Unveiling right and left.

Posted in 1 by Editor on July 17, 2009


Don’t worry. My last substantial comment on Fr Peter Serracino Inglott’s “perspective”, published 20 years ago, was 218 pages long. [1]  Today’s comment will be somewhat shorter and not as substantial. Please refer to Miriam Vincenti’s interview with Fr Serracino Inglott in The Sunday Times of June 21, [2] wherein she begins by coyly declaring that she will refrain from asking him about the European Parliament result as this would amount to “rubbing salt in the wounds”. Instead, she announces, she will ask him about the book he is reading.

Reflect on this apparently innocent starter. Knowingly or otherwise, the interviewer is indicating to the not particularly advanced reader that philosophy professors who read books that he is unlikely to have ever heard of, let alone read, such as a collection of writings by Louis Massignon (1883-1962), have reason to be unhappy with the European Parliament results. Had the great unread allowed themselves to be guided by philosopher kings, by wisdom and reason, the results would have been different.

As this is a well-worn rhetorical device, the experienced reader is not at all surprised when Fr Serracino Inglott magnanimously waves aside the interviewer’s scruples, proceeds to sacrifice himself on the altar of the “public interest” and cheerfully welcomes the rubbing of salt into his wounds for our salvation. Before he gets on with it, however, there’s another rhetorical trick up his sleeve. Expecting most readers to expect him to be concerned with the June 6 results in Malta – How many fellow citizens on either side lost any sleep on the overall results in Europe? – he again delays the exposition of his views by commenting on… the overall results in Europe.

The “motivation of my post-election blues”, Fr Serracino Inglott states, “is the loss of the elections by the Left”. He complains that “the increased relative majority obtained by the Popular Party cannot be considered to be a victory of Christian Democracy” and that “the dominant group in the Popular Party is now rather more right than centre-right”. In fact, the European People’s Party, as it is officially called, defines itself as “the largest political group in a Parliament where non-socialist parties now enjoy a clear majority” (www.eppgroup.eu/home/en/aboutus.asp). It sells itself as the champion of all those against the Left and that includes plenty of people most decent readers wouldn’t want to be seen with. Yes, Fr Serracino Inglott ought to be unhappy. We need not quibble on his assumption that Christian Democrat parties are fundamentally “centre-left”.

But what all readers are really waiting for is Fr Serracino Inglott on the European Parliament results in Malta. And, finally, mercifully, he sheds the last of the veils… but one. The “local victory by the Labour Party certainly cannot be considered an exception to the general trend”, he says. In other words, it would seem to follow, the Left lost in Malta too. Is he suggesting that the PN is the “real” Left and PL the “real” right? This would surprise most of The Sunday Times’ readers who are unaccustomed to think of themselves as Leftists.

Those familiar with Fr Serracino Inglott’s views, however, will not have been surprised. In a recent interview on my conversation programme on One TV, Tango, he insisted that he has always been on the left of the Maltese political spectrum but could not work with Labour because of a number of specific issues. In my own book on his work and its context, I argued that had Fr Serracino Inglott not existed, the Nationalist Party would have had to invent him.

My point was that Fr Serracino Inglott was decisive for the transformation of the PN from a worn-out network of conservative notables to a popular mass party speaking a local dialect of Christian Democrat language. The leftish elements of this language enable Christian Democrat parties to win electoral market share from parties with blue-collar appeal.

This is relatively easy when they are in opposition, especially when the government is itself torn between the needs of international cost competitiveness and the expectations of its own mass base, as in the Maltese case after the second oil shock of 1979. It becomes more difficult when a sometime Christian Democrat party is itself in government. At that point it is characters like Richard Cachia Caruana that are more useful than a Fr Serracino Inglott… until they too outlive their political usefulness. In my view, the traditional Left vs Right distinction is unhelpful to understand what really goes on and needs to be replaced by concrete analysis. [3]

Fr Serracino Inglott’s taste for the choreographic rhetoric of the veil (whereby the speaker comes to the point after shedding a number of veils) would certainly remind Massignon – “one of my spiritual fathers”, Fr Serracino Inglott tells Ms Vincenti – of Salman al-Farisi’s veiled criticism of the unholy hurry with which Abu Bakr was elected successor to the prophet Mohammad on June 8, 653 (“you did and you did not”, he is reported to have told the electors of, in the regard of the Sunnis, the first of the Caliphs). [4]

[1]  Reflections in a canvas bag. Beginning philosophy between politics and history, PEG, 1989.

[2] May be accessed at http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20090621/opinion/a-prophet-for-our-time

[3] I argue this in a paper in J. Cutajar and G. Cassar, eds. Transitions in Maltese society. Miller, forthcoming, 2009. 

[4] In the above mentioned interview, Serracino Inglott must be referring to Écrits mémorables, edited by Christian Jambet, François Angelier, François L’Yvonnet and Souâd Ayada, published by Robert-Laffont, in their “Bouquins” series, 2 volumes, 2009. My own reference above to Massignon’s comment on Salman al-Farisi is to an essay in Parole donnée (Paris, Julliard, 1962). Unfortunately, I do not have the French original of the latter and must refer the reader to the Italian translation in my library, Salman Pak e le primizie spirituali dell’Islam iraniano, on p.115 of Parola data, Adelphi, Milano 1995.

Mario Vella

The author’s  writes every other Monday on page 8 of  The Times of Malta. The article above (except footnotes) originally appeared on The Times of Malta on July 6, 2009, and may be accessed at http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20090706/opinion/unveiling-right-and-left


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