Grand Master, Grande Oriente d’Italia;
Honorary Grand Master ad vitam, National Grand Lodge of Romania;
Honorary Director, MASONIC FORUM Magazine
We live in times of great uncertainty and confusion when the light of those who have followed paths of enlightenment and research must come out from under the bushel and accompany the seekers of meaning. Today we live in a world of cheap philosophy, of making ends meet, of tricks and ruses, of looking the other way and pretending not to see, hear or understand. Humanity itself – the most important value in civilian life – seems relegated to the backburner, buffeted amidst billows so strong that even a wind rose seems useless. We urgently need to return to civilisation, to revise key ethical and moral tenets. These are the difficulties that prompted us to dedicate this Annual Communication to prospects for the future. First and foremost, prospects based on values, principles and minima moralia; prospects that Italy and Europe must embody in the future. Resigning ourselves to decadence means being an accomplice of decline: instead thinking Italy represents a courageous choice, one which involves tackling ever-changing scenarios, understanding people’s feeling of uncertainty, especially its youngsters, and helping to find answers. We need to retread the path of ethics and culture, we need to work together to overcome this feeling of confusion and bewilderment.
Politics and ideas are notably absent. Italy has changed: it has lost its focus, but above all it is no longer rooted in reality – improvisation and the logic of opposing factions have been given free reign. Freemasons are not amongst those who talk of Finis Italiae. Nor will we ever be. Our history teaches us something different: it teaches us that from behind a dark and cloudy sky a star may appear to light the path of travellers. Thanks to our ongoing struggle for secularism and freedom history considers us builders. This is who we are, and will always be.
Our voice must ring out loud: without investing in culture there is no revival, just illusion. To break loose from this impasse we need to enhance the young and our public schools, fight for labour rights and individual dignity, boost the healthy elements of society and fulfil their expectations, open our minds to new knowledge and innovation, help those without rights and, finally, bind all generations of Italians in a new civic pact: the children of immigrants who contribute to the growth of the country, who go to school with our children, are Italian citizens.
In recent weeks, many Freemasons, including myself, have found themselves in agreement with the ideas expressed in the “Manifesto for a Constituent Assembly for Culture”. Not empty words but tangible ideas to develop a strategy that can concretise multiple proposals to support scientific research, schools and universities in a framework of full cooperation between accountable state administrations, but also between the public and private sector (…)
Today Italy lies dormant on a bed of personal egoisms. Unlike others, masons have a sense of the long term. We work to achieve generational projects based on cultural identity. Let’s reclaim the classics and true Masters of thought and incorporate them into our daily lives. Let’s study Mazzini again to understand the ethics of public life. “Cetto la Qualunque” [comic film character] might make us laugh at the movies, but he’s not the solution. To solve our problems we need giants, not midgets and showgirls.
We will not stand by: we want to be the protagonists of a determined effort to jumpstart the culture (not consumer culture) behind possible growth, a culture that can boost development in Italy. We need to put an end to the season of festivals and temporariness and focus instead on a generational strategy that can improve and commit the country quite apart from personal interests. We need professorships, rather than village fêtes, to build long-term prospects. The example set by good citizens can convey a message of moral revival. We want to be a driving force behind progress in Italy; we are ready to lend an unbiased, genuine and spendable hand to the growth of our country. We are ready to throw our body and minds into the fray in order to turn these circumstances into our destiny and future. We mustn’t be afraid of changing history.
We have to make a fundamental choice: to recover the essence of Man, the compass of values must show us the way. We must move beyond temporary visions because we are men of impossible topicality, men of free energy who know how to build paths of freedom. Once upon a time, not long ago, we opposed dictatorships and all kinds of totalitarianisms; we remained free from the folly of barbed wire and the inferno of reason: today we fight against mediocrity and the giants of ignorance.
Saint Augustine in his De Civitate Dei writes: Initium ergo ut esset creatus est homo. That a beginning be made, man was created. Producing something new is part of human nature. But novelties involve a struggle, a process of freedom, inexhaustible and disquieting reasoning. The fact we are aware of this makes us initiators; we live with secular ethics in our hearts, ethics that make comparison a method and indicate the beauty of difference rather than the logic of repetition. Life is opportunity and choice. What is important is to think one’s life and live one’s thoughts.
