22
Mon, Jul

 

by Stefano Zamagni

 

Article appeared in Gazzetta d'Alba

 

We conclude the reports on ‘James Alberione: An Entrepreneur of God’ with a talk by Stefano Zamagni on 28 November at PalaAlba. The scholar from Rimini retraced the figure of the founder of the Pauline Family in the economic and entrepreneurial context of the twentieth century, with a projection on the future of both the economy and communication, now fully marked by the fourth industrial revolution. Stefano Zamagni, born in 1943, is an Italian economist and academic, appreciated worldwide for his studies on social economy, with numerous essays to his credit. Since 27 March 2019, he has been president of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences. In his younger years, he was with the Italian Workers’ Federation (Giac), collaborating with Don Oreste Benzi on its educational project. He graduated in economics and commerce at the Cattolica University in Milan and specialised at Oxford University. He returned to Italy and began teaching at the Universities of Parma, Bologna and Bocconi in Milan. In 1991 he became a consultant to the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. In 2007 the Prodi II government appointed him president of the Agenzia per le Onlus. He was one of Benedict XVI’s collaborators on the drafting of the encyclical Caritas in Veritate.

 

  1. In the wake of Franciscan humanism

The title I have been given is “Fr Alberione: an Entrepreneur of God”. So, the first question that emerges is: what does entrepreneur mean? I would like to point out that the terms enterprise/entrepreneur were coined for the first time in 1730 by an Irish economist named Richard Cantillon. Before that, the word enterprise/entrepreneur did not exist, but the essence, the entrepreneurial act, did. I have brought with me a piece by Coluccio Salutati, which better than any other reveals what I have just said because entrepreneurial action was born historically between the end of the 14th and 15th centuries, the century of civic humanism, and it was born in Italy. It was not born elsewhere, as someone, some professor who thinks he knows and knows nothing, goes about saying and teaching. The figure and the entrepreneurial action were born in that territory that we associate with today’s Tuscany, Umbria and so on, and which is the point of arrival, humanism, of the Franciscan school of thought because, as you know, the first great economists were all, all, all (I have said it three times) Franciscans; this too should be remembered by someone, especially if invested with authority; not to boast about it, not because we have to tell the world, but to recall the historical truth.

Well, there is a passage by Coluccio Salutati, an entrepreneur (even if at the time, in 1400, he was not called that), who had become the animator of the Circolo dello Spirito Santo, in Florence. Listen to what he writes: “To consecrate oneself honestly to honest economic activity can be a holy thing, holier than living in idleness in solitude since the holiness achieved by a rustic life benefit only oneself, but the holiness of an industrious life elevates the existence of many”. This is 1437. Tell me if this is not a phrase that has been forgotten, even within the Church: it should be recovered, because someone who goes so far as to say that there are many ways of the holiness, but that the way of holiness of the entrepreneur is higher than that of the others because the entrepreneur chooses a way (and the example of Fr Alberione is a clear testimony in this regard), works for the good of others.

Now, I will not go into the merits of the theological dispute, but it is significant that even then, at the beginning of the 1400s, there were people who spoke in this way, and it was not just Coluccio Salutati.

 

  1. Future-oriented

So then: who is the entrepreneur? Because, before saying that Fr Alberione is God’s entrepreneur, we need to specify who he is, and what the figure of the entrepreneur is. The entrepreneur is someone who drags; the manager or the executive is someone who pushes; therefore, the entrepreneur is not to be confused with the manager who carries out an important action (by the way, manager, a word obviously in common use by now, derives from Italian). Therefore, we want to call him a manager; the manager is someone who pushes; the entrepreneur, like the leader, is someone who drags, and already from here you understand an important difference.

Secondly, the entrepreneur is someone who has a vision, a vision of the future; in this sense, the entrepreneur is guided in his or her rounds by a compass; the manager is guided by a map. Obviously, this is a metaphor, but it is easy to understand. The manager needs a map, i.e., something that tells him: there is this to be done, this, this, then he will try to do it in the best way; in the most efficient way, as they say in economics, and it is important that it is clear. The entrepreneur, on the other hand, has a compass. What does the compass do? The compass gives you orientation. The word sense, in the Italian language, means direction; therefore the entrepreneur is someone who must have a compass. And you understand that having a compass means having a valuable reference point that the manager does not necessarily have to have. If he has one, even better, but it is not necessary.

