Letters to the Heretics


Once I learned of Berlinguer’s custom of corresponding with the most prominent people in the new Italian Left, my professional interest was soon after aroused by the possibility of making public this epistolary collection. For me, such a collection would be a way of combating the particular timidity of our publishers – a kind of taboo, one might say – where the publication of the private documentary sources of living people is concerned. The singular prohibition according to which the personal writings of living beings and, a fortiori, those who, due to their professional responsibilities, ascend to the rank of figure and attain historical dimensions, should only be divulged after the death of their authors seems without foundation to me and has always seemed so.

Before I even knew the content, tone or length of the collection in question, I asked my friend Berlinguer if I could read his letters in the perspective of their possible publication. He agreed and, shortly thereafter, I received photocopies of them, arranged chronologically. The envelope was accompanied by a brief note in which he explained to me that the correspondence therein had been turned over “after consultation with and agreement by the addressees.”

From my first reading, I was convinced that publication of the collection would be of remarkable political and cultural interest. These were very recent writings addressed to the most prominent people in the political arena of the Italian Left, whom the title of the collection had named, by obvious antiphrasis, “heretics.”

The attentive reader will not fail to wonder what chain could link together such diverse personalities in the cultural, ideological and political worlds, which the author and his addresses are. Why would the Secretary of the Communist Party want to dialogue with speakers who are so far from him and, why would he, and precisely where his rivals on the terrain of political activity are concerned, reject the use of normal channels of communication (the press, communiqués, interviews,[1] etc.) and instead choose to use the means of direct dialogue and the tone of total sincerity? These are questions to meditate upon attentively. In other words, what terrain makes possible comprehension between people who are apparently so different in every regard?

I do not intend to furnish a key to the reading of this epistolary collection, which would distort its provisional and problematic character. Thus, I will limit myself to observing that, if one seeks a relationship between the actors in this correspondence, one will find it in a veritable cult of intelligence – pessimistic intelligence, it pleases me to add. If I did not fear being badly understood, I would dare to directly affirm that this epistolary work from Berlinguer to people who are apparently far from him is the constitution of a new party: the party of cynical intelligence.

Even if I do not know everything about the biographies of the addressees, the little that the public knows allows me to advance the idea that all of them are indistinctly united by a single passion. A single spirit governs them all: the spirit of power, to use Ritter’s famous expression.[2]

This said, it is still necessary to raise a possible question. I know that the word “power” today arouses suspicion and provokes difficulty in the consciences of democrats. And in fact I do not intend to allude to power in its crudest appearance, which is content with the possession of perceptible matter and disappears when external manifestations evaporate, but rather to the power that is limited to riding the material flux of events without claiming to be able to stop and imprison it at will.

How else to explain, if not in the terms of the refined cult of power, the grace and elegance with which the people brought together by this epistolary collection move in the chaotic magma that is life? If they have obtained the social positions that they have, this cannot be the result of chance. On the contrary, they have understood that life is chaos, erupting magma, and they have known how to govern it without claiming to put it into order. They have also understood – each in his way and in his particular area of competence – that the time was right for this or that initiative and they gave expression to what already existed, limiting themselves to raising its flag. None of them have made false steps; none have made themselves ridiculous by getting lost in anachronisms. Devotees of the past or futurists, they have all conformed to the era, and the era has welcomed them as its exemplary interpreters. Having perceived the signals that the times were sending out, they have known how to transform these signals into signs. Is this not the work of the precursor?

This privileged sensibility, which is not a natural gift but the fruit of exercise practiced every day, is, in my opinion, the unifying trait[3] between Berlinguer and his “heretical” interlocutors. It can prosper in each individual only if he conceives of his life as [a] manner, as [an] artifice for the realization of power, and lives accordingly. Mannerism is not simply an artistic style; it is also a conscious attitude, and the amateur of power is, in the widest sense of the word, a mannerist, a subject who has agreed to work uniquely within the norms that the times have imposed upon him.

This is, it seems to me, the affinity that has made possible the understanding between Berlinguer and the “heretics” to which he has addressed himself.

In these letters, the author expresses his point of view on the most varied questions in a frank and direct form, without care for the contingent line of the party that he leads, and he sets aside all deference for his readers among the general public. It would almost seem that, by making good use of the freedoms of epistolary expression, he manages to sort out certain ideological threads that the official writings of the [Communist] Party often tangle together.

The texts herein do not lack didactic value and can therefore be read as a manual for conduct for political militants; as a kind of practical guide that can furnish simple and immediate support for political conduct and that is capable of penetrating into the reasons for action more directly than the ideological formulations of the various political parties; and as a collection of maxims for use by everyone, because the themes explored here have less to do with the doctrines of Marxist-Leninism than the good practice of politics.

The titles that precede each letter have been provided by us and have been approved by the author.

I hope that this cultural operation will inspire other, similar ones. Indeed, it seems to me desirable that there arises a new editorial practice, one that is turned towards the disclosure of the private writings of all those who occupy positions of responsibility in the management of public matters. This would contribute, I think, to the reduction of the distances that separate the governor from the governed, the citizen from the administrator, the voter from the elected, and the politician from the common man: the distances that, today more than in the past, have given rise to several critiques. By examining the private documents of all those who preside over the fate of the country, the citizen can give up his preconceived mistrust concerning this joining together and enter into the play of political forces to which he seems irremediably foreign.

To conclude, it pleases me to recall and adopt the words that my friend and collaborator Bollati[4] said in the course of an interview and that marvelously summarize the intention behind this publication: “I would like our books to have a wider distribution, that they reach much further, outside of Einaudi circles, I mean. To furnish books that have use, that are instruments. (…) It is a question of accompanying these movements, humbly helping society in its development, convinced that a Libyanization[5] is not desirable nor unavoidable.”

Giulio Einaudi

[1] English in original.

[2] Cf. Gerhard Ritter, Luther, Gestalt und Symbol, as well as 2 Timothy 1:7: “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power.”

[3] French in original.

[4] Giulio Bollati (1924-1996), co-director and general manager of Giulio Einaudi Editore.

[5] Cf. letter to Marco Panella.

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