||Presentation by Monsignor Bernardino Piñera, former archbishop of La Serena, Chile.
Before I begin I would like to offer two warnings. My participation in the launching of this book written by my nephew Jose should not in any way be construed as representing the Chilean Church or the Council of Bishops. I have been president of that council for almost a decade, but now I am a retired Bishop. Furthermore my participation cannot be construed as representing my family. The trend of pluralism which exists in my family does not prevent the simultaneous existence of great mutual affection, but it does make practically impossible the emergence of a single messenger!
What one could say is that I am here because of my friendship with Jose, which goes beyond the relationship of uncle and nephew. In fact I am here because the author asked me and I am very happy that he did so.
Many years ago I read a fascinating book. The author, James Watson, a young North American researcher, describes the circumstances surrounding his and Francis Crick’s discovery of the structure of DNA, the molecular transmitter of genetic information, for which they were awarded the Nobel Prize in 1962. Twelve years later the young scientist (who had been 23 years old when he made the discovery) related with intimate satisfaction the adventure in which he took part and we were all infected by the contagious enthusiasm of the tale.
Also twelve years afterwards, Jose is reliving in this book his 1978 entry into government service as a 30 years old Secretary of Labor and Social Security and the birth of his well known reforms. His book relates the story in a sprightly style, combining cold logic, human warmth and a sense of humour, all at the same time. This reminded me of Watson’s book. In each case these young talents were reliving with contagious enthusiasm and the determination borne of conviction the first great adventure of their lives.
I have read this book with an open mind and with the broadest impartiality I could summon up. Without a doubt one is tempted to let oneself be favourably convinced by the close relative who is also a friend. But in my long life as a cleric I have always felt myself closer to the worker than to the employer, because I considered the worker to be weaker and more needful of help. Furthermore, I have always had an intense desire to see the poorest grow and to see them participating fully in economic, social and cultural development, and I have always had my reservations, whether from instinct or from cultural tradition, to the free-market positions, which are so often tainted by the great inequalities of capitalist societies.
This situation has not prevented me from five reflections:
1. My first reflection is that it is good for history to be written down. It is good for the circumstances in which one acted to be recorded and for the reasons for taking a certain course to be noted down. The author has done this in a direct style which tries to be objective, almost dispassionate, and which succeeds in convincing us of the intrinsic coherence of his thinking and action, at the same time as proposing an economic option, which prevailed and is still now the law of the land.
2. My second reflection is this: it is good to learn and to endeavour to understand the thinking of others, even to accept it as far as possible. There are no worse fights than those between the blind and the deaf: those who cannot see but continue to lash out and those who cannot hear but continue to shout without knowing whether they are heard. Throughout these pages one can discern the author’s effort at dialogue, an effort at understanding opposite theses and explaining his own thesis. And I think that this is healthy. Economists tend not to be good sociologists, nor psychologists nor politicians – at least not in the usual sense of the word “politician”. This book is written by an economist with logic, clarity and with an almost mathematical precision. But one can sense a sincere willingness to understand the mentality of our trades union leaders together with their traditions and customs, as well as the scars left from so many battles, often wrongly entered into, but which always cost sweat and tears, and as often as not blood as well. The dialogue of reason and feeling continue to be valid today in our world, however purely “rationalist” one tries to be. “The heart has its reasons which even reason does not recognize”, as Pascal said.
3. There is something else in this book – or rather in the suggestions which are put forward and which were set down over twelve years ago – and that is the novelty value. And this brings me to my third reflection. How good it is to see an old problem approached in a new way. One starts by having doubts, one hopes to find a weak point, some incoherence or even possibly an error. But as one continues to read, the inner logic of what one is reading becomes clearer and the coherence of the development of the argument begins to influence one’s response. Perhaps one is not convinced by the first reading; but one begins to feel more open and free to question opinions which one had hitherto considered unquestionable and therefore untouchable. Unquestionable and unquestioned arguments which had become enshrined in stone merely because of their repetition and by reason of habit - the good old arguments accepted as such simply because they had always been treated as such and taken for granted. It is healthy occasionally to doubt and question one’s own long-embedded convictions, to open oneself to new points of view, explore new roads of thought, try out new formulae, and to familiarize oneself with new and different ideas. For those of my generation and my culture the contents of this book are new – and for that very reason fascinating and passionately interesting.
4. My fourth reflection is as follows: Jose’s book is the history of a process in which we can see from the first page to the last a combination of thinking and action: thinking which tries to stay detached and action which takes on a warmth as a product of its own urgency, demanding great effort, tenacity, enthusiasm and persuasion, mixed with sometimes dramatic effect. This synchronisation between the thinking brain, the hand of the writer, the word of the explaining scholar, and the whole-hearted commitment of youth and vigour in the battle of wits, has been one of the aspects which has most interested me in this story. One never seems to know whether to classify the story as serene or passionate, because it is always both at the same time.
5. And finally my fifth and final reflection: however important this book is, it does not and cannot claim to be the last word. Firstly because in this world there is no last word and secondly because Jose is a man who continues to search, observe, study, reflect and, as he himself always says, to dream. And finally because humanity itself also continues to dream of an ideal of solidarity and of peace; it searches for a reencounter with a meaning to life, a peace of heart and the joy of living. And this will require many more reforms to come and much more effort yet. And I believe that Jose, who has his life ahead of him, will continue to search and to help all Chileans to advance in the right direction.
I am very pleased and happy that this book has been written. For those who read it with prejudice, whether in favour or against, the reading will do them good and will make them freer. And for those who read it without prejudice - if indeed that is possible in the first place – it will give them the pleasure of a clear and concise read, with a sharp and vigorous style, of a thought process which is both coherent and sure-footed, and above all, a testimony of courage and sincerity.