Fiume: That Incredible “Conservative Revolution”

Nationalist and cosmopolitan, right-wing and libertarian, revolutionary and rooted in tradition. Such was the adventure, led by Gabriele D’Annunzio, in the irredentist Italian (now Croatian) town of Fiume between 1919 and 1920. How many people know what it was all about? Adriano Erriguel explains it all in this great article.


Today it is difficult to admit it, but in its beginnings, Italian fascism did not foreshadow the disastrous course it would eventually take for the history of Europe.

Emerging from chaos as a wave of youth, fascism belonged to a revolutionary era in which, in the face of old problems, new solutions were emerging. At its founding moment, Italian Fascism presented itself as an attitude rather than an ideology, as an aesthetic rather than a doctrine, as an ethic rather than a dogma. And it was the poet, soldier and condottiero Gabriele D’Annunzio who sketched, in the most emphatic way, that possible fascism that could never be, and that ended up giving way to a real fascism which failed to fulfill its initial promises to gallop, in the most obtuse way, towards the abyss.

Poet laureate and war hero, exhibitionist and demagogue, megalomaniac and histrionic, nationalist and cosmopolitan, mystic and amoral, ascetic and hedonist, drug addict and erotomaniac, revolutionary and reactionary, with a talent for eclecticism, recycling and pastiche, the genius precursor of staging and public relations: D’Annunzio was a postmodernist avant la lettre whose obsessions seem astonishingly contemporary. The fire he helped to start would take a long time to die out, but nothing would ever be the same again. Why should we remember this cursed man today?

Perhaps because in a monochord atmosphere of political correctness, tame transgressions and skimmed thinking, figures like his work as a counter-model, and remind us that, after all, imagination can indeed come to power.

Incendiary Years

It was an era of irrepressible vitality that, overloaded with tensions and high-voltage ideas, needed a world war to vent its contradictions. The few years between 1900 and 1914 saw an extraordinary fire in art and literature, in thought and ideology, which soon spread throughout the world. One of the epicenters of that fire was Italy—more specifically the axis between Florence and Milan—the place where “the dream of a radiant future that would emerge after having purified the past and the present by iron and fire” was kindled. This artistic-literary pyromania of art and literature, of thought and ideology, soon spread to the whole world.

This artistic-literary pyromania was nourished, in its deepest strata, by a philosophical and cultural revolution, carefully incubated during the second half of the nineteenth century—an ideological gale that lashed out against the rationalist positivism of the triumphant bourgeois civilization. Against the tabulation of existence by economics and reason, this new vitalism claimed the power of the irrational, of instinct and the subconscious and against liberal optimism; in a world pacified by progress, it opposed a tragic and heroic conception of existence. It was in this intellectual climate that a challenge arose which, because of its radical nature, could well be described as a new myth. A myth destined to cut history in two halves.

Three decades ago, the Italian essayist Giorgio Locchi gave the name “suprahumanism” to a current of ideas that found its most complete formulation in the work of Friedrich Nietzsche—on a philosophical level—and in the work of Richard Wagner—on an artistic and mythopoetic level. In its essence, according to Locchi, suprahumanism consisted of “a historically new consciousness, the consciousness of the fateful advent of nihilism, that is—to put it in more modern terminology—of the imminence of the end of history.”

Essentially anti-egalitarian, suprahumanism stood against the ideological currents that shaped two millennia of history: “Christianity as a worldly project, democracy, liberalism, socialism: all currents that belonged to the egalitarian camp.” The profound aspiration of suprahumanism—which for Locchi was nothing more than the emergence of the European pre-Christian unconscious into the realm of consciousness—consisted in proceeding to a re-foundation of history through the advent of a new man. With a method of action—nihilism as the only way out of nihilism, a positive nihilism that drank the cup to the dregs and made a clean slate to build, on the ruins and with the ruins, the new world.

More than an organized current, suprahumanism took shape as a European intellectual climate that permeated, to varying degrees, the thought, literature and art of the early twentieth century, with France as the ideological laboratory and Italy as the theater of all experiments. In the Italian ferment of those years, revolutionary syndicalists, avant-gardists, anarchists, and nationalists agitated, and all bore, to varying degrees, the suprahumanist imprint. But the undisputed protagonist among all the would-be incendiaries was the Futurist movement.

Futurism was the first truly global avant-garde, not only in the geographical sense but also insofar as it conveyed an aspiration to totality. (Futurism was present in Russia (Mayakovsky), in Portugal (Pessoa), in Belgium, in Argentina or in the Anglo-Saxon world with the foundation in London of the Vorticist movement by Ezra Pound and Wyndham Lewis.) Far from being limited to being an artistic proposal, Futurism extended to thought, literature, music, cinema, urban planning, architecture, design, fashion, advertising and politics. Futurism carried “the euphoria for the world of technology, machines and speed” and used “a new synthetic, metallic, syncopated language.” It did not disdain “the apology of violence and war; it exalted race understood as lineage—not as vulgar racism—and above all as the promise of a future suprahumanity.” Its enemies were the bourgeoisie, romanticism, tradition, the clergy, families; everything old, in short. Futurism was the avant-garde par excellence, the radical theorization of a pyromaniac will. Something that seemed to be, in principle, at the antipodes of D’Annunzio.

At the height of the avant-garde and the outbreak of the First World War, Gabriele D’Annunzio—celebrated throughout Italy as Il Vate—was the peninsula’s most famous writer, for many its leading poet after Dante. But for the Futurists, his style—abounding in modernist, decadentist and symbolist mannerisms, in ornate and eighteenth-century rhetoric—could be considered in its own right as the language of that mausoleum they wanted to set on fire.

But between the Futurists and D’Annunzio it was more a matter of love and hate. In the wake of Byron, Il Vate thought that a poet could also be a hero. At the outbreak of the World War, and displaying the versatility he had already shown in his literary career, he turned from a decadent poet into a combatant poet. And he invested himself with a new mission, that of exemplifying the suprahumanist ideal and its ultimate aspiration—the overcoming of the bourgeois world and the arrival of a “new man” who would embody a new ethic of action. The style is the man. Few figures as ready as his to symbolize the new times.

Gathering Flowers for a Massacre

Death is here… as beautiful as life, intoxicating, full of promise, transfiguring (Gabriele D’Annunzio).

Today it is difficult to understand the suicidal impulse of a civilization that, at the height of its power, organized its own holocaust. The outbreak of the First World War was celebrated as an outpouring of vitality, as catharsis and moral regeneration. The warmongering enthusiasm knew no boundaries of ideology or class, and artists and intellectuals all over Europe were ready to become the voice of the nation. No other voice sang of war with such rapture as that of D’Annunzio. No other oratory prepared so many compatriots, by the glory and seduction of words, to kill and die. No other apostle of war was so eager to assume, in his own flesh, the effects of what he preached.

When Italy announced its entry into war, Il Vate was at the height of his glory. Celebrated throughout Europe, surrounded by luxury and swarmed by women, everything invited him to contemplate the war from a comfortable distance. But at the age of 52 he enlisted in the Lanciere di Novara (Novara Lancers), a unit with which he was to take part in dozens of actions. The army, aware of the propaganda potential of his figure, allowed him to serve in a way that would have the greatest public impact. And it allowed him to use what would be his most lethal weapon—the word.

During four years of war, D’Annunzio spoke and spoke. He spoke in the trenches and in the rearguards, in the airfields and on the naval bases, at mass funerals and at the time of the attacks. His speeches were evocative and magnetic, intended to win not the intellect but the emotions. In them, the crudest physical miseries were adorned with a nimbus of glory; the combatants were heroes and martyrs—as noble as the heroes of classical antiquity or the legions of Rome—and the war was a heroic symphony in which his words rang out like “hypnotic waves of language: blood, death, love, pain, victory, martyrdom, fire, Italy, blood, death.”

