• 10 de May de 2024
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  • 16 minutes read

Nuccio Ordine (In memoriam)

Nuccio Ordine (In memoriam)

In memoriam

Nuccio Ordine: “Europe is under threat”

“What we are living nowadays is one of the worst moments in the history of our Europe”

Nuccio Ordine. / Photo: Àlex Romero 

License Creative Commons


Eva Serra


This interview took place some time ago, when Professor Nuccio Ordine (Diamante, 1958 – Cosenza, 2023) came once more to Barcelona, as he did many other times before, and will do later on. At that time, Ordine was still unaware that four years later he was to be awarded with the 2023 Premio Princesa de Asturias de Comunicación y Humanidades, a prize he could not personally receive due to his unfortunate death in the same year. His thought is, however, still alive among us and Educational Evidence wants to show, by republishing this text, the validity of his legacy.

Nuccio Ordine considers that Europe is characterized by regression from its historical achievements. He warns us about the danger of the rise of populist parties and defends the importance of training in the culture of the classics against a market-oriented education. Professor of Italian Literature, expert on the Renaissance and Giordano Bruno, this philosopher and writer has been translated into more than 20 languages for his work The Usefulness of the Useless.

Professor Ordine gave a lecture at Casa Golferichs in Barcelona, invited by Sindicato Profesores de Secundaria Aspepc-Sps in front of an audience of educators and students. As in his renowned and successful book, The Utility of the Useless, Ordine advocated for the preservation of culture and the scientific and humanistic values in a society that he considers misguided and mercantilist.

In his lecture, the professor began by explaining the question he always asks his students on the first day of class: What have you come to university for? And the answer is always the same: “to get a degree.” As a counterpoint, he recalls Albert Camus who, upon receiving the Nobel Prize in 1957, thought of his teacher and emphasized that “if on that day you think of your teacher, it means that the school has given you a lot”.

Ordine recognizes that his speech has spread out more than he could have ever imagined when he wrote: The Utility of the Useless in 2013. Since then, he has not ceased to offer lectures and interviews worldwide, with that serenity that he conveys. In the taxi ride between his unconditional hotel Alma and Casa Golferichs, he explains us how much he loves to take refuge in his house in Calabria, amidst journeys, surrounded by his dogs and cats, and devoted to his readings and writings. Meanwhile, he proudly shows us a picture on his mobile phone with his pet Quirón.


What do you think about contemporary thought in Europe? Are we definitely lost or is there hope?

This is a moment of crisis for Europe. Nationalist parties and localist parties that advocate for building walls, imposing separations and setting borders are increasingly emerging.

The idea of Europe was one where each of us could freely move from one nation to another and feel Italian, Spanish, French, English… but at the same time European. Now, instead, there are “fearmongering” parties that have tried to exploit the suffering of the increasingly impoverished humble classes and the middle classes, who are becoming poor due to a crisis that has been bringing Europe and the world to its knees for many years.

“The idea of Europe was one where each of us could freely move from one nation to another and feel Italian, Spanish, French, English… but at the same time European”

The burden of the crisis has fallen upon the middle and poor classes. The dissatisfaction of both has prompted an irrational response: to consider the other as an enemy and therefore, consider people moving from one country to another as such, as a scapegoat responsible for all their suffering. This is a story that the parties, these entrepreneurs of fear, – he repeats – have capitalized on for their own benefit and are collecting successes in all European countries. I see this situation as very serious.

Clearly, the responsibility for all this lies also with a previous political class that did not think about the creation of Europe and that preferred to favour and enrich banking and finance sectors. Europe is threatened. I think what we see every day is one of the worst moments in the history of our Europe because it is creating an anti-European sentiment in almost all countries.

In Italy, anti-European sentiment is gaining strength. What is your opinion as an Italian?

Currently in Italy [2019] we have a Home Office Minister who is a populist, a racist and a fascist. This is very serious, but we must not forget the fact that the blame for all this also lies in the wrong policies that European ruling classes have pursued so far. How to get out of this? It can be achieved by educating generations of young people who can have a stronger European sense.

