name that was once so familiar. I cannot even approximately rehearse arguments I once knew well. Who was there that day? And when was it anyway? The area occupied by my explorations in various fields of knowledge is shrinking without me being entirely conscious of it. It is as though the store, where I have been accumulating knowledge through the most disparate reading and studies that for each subject lasted years and involved visiting libraries in different countries and consulting hundreds of books and documents, is suddenly full and nothing more can enter. Now when I read a new book, I find myself dwell ing more on what I already knew than on what I did not know up to that point. I am more interested in the repetition of a · fact or a well-known idea, which happily confirms what I learnt many years before. A new idea is almost like an unwel come guest attempting to intrude on a place that is already overcrowded. My readings have become more selective. It is not so much reading as rereading. In my experience, the method of selec tion operates in the following manner: the system of concepts
you have gradually constructed, which allows you to put in order the facts and ideas offered up by years of study, tends to close itself off as you get older, as though it had reached perfection. It therefore becomes increasingly difficult to insert new facts and ideas that don't have existing pigeon holes ready to accept them. If the information is too much, it has to be simplified to make it fit. The surplus is reject ed because there is no room. On occasions you force and distort facts to make them comply with each other, and then you hear it said that you do not understand or that you are a has-been. The situation is aggravated by the rapidity of due to scientific and technological progress: the immediately becomes the old. Keeping up in any field requires greater mental agility than once was the case, but yours is steadily declining. While the rhythm of life for old people is slower and slower, the time they have ahead of them decreases day by day. Those who have reached the final stage of their lives experience with varying degrees of anxiety the contrast between the slowness with which they are obliged to proceed in completing a task that consequently requires more time, and the speed and inevitability of the approaching end. The young are quicker and have more time ahead of them. The old not only proceed more slowly, but the time remaining for the completion of any work they are engaged in, is becoming shorter and shorter. Time is running out. I need to accelerate my movements in order to arrive on time, but I realize with every passing day that I have to move with increasing sluggishness. I take more time and I have less. I ask myself anxiously: 'Will I make it?' I feel driven by the need to finish, because I know that the little time I have left will not allow me to stop for an occasional rest. Yet I am forced to strain myself while remaining stuck on the same spot, hindered in my movements and my mem ory lost. I am obliged to halt for taking notes on pieces of paper I will never find when the time comes to use them. They have invented wonderful instruments to assist the memory and speed up the process of writing, but I can't use them, or if I do, I use them so badly that I get no benefit. My
Old Age and Other Essays
father rode his bike after the car had been invented. I have gone back to using a fountain pen (in a manner so illegible as to exasperate my readers) . On a little table next to where I write, proudly sits a computer. I am in awe of it. I haven't yet become sufficiently familiar with it to use it with the same confidence that I once used a typewriter. Like a child going to piano lessons, I need a strict schoolmistress who orders me to do half an hour of exercises . They say that wisdom for an old person means accepting your own limitations. But to accept them, you first have to know them. And to know them, you need to find an explan ation. I have not found wisdom. I know my limitations only too well, but I do not accept them. I acknowledge them, but only because I have no choice.
Lost opportunities I am a child of the twentieth century. Born a few years before the First World War, I have a few very clear memories of that event: the morning that my mother, my brother and I accom panied my father to the station - he had been called up as a captain in the medical corps and was proud of the officer's uniform that he wore for the first time in his life; the celebra tions for the taking of Gorizia on 1 0 August 1 9 1 5; the flood of refugees from the Veneto region to Piedmont following the defeat at Caporetto; and in early November 1 9 1 8 came the announcement of victory, sudden but not unexpected, and it was an uncle in the army who phoned to tell us. While I am writing not a day passes without the news papers giving further information on the celebrations for the close of the century and the start of the third millennium. The 'short' century has come to an end, but it has been marked by terrible events: two world wars, the Russian Revo lution, communism, fascism, nazism, the advent of totalitar ian regimes for the first time in history, Auschwitz and Hiroshima, decades of the balance of terror, and then, follow ing the fall of the Soviet empire and the end of the Cold War, an uninterrupted explosion of national, ethnic and tribal wars
in many different parts of the world, geographically con tained but brutal nevertheless. Finally, there is the elusive, incomprehensible and, for the most part, unprecedented phenomenon of international terrorism, whose solution con tinues to evade us. Having reached the end of this century, I am not only dismayed but also unable to give a rational answer to all the questions posed by the events I have witnessed. The only thing that I feel I have understood - but it' s hardly a great discovery - is that history is unpredictable for many reasons which historians are well acquainted with but do not always into account. Nothing is more instructive than compar what actually happened with the predictions, great and small alike, of famous historians who depart from an account of the bare facts. De Tocquevi1le' s prophecy that the future destiny of the world would be entrusted to the United States and Russia has been constantly held up as a successful ex ample, and it is one of the few that could be. But does it still apply? Who would ever have predicted the end of the com munist empire in a few decades while in a few decades it had expanded its borders to central Europe and to the outer reaches of Asia? Turning to the history of my own country whose vicissitudes I have commented upon for many years, who would have predicted the sudden, rapid and decisive fall of the First Republic? I certainly failed to do so, and I believe I was not alone. Besides, I had never been able to envisage the end of the Cold War without blood being spilt, and I had always been tormented by the nightmare of nuclear warfare. I never imagined in my wildest dreams that the First Republic, which, in my opinion, was settling down to a bipartisan system that was beginning to work almost perfectly with the progressive growth of the Communist Party and its increasing independence from the Soviet Union, would crumble miserably and shamefully. Another mistaken predic tion. Historians and, more to the point, politicians who are also players in a country' s history, would be well advised to com pare occasionally their predictions, which also influence their behaviour, with events as they actually occur, and to assess
Old Age and Other Essays
how much and how often the former correspond to the latter. I often carry out this test on myself: it is both revealing and mortifying. It would be superfluous to say that the result is nearly always deplorable. I don't deny that it could partly depend on my natural inclination to expect the worst. Even when, very exceptionally, things turn out right, for me that is, my scepticism remains to the very last and I don't easily give in to a sense of optimism. 'Why did it take so long! ' is my likely reaction. It is now too late to understand all that I would have liked and have tried so hard to understand. I have devoted a large part of my long life to reading and studying an interminable number of books and papers, even using the smallest breaks in my day. I have done so since my youth so as 'not to waste time' Ca genuine obsession for which I have often been jok ingly reproached by friends who know me well) . Now I am resigned to the unpleasant truth that I have barely reached the foot of the tree of knowledge. The most lasting satisfac tions of my life have not been products of my work, in spite of the honours, prizes and public recognition - very welcome but not sought after and not desired. No, they came from relationships with other people: the teachers who enlight ened me, everyone I have loved or who has loved me, and everyone who has been close to me or now accompanies me on this final stretch of existence. As I have said, an old person lives in the past tense. And the past is relived through recollections . The great wealth pos sessed by the old is the marvellous world of the memory, an inexhaustible source of reflections on ourselves, the universe in which we have lived, and the persons and events that have caught our attention along the way. The wonder of this world is the unsuspected quantity and immeasurable variety of things that it contains: the images of faces that have long since disappeared, places visited in the distant past and never revisited, characters from novels read in adolescence, fragments of poetry memorized at school and never forgot ten, and many, many scenes from films and plays . It contains the faces of actors and actresses who have long been forgotten but are ready to reappear whenever you wish to see them,
and when you see them again, you feel the same emotions as you did the very first time. It contains endless popular songs, arias from operas, excerpts from recitals and concerts that you replay within your mind as you accompany the rhythm and the whispered notes with imperceptible movements of your body. You can remember a particular tenor or soprano, violinist or pianist, or indeed the conductor of whose vari ously solemn, agitated and imperious gestures you were recently reminded when talking to a friend of the first concert you heard long ago in a grand city opera house (1 am thinking here of Victor De Sabata's direction of the 'New World' symphony) . This immense treasure lies submerged and �its to be brought back to the surface by a conversation or printed word, or when you rummage for it while lying in bed unable to sleep . Occasionally it is produced by some involun tary association, or by some spontaneous and mysterious movement of the mind. While the world of the future is still open to the imagin ation, it does not belong to you any more. The world of the past is the one in which you immerse yourself through your recollections, you turn in on yourself and reconstruct your identity that has been formed and revealed by the uninter rupted chain of actions stretching throughout your life. You judge yourself, you absolve yourself and you condemn your self. When your life is coming to a close, you can even attempt to draw up a final balance sheet. But you must hurry. An old person lives on memories and for memories, but the memory weakens day by day. The memory's time proceeds in the opposite direction to real time: the most vivid memories are recalled for the most distant events. But you also know that what remains, what you have managed to draw back up from the bottomless well of memory is only the tiniest part of the story of your life. Don't stop there. Never cease delving deeper and deeper. Every face, every gesture, every word, every distant song, seemingly lost but now rediscovered, will help you survive .