 

  1. The ability to decide and to do so wisely

Thirdly: the entrepreneur is someone who decides; the manager is someone who chooses. You will say: aren’t they the same thing? Obviously not! Deciding is one thing; choosing is another. And what is the difference? Deciding is the operation of someone who must select an option from those available, but whose characteristics he does not know, and above all does not know where he will arrive, what the point of arrival will be. A problem, instead, of choice, is when the subject has to select an option among a plurality of alternatives, of which, however, he more or less knows the good and the bad, the pros and the cons and so on... So the manager is someone who chooses, who solves problems of choice, and to do so uses the criterion of rationality. To choose rationally, one needs a criterion of rationality.

To decide, rationality is not needed, because the decision-maker (decide comes from the Latin word for cut, cut off...) does not know what will happen once he has made the decision. The image that comes to mind is that of the explorer walking: at a certain point he finds himself at a crossroads, he has to decide whether to take the path to the right or to the left, but he does not know where the two paths will lead him.

Do you understand the difference? Well, the entrepreneur is someone who decides. When people say: but I want to know... it means that they do not have the soul of an entrepreneur; at most they can be a good manager since the manager wants to know where to go. The entrepreneur, on the other hand, is guided by what Aristotle in Greek called phronesis, which means wisdom. While rationality is all that is needed to choose, wisdom is needed to decide, and you know that you can be very intelligent but not wise.

Today the world is full of intelligent people, but not very wise ones, so they don’t decide, and when they don’t decide – as the myth of Medusa’s head reminds us – they get stuck and remember that in Greek mythology you had to decide, that is, cut off Medusa’s head, because if you looked at it you would be petrified, and this is what still happens today, in fact, today more than yesterday.

We have excellent people who know how to choose, who know how to solve problems of choice, but they are not able to decide because to decide you need wisdom and therefore courage. Courage is a word that refers to the heart, to decide you need your heart; to choose you to need your head.

Obviously one can combine in the same person both functions: entrepreneur and manager, but conceptually the two functions are distinct. Why? Because if I do not know where my selection will take me, I can only be driven to enter if I have a good heart, and the example of Fr Alberione gives us ample confirmation of this, as we have heard in the beautiful report by Professor Gianfranco Maggi (already published).

 

  1. A true manifesto on the subject of the apostolate

This, then, is why we can say that Fr Alberione was an entrepreneur sui generis given his vocational choice. But it was necessary to specify these things because someone might say: well, yes, he was a good manager. This would be a violation of history and you, Paulines, must refuse to allow anyone to say such nonsense.

Alberione was an entrepreneur because he was guided by a vision and was able to lead – and how he was able to lead! His Pauline Family spread to different parts of the world. And if one reads Apostolato stampa, published in 1933, there is a little bit of the manifesto, the theological idea of Fr Alberione aimed at giving meaning to all his work of which we have heard. You know that this Apostolate of the Press takes up the Appunti di teologia pastorale (Notes on pastoral theology) that he had published in Turin a few years earlier, in 1912.

Obviously, in the first phase, as always happens to all entrepreneurs, he encountered difficulties; we have heard some, others certainly, Professor Maggi could have told us about them; and also difficulties with the Sacred Congregation of Religious, and if not, what’s the point? In short, if there were no bureaucracy in the Church too, the game would not be any better, because - it must be said - we must not be scandalised if there is.

We must fight so that bureaucracy is reduced to a minimum, but it will always be there, because bureaucracy, as I happened to say in a certain environment, is a form, the clearest form, that demonstrates the existence of original sin. If someone has doubts about original sin, I say show me why there is bureaucracy, because it has no rational explanation of any kind, neither philosophical nor economic.

