The intellectual and moral struggle of István Bibó

by Judith Bibo - Padua, 2000

During the first Gariwo International Conference "Si può sempre dire un sì o un no" (You can always say yes or no), held between 30 November and 2 December 2000 at the University of Padua, István Bibó's daughter-in-law brought her testimony to remember the figure of the Righteous, critical conscience of the nation during both totalitarianisms. Here are some of the steps of her speech, which is entirely available in french in the box below. 

[…] If Bibo is a Righteous, his example shows two important aspects. First of all, he uncommonly broadens the notion of Righteous. By his solidarity, he helps one after the other whose who become victims of persecutions or injustice in Central Europe during the bloody history of the XXth century. He acts in time and against the time, always following the same moral values. Secondly, act and thinking are for him two faces of the same commitment, for this reason his actions fit in a typically european tradition, that of the intellectuals.

[…] In a text that we can easily consider as his spiritual legacy, he explains the deep meaning of the European civilisation as a slow progression towards the end of the violence and the humanisation of power, a challenge often unstable but continued that consists of two basic elements: on one side, the experimentation of the principles and techniques of democracy initiated within the Greco-Roman civilization of antiquity, on the other side, the Judeo-Christian tradition that, in the field of political reflection, culminates in the conception of St. Augustine, who believes that power is always immoral and that consequently it must always justify itself, that is, assume its responsibilities before God.

[...] Bibo follows his teacher, the Italian historian G. Ferrero who, on the eve of the Second World War, expresses his main concern as follows: "The wars that depend on the spiritual disorder of an era are more dangerous movements than those caused by conflicts of political interest ". For Bibo, who follows in the footsteps of his teacher, the main task of the intellectual consists therefore in understanding conflicts.

[...] He formulates a severe moral judgment on the Hungarian society and declares that the most serious aspect of the defeat that Hungary has suffered in war is not of a military or economic nature: what is more laden with consequences for the country is his moral defeat.

[...] Bibo knows - and also in this aspect he follows his teacher G. Ferrero - that by putting on an equal footing the good and the bad, one forgets that one of the fundamental dimensions of man is that he is afraid. Man is the only living being to know that he must be afraid, and one of his most terrible fears is the one he feels before his fellows. And not wrongly. Given this fundamental fact of human existence, doing good implies, most of the time, that we must do it in spite of fear and against fear itself. In order for man to become a moral being, it is necessary to have courage. We are here at the heart of the problem, because, if we want to draw a lesson from the example of the Righteous, the question must be posed in such a way as not to neglect the real experiences of totalitarianism. In fact, accurately assessing the effects of fear is a prerogative of totalitarian regimes, as we know well today. But if at the beginning these regimes calculate a certain amount of fear, they very quickly multiply it. This means, in the European context, that once legality has disappeared as the bulwark for democracy, ie once the democratic institutions that guarantee the application of laws are falsified and crushed, the horrendous face of democracy emerges: the popular sovereignty that easily degenerates into blind terrorism of the masses.

11 February 2019

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