I � the entry for 28 December 1 840 of his Italian Diary 1 840John Ruskin claims that ' It is tiresome keeping a diary, but it is a great source of pleasure to have kept one. ' During my life, I have always avoided this tiresome task, but now as an old man I cannot enjoy the great pleasure of using one. I have to make do with a great mass of notes scribbled on different occasions, which are often undated and stuffed into folders in no particular order. They contain quotations from books and ideas that sprang into my mind while reading, walking or dreaming. Often they are imaginary conversations with real people - writers, j ournalists and occasional visitors. In such scribblings, I express not only feelings, resentments, likes, dislikes, impatience, minor irritations and fierce disap proval, but also comments on contemporary events, brief discussions of some doubt, arguments for and against a theory under debate, and outlines for future writings. Often these notes contain autobiographical comments, thrown in not so much for posterity as to give vent to a state of anxiety, to reflect on an error I made in order not to repeat it, to describe a defect in order to free myself of it through self-awareness and self-confession. I have written and continue to write very many letters, in spite of the advent of the telephone. In these letters, of which only a small part have been kept, I am occasionally obliged to speak of myself in order to reply to my readers ' questions. I have to thank Guido Ceronetti for the following recent com ment, which I immediately noted down: 'When I have the 41,
Old Age and Other Essays
opportunity, I p assionately sing the praises of letter-writing amongst those thinking beings who have not yet been brought down to the level of the beasts by communicating solely by telephones, mobile phones and faxes . It is not enough to say homo cogitat. A person who really thinks, writes letters to his friends . ' 1 8 And my friends know very well that I do not like being phoned. The all-too-frequent request for an interview over the phone is something that puts me in a state of agitation . Before having me disturbed, some regular callers ask my wife what my mood is, while others get their excuses in first: ' Sorry to bother you, but you' ll have noticed that I haven't called you for a month . My portrait could start with the fragility and vulnerability of my nerves . I would like to adopt, albeit in the form of parody, the self-definition provided by a Japanese poet that I recently read: 'I don ' t have any philosophy, only nerves . ' 1 9 When I was a boy and prepared myself for confession, grown ups helped me in the task by suggesting that I should give particular emphasis to the sin that, in their opinion, I most frequently committed: that of anger. I then started to use a word solely for those occasions, and I cannot remember whether it was ' irascible' or the even more obscure term ' iracund' , which I preferred who knows why to the more banal 'bad-tempered' In school, when we were a bit bigger, I was known and gently teased for my sudden outbursts of b ad temper, called 'holy rages ' These occurred when I happened to hear vulgar remarks, saw the weak as victims of j okes in bad taste, suffered an unfair rebuke myself or felt myself the butt ofloutish behaviour. As an adult my interest in politics, which never became an exclusive passion and still less a pathological obsession, has been a continual source of furious rages . It still is, but in recent years I have become, if not more indulgent, then at least less intolerant and less fiery, although there are still three or four personalities around that I really cannot stand. I can see their comic side, and I vent my spleen with a few appropriate expressions and then calm down. My teaching also played its p art: especially the exams that lasted for hours often with third-rate students who tried to get away with the familiar old tricks. I remember one, who
left all the talking to me and then at the end of my explan ations said with reverence to flatter me: 'Precisely . ' But I wouldn't like to give the impression of being one of those profe�sors who gets pleasure from telling stories about the idiocies of their students, which are a mirror image of the stories told by students about the idiocies of their professors. I believe I was among the ranks of easygoing professors, but there were moments in which, due to tiredness or the increas ing conviction of the pointlessness of that encounter with the student being examined, I lost my temper and gave him a thorough dressing down. Who knows if one of them might to read these pages and finally vent his feelings by to me and telling me how much he detested me . I sometimes bump into old students who talk of my lessons with excessive praise due to the memory' s involuntary embellishments of the past or an innocent and unconscious reverence for an old teacher. They are mistaken, however, because I don't think that I was ever a good speaker, and this being the case, I drew some comfort from Croce' s confession, which I have never forgotten since I first read it: ' It's easier for me to write than to speak, and I am not well-practised in the orator's skills. ' 2 0 So far it has never happened that someone has said or written any unpleasant words on my arguable and for him insufficient skills as a teacher. If it did happen, I would not be surprised, nor would I be offended. If anything, it would be long overdue and would give me a feeling of release . I have always regretted my outbursts of anger, but only rarely have I been able to control them. Precisely because I can't always control them, I am ashamed and suffer as soon as I become myself again, something that nearly always happens straight away, as unexpectedly as the original outburst itself. I lament the fact that I allowed one of the two war-horses of the irrational soul, the irascible one (here the learned expres sion is more fitting), to have prevailed over the nobility of the rational soul. I have a tendency to be hard on myself and to be self destructive. I have never attempted to examine this trait very deeply and I am only aware of turning in on myself and
O ld Age and Other Essays
of suffering (very frequent) bad moods at times when every thing seems to be going wrong. Fortunately these moments are counterbalanced during periods of calm by the opposing and salutary tendency to self-pity. My doubts about myself and my unhappiness with what I have achieved, much of which was unexpected and unhoped-for, have always arisen from the conviction, or at least the suspicion, that the ease with which I have followed my own path, which proved inaccessible to many of my contemporaries, was due more to good luck and the indulgence of others than to my virtues. Indeed I may have been assisted by some of my defects that proved crucially beneficial, such as my ability to withdraw in time - before taking the final and most risky step (I could write a treatise on this argument and call it Concerning My
Moderatism) . Not having ever been at peace with myself, I have always desperately tried to be at peace with others. I don't know whether there is a similar connection between internal peace and external peace in relations between states. I am tempted to think so. Once again, without wishing to find erudite explanations which I happily leave to the experts, I believe that fundamentally my insecurity, which generates anxiety and favours my irresistible inclination to extreme pessimism, results from the difficulty I have had since adolescence in learning the business of living. This difficulty has been aggra vated by my conviction that I still haven't been able to learn it, in spite of my exceptionally long apprenticeship. As a child, I was well known for my shyness. As a result, people felt sorry for me or occasionally ignored me . Relations who knew me at the time, have always reminded me of the speed and frequency with which I blushed if a stranger spoke to me, and immediately afterwards I blushed for having blushed. I might admire the arrogant, the bold and the overly self assured, but they also get on my nerves. I do not envy them, because, apart from the fact that envy' is not one of the sins of which I feel guilty, this would mean being pained by the success of others. I can only be completely indifferent to the success of the bold, the arrogant and the overly self assured.