Although he knew firsthand the horror of the carnage, he continued to preach his faith in “the purifying virtues of war and telling the troops that they were superhuman.” He spoke of flags flying over the sky of Italy, of rivers full of corpses, of the earth thirsting for blood. He did not disguise the atrocity of the war—which he described as the tortures Dante never imagined for his Inferno—but to the soldiers he told them that their sacrifice had meaning, and he praised them in a way they would never have recognized themselves; and he repeated that the blood of the martyrs cried out for more blood, and that only by blood would Greater Italy be redeemed. He told the soldiers that their sacrifice had a meaning, and he praised them in a way they would never have recognized themselves, and he repeated that the blood of the martyrs cried out for more blood, and that only by blood would Greater Italy be redeemed. He said to the soldiers that their sacrifice had a meaning.

An apologetics of the slaughter, that is; a hundred years later, difficult to digest. Did he believe it?

That is not the question. And it seems insufficient to be satisfied here with a “non-anachronistic” reading, or to limit oneself to pointing out that “that was the language of the time.” Perhaps it would be more appropriate to proceed to a reversal of perspective. Or to a different reading, in a suprahumanist key.

War as an Inner Experience

The reputation that D’Annunzio acquired during the war is due more to his deeds than to his words. Far from being a “paper soldier” he wasted no occasion to put his life in danger, and over the course of three years he came to fight on land, at sea and in the air. With a forerunning talent for publicity, he knew that small acts of terrorism had more psychological force than massive attacks, and he specialized in suicide actions—aerial and naval according to futurist canons—with symbolic value and media impact. He flew numerous times over the Alps—at a time when that was extraordinary—to bomb the enemy, occasionally with propaganda sheets. And when the Austrians put a price on his head he led a suicide raid, in a torpedo boat with a handful of men, against the enemy port of Buccari. (In the bombing, he included hollow rubber shells containing lyrical messages. He later celebrated this fact—known as La beffa di Buccari, “The Joke of Buccari,” in a famous ballad: “La Canzone del Carnaro” [“The Song of Carnaro,” “The Thirty of Buccari”]: “We are thirty men on board/ thirty-one counting Death”).

In one of his aerial missions, he lost the sight of one eye and partially that of the other, which he hid for a month in order to continue flying. Finally, he had to remain immobilized for several months to save his sight.

Lying on his back, and between pain and nightmares, he composed his poem “Notturno” (“Nocturn”). The prospect of blindness was for him an occasion for overcoming, rather than dejection. He confessed himself happy in the greatness of his loss—the blind in action were considered as the aristocracy of the wounded—and he enjoyed the sharpening of his senses of hearing and smell. If he was to be believed, that sense of happiness would never leave him throughout the war. The real D’Annunzio.

The true D’Annunzio reveals himself, more than in his patriotic trumpeting, in his correspondence and in his diaries. They reveal his suprahumanist attitude towards war. If anything is striking in his notes, it is the “constant fluctuation between the dreadful and the pastoral.” Everything becomes for him an object of celebration, even the most insignificant details—from explosions and bayonet attacks to the glow of a dragonfly in the mud, or the fleeting appearance of a woodpecker among the burnt trees. If he is to be believed, D’Annunzio was happy in the midst of hunger, thirst, extreme cold, wounds and bombardments, because his omnivorous enthusiasm for life could cope with it all, because all of it was but one and the same—the manifestation of that life which he consumed with voluptuous enthusiasm. What was war, if not a hole in ordinary life through which something higher manifested itself: “Life as it should be, and which passes before us, Life—in Ernst Jünger’s words—as supreme effort, will to fight and to dominate.”

The parallelism between D’Annunzio and Jünger is not casual; both manifest a common suprahumanist attitude. The same eagerness for experience, the same defiance of chance, the same aesthetic concern, the same absence of moralism. In contrast, in the case of the Prussian—apart from the acerbic objectivity of his style—the practical absence of any patriotic note. But it is also possible to think that in D’Annunzio the nationalist prosopopoeia was not the grain, but the chaff. A weapon of war like many others. It is possible to think that what was essential for him was that discipline of suffering of which Nietzsche spoke, that Amor fati which is nothing more than a great Yes to life in all its rawness.

More than of warmongering exaltation, it is a philosophical option, very different from the moralizing and pitiful posture of other writers. When Wilfred Owen, Heinrich Maria Remarque or Ernest Hemingway denounce and condemn war, they are undoubtedly right, but they do not fail to underline a truism. It happens that they experience war from the horrified sensibility of modern man. But when Ernst Jünger writes: “those who have only felt and retained the bitterness of their own suffering, instead of recognizing in it [war] the sign of a high affirmation, they have lived as slaves, they have had no Inner Life, but only a pure and sadly material existence,” what he is doing is expressing that immemorial sensibility that considers the spirit to be everything. “All is vanity in this world,” Jünger continues, “only emotion is eternal. Only to very few men is it given to be able to sink in its sublime futility.” Amor fati. “Moral” language is no good here. If anything, the language of the Iliad.

Another interesting element is D’Annunzio’s use of historical time. The new/old dichotomy, a recurring theme in his thought, would reach full expression in his war notes. Always on the lookout for historical analogies, “every infantryman reminded him of some episode of the glorious past, every exhausted peasant of an intrepid Venetian sailor, of a Roman legionary, of a medieval knight, of some martial saint recreated in a Renaissance painting. His vision of Italy’s glorious past covered the horrible conflict with a theatrical veil and surrounded the excrement, the garbage and the heaps of dead with glamour.” For the poet from Pescara the weaponry might be modern, but the men who wielded it—the young recruits he likened to mythical heroes or archetypes—belonged to a timeless tradition.

This confusion of past and present illustrates in its own way an element that Giorgio Locchi associated with the suprahumanist mentality: the “non-linear” conception of time, the constant presence of the past as a dimension that is within the present, alongside the dimension of the future. It is the revolutionary idea—as opposed to linear conceptions, whether “progressive” or “cyclical”—of the three-dimensionality of historical time: in every human consciousness “the past is nothing other than the project to which man conforms his historical action, a project that he tries to realize according to the image that he forms of himself and that he strives to incarnate. The past appears then not as something dead, but as a prefiguration of the future.”

Locchi associated this “nostalgia for the future” to the “spherical” image of time sketched in Thus Spake Zarathustra, as well as to one of the meanings channeled by the Nietzschean myth of the Eternal Return. Confusion of past and future, nostalgia for the origins and utopia of the future: the suprahumanist conception of time—felt in a surely unconscious way by D’Annunzio and many others—foregrounds man’s freedom from all determinism, because the past to which to be linked is always an object of choice in the present, as well as an object of changing interpretation. The present moment “is never a point, but a crossroads; each present instant actualizes the totality of the past and empowers the totality of the future.” Thus, the past is never an inert datum; and when it manifests itself in the future it does so in an ever new, ever unknown form.

Hughes-Hallett notes that “war brought D’Annunzio peace.” He had found a transcendental “third dimension” of being, beyond life and death. To set out on a dangerous mission was for him to reach an ecstasy comparable to that of the great mystics. The war brought him “adventure, purpose, a cohort of brave young comrades to love with a love beyond that which is devoted to women, a form of fame, new and virile, and the intoxication of living in constant mortal danger.” He ended the war recognized as a hero and a heroic man.

He ended the war recognized as a hero and covered with decorations. And then he and many like him—those recruits whom he compared to the mythical heroes of the past—had to return to their homes, to their workshops, to their marriages of convenience, to the monotony of their villages.

Farewell to Arms?

The victorious revolution will come. But it will not be made by beautiful souls, like yours, it will be made by sergeants and poets (Margherita Sarfatti, in the film, The Young Mussolini, 1993).