Bureaucracy is something abnormal, and obviously, we have to tolerate some bureaucracy, but in Italy we have the worst bureaucracy in Europe, which is our ball and chain, preventing all politicians, entrepreneurs, citizens, and associations, from doing the good that they could and would like to do.

 

  1. The Internet and the goal of artificial intelligence

Now, what is the message for today? Given that fifty years have already passed since the death of Fr Alberione, what I am asking myself is a relevant question: what is the message for today of the work and witness of Fr James Alberione? I will limit myself to just two: the first has to do with the following circumstance: Alberione died shortly before the introduction of the Internet; you know that the Internet is that thing, let’s call it that, that connotes the third industrial revolution; the first industrial revolution at the end of the eighteenth century in England; the second industrial revolution at the end of the nineteenth century in Germany; Germany is the cradle of the second industrial revolution; the third industrial revolution in California, the United States, and the most synthetic way of expressing the quintessence of the third industrial revolution is precisely the Internet.

But Fr Alberione had sensed something because there was already talk of the Internet entering production processes, obviously not immediately in Italy, we have to wait at least fifteen years, but already in the early 1970s, in America, the Internet had begun.

You know the history of the Internet, which is fascinating: because it is discovered or is used for war reasons and from the war sector it moves to the industrial one. And what is the problem? Thanks to the start of the Internet, the fourth industrial revolution is starting to take place today: we are in the middle of the one that started with the new century, but the fourth is already in sight. And the watchword of the fourth industrial revolution is artificial intelligence; today everyone is talking about artificial intelligence.

 

  1. Truth and falsehood in communication

The problem, which Fr Alberione had already foreseen, is what today goes by the name of fake news and fake truth. Now here too terminology needs to be clarified and, in short, English cannot be translated ad libitum from one language to another; we translate fake news as false news... and that is wrong! Because in the English language fake does not mean false, even if we continue to misunderstand, because of journalists, who spread wrong things and then people repeat them. Fake, in English, means hidden or means partially true; therefore, if a piece of news were false it would not be so. How can you not understand this! If I say that the world is square, no one obviously believes it. For a piece of news to be believed it must have the appearance of truth, otherwise, it would not be believed, therefore, fake news – the English are good at this – means an obfuscated, hidden, partially true truth, which has the appearance of truth itself. So that, in times closer to us, that is, in the fourth industrial revolution, in the last twenty years, fake news is associated with the phenomenon of fake truths, that is, partial truths, hidden truths. Now the point is that fake truths are much more dangerous than fake news, and we do not realise this enough. Maybe we will, in my opinion, because we cannot go on like this. You see, fake news is revealed sooner or later; maybe it takes months or years, but when faced with fake news sooner or later someone comes along who pulls out the piece, the missing document, that proves the falsehood; but fake truths don’t have this characteristic because the fake truth is a belief that starts, in small groups, that spreads, is received as credible by a growing number of people and after a certain period of time is believed as truth.

You know that this philosophical position was anticipated at the end of the 19th century by the American philosopher Charles Peirce, who is the founder of pragmatism. Pragmatism is a philosophy that has never taken root in Europe, although less so in Italy, but it has in America. What did Charles Peirce say at the end of the 19th century? That truth in the objective sense does not exist; the truth is a social construction, that is, truth is everything that a sufficiently large group of people believe, and that is not falsified over a period of time, which can be one, two, five, ten years. So, if we start convincing ourselves that a certain thing is true and we spread it, and then the press becomes an instrument of spreading it, after a certain number of months or years no one objects, that is the truth.

Peirce says this in one of his writings and when it came out, at the end of the 19th century, it was not very well received, especially in Europe. In fact, those of you who have studied philosophy, in general, know that Peirce is certainly not the philosopher who is taken as a reference. But today he is a philosopher. Because the phenomenon of fake truth has ended up confirming Peirce’s conjecture. If he were alive, Peirce would say: did you see that I told you so?