At peace with others. In the many years of my active participation in public life and in the public view, I have of course had my adversaries. But I do not believe that I ever looked for them or cultivated them. I haven't always replied to my critics, because often their objections hit the nail right on the head, and it was much wiser to profit from this, instead of coldly searching around for counter-arguments solely out of wilfulness. One of my favourite mottoes is : 'It is never too late to learn. On the other hand, a real slating destroys me and paralyses me . It deprives me of the lucidity necessary to If my severe critic is right - and why shouldn't he then I would do well to change profession. Even now I am shaken and disturbed by the first slating I received imme diately after the war in the most authoritative philosophical magazine in Britain. 2 1 How could I reply? I was in a state of shock, as though hit by lightning. When I give in to the temptation of pride over the success of a book that has sold a lot of copies and has been translated - the ultimate vindica tion - into English, or in response to prolonged applause at a conference, I think to myself: ' Remember what that critic wrote about you, remember what that other one said. Sometimes I have replied sharply, I have to admit. There are some subjects on which I am not willing to compromise. The tongue ever turns to the aching tooth. Even though I have never acted the part of the veteran Action Party campaigner, given that I only had a very small walk-on part in it, I have never tolerated the two opposing rebukes that are most often and most persistently made against the members of the Action Party: those of being too feeble in their anti communism and too severe in their anti-fascism - in other wor:ds, of not being equidistant. I do not deny the truth of this observation, but I believe there were good reasons for not being equidistant. I have spoken of this many times, and I will not persist. Because of the historical revisionism of recent years, I have noted with bitterness that the rejection of anti fascism in the name of anti-communism has often ended with another form of equidistance that I consider abominable: the equidistance between fascism and anti-fascism. This equi distance goes back to those who, right at the beginning of
Old Age and Other Essays
the process of re-establishing Italian democracy, pontificated about the need to go beyond fascism and anti-fascism, but the problem is that this makes it more difficult for later generations to perceive the difference between a police state and a state based on the rule of law, and between a dictator ship, albeit a less cruel one than in Nazi Germany, and the First [ Italian ] Republic, albeit something of a lame-duck democracy but one that still manages to limp along. This equidistance also fails to recognize that fascism, the first dictatorship in the heart of Europe following the First World War, was responsible, in its subsidiary role to its more powerful ally, for unleashing the Second World War that, ending in a tragic defeat, was a stain on the history of a country that for a long time had been counted amongst the civilized nations . We will only free ourselves from this shame if we fully realize the price the country had to pay for the unpunished arrogance and bullying of the few and the obedi ence of the many, even though that obedience was coerced and often barely tolerated. I do not insist on having the last word. I do not like this and it gives me no satisfaction. I detest arguments that never end, simply to defend reputations, and not because of the need for continuing dialogue. Following an exchange of opinions, I try to do everything to avoid a breakdown in relations and I pursue the p ath of reconciliation. When it comes down to it, I prefer to hold out my hand than to turn my back on someone. The purpose of dialogue is not to demonstrate that you are cleverer, but to reach an agreement or at least mutually clarify your ideas. I do not like having enemies, as I have said. Given the great difficulties I already have in resolving my inner conflicts, in taking the necessary steps to manage even the smallest every day tasks (without my wife there would be real trouble) and in stopping myself from losing my head over nothing, I could hardly afford the luxury of cultivating active and energetic enemies to block my path or, even worse, to work behind my back. I haven 't always succeeded. But I take failure to convert my enemy to friendship or at least to a loyal and lasting agreement between gentlemen to be a personal defeat .
I have always been someone more interested in dialogue than conflict, or so I like to think. The ability to enter into dialogue and exchange views - in place of mutual accusations accompanied by insults - is the foundation of peaceful demo cratic coexistence. I have sung the praises of dialogue on I don't know how many occasions, without however turning it into a totem . Talking to each other is not enough to consti tute a dialogue. Those who talk to each other are not always actually talking to each other: each person may be talking for himself or for the audience that is listening to them . Two monologues do not make a dialogue. You can use words to hi�e your intentions rather than to manifest them, and to deceive your adversary rather than to convince him. Not only have I praised dialogue, but I have also practised it. I have experienced the dialogue of the deaf, the dialogue in bad faith, and the false dialogue in which one of the speakers, if not both, knows exactly where he wants to get to, right from the beginning, being firmly convinced that he mustn't �on cede an inch of ground from his initial position. I have experienced the inconclusive dialogue, the most common type of dialogue in which each speaker ends up with his own views unchanged, but comforts himself that the dialogue has been particularly useful because he has been able to clarify his ideas (which is not always the case, indeed it often is not) . I have engaged in dialogue because, apart from everything else, it is an act of weakness to give in to the temptation to quarrel, although I have on occasions done so. Not all dialogues reach a conclusion. They often get lost along the way, the fault lying with one or other of the partici pants . In recent times, I have to admit, the fault has some times been mine. When you are old, your thoughts tend to atrophy, and it becomes difficult to change your opinion. You are more obstinately attached to your own convictions, and increasingly indifferent to those of other people. You regard innovators with suspicion. Excessive attachment to your own ideas makes you more argumentative. I realize that I have to guard against this. My thirst for knowledge is unabated, but it is increasingly difficult to satisfy. This is not just because of dwindling
Old Age and Other Essays
intellectual energies, but also because of the enormous territories of knowledge conquered by the human mind in the last fifty years, and the practical applications that have resulted from this . This conquest continues at a vertiginous speed. Even standing on the tip of his toes, an old person like myself can barely see the first shadows of the coming era. Besides, staying continuously in harness is not necessary, and still less is it worthy of merit. Quite the contrary, it is an act of wisdom - that wisdom that is attributed to those who approach the end of their lives - to look back on one's own past, without too much indulgence, and not to put too much trust in one's own uncertain future. As for the present, you have to move with every passing year further back from the stage to where the actors are more difficult to see and to hear. I was very pleased that Giuliano Pontara included the 'capacity for dialogue' and 'meekness' amongst the ten char acteristics of the non-violent personalitr' as opposed to the authoritarian personality, in his book 2 which I recently received. When I wrote my essay on meekness, I defined it as a non-political virtue - a definition that Pontara challenged - and I asserted that 'there is no place for the meek in political struggles, including democratic struggle, by which I mean the struggle for power without recourse to violence. ,23 But it seems to me quite right that meekness can be considered an openness to dialogue. I hadn't thought of it before but the praise of dialogue and the praise of meekness could easily go together, and sustain and complement each other. I have always considered myself a pessimist, and so I have been considered by others. Pessimism is not a philosophy, but a mood. I am a pessimist by inclination and not by conviction. Pessimism as a philosophy is an alternative reply to the opti mist's when faced with the question: 'Where is the world going?' Who knows� Perhaps the pessimist and the optimist are both right. Perhaps neither of them is, because there is little sense in asking questions to which it is impossible to give a reply. Pessimism as a mood, on the other hand, can have infinite justifications. I will give a few examples but I could give others with the same persuasive force. Here is Salvemini's
maxim based on experience and free from theoretical pre tensions : 'The art of being a prophet is dangerous and you should steer well clear. However, if you want to be a prophet, then it is more prudent to be a pessimist than an optimist, because the affairs of this world always end in disaster. , 24 And here is moral reflection from Montale on receiving the Nobel Prize: 'I have been j udged a pessimist, but what are the depths of ignorance and miserable egoism that hide in those who believe man to be his own god and that his future can only be triumphant. , 25 However pessimism can also j ust be a negative argument: the rejection of optimism. I end with this �omment from Nicola Chiaromonte : ' I believe that, things being what they are today, humanity's worst enemy is optimism, in whatever form it expresses itself. Indeed, it amounts purely and simply to the refusal to think, for fear of the conclusions one might arrive at. ' 26 These are justifications that should be taken for what they are . In reality, they are 'derivations' , as Pareto would have put it. They are not reasonings on which to b ase others; they are only justifications . They are not the b asis for our convictions, but j ustify them to ourselves and to others who think more or less as we do. But a reasoning that does not allow us to s atisfy our curiosity to know 'where the world is going' is yet another proof of the impotence of our reason. For beings that have proudly defined themselves as 'rational animals' , this i s yet another argument for being pessimistic.