When on March 23, 1919 a hodgepodge of Futurists, former Arditi (Italian Army Storm Troopers), revolutionary trade unionists and former Socialists founded the first Fasci di Combattimento in Milan’s Holy Sepulchre Square, no one really knew what was going to come out of it all. Its visible head was the former sergeant Benito Mussolini, a maneuvering and possibilist politician recently expelled from the Italian Socialist Party. Mussolini claimed that the Fascists would avoid ideological dogmatism: “We allow ourselves the luxury of being aristocratic and democratic, conservative and progressive, reactionary and revolutionary, of accepting the law and going beyond it.” And he added that “above all we are supporters of freedom. We want freedom for all, even for our enemies.” The first Fascist program, visibly leaning to the left, took up the intellectual heritage of revolutionary syndicalism.

Seen in perspective there is no doubt today that historical fascism was a complete ideological phenomenon. But in its beginnings, it seemed to be the fruit of great improvisation. Mussolini proclaimed then: fascism is action and is born of a need for action. In the first place it took up many of the urgent aspirations of the “lost generation” which had fought the war, and which considered that the state of Italy—a poor and backward country, with chronic inequalities, without social security, with a victory “mutilated” by the Allies and heading for civil war—made a return to the era of the bourgeois parties and their electoral dances unthinkable. But in a deeper sense—as the historian Zeev Sternhell points out—before becoming a political force, fascism was a cultural phenomenon, an extreme manifestation—though not the only possible one—of a much broader phenomenon.

(We are adhering here to a strict analysis of Italian fascism, which excludes Nazism. Sternhell, the Israeli historian points out: “Fascism can in no way be identified with Nazism…. Both ideologies differ in a fundamental matter: biological determinism, racism in its most extreme sense… war against the Jews…. Racism is not one of the necessary conditions for the existence of fascism. A general theory that wants to encompass fascism and Nazism would always clash with that aspect of the problem. In fact, such a theory is not possible.”)

The most immediate intellectual antecedent of fascism was the revision of Marxism undertaken by revolutionary syndicalism, a revision in an anti-materialist sense. What these heretics of Marxism challenged in the doctrine was its scientific pretension, its undervaluation of psychological and national factors, its view of socialism as a mere rational form of economic organization. Another of their motivations was their disenchantment with the value of the proletariat as a revolutionary force; the proletarians were normally refractory to anything that did not affect their material interests, that is, to their aspiration to become petty bourgeois. Something that the first Fascists noted, just as they also noted that, between socialism and the proletariat, the relationship was merely circumstantial. From which it was deduced that the revolution was no longer a question of a single social class… which in turn broke the dogma of the class struggle. The revolution became, then, a national task, and nationalism its guiding thread.

But what revolution? A revolution with purely economic motives was insufficient for the political culture that was taking shape—a communitarian, anti-individualist and anti-rationalist political culture that aspired to remedy the social disintegration caused by modernity. In fact, in economics, fascism manifested itself as possibilist and declared that it wanted to take advantage of the best of capitalism and industrial progress, the essential thing being that the economic sphere should always remain subordinate to politics. The underlying question was different.

The essential thing—following Zeev Sternhell—was “to establish a heroic civilization on the ruins of a creepingly materialistic civilization, to mold a new, activist and dynamic man.” The original fascism exhibited a modern character, and its futuristic aesthetics pricked the imagination of intellectuals—which explains its attraction to the youth—as well as preaching that an elite is not a category defined by the place it occupies in the production process, but the expression of a state of mind—the aristocracy forged in the trenches was proof of this. And from Marxism it took the idea of violence as an instrument of change. Someone once defined fascism as our evil of the century: an expression that evokes an aspiration to overcome the bourgeois world. More than a doctrinal corpus, the original fascism was a nebula, a rupturing force of unprecedented character that aspired to the construction of a “solution of total change.”

Giorgio Locchi distinguished the mythical, ideological and synthetic phases as archetypal phases of historical trends. Thus, in the case of egalitarian thought, its “mythical” phase would correspond to Christian ecumenism, the “ideological” phase to the disintegration caused by the Protestant Reformation and the emergence of various philosophies and parties, and the “synthetic” phase to doctrines with scientific and universal pretensions (Marxism, ideology of “human rights”).

What was happening—to put it in Locchian terms—was that the suprahumanist principle was passing, in an accelerated manner, from its mythical phase to its ideological and political phase. On the ideological plane the so-called German Conservative Revolution was one of its manifestations. And on the political phase, Mussolini’s fascism was the offshoot that made its fortune. But it was not the only one.

And this is where D’Annunzio comes in.


When D’Annunzio arrived in Fiume on September 12, 1919, the Platonic dream of the poet-prince came to life two millennia late. A gale of Dionysian liberation was unleashed on the Adriatic city, a Nietzschean riot in which politics and mysticism, utopia and violence, revolution and Dada went hand in hand. A magical moment, a bacchanal of dreamers, a suprahumanist and heroic symphony.

The Road to the Rubicon

At the beginning of 1919, Mussolini was only a budding political leader, while D’Annunzio was the most celebrated man in Italy. With the war ending in a “mutilated victory”—the Allies ignored the territorial promises made to Italy—the country was plunged into a spiral of political and social chaos. And then many of those who expected a “strongman” to take the reins began to look to D’Annunzio. For his part, the soldier-poet was discovering how difficult it was for him to live without the war, and like many other Italians he was ruminating on his bitterness at the betrayal of the Allies.

“Your victory will not be mutilated”—wrote D’Annunzio in October 1918. A slogan that made his fortune (like so many others he coined) and that was music to the ears of all those who awaited a new call to arms. Italy was overflowing with men accustomed to violence and who, instead of receiving a hero’s welcome, were treated as unwelcome guests if not savage beasts, doomed to unemployment and the insults of the agitators of a budding Bolshevik revolution. Prominent among these men were the Arditi, the elite soldiers, fiercely undisciplined, accustomed to hand-to-hand fighting and fighting with daggers and grenades, dressed in black uniforms and with tufts of hair sometimes as long as horses’ manes—the dandies of war. Their flag was black and their anthem, “Giovinezza” (Youth). Everyone looked up to D’Annunzio as a symbol, and some of them began to call themselves “Dannunzians.” A war hero and a homecoming army—a fateful conjunction for any civilian government. The authorities began to fear D’Annunzio. The Rubicon had never been truly forgotten in Italy.

The soldier-poet began to multiply his public appearances, to mock the government that had accepted the humiliation of Versailles, to incite the Italians to reject their authorities. In a very short time, he found himself at the center of all the conspiracies, and all the opposition groups began to use his name. With the Fascists he kept his distance. D’Annunzio considered them as “vulgar imitators, potentially useful, but unfortunately brutal and primitive in their way of thinking.” And among all those who turned their gaze to D’Annunzio were the Italian communities on the Adriatic coast who hoped to be “redeemed” by their incorporation into the mother country. D’Annunzio, for his part, promised them that he would be with them “to the end.”

The city of Fiume, the main port on the Adriatic, had a majority Italian population that in October 1918 demanded its incorporation into Italy. But the Allies meeting in Versailles placed the city under international administration. The city then became a symbol for all Italian nationalists, and groups of former Arditi, shouting, “Fiume or death,” began to form the “Legion of Fiume” ready to “liberate” the city. And in the midst of a spiral of violence, the Italians of Fiume offered D’Annunzio the leadership of the city.

The poet-soldier had found his Rubicon. And his new incarnation—that of condottiero.

Fiume was a Party

“The contagion of greatness is the greatest danger for anyone living in Fiume, a contagious madness, which has permeated everyone” (The Bishop of Fiume, in an interview).

