On archiving almost everything

On archiving almost everything

Giulio Andreotti, Italian Statesman (Photo: Il Giornale)

If we make the strong assumption that life is ultimately political, given the multiplicity of interactions we have with the variety of people of various social statuses, then a long life would also entail political longevity. Such world-view, scurrilous as it may be, would seem to apply to Senator for Life and former Italian Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti. But there is a lesson to be learned from Andreotti’s longevity amidst the myriad scandals that were stormed in his life in a Pandoran way. And that lesson is the reticent way he admixed his culture, intellect, and wit with power to secure his position and intents in life.

Andreotti started his political career in the late 1940s with Christian Democracy, the now defunct Italian political party that dominated Italian life until the early ’90s. In 1991, he was appointed Senator for Life, despite allegations and hints of his collaboration with Cosa Nostra, the infamous Italian mafia network. In fact, a criminal investigation and prosecution into the matter led to a less-than-a-decade trial against Andreotti, which ended with the latter’s acquittal amid popular controversy. Interestingly enough, not only did Andreotti enjoy uninterrupted political power for decades, but he remained in his own happy Catholic world well into his nineties.

What was Andreotti’s key to political longevity? Concisely, I believe it was his coveted — some would say ‘dreaded’ — private archive on top of his intellectual and cultural capacities.

The large archive was donated to the Luigi Sturzo Institute in 2007 and is being curated there for thorough examination by historians, journalists, academicians, and the public. It is subdivided into 15 thematic categories (e.g. Parliament, the Holy See, the Senate, etc.), and other files/dossiers sorted out chronologically or contextually. It includes sensitive documents pertaining to various scandals and plausibly crimes that occurred during Andreotti’s governance or political activity, such as the dark year 1978 when Aldo Moro, then head of the Christian Democratic Party, was kidnapped and assassinated by the Red Brigades. The type of information contained in the 3500 folders varies from simple single-page documents to photographs, voice records, videos, and some books. (There could have been more information entities of interest which Andreotti may have decided to annihilate for obvious reasons.)

In my view, this archive has been Andreotti’s aegis and unprescribed medicine to not dying early, as some of his political comrades did. He meticulously resorted to his intellectual and cultural strengths along with his ready wit in order to avert embarrassing situations, but above all to exert power on political adversaries directly through his position or indirectly through his influence. In a sense, he realized early on the importance of possessing and retaining information in various modalities for the purposes of wielding a vicious political power. In turn, this discipline donated him a pro-active and influential personality — which led to his longevity.

Put differently, this method of admixing individual culture and information seems to be an atrocious medicine you have to take in order to repel certain insects from stinging you. Nonetheless, such form of power is bound by at least two limitations inherent to social systems, as Andreotti himself acknowledged publicly: (a) insufficient financial means, and (b) insufficient political means to accomplish useful things.

Andreotti has certainly consulted his archive for “special” situations in the past, as it were. Such acts have constituted outright exertion of power rather than influence, although the mere existence of the archive had scared adversaries off. This latter instance is itself an indirect use of power via argumentum ad baculum.

There is a subtle difference between power and influence: Influence is an indirect means of exerting power with not necessarily malicious persuasions, such as the pernicious use of argumentum ad consequentiam. Schoolteachers tell us that influential people are generally respected. Power, on the other hand, constitutes wielding whatever you possess to attain the desired conclusion of an argument or the preferred outcome of a situation. As O\’Brien in Orwell\’s 1984 succinctly explained to a feeble Winston Smith, “Power is not a means, it is an end.” Schoolteachers tell us that powerful people are generally not respected.

I would tell you that preserving archives of everything is, to all intents, constructions, and purposes, a very wise move that costs you just a little bit of time and space. In return, it provides you a basis for building and wielding the kind of power that appears to grow slowly, and yet adds to your longevity.