I have never been happy talking about myself in public, given that during my life I have talked far too much to myself in the privacy of my own mind. I haven't even left some form of diary. This was mainly to avoid the inner anxieties of my very troubled mind coming to the surface, and besides, my exter nal public life has been far too monotonous to merit its tell ing. Born into a bourgeois family, I had the typical education of a child from the upright urban middle class: liceo classico followed by university. Mine has been a sedentary life largely passed within the four walls of a study or in libraries around the world, except for a few trips to give lectures or take part in conferences, particularly in later years, along with a happy marriage and a peaceful family life. On the whole, it has been the normal existence of an academic measured out by books written and books read, with little worthy of note: a peaceful life during one of the most dramatic periods of European history. I apologize in advance for the bureaucratic dryness of my story, told not in the style of a confession but almost of a curriculum vitae. At the end, if your patience holds out, I will allow myself to be a little less constrained. I was born on 1 8 October 1 909, a few years before the First World War. I reached my eightieth birthday a few days before the fall of the Berlin Wall. The course of my life has roughly coincided with the historical period that has been
called, rightly o r wrongly, the ' European civil war' The period started with the prophecy of 'the West's decline' and ended with the triumphant victory of the greatest western power and the somewhat hasty declaration of the end of history. My formative years were under fascism: when Mus solini took power I had been thirteen for a few days, and when he fell on 25 July 1 943, I was thirty-four and was practically at the mid-point of my life ' s j ourney, as Dante defined it. e twenty months of the War of Liberation, from Sep tember 1 943 to April 1 945, were decisive for the history of my generation. Our lives were sharply divided into a 'l>efore' and an ' after' : a 'before' in which we tried to survive, occa sionally compromising our principles and exploiting the mi nute areas of freedom conceded by the Fascist regime, a less harsh dictatorship than the Nazi one; and an ' after' in which an often cruel civil war gave birth to our Italian democracy. The only link between the 'before' and the ' after' is to be found in my studies in the philosophy of law, which I started in 1 934 under the guidance of Gioele Solari, who had already taught Alessandro Passerin d'Entreves and Renato Treves . My first investigation was into the influence that Husserl' s phenomenology was then beginning t o exercise over social and legal philosophy. I continued with further studies of analogy in legal logic in 1 93 8 and custom as a legal reality in 1 942, both traditional themes in the general theory of law . I returned to these studies in 1 949, following an interruption in which I had been involved in the political debate, with a commentary on Francesco Carnelutti' s general theory of law. After this, several essays on the theory of law came out together, including one on Kelsen, and they were published in a single volume in 1 95 5 . Not only was there continuity in my subj ect, but also in my method. From the very beginning I had perceived philosophy of law as coming under law rather than philosophy - as a discipline aimed more at legal experts than at philosophers . This complied with a distinction devel oped years later taking arguments from two works written at the same time, S anti Romano ' s L 'ordinamento giuridico and Giovanni Gentile' s Fondamenti di filosofia del diritto. I
Old Age and Other Essays
demonstrated the value of the former, written by a jurist, and the deficiencies of the latter, written by one of the greatest Italian philosophers of the time. This method of interpreting the philosophy of law was completely different from the one that prevailed in Italy at the time, which, under the influence of idealism, was a spiritualist philosophy with Hegelian roots. According to this tradition, the philosopher was called upon to reflect endlessly upon the two great themes that have been called the 'concept' and the 'idea' of law by Giorgio Del Vecchio, the most distinguished and well-known of our teachers, not only in Italy. Thus one of the two traditional tasks was ontological and the other deontological. The work that had already been completed in the field of phenomenology helped me to make the leap from speculative philosophy to what we were later to call ' analytical' philosophy. I found the most interesting achievement in that field to be Adolf Reinach 's The Apriori Foundation of Civil Law ( 1 9 l 3) , 2 7 a work that had long been neglected but has been the object of renewed attention in recent years . This work was an intriguing but not altogether convincing attempt at establishing a pure doctrine of law on a theoretical basis, using different premises and constructs from Kelsen's, whose works were at that time being introduced into Italy by the early writings of Renato Treves. My first article on Kelsen appeared a few years later in 1 954, 2 8 but what might be called my 'conversion' to Kelsen's ideas, which were to play a large part in my life, had already been clear since, when commenting on Carnelutti's theory of law, I defended the pure doctrine of law against the scornful judgement of that great but slightly over-confident Italian jurist.2 9 Even my lectures at Padua University in the 1940-1 academic year30 contained a paragraph on the way legal systems are con structed step by step, a question that has fascinated me ever since and was, a few years later, to become the starting point for a definition of law through the type of structure found in a legal order rather than the usual categorization of laws . This theory was to be further strengthened by the publication of Hart's work in 1 96 1 .
What may appear many years later to have been a conver sion could very well be interpreted as the maturation of thought following liberation from the ideas, orientations and mental attitudes inherited from the cultural environment in which I was formed and received my philosophical appren ticeship. As I have said, it was a philosophical environment dominated by idealism. Faced with the end of what I have grandly called 'yesterday's world' and the difficult task of reb�ilding the world of tomorrow, we couldn't help realizing that 'speculative' philosophy had provided very few instru ments for understanding Europe's tragedy. We needed to start with the more solid and less high-flown disciplines of economy, law, sociology and history. I was not happy with the attempt to use phenomenology as a new means to turn philosophy into a precise science, at least as far as the under standing and analysis of law were concerned. By that time, I thought the slim volume I had written on the science of law best forgotten (it had been inspired by phenomenology and published back in 1 934) . 3 1 The Centre for Methodological Studies, which gathered together philosophers, scientists, jurists, economists, math ematicians and physicists around a renewed debate on method, was set up in Turin and I was given the chair in 1 94 8 . I had always had a particular interest in this subj ect, both in theory and practice and whether the method in question was neo-positivist, neo-empiricist or concerning the analysis of language. As a result of my keen participation in the Centre' s debates and initiatives, I was able to rid myself finally of the ambiguities of the past and the aberrations of youth. The first fruit of those debates, which to be honest was far from ripe, was an article on the science of law and analysis of language,32 which met with unwarranted success, but that success was itself an expression of a change in the cultural climate. For me it represented a new stage in my studies that was concerned with the pure doctrine of law. I brought out three collections of writings, two on the general theory of law ( 1 9 5 5 and 1 970) and one on natural law and positive law (1 967), and these were based on courses I taught over the
Old Age and Other Essays
period of a single decade : 'The Theory of Juridicial Science' ( 1 950) , 'The Theory of Legal Regulation' ( 1 958), 'The Theory of Legal System ' ( 1 960) and ' Legal Positivism ' (1 96 1 ) . These were my golden years whose crowning moment was the introductory lecture to the International Conference on the Philosophy of Law held in Gardone in 1 96 7 on 'being and having to be in legal science' 33 The previous year I had given the introductory paper to the Hegel-Gesellschaft International Conference in Prague, which was on Hegel and natural law . I had never separated my theoretical studies from my historical ones, which commenced immediately after the war with the publication of the complete text of Hobbes' s De cive for the very first time in Italy, and Hobbes was to be one of my favourite authors . My first and still very awkward appearance at an international conference was at the one held on legal logic in Brussels in August 1 95334 at the invitation of Perelman, whose short work on justice I had made known in Italy?5 This was followed by a paper I gave at Saarbrucken in 1 95 7 on phenomenology36 for the Internationale Vereinigung fur Rechtsphilosophie, to which I was invited by Professor Werner Maihofer. In this period I was conscientious in my involvement both in the conferences held by the Institut international de philosophie politique (my one and only meeting with Kelsen was at the first of these, held in Paris in 1 95 7 on natural law) 3 7 and the symposia held at the Centre national de recherche de logique, which were organized by Perelman in Brussels . The 'before' and ' after' had a much more radical effect on me and on my generation than any change in philosophical orientation. For the first time, there was the opportunity and indeed the need to take part in political debate, and for some of us it was a moral obligation. Under fascism, anyone who didn 't want to compromise themselves with the regime kept as far away as possible from any studies that touched on political matters . We had to devote ourselves to research purged of all political content and restrict our outpourings to academic publications, which rarely passed under the intrusive eye of the police. The non-fascist political publica tions had all been suppressed. The only surviving non-fascist
