Daniel Hannan

Accidental hero

Rocco Buttiglione talks to Daniel Hannan about homosexuality, homophobia and ‘the morbid totalitarianism of the Left’

Rocco Buttiglione talks to Daniel Hannan about homosexuality, homophobia and ‘the morbid totalitarianism of the Left’

Martyrdom often seems to bring, at the end, a sense of elation. Thomas More was plainly on a high as he was led to the block, getting off a couple of memorable quips to the headsman. Rocco Buttiglione is in a similar mood. Buoyed up by the unwonted attention that followed his exclusion from the European Commission, he is launching a pan-European campaign for liberty of conscience. Supportive emails are flooding in, people are cheering him in the street and, according to the polls, three out of four Italians back him. Shortly before leaving for Brussels, he had told a journalist, ‘I am nobody in Italy, but in Europe I shall be somebody.’ Like a prophecy in an old legend, that promise has come true in an unexpected way. So is he pleased at how things have worked out?

‘I shall not say that I am happy. I feel I should have made a good Commissioner. But others have given up their heads for their faith; all I have given up is a Commissioner’s salary.’

Not just the salary, though, eh? The car, the driver, the entertainment allowance, the most generous pension in the world. Surely he must have some regrets.

‘Politics is about idealism. I was put to trial, and I tried to remain true to the faith that made sense of my youth and that I have done my best to follow in adulthood.’

If you had never heard of Buttiglione before last month, these words may strike you as sanctimonious drivel. We all tend to hear people in the context of what we already think of them, and Buttiglione, according to which newspaper you read, is either a holier-than-thou prig or an outright bigot. For what it’s worth, I remember Buttiglione from our time together in the European Parliament as a courteous and gentle professor.

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