When on September 12, 1919, D’Annunzio arrived in Fiume in a Fiat 501, he surely did not know that he was starting one of the most extravagant experiments in the political history of the West: the Platonic dream of the poet-prince was coming to life two millennia late. A gale of Dionysian liberation was unleashed on the Adriatic city, a Nietzschean riot in which politics and mysticism, utopia and violence, revolution and Dada went hand-in-hand. The era of show-politics had begun, and D’Annunzio raised the curtain.

The Fiume era has been described as a microcosm of the modern political world—everything was prefigured there, everything was experienced there, we are all largely its heirs. A magical moment, a bacchanal of dreamers, a suprahumanist and heroic symphony in which a society hungry for wonders—galvanized by war, jaded by the insipidity of a century of positivism—met a leader at its height and seconded, to the rhythm of multicolored parades and rapturous crowds, his visionary Caesar’s chimeras.

The political trajectory of the city during those sixteen months was, unsurprisingly, erratic. The first program—annexation to Italy—was simple and realistic, but it was shipwrecked in a sea of indecision and diplomatic gambits. The second program was of a subversive nature—to provoke the spark that would unleash a revolution in Italy. But there was a third program, uncontrollable and radical—Fiume as a first step, not towards a Greater Italy, but towards a new world order.

A program that gained strength as the prospect of incorporation into Italy dissipated under pressure from the Allies and the Italian government’s indecision. Prompted by the syndicalist revolutionaries who surrounded D’Annunzio, the “Constitution of Fiume” (the Carnaro Charter) is the most interesting aspect of Fiume’s legacy, insofar as it represents an original contribution to political theory. The Carnaro Charter contained pioneering elements—the limitation of the (until then sacrosanct) right to private property, the complete equality of women, secularism in schools, absolute freedom of worship, a complete system of social security, measures of direct democracy, a mechanism of continuous renewal of leadership and a system of corporations or representation by sections of the community—an idea that would become a fortune. According to his biographer Michael A. Ledeen, D’Annunzio’s government—composed of very heterogeneous elements—was one of the first to practice a kind of “politics of consensus,” according to the idea that the various conflicting interests could be “sublimated” within a newfangled movement. The essential point was that the new order should be based on the personal qualities of heroism and genius, rather than on the traditional criteria of wealth, inheritance and power. The ultimate goal—basically suprahumanist—was none other than the alloy of a new type of man.

The Carnaro Charter contained surrealistic touches such as designating “Music” as the fundamental principle of the State. But the most original—the most specifically Dannunzian—was the inclusion of “an elaborate system of mass celebrations and rituals, designed to guarantee a high level of political awareness and enthusiasm among the citizens.” In Fiume, D’Annunzio (now referred to as “the Commander”) began experimenting with a new medium, creating “works of art in which the materials were columns of men, showers of flowers, fireworks, electrifying music—a genre that would later be developed and reworked over two decades in Rome, Moscow and Berlin.” The commander inaugurated a new form of leadership based on direct communication between the leader and the masses, a kind of daily plebiscite in which the crowds, gathered before his balcony, answered his questions and seconded his invectives. The whole ritual of fascism was already there: the uniforms, the banners, the cult of martyrs, the torchlight parades, the black shirts, the glorification of virility and youth, the communion between the leader and the people, the arm-in-arm salute, the battle cry: Eia, Eia, Alalá! Hughes-Hallett points out that D’Annunzio was never a fascist but that fascism was unmistakably Dannunzian. Someone wrote that, under fascism, D’Annunzio was the victim of the greatest plagiarism in history.

Another pioneering element was the creation of an anti-imperialist League of Nations: the “League of Fiume,” a project of alliance of all the oppressed nations that developed the concept of world revolution and of “proletarian nation” theorized by Michels, and which aspired to bring together from the Irish Sinn Fein to the Arab and Indian nationalists. Some want to see the Commander as a prophet of Third Worldism, although it would be more correct to see here “the first appearance of the theme of the rights of peoples.” The Allied powers began to be alarmed. Fiume’s enterprise was losing its nationalist character and accentuating its revolutionary content.

Make Love and War!

“Youth, Youth, Springtime of Beauty!” (Song of the Arditi)

A State ruled by a poet and with creativity turned into a civic obligation—it was not strange that cultural life acquired an anti-conventional bias. The Constitution was under the invocation of the “Tenth Muse,” the Muse, according to D’Annunzio, “of emerging communities and peoples in genesis… the Muse of Energy,” which in the new century would lead the imagination to power. To make life a work of art. In the Fiume of 1919, public life became a twenty-four-hour performance in which “politics became poetry and poetry sensuality, and in which a political meeting could end in a dance and the dance in an orgy. To be young and to be passionate was an obligation.” An atmosphere of sexual freedom and free love, unusual for the time, spread among the local population and the newcomers. The sexual revolution was beginning. This was what the new “Prince of Youth,” one-eyed and fifty-six years old, wanted.

No wonder the city became a magnetic pole for the whole brotherhood of idealists, rebels and romantics that swarmed the world. A Free-for-All Country where proto-fascists and internationalist revolutionaries rubbed shoulders without anyone thinking of something as vulgar as “entering into dialogue.” A countercultural laboratory in which a variety of groups sprouted, such as “Yoga” (inspired by Hinduism and the Bhagavad-Gita), the “Lotos Castaños” (proto-hippies in favor of a return to nature), the “Lotos Rojos” (defenders of Dionysian sex), ecologists, nudists, Dadaists and other specimens of various kinds. The psychedelic component was ensured by a generous circulation of drugs under the tolerant gaze of the Commander, a more or less occasional consumer of white powder. The 1960s began in Fiume. But unlike the Californian hippies, the Commander’s hippies were ready not only to make love, but also to make war.

Meanwhile, Rome looked at Fiume with a mixture of dismay and dread. In the words of the Italian socialists, “Fiume was being transformed into a brothel, a refuge for criminals and prostitutes.” The truth is that everyone went to Fiume—soldiers, adventurers, revolutionaries, intellectuals, allied spies, cosmopolitan artists, neo-pagan poets, bohemians with their heads in the clouds, the futurist Marinetti, the inventor Marconi, the orchestra conductor Toscanini. Eloquence and dandyism proliferated; the Commander’s personality was contagious. Decorations, uniforms, titles, hymns and ceremonies for everyone! The ornamental style was de rigueur. And in turn, the new visitors were becoming more and more marginal—runaway minors, deserters, criminals and other people with unfinished business with the justice system. Many of these elements were recruited to form the Commander’s corps guard: the “Legion Disperata,” with its glittering uniforms. D’Annunzio observed his Arditi eating lamb on the beaches, in their fantastic uniforms gleaming in the flame light, and compared them to Achilles and his myrmidons back at their camp in front of Troy. It is that electrifying mixture of archaism and futurism, so characteristic of the suprahumanist sensibility. It sounded so old, and yet it was so new.

Pressed by its international commitments, the government of Rome decreed a blockade against Fiume, and the city found a method to ensure its subsistence—piracy. Organized by a former Italian aviation ace, Guido Keller, Fiume’s ships came to seize any vessel transiting between the Strait of Messina and Venice. And every capture made by the Uscocchi—so named by D’Annunzio after the Adriatic pirates of the 16th century—was greeted in the city as a feast. Illicit activities extended to kidnapping—a commando from Fiume captured an Italian general passing through Trieste—and to expeditions to requisition supplies in neighboring territories, and also to symbolic occupations of other nearby cities. The Commander had his motto, Ne me frego (something like, “I don’t give a damn”) embroidered on a flag that he hung over his bed. Fiume was an outlaw state, what today we would call a hooligan state. His biographer points out that D’Annunzio, like a new Peter Pan, had built a “Never Never Land, a space freed from cause-effect relationships where lost children could forever enjoy their dangerous adventures without being bothered by common sense.”