publications were philosophical journals such as Croce's Critica and Rivista di filosofia, which was secretly directed by Piero Martinetti, who had been expelled from his univer sity for refusing to take the oath of loyalty to fascism. I had been the editor of the latter publication since 1 93 5 and most of my philosophical writings on phenomenology and were to appear in it. In effect, the Rivista di filosofia del diritto, edited by Del Vecchio, the then Rector of the University of Rome, was also a free publication, and this was even more the case after 1 93 8 when Del Vecchio was expelled from the university as a result of the race laws, and Giuseppe Capograssi took over the direction. I have often argued that there never was a genuine fascist culture that left its mark on the country, although I have equally often been fiercely contradicted. Thanks to the pres ence of Croce and Luigi Einaudi, liberal culture continued through the years of dictatorship almost with impunity, unlike Marxist culture which was closely watched over. This was even true of the period clearly misrepresented as the years of consent (unless you can call consent what lawyers express with the formula volui sed coactus volui or forced consent) . Books that formed a whole generation of anti fascists, such as De Ruggiero' s Storia del liberalismo europeo, Croce' s Storia d'Europa, and Salvatorelli' s II pensiero politico italiano dal Settecento al 1 8 70, were all published under fascism. My first political article was the first leader for a clandestine newspaper, L 'Ora deU'Azione, which was produced by the Fronte degl' lntellettuali from September 1 944 under Ger man occupation. But my real activity as a political j ournalist was for the Action Party's daily newspaper, Giustizia e Lib erta, then directed by Franco Venturi, who was to become one of the greatest Italian historians . The paper's brief exist ence lasted from April 1 945 to the autumn of 1 946. I also wrote in the spring of 1 946 for a small paper called Repub blica, which was printed from May to June 1 946 and distrib uted around the multiple constituency of Padua, Rovigo, Verona and Vicenza in support of the Action Party candidates
Old Age and Other Essays
to the COnstituent Assembly. I was then teaching philosophy of law at the University of Padua and was also a candidate in that constituency, with disastrous consequences, as was the case for all that party's candidates, not only in Veneto, but in the whole of Italy. When I reread those articles, or rather rediscovered them after a long period of time, 38 I realized that I was putting forward ideas then that I have not changed since, even though I was then very much a beginner in terms of theoretical preparation. Those ideas included doubts about an overly ideological approach to politics, which divides the political universe into mutually exclusive parts; defence of govern ment by law as against government by men (during those months we were debating the direction of the new Constitu tion, hence the importance attached to the Rule of Law) ; praise for democracy, including its educative role for a people that had been subjugated for a long time; a fierce defence of secular politics, whereby secularism is understood as the exercise of a critical spirit against the opposing dogmas of Catholics and communists alike, as well as unconditional admiration for the British political system, whose institutions I had studied on a crash course in England from November to December 1 945, as part of a delegation of Italian academics. Fascism, we believed, had been definitively defeated. Com munism, on the other hand, was more alive than ever. Stalin was one of the victors of the Second World War. In October 1 946, the communist parties of various countries, including Italy, founded the Cominform . In distant China, Mao had victoriously completed his Long March, defeating the national army in successive battles, and in October 1 949 the Chinese People's Republic was born. It used to be said that a sixth of the world was communist. In Italy the Communist Party, which had made the largest contribution to the war of liberation, was much more than a sixth. Togliatti launched the 'New Party' and authorized the publication of Gramsci' s Prison Notebooks, which for many years were to represent the richest and most original teachings for the left, and not just in Italy. Having resolved the problem of faScism, the problem of communism now presented itself for those who had fought
for the restoration of democracy. Liberation from fascism was liberation from dictatorship, but the regime that had imposed itself on the Soviet Union for several decades was also a dictatorship. Although the clandestine Action Party, which I joined in 1 942, perceived the war of liberation not as a class but as the harbinger of a ' democratic revolution' , it was to fight side by side with the communists during the Resist ance and was to acknowledge the great power of their ideals. But while we were setting up a united front in the anti-fascist struggle, our clandestine newspaper, Italia libera, produced an article on 5 December 1 943 entitled 'Where we Stand with the Communists' that asked: 'Are the communists sure that once they have temporarily stifled freedom, they will be able to resurrect it by a unilateral act of will? We do not believe in a socialism that is not freedom as well . ' The Action Party had combined the Giustizia e Liberta movement, inspired by Carlo Rosselli and his book Liberal Socialism, which first appeared in Paris in 1 930, and the liberal-socialist movement that was born a few years later as a clandestine organization within the Scuola Normale in Pisa. As the expo nent of liberal socialism, the Action Party thought of itself as the complete negation of fascism, which was anti-liberal in politics and anti-socialist in economics . In relation to com munism, on the other hand, it considered itself a dialectical negation that was also an affirmation of all that communism had represented in the defeat of fascism and as an antithesis of capitalism. Fascism had been an enemy. The communists were in that period adversaries with whom we needed to establish a dialogue on the maj or themes of liberty, social j ustice and above all democracy, in order to resist the coun ter-offensive of the reactionary right, a threat we possibly overestimated at the time. The opportunity to start that debate was my participation in the European Society of Culture, fourided by Umberto Campagnolo in Venice in 1 950 with the intention of bringing together people engaged in cultural activities across what was then called the Iron Curtain that divided Europe politically. But Europe was indivisible in terms of the great cultural
Old Age and Other Essays
tradition we wished to keep alive. In place of the politics of politicians, whose legitimacy in political practice we ac knowledged but not their exclusive right, we proposed the 'politics of culture', to which we attributed the task of defending the very preconditions of all civil harmony. I referred then to a few works that had stopped us from losing all hope for the future of European civilization when sur rounded by the horrors of war: Croce's Storia d'Europa, Benda's Discours a la nation europeenne and Thomas Mann's Listen Germany! Because we never broke off the dialogue between East and West, albeit restricted to intellectuals and beset with a thousand difficulties imposed by the politics of politicians, we were not unprepared for the fall of the Berlin Wall, a wall that had never existed for us. History proved us right, and them wrong. 3 9 There were two ways to overcome the division of the world into two opposing and irreconcilable parts, predestined to a head-on clash that could have turned into the Third World War (with capitalism on one side and communism on the other) . One way, which I would call philosophical or doc trinal, meant arguing that freedom and j ustice constitute the two essential principles of a true democracy (Le. substantial and not just formal democracy) , and that we needed to com bine these two principles or at least find a compromise between them both in abstract thought and in practical polit ical solutions. This was the path of liberal socialism . The other was an attempt to discover a third way between East and West, and to act as a practical intermediary between liberals and communists, which in Italy appeared politically useful. My dialogue with communist intellectuals lasted a few years: it started with an article in 1 95 1 , entitled ' Invita tion to Debate', and ended with a collection of all these writings in a volume called Politica e cultura ( 1 955) . In the preface to this book, I was able to write that the dialogue had started, and that Togliatti himself had taken part. My princi pal contribution to the debate was my defence of human rights, particularly libertarian rights, which shouldn't be viewed as a triumph of the bourgeoisie that the proletariat has no use for, but rather as an achievement from which first
