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The Great Anxiety, Péguy and the Harmonious City

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Among the exhibitions presented this year at the Rimini Meeting, there is one dedicated to Charles Bige, the great French writer famous for his “mysteries” on Christian virtues, charity and hope, and known in Italy for his translations that resulted from the Book of Jaca and for the insistence with which Don Luigi Giussani suggested it – Founder of the editing company and editing – on his students. The exhibit is oddly titled, “La Grande Discomfort. Peggy and the Harmonious City.” We ask the curator, Ubaldo Casuto, former deputy director of Foglio and this magazine, scientific director of the Foundation today, Let’s Build the Future, promoter of the exhibition.

Why Péguy and why this title?
“Péguy is always so good, plus this year marks the 150th anniversary of his birth and it was a tempting opportunity to explore a lesser-known area of ​​his work, life, and social and political commitment. 150 years after his birth (1873), this troubled Frenchman gives us a testimony of what it means to live in the “change of the times” without giving up being the heroes of his time ».

Introduce yourself.
“Pope Francis defines significantly the ‘era of change’ but rather the ‘epoch-changing’ phase, which is characterized not only by the transition from the industrial economy to the digital economy, with all the consequences that entail in the lives of individuals and peoples and this entails, but above all, Loss of moral certainty and cultural values ​​that are no longer recognized as such.”

what is the return?
«Péguy witnessed a similar situation, between the nineteenth century and the nineties. In fact, he said, “The world has changed more in the past decade than it has after Jesus Christ.” Those were the years of France’s transition from a peasant and craft economy to an industrial economy and at the beginning of the process of de-Christianization in favor of a culture and ideology of progress that eroded people’s experience and cut bridges. Only with Catholic traditions but also with the cultural and civilizational legacy that history hands down to each generation. It is what Peggy calls the emergence of the “modern world”.

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“Harmonious City” smacks of utopian socialism.
«It is the title of one of his books from the socialist and atheistic era before returning to faith. A beautiful title, which does not lead to a political program, a word that Peggy despises, but rather an idea that runs through his entire life, his thought, his political commitment, and his activity in publishing like a common thread. We (a group of university students and young workers who worked with me) followed him and dig a path that finds the foundations of a harmonious city.”

How might an exposition of Peggy’s social thought be of interest today?
«More than an analysis of his social thought, inevitably chronicled especially in his utopian outlook, we wanted to re-suggest the power of the questions he raises, the problems he brings to light, the effect of the scandal he can cause, the hope he conveys. Because, as he himself says, but he does not speak of himself, “the great philosophy is not the philosophy that issues final judgments … it is the philosophy that arouses anxiety, leads to tremor” ».

What will we see on the screen?
Six huge magazines, his Cahiers de la Quinzaine, three meters high, in which we talk about poverty, about the excluded, about justice starting with the famous Dreyfus case of which Peggy was a staunch advocate, about good work, about the difference between money and value, between ideologies and “juvenile,” the category that makes Peggy the greatest Christian realist and perhaps the smartest Christian of the twentieth century.

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Isn’t this an exaggeration?
Von Balthasar said it: no one ever spoke of such Christianity.

How is all this presented?
«Each priest consists of three sections: the first is in the form of an interview with Peggy, with the questions and answers of the day being asked precisely; the second with Censis data documenting the objectivity of the questions it raises (the numbers on justice in Italy are impressive); And the third, with testimonies from the facts that are trying today to answer the problem that was dealt with ».

How about a good job?
«Peugeot’s famous phrase that work should be done well not for wages or for social recognition, but for itself, is a matter of the worker’s dignity. He exemplifies the craftsman who makes a chair that takes care of even the subtlest details. Don’t offer it to him, he’ll find it offered. I showed it to the guys from sounder, a fact that deals with professional training, and they built a design chair two and a half meters high, but by the year 2000, with the best technology, with alphanumeric control machines. Their work, from design to assembly is video documented. The faces of these girls and boys speak more about the meaning of work than any speech of the best economists.”

He still hasn’t explained the address to me.
«This can be understood in the last video, in which Benedict XVI talks about youth anxiety as the engine of change in society and history. On the other hand, Peggy defined man as a “well of anxiety”, and the harmonious city has its secret here ».

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