But the problem of childhood is that it ends, and the time for adults arrives. The Treaty of Rapallo, signed in November 1920, established the Italian-Yugoslav borders and reached a compromise on Fiume. D’Annunzio was isolated, and even Mussolini’s fascists withdrew their support. After an intervention by the Italian Navy and the resistance of a handful of Arditi—which resulted in several dozen deaths—D’Annunzio was forced to leave Fiume at the end of December 1920. In a farewell ceremony his last cry was: “Long live love!”

The poet had concluded his revolution. It was the turn of the former sergeant.

Fascism without D’Annunzio

As the years went by, a Mussolini already in power would celebrate Gabriele D’Annunzio as the “John the Baptist of Fascism.” Becoming a legend, the poet would spend his last two decades secluded in his mansion of El Vittoriale on the shores of Lake Garda, where Mussolini would occasionally come to have his portrait taken with him.

Today D’Annunzio is considered a figure of the Regime, but the truth is that he was never a member of the Fascist Party and his relations with the Duce were much more ambivalent than one might think. In private, Mussolini referred to D’Annunzio as “a cavity, to be removed or covered with gold,” and he also referred to “misunderstood Fiumism” as a synonym of an anarchist attitude and thus unreliable. In fact, both men regarded each other with suspicion: Mussolini considered D’Annunzio too influential and unpredictable, and the latter refrained from expressly supporting the Duce. In fact, the poet had recommended to his Arditi to stay away from any political formation, although many would end up in fascism and some in the extreme left or even in Spain in the International Brigades. The only occasions on which D’Annunzio tried to influence Mussolini politically were to advise him to stay well away from Hitler (“that ferocious clown,” “that gummed-up and ignoble face”).

The poet-soldier died in 1938 in his Vittoriale mansion, in an atmosphere as baroque as it was claustrophobic, surrounded by Italian and German spies. With his death a whole epoch disappeared—that of the dawn of that fascism that could not be. The real fascism took up the staging and liturgy of Fiume, but emptied them of freedom and transformed them into a bureaucratized choreography at the service of a project that led Italy to catastrophe. The story is well known. However, some things are often overlooked.

It is often overlooked that this early fascism was part of an avant-garde, sophisticated and pluralistic cultural climate, very different from the obtuse provincialism that characterized the Nazis and their völkisch kitsch. In fact, the cultural pluralism of Fascist Italy—a country where there was practically no intellectual exodus whatsoever—has no parallel with the dirigisme imposed on culture in the Nazi era. Scholars such as Renzo de Felice or Julien Freund have contrasted the optimistic and “Mediterranean” character of fascism—with its tendency to exalt life in a certain spirit of moderation—with the somber, tragic and catastrophic character of Nazism, with its Germanic penchant for Raggnarök. The anti-dogmatic—even artistic and bohemian—character of that first fascism could also be highlighted, as opposed to the “scientific” pretensions of Nazi dogmatics, based on biological racism and social Darwinism.

It should be added that the first fascism had no hint of anti-Semitism, but rather the opposite: many Jews were early fascists and even held important positions, such as the publicist Margaritta Sarfati, Jewish lover of the Duce and prima donna of the cultural life of the regime. In fact, the foreign policy of the regime maintained frequent contacts with the Zionist movement. And after Hitler came to power, eminent Jewish exiles found a welcome in Italy.

It is also overlooked that after the “march on Rome” in 1922 Mussolini stood before Parliament and won a large vote of confidence from the non-fascist majority. One tends to forget that the violence of the fascist squads, while very true, was not unique to fascism—that was the political language in much of Europe. And in Italy it was fascism, better organized, that finally prevailed. It is also omitted that fascism collaborated with the socialists and other opposition forces, and that it won a majority of votes in the 1924 elections. Only then, after the brutal assassination of the socialist deputy Matteoti and the refusal of the opposition to remain in Parliament, did the Fascist henchmen gain the upper hand and the dictatorship was institutionalized.

In reality, 1924 marks the beginning of the decline. The following years were those of the great achievements of the regime—the construction of a social State, the great public works and the modernization of the country. These achievements won the support of a large part of the population. But fascism was already mortally wounded. By betraying that promise of 1919 in the Piazza del Santo Sepulcro in Milan (“We want freedom for all, even for our enemies”), fascism was transformed into a self-satisfied and self-indulgent bureaucracy, and Mussolini gradually withdrew from reality to enclose himself in a megalomania that turned out to be disastrous.

Even so, for some years fascism promoted a policy favoring peace and international cooperation, as evidenced by the Lateran Agreements in 1929 and the disarmament proposals in the League of Nations in 1932. In relation to Nazi Germany, there is something that is also often forgotten—Mussolini was the driving force behind the so-called “Stresa Front,” a diplomatic initiative that in April 1935, together with France and Great Britain, tried to guarantee the independence of Austria and respect for the Treaty of Versailles, and therefore to stop Hitler when it was still possible to do so. Two months later, in June 1935, Great Britain signed with Nazi Germany a Naval Agreement which was the first violation of that Treaty. Mussolini was left alone.

The isolation was consummated with the invasion of Abyssinia and the sanctions imposed on Italy, which forced Mussolini into an alliance with Hitler. From then on, a prisoner of a mixture of fear and fascination for the German dictator, the Duce was dragged into the abyss. In 1938, he even fell into the abjection of importing the anti-Semitic legislation of the Third Reich.

Would another, less dictatorial and more “Dannunzian” course have been possible? Mussolini, unlike Hitler, never had absolute control over the Party, and within fascism there was always a line against the Nazis and in favor of an understanding with France and Great Britain. Its main figure was the Minister of Aviation, Italo Balbo, war hero and early squadronist, the true prototype of the “new man” exalted by fascism. But a jealous Mussolini appointed him Governor of Libya to remove him from the centers of power. There he died in 1940, in an unclear airplane accident. The last remnants of the fascist opposition were liquidated in 1944 in the Verona Trial, with former Foreign Minister Galeazzo Ciano and other hierarchs executed at the behest of the Germans.

A Democratic Fascism?

Almost a hundred years later, D’Annunzio and his adventure in Fiume still raise questions. One is particularly provocative—could a democratic fascism have been possible?

A question that only has the value we want to give to history—fiction. Because history is what it is, and it cannot be changed. To speak of “democratic fascism” is today an oxymoron, and that seems undeniable. However, too often we take refuge in intellectually comfortable and morally irreproachable positions, and that makes it difficult to understand certain phenomena. In this case, the nature of fascism. The classical Marxist interpretation of fascism as a defensive instrument of Capital condemns itself to understand nothing, and leaves unexplained the wide adhesion obtained by a system that was only extirpated by war, a war in which the Marxists allied themselves with—capitalism. This interpretation has long since been superseded, and today it tends to be admitted that, as Zeev Sternhell points out, fascism was an extreme manifestation of a much more comprehensive and broader phenomenon—that which Giorgio Locchi called suprahumanism—and as such is an integral part of the history of European culture.

D’Annunzio was not a systematic ideologue, but his Promethean and Nietzschean endeavor symbolizes that suprahumanist cultural climate from which fascism sprang. Fiume was a magical and necessarily fleeting moment: one cannot be sublime for twenty years. But Fiume reminds us that history could have been different, and that perhaps that cultural and political rebellion—let’s call it “fascism”—could have been compatible with a greater respect for freedoms, or at least evolve away from the aberrations already known. Of course, then perhaps that would no longer be fascism; it would be something else.

If we do not take into account the cultural phenomenon of suprahumanism, fascism cannot be understood. But this was not its only offshoot. Historically there were two others. The first was an intellectual offshoot of great height, and which continues to speak to the men of our days: the so-called German “conservative revolution.” And the second was a poisonous plant: Nazism. The question that could be raised today is whether this suprahumanist cultural humus is definitively exhausted, or whether it could still give rise to unprecedented derivations. After all—and according to the “spherical” conception of time—history is always open; and when history regenerates itself it does so in an ever new, ever unforeseen way.