the liberal state was born and then the democratic state. The communists themselves need a democratic state in order to save a revolution whose historical importance I had acknow ledged many times in the course of the debate. I wanted the d� ate to be an example of what I considered to be the intellectual's mediating and moderating role between two dogmas. A few months after publication of the book, I took part in a cultural delegation sent by our government to China. After many years, I recently returned to that j ourney with the intention of once again examining my conscience over my relationship to communism.40 I tried to describe our mood at the time, which was divided between admiration for the ideals that appeared to animate that great people after they had finally found dignity in place of the centuries of despot ism and servitude, and disappointment over the childish pro paganda that they served up to us every day and the evasive, even untruthful, answers they gave us when discussing free doms. The choice between apologia and condemnation was a great deal more difficult then than it is now. Then we were assailed by the doubt: 'What if the experiment succeeds?' Now the answer is not so unclear: 'The experiment failed. But did it fail because the project was perverse or because it was too ambitious? Should failure, if it has been a failure, be explained as the legitimate defeat of a terrible crime or as 'utopia stood on its head,?4 1 Of the two replies, the second is undoubtedly the more tragic in that it concerns attempts to deal with the great challenges of history. As a result of the 1 953 elections and the failure of the attempt to consolidate the coalition led by the Christian Democrats with a mechanism to allocate extra seats to the maj ority, our imperfectly bipartisan political system (to use Giorgio Galli's apt definition) could be perceived as having settled down. Once the knot that tied the Socialist Party to the Communist Party had been loosened, there followed a period of gradual rapprochement between the socialists and the centre-left, to which I gave my support. For about twenty years I suspended my activities as a 'militant philosopher' (as one of my biographers has defined me) . Apart from the
Old Age and Other Essays
occasional politico-cultural debate and the obligatory public celebrations for the Resistance, I devoted myself almost exclusively to my studies and university teaching. These were the years in which I brought out the previously men tioned courses on legal theory and a few historical courses: one on Kant in 1 95 7, another on Locke in 1 963, and another on the question of war and peace in 1 965. The peaceful life of an academic who was neither apolitical nor overly politicized was shattered by the student protests of 1 968, which started in Turin where I taught and were particu larly intense at the newly established University of Trento, where the Ministry of Education had sent me as a temporary commissioner along with two other colleagues. Another gen eration had come along that rej ected a democracy not con spicuous for the virtue of its politicians and the farsightedness of its policies. This was the democracy that we had created twenty years earlier and now it had stirred apparently fierce revolutionary passions which, in truth, only succeeded in disrupting the university. A few years later, I introduced a book launch for a contemporary of mine, Eugenio Garin, who had j ust written on fascism and intellectuals in the twentieth century.42 Referring to the contrast between those great hopes of the years of reconstruction and the disappointments over the mediocrity of our political life, I spoke of the guilt of the fathers.43 Every generation rebels against the previous one. Now the rebels were our own sons . It was a difficult time for someone like me who had always considered himself a man of dialogue and, in spite of repeated attempts, I had to resign myself to the fact that dialogue with the Student Movement was not an option. The disruption was so great that the preface to my book on Carlo Cattaneo, 44 which I wrote in December 1 9 70, included a severe self criticism that sounded a few notes of catastrophism. Some of my friends - I recall that Pietro Piovani was one of them reproached me for it. I said that our generation had had a disastrous record, because, although we had pursued the ideals of j ustice and liberty, we had achieved very little j ustice and were perhaps losing our liberty. In reality, the cata strophic prediction was mistaken. Let me say once and for
all: the scholar i s little suited to the vocation o f prophet. I was reminded of this episode when I was reviewing a book by Asor. Rosa, Fuori daU'Occidente,45 that predicted the end of ",western civilization in what I felt were apocalyptic tones. Adopting my usual approach, which one critic has ironically defined as 'good-natured reasonableness', I wrote: 'Today we need prudence and patience more than ever, and we must resist the temptation to say " all or nothing. " Neither hope nor despair. Neither Ernst Bloch nor Giinther Anders. I admire them both, but I wouldn't choose either for guid ance. One result of the turmoil of 1 968 was that I put aside my studies into the theory of law, never to take them up again except briefly. Students who were continuously at revolu tionary boiling point were not interested in such subj ects. Still less, with their appeals to the imagery of power, were they likely to be interested in a course on deontic logic, in which I had taken a pioneering, if somewhat amateurish, interest since 1 954 .46 I started my Ideological Profile of Twen tieth Century Italy,47 which I wrote at great speed and com pleted in just a few months, and its recurring theme was the idea that democracy has always had an arduous existence in Italy, because it was opposed by the extreme right and the extreme left, both agreeing, albeit from different sides, in their dislike of rule by mediocrities and the 'philosophy of sparrows' as Salvemini called it. In fact, back in January 1 923, a few months after the March on Rome, he wrote: ' It is now fashionable in Italy amongst men who like to think of them selves as revolutionaries to despise democracy as much as, if not more than, the fascists, nationalists and dreamers of rigid and closed hierarchies and aristocracies. '48 In recent years, the extreme right and the extreme left have swapped their spiritual fathers: we have seen Gramsci become the luminary of the New Right, and Carl Schmitt the luminary of the Old Left. Above all we again had to enter into a dialogue with Marx ism, which had been taken up by various youth movements as a critical instrument against contemporary society, albeit not in the form of scientific Marxism, but rather as Leninism,
Old Age and Other Essays
Maoism and the utopia of new man . Eventually, and it was not much later, the most hot-headed of them were to take up ' armed criticism ' , at least that was the case in Italy. We reformists were wondering 'what possible contribution could theoretical Marxism still give to the arduous, but nevertheless irreversible, process of democratization that was taking place in our country? ' In 1 973, as part of a book produced by the Socialist Party to mark Pietro Nenni ' s eightieth birthday, I wrote a n article entitled ' Socialist Democracy ? ' in which I responded to those doubts with another: ' D oes a Marxist theory of the state really exist? ' My answer was a decisive no, and I tried to present a few arguments in defence of my position. There unexpectedly and quite suddenly followed a debate on the left, encouraged by the then editor of Mondoperaio, Federico Coen, which involved socialists, communists, social democrats and even a few representatives of the extreme left, such as Antonio Negri . In 1 976, I gave an account of this debate in a short book, Which Socialism?49 which was my second excursion outside the closed wall of academia, following Politica e cultura50 which I published twenty years earlier. But this time I was not allowed to return to inactivity. In September 1 976, I started working for La Stampa as the result of a debate on pluralism held at the National Festival organized by the communist newspaper L ' Unita in Naples, and once again my principal p artners in dialogue were the commun ists . 5 1 I have t o thank chance for all this, and I have always been certain of its importance in human events . I have to acknow ledge that chance also decided that independent faculties of political science were to be established in Italy at that time, and that one of them was assigned to Turin . Alessandro Passerin d' Entreves, who was the first dean and retired in 1 9 72, asked me to take over the chair of political philosophy. I left the Faculty of Jurisprudence where I had taught the philosophy of law for about forty years and I was required to change the subj ects of my courses and the direction of my studies . Although a collection of legal writings appeared as 2 late as 1 977, 5 this was largely due to the insistence of my oId
friend Treves, who founded a new publication i n 1 974 called
Sociologia del diritto.