Schools and universities should be the places where these young people are educated, where they read the classics, where they are given the idea of Europe through great authors; because Don Quixote is not Spanish, Ulysses is not Greek, Dante is not Italian, they are characters that are already part of the European culture. If we make the classics read to young people, educating them in a broader vision, it will be possible to recover something even though the times are not the best.

Europe has already experienced populism, economic crises and two bloody wars. What have we not learned from European history?

There is a significant difference. It is true that there was an economic crisis that later led to world wars, but Europe did not exist, at least formally. Now we have many years of Europe behind us after nineteen years of the single currency; This is a very significant perception.

“The idea is that these relationships exist and that the intellectual community is a community without borders, without different languages”

Despite everything, at the end of the Second World War, there were two great thinkers who tried to understand, in a Europe destroyed by war, what the bonds between people were. I am talking about two great works, that of Erich Auerbach, author of Mimesis (literature from Homer to Virginia Woolf) and Ernst Robert Curtius, who faced the notion of “topos” in literature, a theme that from the classical world reaches the 20th century to understand how the classics need each other.

If you read Don Quixote but you have not read Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso, you understand little of Cervantes’ work. If you have read John Toland but not Giordano Bruno, you understand little of the former. The idea is that these relationships exist and the intellectual community is a community without borders, without different languages. So, even at that moment, when everything was in ruins, literature is resorted to in order to find unity.

The study of the classics has been progressively swept away from the curricula and replaced by experimental approaches where effort and critical thinking are deemed obsolete. Could we say there is a general decline in education in Europe? What can be done about it?

This is a very complex topic. Not even the Oracle of Delphi could answer a question of this type. I have been fighting against this for years; with my first book, The Utility of the Useless, then with Classics for Life and now with the third book, – not yet translated into Spanish (published two months ago) – titled Men are not islands.

“Market-oriented education is not just a Spanish, Italian or European issue, it is already global”

It is very difficult to find a recipe today. Market-oriented education is not just a Spanish, Italian or European issue, it is already global. In the countries that I have visited, for example in Latin America, where there is a lot of poverty, I also see a lot of enthusiasm from students and some teachers who would like to react against the current educational drift.

What can be done? I think we must resist and every teacher must do so. When I am being asked this question, I always answer with an anecdote from a great Italian writer, Andrea Camilleri (author of Commissioner Montalbano). He delivered a beautiful lecture at the Auditorium of Music in Rome and he told the following: «One day a fire breaks out in the forest and all the animals run to save themselves from the fire. The last one, the king of the jungle, the lion. As the lion runs, he sees a small hummingbird flying in the opposite direction. The lion asks him: “Are you crazy, don’t you see there is a fire?” And the little hummingbird answers: “I have a drop of dew in my mouth and I am going to take it to the fire”. I think this is what we can do. To bring each of us our personal experiences, our own drop of dew that can extinguish the fire.

You say that universities operate as companies and students as their clients (for example, note the academic language of “credits” and “debits”), but eventually, if a client does not receive what he has paid for, he may complain to the supplier. Do you think this could happen in the future with new generations?

The problem is to understand why students pay and that is the point of divergence. Do students pay to learn or to get an academic diploma? If they do it for the second reason, the exchange is perfect. I pay you, and you give me a degree.

Students do not go to university or college to learn, nor to become better. We have a society that thinks that you have to study to get a degree, not to learn, this is the underlying issue within the educational system.

Well, this would be a general x-ray. There has always been a small percentage of students who do want to learn, who are motivated to learn. Is it unreliable to think that within that small strip could be developed a revulsion that, by reaction, could spread to the whole, since the results have been proved?

I hope so. Those who are motivated, who have a strong inner motivation, doesn’t even need university. To learn, you can do it alone too or you can take advantage of the good teachers you find at school or university to achieve more, without limiting yourself to the degree. I hope this can happen.