Take the case, very close to us, of the No Vax movement. It’s exactly like this: all it takes is for a small group of people to say a certain thing, it spreads, and a certain number of people believe it. I hope that we will soon intervene to make reason prevail, reason in the full sense of the term because otherwise, the risk is that if we go on in this direction, after a while it will become the truth for everyone. And when something becomes the truth, it automatically becomes a political act, because then the politician on duty, or the policymaker has to adapt. So the problem is not to say: you have one opinion, I have another, and everyone keeps his own. I wish that were the case.

 

  1. The Gafam project

The phenomenon of fake truth, as you know, is nowadays exalted by the transhumanist project. The transhumanist project is a serious matter. We Italians are, unfortunately, made this way; we are superficial good, but superficial, because we realise certain processes when it is too late when the horse has left the barn. But you know that eighteen years ago a new university was founded in California, which journalists never talk about in Italy, at least I have never heard of it; the University of Singularity. You will say why in California? Because Gafam is in California.

Who is Gafam? Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft. There are five of them, and for the sake of brevity, they say Gafam. Obviously, they have a firepower which we know by now, and they finance this private university called the University of the Singularity, which carries out the transhumanist project. The idea of the transhumanist project is that by the year 2050 we will have surpassed the human being, that is to say, the human being will not disappear, but will no longer be of any use because it will all be done by artificial intelligence equipped with new algorithms (i.e. linked to quantum algorithms, to use the technical term). Professor Raymond Kurzweil in particular, who is the head of research, has said that by 2050 we will have created not only artificial intelligence, which already exists, but artificial consciousness, and therefore man, as we have known him for centuries and millennia, will not exist. In other words, man will continue to exist in his corporeality, but there will no longer be any need for human consciousness and, above all, for the principle of responsibility for things to move forward. Now you understand that this is a problem of great importance. And you will say: but do the others keep quiet? No, there is the other project that is called neo-humanist, which is the opponent of the transhumanist project, which has its stronghold in Europe. The problem is that others invest money on top of money, while we invest nothing.

The European Commission blathers, blathers, but does nothing on this level because proposals have been put forward in recent years to create the analogue of the University of Singularity, that is, a centre of high research that elaborates a thought, that contrasts the advance of the other.

If Fr Alberione were alive, I assure you that he would set up a team to convey these things, at least at the level of basic information, because people don’t know about them; no one talks to them about them; on the contrary, when people talk about artificial intelligence, they are all happy and content: ah how nice! You’ve seen that little twit on Facebook: he even used a word - meta - and you know he played on the misunderstanding because meta in Greek means beyond. So beyond the human: transhumanism; trans in Latin means beyond.

But what does the same word meta mean in the Hebrew language? Death. And he played exactly on that misunderstanding. But, I repeat, while all this is going on, people are not informed; at least they should be informed. Fr Alberione, in my opinion from up there, is getting angry, he’s turning in his grave because he says: let me go down so that I can create new typographies (in a metaphorical sense). Here, then, is the first message that comes to us today from a figure like Fr Alberione.

 

  1. We need to transform rather than reform

The second message is linked to the current figure of the entrepreneur. Now the entrepreneur is an agent of transformation of society; this was Fr Alberione. What does it mean to be an agent of transformation? In other words, the current reality of our societies cannot simply be reformed, because the conservatives want reforms. One is free to be a conservative, of course, one is, but one must say so, one must not make fake truths, i.e., make people believe that making reforms means being, as they say, on the left. Reforming, in Italian, means re-forming, i.e., giving a new shape to a content that is always the same; it is what is called greenwashing: you know this expression, like those who paint themselves green to say that they are changing, but this is not the case. What our society needs today is transformation, not reform. Forget reform! Are we going to reform the school? Well, in the last twenty years we have made four reforms and they have only made things worse. Because reforms worsen the situation. We need to transform schools and universities, and the same goes for other areas.

So to say that the entrepreneur is an agent of transformation of society, you understand what that means, is a very important thing.

Some time ago, at the beginning of 2021, Pope Francis, who is a rather special Pope, as we have learned by now, a bit “crazy”, received a group of international entrepreneurs, including many Americans, and greeting them he said: you are the bearers of a noble mission. He didn’t say you are the ones who build iron houses, here and there, no! You are the bearers of a noble mission. I don’t think anyone has given a better definition of an entrepreneur than this: a noble mission.

