I can only give a polemical answer as to what I would do if I ruled the world because there is no chance of it happening. As I have got older, I have started to hate mankind, so if I had absolute power then I would leave it to continue on the path to self-destruction—it would be destroyed and I would be happier.
People like me, we are intellectuals—we do our job, we write articles, we have ways of protesting, but we can’t change the world. All we can do is support the politics of empathy. Angela Merkel made a positive statement when she encouraged the German people to host Syrian refugees. She changed the image of the German people all over the world—no longer will they be seen as Adolf Hitler’s SS. That’s what a politician can do.
Young people need to be taught to filter and question the information they receive through the internet, rather than take it at face value. It’s a difficult task. I use Wikipedia and I know that I can trust it 99 per cent of the time, but people have said  on my page that I was the first of 13 children and that I married the daughter of my publisher. None of that is true. So even this can be subject to manipulation. One of my grandsons is 15 years old and says many of his friends believe the conspiracy theories they read on the internet. There is no quality control—it’s an enormous problem.
Every government should seek to improve education. Before the First World War only around 20 per cent of people in Italy received an elementary school education. Today, the problem is universities—the risk is that we reduce the entry requirements in order to give more people access to university but also lower the quality in the process. It was done in Italy recently and it was a tragedy. Now the first three years of university are too easy—students don’t have to read books longer than 100 pages. Those in power need to understand that you have to be challenged to grow up. When I was at university, I read thousands of pages and I didn’t die!
The teaching of languages is the only thing I would make compulsory in schools. If the concept of Europe exists then it is based on the mutual knowledge of language. In two of its biggest countries, France and England, the majority of people seem to know only their own language. Not too long ago, in England, people were taught to be fluent in Latin. There is a story of an English general sent to the Indian province of Sindh in the 19th century during a revolt. As a joke, he sent a telegram to London in Latin saying “Peccavi,” translated as “I have sinned.” The wonderful thing was not that he could joke in Latin, but that his colleagues in London understood it. My grandson has been studying Greek for the past two years; he might not be able to read Homer in the original yet, but he has developed an understanding of Greek civilisation. It’s a part of what was called “encyclios,” which means “circular education” from which comes the word “encyclopaedia.”
Men are religious animals. Dogs are not religious. It’s true they bark at the moon but it’s probably not because of religion. Humans have the tendency to search for the reason in their situations. There is a beautiful sentence attributed to GK Chesterton: “When men don’t believe in God any longer, it is not that they believe in nothing; they believe in everything.” The ruler of the world can’t eliminate religion. You can be an atheist or a non-believer, but you have to recognise that the great majority of humans need some religious beliefs.
Karl Marx said that religion is the opium of the people—that it keeps people quiet. But it can also be the cocaine of the people. It has a double function—answering certain fundamental questions and sometimes pushing them to fight the non-believers. It’s a feature of humanity in the same way that humans are the only species able to love.
Finally, if I was ruler of the world, I would like to oblige people to read all my books, so they become as intelligent as me and don’t believe we should have a ruler of the world! I am irritated by positive reviews if they are positive for the wrong reasons. And sometimes I am touched by negative reviews because they see that I have understood something true. Sometimes I’m irritated by a negative review because I think it’s stupid, but ok, it’s a part of the game.
Interview by Serena Kutchinsky