Born under the Christmas star: Manuel Dimech, Maltese patriot

More than one influential figure was born on Christmas Day. MARK MONTEBELLO pays tribute to Malta’s illustrious social reformer, Manuel Dimech.

Our heroes stood for us before we even came into existence. One of our greatest heroes, Manuel Dimech, was born 150 years ago this Christmas, on December 25, 1860. This marked the beginning of a long road that brought us to where we stand today. It is a beginning to remember.

Human potential

One of the main goals of Manuel Dimech’s endeavour as a social reformer was to create the necessary political conditions which could make possible the full development of human potential. He understood this both in an individual as well as in a collective sense.

These two aspects are inseparable. Dimech had no neo-liberal view wherewith any one of us may be given the possibility to have his or her potential ripen at the expense of that of others, or even regardless of their individual needs. His view was exactingly egalitarian: we all have the same right to be allowed to have our human potential blossom and we all have the same duty to allow others to have the same. Maturity is everyone’s God-given prerogative.

The possible

In this context, Dimech’s writings continually came back again and again on the matter of possibilities and accessibility. He was well aware that both individual and collective human potential is frequently curbed or hindered from maturing due to certain structural social or political factors. He called these ‘obstacles’ (xkilijiet). They are social and political conditions which deny us the possibility of accessing information indispensable for the maturity of our human potential.

Dimech spells out four such obstacles: socio-political conditions, the educational system, bad habits, and unconstructive attitudes. With regard to the first, very often politicians legislate and administer government affairs in such a way that grossly disadvantages those amongst us who do not possess any substantial financial capital or none at all. Dimech points out that direct or indirect taxes, and also lack of apposite opportunities, persistently keep many of us in a precarious state of dependence and peonage, unable to pursue higher goals.

Stumbling blocks

Secondly, the educational system (formal as much as informal) consistently drills us to think in compliant and subservient terms. Dimech considers such an education to be a political tool wherewith we are kept impounded within the confines of a conservative and sheepish mentality.

Next, one major bad habit is that most of us habitually allow ourselves to be distracted from vital political and social issues while largely engaging ourselves in self-absorbed trivialities. In this regard Dimech particularly accuses the local Church of lacking social consciousness and commitment; keeping to its own interests while ignoring the rest.

Finally, unconstructive attitudes. The ones amongst us who are more or less well-heeled assume a complacent approach towards our national social and political situation, possibly considering it good enough. Of course, they overlook those who are not. These, on the other hand, take on a rather more fatalistic outlook, perhaps considering it impossible to change for the better. Dimech taught that both attitudes are mistaken and ruinous for social justice and for the country as a whole.

A life condemned

Overcoming these (and maybe other) obstacles is the key to a better future. This was Dimech’s conviction from which emanated his strength and his vision. He learnt this from personal experience. Though being a person of evidently enormous potential, at his birth the social and political structures of his time condemned him (and most of his contemporaries) to a life of utter wretchedness and misery. He only succeeded in defeating all the structural obstacles which were in his way by sheer ingenuity and stamina.

Indeed, Dimech’s life-story is worth retelling again and again. The obstacles he encountered are alike the ones we continue to encounter a century later. The structural barriers to his emancipation are fundamentally similar to those of today. His vision might certainly be ours.

A fascinating story

Dimech’s birth, 150 years ago, began a story which is remarkable as much as fascinating. He dreamed an impossible world which no-one could imagine, a world which came to be half a century after his death: Malta’s constitutional independence and its economic sustainability.

Today we live in Dimech’s dream. While cherishing it, may every one of us keep Dimech in the highest esteem, never cease learning about his amazing accomplishments, and together enhance his great ideals.

Manwel Dimech, although started off as an illiterate,became the leading source of Maltese enlightenment in the age of Maltese darkness. This man offered vision and progress; the Maltese nobles ,professionals and the usual Church, mediocrity and stagnation.