And what is the mission? That of transforming; of transforming those parts of the current situation which, for one reason or another, are not going well and need to be changed.

Here, then, is the point today: we come from a period that lasted a long time, perhaps too long for my taste, during which neo-liberal thinking prevailed, fuelled, as you know, by the Chicago School. Chicago, in the United States, where Milton Friedman, the founder of the school, defined enterprise as a money machine. If you do not believe this, read the essay by John Ladd, an American economist and student of Friedman’s, written in 1970, the year before Fr Alberione’s death.

Ladd argues: that enterprise is a money machine. Machines have no conscience, therefore, it is useless to ask the enterprise to behave ethically because machines, in the proper sense, do not have to deal with ethics, and so on. Now, this conception has been believed for many, many years, by virtually everyone, until recently. When does this cease? In the crisis of 2008, when the financial crisis arrived, which, as you know, had enormous aftermath. In fact, it is rare, indeed impossible, to have heard, since 2008, anyone says: I defend neo-liberalism; at most they say: we are for liberalism; liberalism is something else.

Liberalism is a serious thing because it is a philosophical political theory. Neo-liberalism is an economic theory, the overcoming of which has been given, as you know, a coup de grace by Pope Francis, who, since he is not afraid of anyone, doesn’t care at all when someone says to him: but do you know that people are writing around that you... Yes, yes, they are right to write like that, and so I enjoy it even more... Francis is right to do so, in my opinion, because if he listened to all the nonsense that they say around...

 

  1. The coup de grace given to neoliberalism

So, Francis delivered the coup de grace to neoliberalism when he published Evangelii Gaudium in 2014. He had just ascended the papal throne in 2013. It’s not an encyclical, it’s a pastoral exhortation, as they say technically; but look at it, it’s of enormous depth, in some ways greater than later ones, because it’s in Evangelii Gaudium that Pope Francis says: the trickle-down effect thesis is false; it’s scientifically false.

He had the courage to say this; scientifically from an economic point of view. Trickle-down means, in Italian, dripping and it is the thesis that was on the lips, then, now no longer, of all the neo-liberals. What does this thesis say? A rising tide lifts all boats. So, let’s not worry about the poor, the ones who can’t make it. It is important to raise the tide, that is, to increase the cake, increase growth, increase it anyway. Because then, because of the dripping, there will be enough for everyone. Do you remember in the Gospel the crumbs of the poor man at the table of the rich man? Of the poor man who says: give me at least the crumbs that fall.

And so, these people said: see, if we increase the rate of growth, the accumulation of capital and goods, etc., there will be enough for everyone. Pope Francis had the courage - he had been pope for a year and was still not as well-known as he is today - to say: no! And he was right, of course. Of course, it is clear that when Pope Francis commits himself to certain things, he is not so foolish as to do them because he dreamt them up at night, he first asks the people who deal with that certain issue whether a certain thesis has a scientific basis or not. A bit like Laudato si: “chapter two has a scientific basis, behind which there are five Nobel Prize winners, as many scientists and so on.”

So, it is clear that since then this shameful metaphor is no longer used because trickle-down has become trickle-up which means: the trickle-down effect works in the opposite direction because today there is the poor who finance the rich. Did you know that, or not? If you don’t know, I’ll give you the numbers, I’ll give you the references and you can do your own research. While before, people thought: you will become rich, then you will give some crumbs to others, to put it in a joke, they believed in Robin Hood, who stole from the rich to give to the poor; while the Sheriff of Nottingham, stole from the poor to give to the rich, which is what has happened in recent decades, since 1980.

 

  1. Corporate Civil liability

Here, then, is the point of the speech: when we say that the entrepreneur is an agent of transformation, we are referring to this. Because real entrepreneurs, and there are some, fortunately, in Italy, as in this Piedmont area, take offence when they say: we are the drivers of a money machine. If you talk like that to these entrepreneurs, they are offended: what do you say? I should live to feed a money-making machine? No, I am part of my society, I want to contribute to progress.