But we cannot travel alone through this transition between ages: we have to be “roped together” to avoid fraying at the edges. Instead of keeping our eyes fixed on the present we need to look beyond the horizon, revive our curiosity for what doesn’t exist but needs to be built in a responsible and committed manner. Making people aware is the task of education; it cannot be left to television serials. We need to listen to the voices of real Masters in all fields of learning. Let us recall wise men from exile. Loosing the compass of values, the centrality of peace, the culture of respect, cooperation, solidarity and, clearly, transparency, honesty, rigour, to the antagonism of abuse, creative financing, deception, public and private dishonesty, and fraud, creates unacceptable and devastating effects. These problems are present in Italy, but also in Europe.
Together with the friendly voice of other Masonic institutions in Europe we want to let Italy and Europe know that Freemasonry fosters the values of peace, tolerance and brotherhood among men as key elements of civilisation. During this grave crisis we feel committed to defend culture as an element of development and growth, including economic growth. In all the seats of the Grand Orient of Italy, and also and above all in Europe, we have always insisted on the centrality of the founding principles of the union between European peoples, on culture and the defence of human rights ahead of economic rights. We have repeated our position during our participation in the Meetings of Philosophical and Non-Confessional Organisations organised in the last two years by the European Commission in Brussels and chaired by Manuel Barroso. We love a Europe of knowledge and peoples, not one run by banks.
In Italy and abroad Freemasons are the ethical sentinels of our age, greater blacksmiths of new humanity. They don’t remain silent cursing the dark, they take on the responsibility of finding out what the young and old, men and women, want in their lives: answers to social problems, to the misfortune of loosing a job, to the suffering of those who for too many years cry out for justice.
We aren’t the ones who stir up the waters; we explore all avenues where a word or the light can change decisions that risk denying the centrality of Man. We are not a political party, far from it, we are an ethical agency and a think-tank historically rooted in Italy’s democratic traditions based on the fundamental values of our Constitution and the Unity of a country we helped to build and strengthen in the last 150 years; our non-demagogic topics for debate are not aimed to please or procure a sympathetic audience at all costs. We can allow ourselves to be critical and challenging, and in many cases the excellence of free thought has been our strongest, truest and most novel asset.
Holding the compass of values in our hands has been the premise for any decision. It involves rediscovering the reasons for our decision to come together; it means calling things by their proper name because often the knight of distress is the knight of indifference. A path of awareness and decision that pledges the future and leads to a choice between right and wrong. The meaning of these values is not an abstract metaphor: it involves coherence, integrity and the chance for everyone to become a person in the true sense of the word, a person who lives history in the novelties of his own being. Knowledge helps to lift the mist, to plot new paths, to broaden boundaries which we consider outposts rather than limits – outposts of free debate and common interests.
We don’t want to harp on past glory, we want to lift the veil on the future and unequivocally state that caring for Man is our key rule. We must protect freedom when it’s threatened, we must unmask idols and expose those who think they can go it alone. We know that everything can change, but that it requires commitment, toil and effort. No struggle – no history.
Liberalism and consumerism have led to the fall of the real economy and the rise of financial economics. A huge game of Monopoly based on nothing; a game that has thrown peoples and culture into the abyss. In an age of relativism, it’s not anachronistic to begin to rebuild because we know that ruins are a starting point. Italy needs these ‘irregular workers’ who, stone upon stone, merge moral imperative and social work. Freemasons can play their part because they have so much to say to society: those who have faced initiation and experienced darkness, cannot loose heart. They know the Light exists and that this Light continues to shine despite our human experiences. Removing the humus that fosters banality means defeating conformism and the chains of renunciation; it means living a profound, united life. A never-ending adventure always worth living; like Ulysses setting sail without knowing if Ithaca will still exist upon his return.
Freedom and willpower aren’t slogans; they represent the profound belief that every man on the face of the earth can think, act, work, talk, love, suffer and die and that no-one can force him to do, believe, profess or state anything he doesn’t hold true. We want to be masters of our time.
It is my personal pleasure and honour to guide thousands of doubting men who have chosen to be difficult, because this is a sign of freedom. People no-one can sell or buy, because their secret is brotherhood. To free Man from poverty, subjection and ignorance is still the task of the Grand Orient of Italy. The common Temple we carry in our hearts – the house of rebels in revolt against all dogmas and limits. Behind it, the shadow of Kant’s philosophy, but also the story of successful battles for secularism and philosophy of which we are proud because they are the roots of the future.