Right-Wing Anarchism

“We denounce the lack of taste in parliamentary representation. We recreate ourselves in beauty, in elegance, courtesy and style…. We want to be led by miraculous and fantastic men” (Filippo Tommaso Marinetti).

“The art of commanding consists in not commanding” (Gabriele D’Annunzio).

But the interest in re-examining D’Annunzio goes far beyond the question of the nature of fascism. The poet-soldier prefigures a way of doing politics that is still in force today: the politics of spectacle, the fusion of sacred and profane elements, the intuition that ultimately everything is politics. The Charter of Carnaro is a visionary document, insofar as it takes up concerns, liberties and rights hitherto relegated outside the political sphere, and which in the following decades would become part of modern constitutionalism. Somehow D’Annunzio seemed to hold the key to all that was to follow. We are all to a large extent his heirs, for better and for worse.

That is why it would be a mistake to belittle D’Annunzio as a dilettantish aesthete turned revolutionary. Or to depoliticize him and consider—as his perceptive biographer Michael A. Ledeen seems to point out—that what is important in Fiume is not the content but the style, and that no concrete ideological position emerges from Fiume. Carlos Caballero Jurado is much more correct when he says that: “Fiume was not a piece of land. Fiume was a symbol, a myth, something that perhaps cannot be understood in our days, in an era so refractory to myth and rites. Fiume’s enterprise has more to do with cultural rebellion than with political annexation.” What messages can the man of today draw, not only from Fiume, but from D’Annunzio’s entire trajectory?

In the first place, the idea that the only true revolution is the one that pursues an integral transformation of man. That is to say, the one that is posed first and foremost as a cultural revolution. Something that the revolutionaries of May 1968 seemed to understand well. But what they did not know was that, in reality, almost everything they proposed had already been invented—imagination had already come to power, fifty years earlier, on the Adriatic coast. The great surprise is that the one who so decided—and this is the second great lesson of Fiume—was not a progressive, libertarian and globalist utopian, but a patriot, an elitist practitioner of a heroic ethic. Fiume is the demonstration that ideas such as sexual liberation, ecology, direct democracy, equality between men and women, freedom of conscience and the spirit of celebration can be put forward not only from egalitarian, pacifist, hedonist and feminist positions, but also from aristocratic and differentialist, identitarian and heroic values.

D’Annunzio’s gesture also implies something very current—it was the first cry of rebellion against an American-morphous system that in those years was beginning to extend its tentacles; it is the cry of defense of beauty and spirit against the reign of vulgarity and the empire of the dollar.

D’Annunzio’s gesture was also the surreal and heroic vindication of a political regeneration based on the liberation of the human personality, and a cry of protest against the world of anonymous bureaucrats that was coming upon us.

Fiume is also a demonstration that it is possible to transcend the right-left divide, that transversality is possible. Right-wing values plus left-wing ideas. The first genuinely postmodern synthesis. Fiume is the only known experiment to date of what could be a right-wing anarchism taken to its ultimate consequences.

There is one last question, and that has to do with D’Annunzio’s activity as a preacher and exalter of war. That is something that today seems indefensible to us—although it was not so much so in those years when the war could still be lived as an epic adventure. But today we know that behind that inflamed rhetoric there was no real cause to justify so much sacrifice. And yet…

However, it is possible that those men of inflamed rhetoric, deep down, also knew this. It is quite possible that D’Annunzio and others like him, by distillation of a positive nihilism, knew that in the end patriotism is much better than nothingness. Today we have the Nothing, and certainly we have fewer dead. But it is worth asking whether, compared to those men, we are also more alive because of it.

The era of the incendiary years has submerged in time. The time when sergeants and poets made revolutions has passed. And as they say, bodies were devoured by time, dreams were devoured by history, and history was swallowed up by oblivion. They also say that old warriors never die, that they only fade away physically. After the catastrophe, we are left with the memory of greatness, and of the men who dreamed it.

Adriano Erriguel, from Mexico, is a practicing lawyer and consultant and also a literary critic and essayist in the field of the history of ideas, from a perspective that he insists on calling “metapolitics.” His preferred area of focus is the marginal intellectual currents, alternative and alien to the prevailing ideological consensus. His ambition is to draw up an intellectual cartography of the sources of rebellion that, from an anti-modern or post-modern perspective, confront political correctness and uniform thought. This article appears through the kind courgtesy of El Manifiesto.

Featured: D’Annunzio in Fiume, ca. 1919-1920.

The Pareto Void

Next August will be the 100th anniversary of the death of Vilfredo Pareto (1848-1923) and it seems unlikely that the political class he studied with care, which is otherwise so fond of morbid commemorative rituals, will commemorate the Italian economist and theorist of the circulation of elites. We Europeans have forgotten Pareto, if we ever had him in mind. Historical memory, democratic memory, memory of the victims. Vilfredo Pareto fits none of these. You can test this out with search engines. Not a trace. At best, references to Pareto before being the great Pareto. Little Pareto, yes. Big Pareto, no. Economist Pareto, mathematical Pareto, statistical Pareto… Harmless Pareto. Pareto optimality, Pareto 80/20 law, Pareto efficiency law. But no trace of the Pareto whom James Burnham placed—along with Machiavelli, Michels, Sorel and Mosca—among the neo-Machiavellian “defenders of freedom.” There are, of course, exceptions. If not, then read the article by Jerónimo Molina Cano dedicated to the political class.

It would be fair to call this—in order to compensate for such a great injustice, a new social legality bearing the name of our egregious political theorist—”the Pareto void.” The Pareto void prevails in that society, regime and/or public opinion in which the teachings on the political class by Vilfredo Pareto or, as the case may be, by some other member of the so-called Italian elitist school (Mosca, Michels) are ignored. In such a society, and in accordance with Pareto’s void, the level of political freedom and control of the rulers tends to zero, while corruption, incompetence and nepotism of the ruling class tends to infinity, thus fully complying with Gómez Dávila’s aphorism: “The more serious the problems, the greater the number of inept people that democracy calls upon to solve them.” Thus, every society tends, according to Pareto, to the Pareto void. And this explains the ignoring of Pareto. Regularity of the political: “We do not know what happens to us and that is precisely what happens to us” (Ortega dixit).

In the political assembly of a healthy republic, together with conquerors, founders, missionaries and—preferably—a scarce but necessary representation of corrupt compatriots who remember our common and sinful humanity (since there is no people or nation that can be free of it), there should also be, in a place of honor, a small but visible portrait of Vilfredo Pareto. Seeing this scrutinizer of the political class, with all its miseries and evil intentions, deputies, senators and governors would expectedly lower, at least for a second, their gaze before perpetrating their purposes of the day. The presence of this portrait would have an added benefit—to remind everyone of the mortality of political regimes and also that of their ruling elites. A portrait of Pareto is a memento mori for every political class. History is a cemetery of aristocracies, wrote our man with an image worthy of appearing in the Apocalypse.

More than a Biography

If biography is never a scholarly curiosity, in the case of Vilfredo Pareto this simple truth reaches astonishing levels. On July 15, 1848, he was born in Paris to a French mother. His father, the Marquis Raffaele Pareto, lived in exile in the French capital. Thus came into the world, “italiano ma anche francese,” Vilfredo Pareto. The date and place of his birth have a powerfully emblematic significance. According to Hayek, the century of European socialism begins in 1848, which is also the year in which the Communist Manifesto saw the light of day. “The most important event in the entire modern history of Europe,” said one of its most astute scrutinizers, Lorenz von Stein. Initiated in France, the so-called Springtime of the Peoples of 1848 spread throughout Europe. Decisive in this contagion was the accelerated level of development of communications (telegraph and railroads) within the framework of the Industrial Revolution. Pareto dedicated the beginning of his professional career as an engineer to railroads. Railroads or also “iron roads,” in its French etymology (chemins de fer). Perhaps a nod to his future mission (as he would later call it) as a sociologist of politics, for politics also has its iron roads (or laws). In any case, returning to the indicated date, it is a known fact that the political, social and moral crisis of that fateful year probably marked a profound rupture in the order of beliefs of the old continent, constituting the political watershed of contemporary Europe.