Here, then, is the point: we must move from the concept of the social responsibility of business to the concept of the civil responsibility of business. Fr Alberione knew the social responsibility of business because this expression was born in America in 1953 and he died in 1971, he was a man of culture and he followed everything. But he had already understood, obviously not being an economist by profession, that there was something wrong.

Why? Because with social responsibility we ask companies not to do things, not to exploit workers, not to evade taxes, not to pollute too much and so on. With civil responsibility, on the other hand, we ask companies to do: that is to say, to contribute together with others, civil society players, movements to everything that is happening in society, to a work of transformation. This is the noble vocation of the entrepreneur: he must be a driving force, someone who drags other components of society to initiate projects or processes of transformation; this is how I interpret the work and figure of Fr Alberione.

He was a civil entrepreneur, that is, an entrepreneur who conceived as his mission that of not being satisfied with what was acquired and, above all, of working for, today we would say, inclusive prosperity. Inclusive prosperity means prosperity for all, not only for some, and, above all, prosperity that recreates the alliance between man and nature, and on this Laudato si has given us, how should I say, the definitive go-ahead.

 

  1. Blessed because he knew how to move forward

I would like to conclude by recalling that today we really need people like Fr Alberione in general, but also within the Catholic Church. So you, Paulines, do well. But say it, do not be afraid; say it, because there is also our Church... Our Church because I identify with it. But there are too many areas of bureaucracy that prevent us from doing the best possible good and, above all, prevent those who want to do good from doing it.

Because I will never be surprised if someone says to me: I don’t want to do good; I will be surprised and angry if someone not wanting to do good prevents others from doing it. This you cannot do. I don’t know if the concept is clear. And this is what bureaucracy does: it prevents those who, organised or not, want to work for the common good from doing so.

I would like to conclude with the epigram that Goethe puts on the lips of the angels when they try to snatch Faust’s soul from the clutches of the devil.

Goethe writes in Faust: “He who constantly endeavoured to advance, he is the one we can save”. Fr Alberione, during his life, constantly strove to advance; this is the reason why he now sits among the blessed.

 

Agenda Paolina

July 22, 2024

Festa di S. Maria Maddalena (bianco)
Ct 3,1-4a oppure 2Cor 5,14-17; Sal 62; Gv 20,1-2.11-18

July 22, 2024

* FSP: 1922 ad Alba, Teresa Merlo con altre 8 giovani emette la professione religiosa nelle mani di Don Giacomo Alberione assumendo il nome di Tecla.

July 22, 2024SSP: Fr. Pietro Gazzano (1998) - D. Aristide Marson (2007) - Fr. Élbio Juvenal Rodrigues Dias (2011) • FSP: Sr. M. Giuseppina Muddolon (1981) - Sr. M. Eugenia Cecchinato (2010) • SJBP: Sr. M. Elisabetta Franchi (1961) - Sr. Mary Edward Parcero (2019) • IMSA: Vita Rotunno (2014) • ISF: Giovanni Marongiu (2004).

Thoughts

July 22, 2024

La vita religiosa è una vita di amore... Quando non vive più l’io... allora si ama Iddio con tutto il cuore, non con una parte; con tutta la mente, non con una parte; con tutta la volontà, tutte le forze, non con una parte. Ecco la persona veramente di Dio, cioè religiosa (APD56, 469).

July 22, 2024

La vida religiosa es una vida de amor... Cuando se deja de vivir el ego... entonces se ama a Dios con todo el corazón, no con una parte; con toda la mente, no con una parte; con toda la voluntad, con todas las fuerzas, no con una parte. He aquí la persona que es verdaderamente de Dios, es decir, religiosa (APD56, 469).

July 22, 2024

Religious life is a life of love... When the self no longer lives... then one loves God with all one’s heart, not with one part; with the whole mind, not with one part; with all the will, all the strength, not with one part. Here is the person truly of God, that is, the religious (APD56, 469).