Beyond the crisis, beyond the night, we look forward. This message is also directed to our brothers: we have destroyed the walls of diffidence and misunderstanding; now – as Voltaire once taught us – we must “cultivate our garden”. Increased unity and precise goals will help us achieve our task. Those who focus on metals, honours and struggle for power are not part of the Temple. Freemasonry’s great adventure of freedom and vision is lost on them.
For us, and for all Italians, responsibility for our actions is what is at stake. Italy doesn’t need charlatans; it needs strategic choices on long-term goals. Buying back the mortgage of instability means reclaiming our history and painting our own picture of the future. We have tried to achieve this goal during our journey this past year, from Trieste to Palermo, to celebrate our identity and the 150th anniversary of the Unity of Italy. Our journey still has many more opportunities for dialogue, because it’s a method and working hypothesis rather than a chain of events. We’ve shown it’s possible to discuss values, knowledge and memory in order to reflect on what we want as Italians and Europeans. We chose to fearlessly and openly speak in squares and theatres, not like the stiff-necked dummies we saw during so many celebratory events; instead we talked about the actions and ideas that make us true Italians, Italians who wear their aprons to serve a common truth.
In 1861 the Unity of Italy had a single goal: modernisation. It’s not surprising that The History of Italian Literature by Francesco De Sanctis, considered by many as the ideological summa of the Risorgimento, ends with the phrase “to make the modern world our world”. The country which thanks to Machiavelli, Bruno and Vico contributed to the birth of our modern nation can fall into step with the most advanced countries in Europe. Italy created western modernity; it paved the way with its innovation and free thinking. What about today? It’s not unusual for Italy to rank at the bottom of European or global statistics on labour or research, on care for the weak or positive action. Not enough energy is spent trying to make Italy a better place. Modernity shouldn’t depend on rating agencies or the whims of this or that leader. We can’t be Harlequin, the servant of two masters. Italy can’t hope for a miracle or to win a windfall in the lottery. In Europe not only has Germany left the war behind, it is now a unified country planning its future. What is Italy doing? After 150 years we must put an end to this division between North, South and Centre. If we don’t want to be the ones to bring the country down, then we need to change and grow with Europe; we need to imagine destiny rather than act as the sherpas of small opportunities. Winning involves foresight, not riding coattails.
Happily enough the latest survey by Censis portrays another kind of country. A country thirsty for the future, for success; a country that has rediscovered and believes in values such as the family (mentioned by 65% of Italians), quality of life, love of beauty and respect for others. Individualism is over; relationships are once again considered important; people finally believe that “only together can we save ourselves”. Intelligence destroys peoples’ fear of dialogue. A true mason is one who never stops, who is never satisfied. It’s better by far to be a rebel for truth than sign armistices with decadence or compromise one’s conscience. Values and a long history are required to project thoughts and actions beyond the blackmail of today’s world. However, if we hollow out the smooth wall of contrast and opposition we’ll find discussion and dialogue are stronger than the shackles of prejudice and that critical theory is always an option – even when it seems that political apathy or distrust and truism reign supreme. The better half of Italy has to intercept this urge for insight and wisdom; we must save people from the pressure of homologation, the diktats of the market and seasonal trends and fads. We have to raise our voice and say: dreams are not for sale.
Our sole fear is not death itself, but the death of thought. We choose to stand up and work rather than sit in the most comfortable seats on either side of the table. We are beyond politics and technicians: we are free masons of Italy on a journey. We are passionate about understanding the meaning of things; we are against the clamour and uproar of voices, the spies of anti-history and the salary of fear. We want difficult values to continue to have their own history: reason, solidarity and social justice.
The enemies of our country are clichés, this hunger for personal gain without caring for fundamentals. Instead we hope that our queries and questions, inspired by the past, can continue to subvert false certitudes and encourage people not to stop and rest on the brink of the common grave of a lack of projects for the future. As masons we believe that Mazzini’s maxim still holds true: “make duty the focus of life, without calculating the cost”.
Man is our compass, a compass pointing towards Man. Brother Kipling wrote that nothing really ends if it ends without justice. This is why we continue to fight; it is the message of hope we want to spread in Italy and Europe. Fighting for truth in the name of Man.