The well known columnist Ranier Fsadni teaches social anthropology at the University of Malta. A CV we found on internet informs us that he is also chairperson of the PN front organisation AZAD and is or was an advisor at the Office of the Prime Minister. Anecdotal evidence suggests that he is related to Rev. Peter Serracino Inglott, Rector Emeritus and Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at the University of Malta, himself a well known advisor to the Nationalist Party and two Nationalist Prime Ministers. Former MLP president Mario Vella, in his 1989 book on the relationship between Serracino Inglott’ philosophical output and his political role, Reflections in a Canvas Bag: Beginning Philosophy between Politics and History, writes that “had he (PSI) not existed, the Nationalist Party would have had to invent him”.
The Serracino Inglott that emerges from Vella’s book is that of the grey eminence of the Nationalist party’s transformation, in the period between the mid-70s and the mid-80s, from a network of conservative local notables with a somewhat restricted social base and heavily dependent on the Church for electoral mass mobilisation, into a modern popular party loosely modelled on the Italian Democrazia Cristiana and also – but more remotely – inspired by the CDU, Christlich Demokratische Union Deutschlands, the bigger of the two German centre-right Christian parties. More anecdotal evidence indicates that the Konrad Adenauer Foundation (Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung), an organisation set up in 1956 as the “Society for Christian Democratic Education Work” and closely associated with the CDU, assisted the Nationalist Party to set up and develop AZAD.
But back to Ranier Fsadni. In a piece entitled The Liberal Turn, published in The Times of Malta of June 19, ( http://archive.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20080619/opinion/the-liberal-turn/) Fsadni articulates a very interesting thesis, one that we will henceforth refer to as Ranier’s Thesis. In a manner heavily reminescent of his uncle Peter, Fsadni begins by referring us to the distinction in classical rhetoric between “pathos (impact on audience), logos (what a thoughtful judge would make of an argument) and ethos (the spirit incarnated by an argument)” with a view to “help us notice certain moves and slides in Dr Muscat’s rhetoric and its likely future force”.
Then he moves swiftly to the point. These are the key passages: “While in the name of openness Dr Muscat is proposing to dissolve political polarisation in Malta, what he in fact wants to do is replace one polarisation with another: the PN-MLP divide will be substituted by a ‘conservative-liberal’ divide. He has already accused Lawrence Gonzi of being a conservative. It is a label that might stick. If so, the MLP will make inroads among some of the demographic groups where the Nationalist Party has in recent elections registered significant strength: youth and the middle-aged professional class. In fact, so far anyway, the PN is neither conservative nor progressive. Like the MLP it embraces a practical, if more fragile, synthesis of both”.
In other words, this is Ranier’s Thesis: In a bid to broaden the Labour Party’s support base, Joseph Muscat intends to reconstruct it as a party that appeals to all those who recognise themselves as progressives, regardless of their ideological roots. To do so he will have to convert the conservative elements within Labour to the progressive side. If he succedes to do so, Ranier argues, Joseph Muscat will shatter the Nationalist Party’s leading edge amongst certain socio-economic groups, especially in particular age strata. Not bad, the guy’s smart.
The calculation he makes (but does not show us the workings) is probably correct. This is the sub-text: If we line up progressive and conservative Labourites vs progressive and conservative Nationalists, the Nationalist Party gets the majority. If, on the other hand, we line up all progressives vs all conservatives, then the party of the progressives gets the majority. Ranier warns the Nationalist Party that Joseph Muscat has worked this out and plans to win the majority by bringing to Labour as many progressives as possible, even if this means making significant compromises.
So far Ranier’s Thesis is clear and unequivocal – even if it stands or falls on the assumption that in Malta fior del mondo there are more progressive voters than conservative ones – but he goes further. Beyond this point, however, his thesis becomes somewhat fuzzier and we think we know why. He fears, and warns the Nationalists accordingly, that if Joseph succeeds to a sufficient extent in labelling Gonzi as a conservative, then (quote) “the MLP will make inroads among some of the demographic groups where the Nationalist Party has in recent elections registered significant strength: youth and the middle-aged professional class”.
Ranier, tellingly, focuses on Lawrence Gonzi (“He [JM] has already accused Lawrence Gonzi of being a conservative. It is a label that might stick.”). Although he cannot spell it out without helping Joseph Muscat advance closer to his alleged goal, what Rainer is saying is that Gonzi may well become the Nationalist party’s ultimate problem. As a matter of fact, Ranier is quick to reassure the readers of The Times of Malta that, per se, the Nationalist Party “so far anyway, […] is neither conservative nor progressive”. Driven by the need not to be too clear, Ranier’s Thesis is condemned to fuzziness.
Hence Ranier concedes that the Nationalist Party “like the MLP […] embraces a practical, if more fragile, synthesis of both ” progressive and conservative elements. Hmmm…more fragile? Did he say “more fragile”? If we look hard enough, through the inevitable fuzziness, Raniers’ Thesis is sufficiently clear: If Joseph continues along this path and unless the Nationalist Party does something about it, a critical mass of progressives will rally around him. The fragile synthesis (his words) between progressives and conservatives that gives the Nationalist Party its political competitive edge will snap under the strain. Within this scenario, Lawrence Gonzi (on whom the conservative label “might stick”) is a liability.
Ranier’s clarion call is not aimed at the general public, let alone at Labour. It is aimed at the relatively restricted caucuses that determine the future of the Nationalist Party (for a taste of how this works, see our post of June 5 It-tbatija tat-tiġdid: ‘Peppinu’ Cassar dwar kif intgħażel Eddie Fenech Adami fl-1977). Like Peter Serracino Inglott in the 70s and 80s, Ranier Fsadni is desperately struggling to convince those that matter in and around the Nationalist Party that they cannot hide their head in the sand. Their party must become less conservative or lose power.
Whereas former PN general secretary Joe Saliba – has he learnt anything from his self-proclaimed mentor, Joe Friggieri, Peter Serracino Inglott’s successor as the Professor of Philosophy, except for evasive distinguos ? – has reassured his party that Joseph Muscat may be an alternative to his predecessor but is not an alternative to Lawrence Gonzi, Ranier – who has evidently had the benefit of a profounder teacher – is not so certain. No doubt he and his fellow Nationalist progressives (certainly a minority but a significant one) will be fighting tooth and nail to prevent the majority of Nationalist conservatives from taking over the party completely. If they do, they will simplify Joseph’s job.