The only thing I know is that when students find a teacher who fosters critical thinking, who makes them understand the limits of a studying conception just headed to find a job, students may respond as they want to study for higher motivations.

“Today school and university are to produce broiler chickens, tihos is the goal”

The main problem lies in the fact that today’s society encourages the opposite. They make you believe that you must go fast while, on the other hand, studying is not speed, but slowness. They convince you of the usefulness of the diploma or degree, nevertheless, that is not what may change you, but the experience you’re having during your journey of study. If we fail to make students understand this, it is then normal they bend to the logic of this society: The idea that school and university are not a place of resistance to false values, nor a place of questioning, not a place where we form critical minds. Today school and university are to produce “broiler chickens”, this is the goal. I believe that a teacher can change the life of a student, even in a brutal context like the one we are experiencing.

Some argue that if the market changes, the educational system must also change

Before, the university was too unbalanced regarding academic instruction, now it is too unbalanced to the idea of study as a pathway to the job market. I do not believe the solutions currently advocated are at the best ones. We cannot bend study and university to the demands of the market.

“I do not believe that the solutions currently advocated are at the best ones. We cannot bend study and university to the demands of the market”

Nowadays, economists recognize that the market changes so quickly that what is demanded today will change within ten years or perhaps five. So, the market changes very quickly. Forming young people takes time, the training cycle is fifteen years long, so when students are trained for a certain type of profession, the job may no longer exist.

When students are less educated, they are more specialized, so they become victims of a sudden market changes. The only possibility we have is to educate cultured students, with a broad foundational culture. The more cultured they are, the more likely they will be to adapt to changes. I believe the answer is precisely the opposite of what we are trying to create today, since it is a wrong logic.

In France, for example, the new generations of immigrants who gained access to university rebelled against the state, saying that they were academically prepared, but that they did not have a suitable job. This also happens with many university students, whether French or Spanish. How do we find a balance between academic instruction and professional opportunities?

The concept of work itself has changed a lot in the last fifteen years. Everything that we have conquered after fighting for decades has now turned to smoke. There is a beautiful phrase by Hannah Arendt: “The right to have rights”, something that we have lost today. Today, work is made precarious to give companies the freedom to act, so workers are employed without guarantees. We are losing important things that we had conquered in the labour world.

Within such a background it is clear if you have a job, you will always be precarious, because the dimension of work and the company has changed. Olivetti talked about the social responsibility of the businessman. Fifty or sixty years ago, in Italy, when a factory was opened, it not only served to enrich the owner. Of course, it is fair that the businessman and his employees earn money, but it is also important that everyone contributes to the territory’s growth.

“A fight against multinational corporations would mean millions in taxes that they currently don’t pay, and this money exceeds by far what we invest in human solidarity”

Today, multinationals are completely opposed to this model. This is why I am so upset with the populist parties throughout Europe because they complain, arguing it is not fair we spend money on the Africans who arrive when there are people in the country who are in poverty, and this is a very dangerous argument. Those who suffer believe that the enemy is the foreign migration. I have not seen these gentlemen in Europe fighting to make Amazon, Google, Apple…, who earn millions, pay taxes…. I, as a teacher, pay 46% in taxes, so why shouldn’t Amazon pay anything?

A fight against multinational corporations would mean millions in taxes that they currently don’t pay, and this money exceeds by far what we invest in human solidarity. It is fair money that honours the countries that spend it. The problem lies in how we tell things and how people have the possibility and serenity to understand them. It is very easy for someone who is suffering to understand the populist’s speech who puts the scapegoat responsible for their poverty on their plate.

“Being informed does not mean knowing”

Many people confuse information with knowledge. We have a more informed society, that’s true, but a society that knows less. Being informed does not mean knowing. The Internet and social media are often spaces where the banality of commonplaces, the distortion of reality, is consumed.

Source: educational EVIDENCE

Rights: Creative Commons

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