Apart from one other decisive intervention by Lady Luck, I �ave no intention of dragging out this story any further. I taught a course on war and peace in the 1 964-5 academic year, and so during the period j ust before the whirlwind of 1 968, Alberto Carocci asked me to write an essay on atomic warfare and the balance of terror for Nuovi argomenti, a magazine that I had contributed to long beforehand at the time of the debate on politics and culture . Many more essays were to follow, and they were later made into two books . Lastly, I wrote a pamphlet o n the Gulf War that was the obj ect of a great deal of controversy. 53 Like the maj ority of my books, these were collections of essays written on differ ent occasions and therefore still products of chance. From that time on, the writings on peace and the writings on the best-known of the latter b eing The Future of ) , developed in tandem and led to a third series of essays on human rights. I attempted to explain the very close connection between the three questions of democracy, peace and human rights at the beginning of The Age of Rights, 55 which first came out in 1 990. I am nearly eighty-three years old. Without realizing it and without the remotest expectation of it, I have reached a ripe old age, which was once called the age of wisdom. That was when time went at a slower pace, and historical changes were less rapid. That is no longer the case. In traditional civiliza tions, an old person was the custodian of a community's tradition and the depository of its wisdom. Anatole France said that old people love their own ideas too much, and are therefore an obstacle to progress . In order to guarantee pro gress, primitive peoples used to eat them. Now we put them in academies, which is a way of embalming them. Scientific and technological progress is so bewildering and, what is more, irreversible, that an old person, lacking the mental agility to follow it, constantly risks being left behind. There is an unbridgeable gap between the ever-increasing speed with which our knowledge develops and the increasing slow ness with which old people take on new ideas . We believe
Old Age and Other Essays
that history progresses when there is a transition from old to new, and that it takes a step backwards when the old puts up resistance to the new. The traditional analogy between the life-cycle of a civilization and that of an individual person likens the decadence of a civilization to old age. The old age of a man, like that of a civilization, is the dusk that heralds the night. Even after I had stopped teaching, I also tried to stay in contact with the young. Their company, more than anything else, has showed me just how rapid and unrelenting change is at the moment. I realized that I hadn't heard of the many books they read, and that they do not hold in great esteem books that for me are sacred. I hope that I don't seem the typical old man who praises the past, but I have to admit that, of the philosophers I most admired and envied, the maj ority had long lives and long working lives . Hobbes translated the Iliad and the Odyssey at the age of eighty-seven, Kant wrote that superb essay, Perpetual Peace, when he was nearly eighty, Croce brought out his collection of writings on Hegel in the last year of his life at eighty-six, and Bertrand Russell was over ninety when he published the third and final volume of his magnificent autobiography. Old age is the age in which you have to draw up a balance sheet. This is always a slightly melancholy exercise, if by melancholy you mean an awareness of the unfinished, the imperfect and the disproportion between good intentions and actual deeds . You have reached the end of your life and get the impression that you are still at the starting block when it comes to understanding good and evil. All the big questions remain unanswered. Having tried to give some meaning to life, you realize that it is meaningless even to pose the ques tion of meaning, and that life has to be accepted and experi enced in its immediacy, as it is by the great maj ority of humanity. But did it really take so much to reach this con clusion1 Old age is crowded with shadows of the past, and they are all the more invasive the more distant they are in time. It is incredible how many images return that you thought had been lost forever. You are their unwitting guardian. You are
responsible for their survival. When they briefly appear in your memory, they are brought back to life, if only for a moment. If you let that face that suddenly appeared fade, it is dead and cannot return. I have restricted myself to telling the facts I felt were significant. An old man's world, if you'll allow me this one last confidence, is a world in which affections are more important than ideas. The warmth that has surrounded me has made my life happy, in spite of my scant aptitude for happiness, and it has therefore been beyond my expectations and, above all, better than I deserved. My debt to those who have helped me to live and survive, and have accompanied me this far, can never be repaid, especially now that it is so late and I have so little time to return all that I have been given. Let me quote Hobbes once again: from his Vita car mine expressa, written when he was more or less my age: 'Almost complete now is / the long story of my life' (Poene
acta est vitae / fabula longa meae) .
Reflections of an octogenarian
The acclaim that has been bestowed upon me is a great honour - one that flatters me but also makes me feel a little uneasy. I am in the habit of seeing the darker side of things, including myself. In short, I have been pursued or should I say persecuted all my life by the doubt that I am not up to the task, or rather two extremely difficult tasks : teaching and writing. To say nothing of the even more difficult 'business of living' I went to university, here in Turin, in 1 927 - that is more than sixty years ago. I wonder how many in the audience know that this room was once used for lectures by the more important professors, or at least those who thought them selves more important. One of these was the professor of Italian literature, Vittorio Cian. The Great Hall was down below. In 1 934, I made my first short speech in public as the student representative in the courtyard for the funeral cere mony of Professor Vidari. My most vivid memories are of the old Palazzo Campana, where I started my teaching in Turin at the end of 1 948. The lecture halls were grey and had terrible acoustics. But those were the years in which the country was rebuilding itself and, for me, they were the beginning of my mature years (supposedly, of course) . I taught all except one of my best-known courses in Palazzo Campana. In 1 968, that was the building where the student protest exploded, and I
Reflections of an octogenarian
say exploded because none of us professors had the least suspicion. The event has gone down in history as the occupation of Palazzo Campana. It was the old building's last moment of glory. I can remember the dramatic and chaotic meeting in the Grand Hall in Via Principe Amedeo between the protesters/ whose every constituent group was .repres ented/ and the rector and the University's senate. I will never be able to erase from my memory the emotional figure of my dear friend Mario A1lara seated at the lectern from wJrich he gave his lectures/ no longer as the 'Magnificent' Rector/ but as the pale miscreant having difficulty under standing what was going on around him. We then moved/ not as triumphantly as we had originally envisaged/ to Palazzo Nuovo/ where I spent the final years of my teaching/ dividing my time between the Facu1ty of Jur isprudence and the Faculty of Political Science. There I worked with my last colleagues and students/ and now/ on the rare occasions that I return/ I can hardly believe how peaceful it is/ although I also find it less colourful without all the graffiti of the past. For my eightieth year/ I have been presented with a copy of my book/ Thomas Hobbes (1 989) / published by Einaudi and edited by Luigi Bonanate and Michelangelo Bovero/ and I would like to respond with a brief comment. I make no secret of the fact that Hobbes has been one of my authors. I have studied him on and off throughout my life. I claim no other merit than that of having recognized the central importance of his political thought at a time when he was studied very little/ at least in Italy. Of course/ his name was suspect during the fascist period. We didn't realize that the Leviathan was the modern and not the totalitarian state; it was the great modem territorial state that was born from the ashes of medieval society/ a political body that was to manifest itself historically in many different forms of government/ which were not necessarily autocratic. Primarily/ the Leviathan holds a monopoly over legitimate force/ and that force is legitimate because it is founded on the consent of the citizens. The importance of Hobbes had been revealed in previous years by my study of Pufendorf s legal system. Pufendorf
Old Age and Other Essays
was in his own way a Hobbesian, as has been conclusively shown by a penetrating study which I read recently. 56 I was particularly struck by the originality of Hobbes's methodology. His arguments were exclusively rational and no longer based on the principle of historical or revealed authority, as was still largely true of Grotius 's famous work. Bovero was right to observe that Hobbes 's influence on my ideas was more to do with method than content. 57 However, I believ.e that Hobbes 's ideas also contributed to the forma tion of the substance of my political thought. I can name three: individualism, contractualism and the idea of securing peace through the establishment of a common power, a theme on which Bonanate and I have developed an ongoing and productive exchange of ideas based on broad agreement. I could also add that I share Hobbes 's pessimism over history and human nature. When I started studying Hobbes, I could never have imagined that his political thought would become so fashionable in Italy, indeed outside Italy too . A publisher has just brought out a new edition of his De cive, which I commented and edited after the war. Before the war there was only one translation of Leviathan, now there are another two, and yet another is soon to appear. 5 8 Commentaries on Hobbes are now so numerous that a recent work that reviews them all and tells their history, is called Which Hobbes?59 Precisely that: which Hobbes? It might seem banal, but I would simply say Hobbes interpreted with a minimum of common sense and historical perspective, which, in my opinion are peculiarly lacking in many analysts who have gone in search of originality at all costs. There has even been a recent existentialist interpretation of Hobbes that compares him to Heidegger, which is like confusing the prince of light with the prince of darkness .6o By way of conclusion, allow me to express some of my feelings - to abandon the theoretical for the sentimental and the confessions of an octogenarian. The octogenarian in Ippo lito Nievo's novel, Carlo Altoviti, was also born on 1 8 Octo ber - how about that for a coincidence . These are the first words of his famous book, which I have never forgotten: ' I was born a Venetian on 1 8 October 1 77 5 , the day of St Luke