From a pure Genoese family, Pareto’s father, a Mazzinian aristocrat and typical product of the Italian Risorgimento, went into exile, as noted, in France because of his support for the new revolutionary movements. This explains why his son, named Vilfredo Federico Damaso, was born in Paris and began his studies there to continue them later in Turin, when his father benefited from a pardon in 1858. Schumpeter says that the same cannot be said of Vilfredo Pareto’s classical education as would be said of all the educated people of his time. This is not sufficient description for “the profound knowledge of the Greek and Roman classics which he had acquired on his own, in the ceaseless toil of his sleepless nights.” In any case, in 1869, Pareto obtained his doctorate in engineering at the Politecnico di Torino with a thesis on the Fundamental principles of the theory of the elasticity of solid bodies and research on the integration of the differential equations that define their equilibrium. At that time, there was nothing to suggest the birth of future research on other types of bodies.

As an engineer, as already mentioned, Pareto began a successful professional career in the Italian railroad sector. This fact is also fundamental for the long series of disappointments that marked his life. Pareto, son of disappointment. Our man could have embodied the new elite defined by the Saint-Simonian creed, but it seems that he ended up eluding this self-image at the same time that he moved away from the humanist and enlightened convictions of his father. These convictions also describe his first political commitments, which were also eventually disappointed. A defender of economic freedom against the protectionist enemies embodied in a decadent, weak and cowardly bourgeoisie—the favorite target of his diatribes—Pareto gradually began to make a name for himself in the area of economic thought, eventually occupying no less than the chair of Leon Walras in Lausanne.

By then, Pareto, disgusted by the climate of transformism (gatopardismo) of the elite perched in the bureaucratic apparatus, had already given up the political illusions of his youth. He would devote the rest of his life to teaching and study. Like other Europeans disenchanted with politics, he settled in Switzerland. Thus, he remained for history, portrayed as the loner of Celigny, a Swiss commune where he enjoyed his last years before his death in 1923. From his period as an economic theorist comes his imposing, Manual of Political Economy. As a result of his tireless dedication and work, came about his last works, Les systèmes socialistes (The Socialist Systems) and, above all, the monumental Trattato di sociologia generale (Treatise on General Sociology). Professor Arthur Livingston, who translated the Treatise into English, summed it up with a powerful formula: two thousand pages, one million words. As Raymond Aron would later recognize, “The Treatise on General Sociology occupies a special place in sociological literature. It is an enormous book, in the physical sense of the word, outside the great currents of sociology, which continues to be the object of the most contradictory judgments. Some regard it as one of the masterpieces of the human spirit; and with the same passion, others assert that it is a monument to stupidity. I have heard these judgments from the lips of people who can be considered perfectly qualified. We find ourselves,” Aron admits, “before a truly rare case.”

The First of Us

We will deal later with the reasons for this rarity, but at this point we can hazard a hypothesis about the profound significance of this singular figure. Pareto is an exemplary archetype of the metamorphosis occurring in a current of fin-de-siècle European thought. In a way, Pareto is “the first of us.” That is to say, the prototype of post-industrial, post-liberal, post-ideological and even post-modern man. He announced, in his own way, the political disenchantment of the world when the enchanters were still legion. He followed in a certain way the path of critical liberalism that opened its way with Tocqueville, but Pareto’s critique went further. It was the man of flesh and blood who discovered himself in the mirror behind the veil of the myth of the new man sculpted in the utopian vulgates, be they liberal or socialist. If we eliminate the religious aspect, there is in Pareto something of Pascal. Like the author of the Pensées, the loner of Celigny was the man capable of inventing the calculator or of demonstrating emptiness without any of this ever quite satisfying him. Dissatisfied with the promises of rationalism and technique, there was something in him that pushed him to dive further or down deeper. Where? In the depths of human psychology, which, although ensconced in the error of lies and self-deception, continues to determine the essence of collective behavior in social and political life. It is in those regions where, if we recall Hannah Arendt’s formula, thinking becomes dangerous.

Pareto has been reproached for his style (next to Marx’s Capital it may seem a model of composition) but the unprecedentedness of his proposal goes beyond formal issues. In his sociological consideration of the influence of the irrational on human behavior, his proposal on “residues” and “derivations” stands out in particular. In Pareto’s language, residues represent the constant, irrational core of human nature. It is what remains, the residue, when the veil of moralizations and false rationalizations is removed. For man, Pareto dares to affirm, rationalizes most of his acts. And this is precisely what derivations consist of. They are the camouflage or pretext; that is, the intellectual systems of justification and the “rational” alibis by which individuals or groups mask their passions. Stripping away our declared intentions, Pareto’s moral translator exhibits us in our pure animality. Behind every human action presumably motivated by the noblest and most rational pretexts housed in the neocortex, there is an unmentionable, irrational residue hidden in the paleocortex. Thus, Pareto distinguished between logical actions (those of the mathematician or the engineer) and non-logical actions (those of the masses or the ruling elites). In a simple way, he was dismantling the ideological mode of thought that concealed behind the mask of science and reason, disguised under benign appearance the irrational face of human motivations. His interest in Gustave Le Bon’s psychology of crowds is a significant indicator of this trend in his thinking. The Paretian theory of residues and derivations has, as can be seen, an air of family with that triangle of suspicion that brings together Nietzsche, Marx and Freud in the secret fraternity of the spoilsports of modernity. The fundamental difference is that this suspicion was not directed by Pareto towards religion, the economy or sexuality but towards the epicenter of social life—the political class. An advanced disciple of Machiavelli, Pareto distinguishes between truth and social utility. Could this political master of suspicion have subscribed to Heidegger’s apothegm, “only a god can save us?” Undoubtedly, for false gods can “truly” save the people who worship them. There is no need to appeal to René Girard to understand this.

Marx of the Bourgeoisie?

“Pareto thinks manifestly, and in the first place against his father (and perhaps against the convictions of his youth),” writes Aron. Indeed, like Freud, Pareto wanted to symbolically kill his father’s ideas. However, the one killed here was not God, nor capitalism or patriarchy, those favorite scapegoats of emancipatory and revolutionary ideologies. Pareto assassinates with his father the humanitarian dogmas of the new democratic religion and, with it, the anthropotheism of secular dogmas. “Adversary of all those who have believed in man and in the peaceful and humane future of societies, he becomes”—Aron added—”the adversary of all the political religions of the nineteenth century.” After Pareto we can no longer write “Reason,” “Progress” and “Democracy” with capital letters. On Pareto’s keyboard almost all capital letters are erased and those that remain are under suspicion. This is something we can thank him for.

It has been said of Pareto that he is the Marx of the bourgeoisie. An emphatic but misleading and mischievous formula. Marxist ammunition designed to hide the fact that the author of the Treatise on General Sociology drowned with his demystifying gesture the hegemonic critique of established intellectuals (and especially that of Marxists). As Schumpeter writes, “I doubt whether a man who wasted no opportunity to express the great contempt he felt for the ignorant and cowardly bourgeoisie can rightly be called ‘bourgeois.'” In The Communist Manifesto, Marx wrote that “all historical movements have hitherto been movements of minorities for the benefit of minorities.” For what other reason than theological or metaphysical would the proletarian revolution escape that rule? Magic or sorcery, perhaps. As Julien Freund, who dedicated a monograph to Pareto, writes, “with a lucidity as insightful as it is profound, Pareto saw that Marx’s concept of ideology was also ideological.” It is not Marx who explains Pareto but Pareto who explains Marx.

