Dear Perry Anderson,
I am grateful for the attention with which you have read my little book, Destra e Sinistra, and the care with which you have commented upon it. I cannot conceal the fact that this has pleased me, despite the fact that your overall judgement is more negative than positive. In Italy the unforeseen and to me incomprehensible success of the book in terms of sales was not matched by an equally serious interest on the part of its reviewers. It was seen as a mere polemical pamphlet, as for that matter it was seen by most readers, although not by its author. I apologize that this reply has been so much delayed. In a recent book of mine, in which I have put together some reflections on old age, I pointed out that the clearest sign of ageing is the progressive slowing down of the movements of body and mind.footnote1 An old man has less time stretching out before him, and what little he has, he wastes. I have picked up the fifteen pages of your text, and I have shuffled them between my fingers I do not know how
I have also been slow and late in answering because, of the fifteen or so objections which you put to me, some appeared unclear to me, not least because they referred to books with which I am unfamiliar, so that I feared I might misunderstand certain aspects of what you were saying; others appeared to me so well-grounded as to leave me in the position of not knowing what to answer, other than to say that I had made a factual or logical error. I am the first to acknowledge the defects of a work which, though it was not improvised, was insufficiently argued through. I now look at it with detachment. I have asked myself, after each re-reading of your review, facing up to the difficulties of varied nature which an answer would have required, if it was really worth it. I changed my mind on this every other day. I have never been very sure of myself. Now, less than ever.
I was lingering among my doubts and weighing the pros and cons of an answer. Then came the Italian translation of your article in an issue of the Italian review Reset, under the title, encouraging and embarrassing at the same time, ‘Destra e sinistra. Il caso non è chiuso’[‘Left and Right. The Case Remains Open’]. Reset’s editor, Giancarlo Bosetti, who took the initiative of translating and publishing the article, appeared to be taking up the challenge of the all too famous author, Francis Fukuyama, who has announced, together with the end of history, the end of the Left. Confronted with this—audacious and senseless—prophecy, I had to accept that the case remains open.
It was not the first time that you have dealt with my writing with insight—New Left Review published your essay, ‘The Affinities of Norberto Bobbio’.footnote2 This text was followed by an exchange between us which was published in the Italian journal Teoria Politica.footnote3 But I have the impression that in this new encounter we have exchanged roles. Before, you reproached me with what you saw as a contradiction between my political realism—attributed to the influence of such figures as Vilfrido Pareto and Gaetano Mosca—and my liberalsocialist ideals. Today, if I understand you correctly, your objection is the opposite: the main defect of my discussion of Left and Right appears to lie in the contradiction between the purely ideological, axiological, almost metaphysical definition which I give of the Left,
I confess that I find it difficult to understand how one can still defend the distinction between Left and Right in a historical period in which, apparently, Left and Right converge into each other in their concrete political actions—and, even more, how one can accept your final appeal to struggle to prevent the defeat of the Left, of the ‘true’ Left—without appealing to ideal values and, speaking frankly and without false modesty, without appealing to damned ideologies.
The ideal value on the basis of which I have distinguished Left from Right—and which, at the end of your review, you characterize as ‘purely axiological’—is that of equality. What has distinguished the Left in all its historical forms over the last two centuries, both ‘functionally positive’ and the ‘functionally negative’, is what I am inclined to define as the ‘ethos’ (which is also ‘pathos’) of equality. This is not an invention of mine. In my book I simply rehearsed and summarized an opinion common to the literature of both sides. In analyzing and annotating a variety of writings on this topic, especially by contemporary Italian authors, I was taking stock of a consolidated tradition of thought. In continuing to follow debates on the Left and the Right, I have found no reason to change my views. I would like to quote something Michael Walzer said at the end of an interview published by Reset. Noting that ‘there is a constant tendency of society to produce hierarchies and inequalities’, which presents a ‘challenge for the Left’, Walzer went on: ‘the Left is created for this; its function is to oppose and periodically correct the new forms of inequality and authoritarianism which are continuously produced by society’.footnote4