Reflections of an octogenarian
the evangelist. ' As I was little more than a boy when I read that sentence, it was natural that I should ask the question: 'Who knows if I will ever able to utter such words on having reached that same age?' To be honest, I never believed it possible. I was born at a time when life expectancy was not even fifty years and eighty-year-olds were a rare species. They were considered venerable old men. If someone called me a venerable old man today, I would be almost offended. But there is no virtue in being eighty years old, not then and still less today. It is simply good fortune. If there is any virtue, then it belongs to those who have helped me to live, starting with my wife. I never had a great calling for the business of living (today this is called a lack of 'professionalism') ' People say that good fortune has to be earned. No, fortune is blind. I have always been too persuaded of its blindness, its recklessness and capricious high-handedness, ever to attempt to ingratiate myself with it by good manners or, even worse, good works. People say that we are each the authors of our own fortune . I don't believe I ever did anything to fashion it, nor did I ever entreat it. It came by itself without invocations or supplications. I cannot deny that I have been a lucky man. But rather ungenerously, I have always behaved as though I weren't - I even almost wished that I had not been, so that I could rage against my bad fortune. I have been fortunate, in spite of myself. I have always been slightly wary of things that turned out too well. Good luck has always made me suspicious. Shall we say that I never trusted it very far. It is the nature of fortune not only to be blind but also to be inconstant. It is a wind that can change from one day to the next, and it always takes you by surprise. For an admirer of learning like myself, there can never be much love lost on the lady with the blindfold who hovers behind us and never reveals herself. So far I cannot complain about the way I have been treated, but I would have preferred greater clarity in our dealings. She has protected me, given me good travelling companions and has even had me receive honours to satisfy my vanity, but what did I ever give her in exchange? As I don't believe that I ever contributed what I
Old Age and Other Essays
was supposed to, I have this constant fear that one day I will be required to pay up . I am distressed by the thought of the unlucky, especially those who died as teenagers or young adults. I have never lost my memory of those victims of an accident, an illness or the dramatic events of my generation, which included bombings, ambushes, vendettas, battles and extermination camps. Why them - why did it have to be them? The question remains unanswered, but is immediately followed by another that is also unanswerable: 'What if they had lived? ' I also ask myself whether anyone else remembers them, or whether I am the only one. What if nobody remembers them? What a terrible responsibility! For a lover of justice, death is the thing most unfairly distributed in the world. It is impossible to under stand the criterion on which it is shared out. Is there a criterion? Fortune throws the dice, and the result is called destiny. I thank everyone from the bottom of my heart, and yes, I would like my thanks to be distributed equally, with the exception of one person, my wife, who is more equal than the others. And then, I would invite everyone to consider whether this celebration of eighty years shouldn't be consid ered one of a long sequence of celebrations that represents the end of the last scene when the actor comes out from behind the curtains to take his leave of the public before the lights are switched off for good.
Reply to my critics
I promised at a conference in Santander o n my life and works to give a reply to the papers that were read there.61 I knew that reading all those comments on myself would be a little like staring in the mirror, or rather many different mirrors, most of which were predictably flattering. Naturally, I was curious to know what similarities there would be between the self-portrait in my 'Intellectual Auto biography' and portraits provided in the different papers. It was the first time I had had an opportunity to compare the way I see myself with the way others see me. I leave it to future readers to decide whether and to what extent there was any similarity. However, I can say that, leaving aside some over-complimentary passages, the mirror-image was on the whole accurate. Of course, a portrait is not a photo graph, nor is a self-portrait. They are both the result of having chosen a particular point of view. As would have been expected, I gave greater importance to the narration of events, and my commentators gave greater importance to the interpretation of my works. But life and works are inex tricably linked, and the one illuminates the other. I cannot look at each paper in depth, and neither can I reply to single observations that, I am fully aware, point out the weak points in my theoretical constructs, particularly my overly rigid positivism, which today has been abandoned in relation to the validity of legal norms, and an over-confident historicism concerning the basis of human rights. I have never been happy about responding to criticisms. While praise
Old Age and Other Essays
intimidates me and has me wondering, 'Are they really talk ing about me?' criticisms stimulate me and when they are"'" rational, which they often are, they help me to clarify my thoughts and correct my mistakes . I distrust plaudits, but criticisms have taught me not to climb up onto a high pedes tal . My work has developed alongside that of my critics, and as it developed, it changed from time to time imperceptibly and unconsciously. As a result, there has been the accusation, which appears here and there in these papers, of discontinu ity or indeed inconsistency and incoherence. I confess that the clarity that is often attributed to me is the praise that gave me most pleasure, even though clarity is not always a good qual ity and abstruseness is not always a defect. I know very well that there is such a thing as deceptive clarity. One of my favourite authors, Thomas Hobbes, who was well known for his clarity, has been accused of ' confusing clarity' , so I must not feel too diminished if I am ever the target of a similar charge. The basic approach, from which I hope I never strayed, was one that did not acknowledge or lead into an 'ism' Indeed I have always shunned the idea that a philosopher' s range of thought can be put in a bottle and a label stuck on it. We should remind ourselves that Marx protested that he wasn't a Marxist. Heidegger never wanted to be called an existential ist. Carlo Cattaneo is an author whom I have studied and written a book on, 62 but I always described him as a ' positive' philosopher. I would never have ventured to call him a 'posi tivist' for fear of belittling him. It is an approach that is distinguished by its method more than its content. Some of the Santander conference papers considered this method to be that of analytical philosophy, some of whose basic features were listed by Augustin Squella. Let me say categorically that a work that develops out of itself never reaches the final chapter. Let me give a couple of examples of this : I have worked on the question of power and the relationship between power and law, which was one of the themes taken up at the Santander conference, particu larly by Luis Prieto Sanchis : well, a book bringing together
Reply to my critics
my principal essays on Kelsen has just been published with the title Dritto e potere (1 992) . 63 I have studied human rights, which was also looked into in Spain, particularly by Antonio Enrique Perez Luiio and Rafael de Asis Roig, and the second edition of the The Age of Rights (1 992) , published after the Santander conference, has a new chapter that returns to and enlarges upon the much-debated (and debatable) question of the historical roots of human rights. In these reflections that have not yet been sufficiently dis tilled, I do not feel capable of going beyond a general over view of the Santander papers that I might call a 'contribution to a critique of myself' , to use the title of a well-known book by Benedetto Croce. Besides, Peces-Barba Martinez, who knows me well, started his introductory lecture by defining me as both 'instinctively pessimistic' and 'fiercely self-crit ical' . I once wrote that I consider myself to belong to the great horde of those who are never happy. I am a man of doubt. It is only natural that I should start by doubting myself. In spite of upwards of a thousand entries in my list of writings, writing does not come easily to me. Everything I write costs me a tremendous exertion: on the whole, the effort put in seems disproportionately large when compared with the results. No sooner have I finished writing an article than I start to have my doubts about it. I immediately feel that by rewriting it I could improve it. When I return to an ar gument, I never repeat my previous ideas exactly, or if I repeat them, I bring in new ones, so as to give the impression, which was occasionally expressed in Santander, that I can be inconsistent or, if not actually inconsistent, inclined to veer between opposing theses. Someone used the word vacila
ciones. True to my analytical method, I take pains to look at every problem from different angles. By looking at an obj ect from different sides, I end up being unable to provide a linear definition and leaving the question open. My solution to the question of legal positivism was typical. Both legal posit ivism and correspondingly natural law were approached from three points of view. This kind of approach shies away from positions that are overly clear-cut. If anything, it
Old Age and Other Essays
tends towards conciliation, mediation and transcendeh