There are many reasons, as can be inferred, that made Pareto an accursed man in the history of ideas, but we cannot avoid the one that has to do with his presumed condition of inspirer of the first fascism. It is speculated that Benito Mussolini attended his classes during his Swiss exile. Emilio Gentile credits him for this. The only certainty is that, after the march on Rome, Pareto was appointed senator for life. A photo finish in a black shirt? Nothing worse could be imagined for the reputation of a skeptic. Certainly, shortly before his death, Pareto wrote that “Mussolini has now revealed himself as the man Sociology can invoke.” However, it is easily forgotten that the political situation in Italy at the time led other important disenchanted liberal thinkers such as Benedotte Croce, who would later become a fierce enemy of the regime, to support Mussolini. It seems unlikely that the declared enemy of nineteenth-century political religions would become an adherent of those born in the twentieth century.

In Main Currents in Sociological Thought, a work of unavoidable reference, Raymond Aron places Pareto alongside Montesquieu, Comte, Marx, Tocqueville, Durkheim and Weber; that is, alongside the great founders of the discipline. Let us not forget that Pareto also figures among the ten great economists in Schumpeter’s work of the same name. However, the courageous recognition of the sociologist Pareto is far from uncontroversial. Pareto never managed to be fashionable, even if sociology was. Perhaps the reasons must be sought in a significant difference of approach. Mainstream sociology allowed the historical dimensions of social facts to be silenced. In Pareto, on the other hand, the comparative-historical method comes into its own. Faced with the predominance of invariant structures of long duration that transcend all epochs and with the microscopism of social facts analyzed synchronically at the margin of all historicity, Pareto’s sociology returns, dodging its rationalist reduction, all its protagonism to the anthropological-vital. It is the basis of the theory of circulation, which in Pareto is essentially the circulation of elites. While the dominant sociological method eludes facts, chronologies, biographies, metamorphoses and political events, eclipsed by the everyday, the practical and the economic (present without past or future), Pareto’s sociology reverses the chain of fundamentals by raising historical becoming in an interpretative key. Instead of transforming history into sociology, Pareto recovers history for the cause of sociology. By insisting on the determinant role of elites, Pareto enhances the role of ruling minorities as opposed to an anonymist type of sociology that is only interested in the cold aggregates of mass as resulting from the impersonal interaction of individual atoms. Moreover, before the fashions of interdisciplinarity made their way into the academic Tower of Babel, Pareto’s work shocked those who refused to build bridges between disciplines or rejected anything that would widen the scope of economic reductionism or social unilateralism. It is impossible to pigeonhole him, Schumpeter points out again, because he did not worship any -ism. All this explains, perhaps, why Pareto is, as Julien Freund says, “an irritating, sometimes unbearable author.”

Not much will be said about Pareto on the centenary of his death, but his validity is indisputable. And the void he leaves is like the elephant in the room. If Pareto had not existed, today he would be born again. He, who had already denounced in his day the “absurd mercy for the evildoers” of the bourgeoisie of his time, would today better than anyone else expose the dark interests hidden behind the veil of that malicious philanthropy represented by the victimocratic ideologies promoted by a decadent political class and given to the myth of the Big Other. Pareto would be to sociology today what the Houellebecq of Submission has been to literature.

Franz Borkenau, one of his early biographers, writes that it is not known whether he had children, for even that part of his biography remains obscure. Perhaps we Europeans do not yet deserve to be called Pareto’s children. We can only hope for the day when we recognize him as our father. A father whom we could not kill without, at the same time, committing suicide.

Domingo González Hernández holds a PhD in political philosophy from the Complutense University of Madrid. He is a professor at the University of Murcia. His recent book is René Girard, maestro cristiano de la sospecha (René Girard, Christian Teacher of Suspicion) He is also the Director of the podcast “La Caverna de Platón” for the newspaper La Razón. He has explored the political possibilities of Girardian mimetic theory in more than twenty studies and academic papers. His latest publication is “La monarquía sagrada y el origen de lo político: una hipótesis farmacológica” (“Sacred monarchy and the origin of politics: a pharmacological hypothesis”), Xiphias Gladius, 2020.

Health, Freedom, Politics: An Interview with Pedro Morago

A Spaniard by birth, Pedro Morago is a leading light amongst contributors to the Italian and Spanish alternative news media. After practising as a solicitor in Spain, where he specialized in criminal and constitutional law, Morago uprooted his career path and moved to England to study the methodology for evaluating scientific research, a subject he now teaches.

As a devout Catholic, his pondered views on the current Pontificate—expressed on the very eve of the death of Pope Benedict XVI—are perhaps unsurprisingly, borne out by other Catholic observers such as François Asselineau, head of the UPR in France or the author of Benoit et moi.

In clear, simple terms, Morago’s interview also sheds light on the circumstances of Mario Draghi’s departure, which may seem impenetrable to a foreigner, and on whether Georgia Meloni might not be putty in the hands of the Usual Suspects.

Interview conducted, and translated from the Spanish-language original, by Mendelssohn Moses.

Mendelssohn Moses (MM): You teach Methodology of Scientific Research at Teesside University, I believe. That must have helped you to see through the Scamdemic pretty quickly! Tell us about how you realized what was going on back in 2020.

Pedro Morago (PM): Indeed. I’m Senior Lecturer in Research Methods and Evidence-based Practice (clinical area).

Pedro Morago.

In early 2020, I was still in a bit of a fog, but on November 9th of that year, the very moment I heard Biden the President-elect, announce that “vaccines” for COVID-19 were about to become available, I rushed to examine the manufacturers’ clinical data and the authorization process by the FDA in the USA and the MHRA in the UK. With that before my eyes, along with articles by the likes of Professor Peter Doshi and Dr. Diana Zuckerman in the British Medical Journal, by February/March 2021, I was fairly clear in my mind about glaring methodological flaws in the studies the manufacturers put out, as well as disturbing irregularities in the so-called emergency use authorizations issued by the regulators.

MM: How did you meet up with Riccardo Rocchesso and start contributing to 100 Giorni da Leoni?

PM: As 2020 drew to a close, and by early 2021, re-information channels and media sprang up all over Italy, and began to play a major role—not only in knocking the scales from the citizenry’s eyes as to what was really being hatched, but in preventing millions of those resisting (the Resistants) from being cut off and isolated. Whereas, one of the Plan’s main objectives was precisely to bell-jar dissidents.

That said, on listening to the alternative media, I began to note a great lack in precisely my own area of expertise, that is, in evaluating evidence from scientific research studies. Accordingly, I fired off e-mails to twenty or so leading contributors to those media, and offered my help on a volunteer basis.

To my surprise and delight, within 48 hours I heard from Riccardo Rocchesso at 100 Giorni da Leoni, from Dr. Loretta Bolgan, from Carlo Dalmasso of the Federazione del Popolo Sovrano, Fabio Frabetti of Rinascimento Italia, from the writer and politologist Cosimo Massaro, with whom I straightaway began to work. Through them, I became acquainted with Dr. Barbara Balanzoni, the conductor Andrea Colombini, the admirable Ornella Mariani, Professor Alessandro Meluzzi and other prominent Resistants in Italy.

By working regularly with 100 Giorni da Leoni for nearly two years, on programmes which attracted on average 130,000 viewers each and sometimes 200,000, including Youtube and the two Facebook channels, I became sufficiently well-known to get in touch with various citizens’ groups from Easter 2022 on, mainly in Central Italy. And recently, Spanish channels, which had been following 100 Giorni, like Baleares Acción, and Hyper Halcón (the latter has quite a large audience), have asked me to take part in their programmes regularly.

MM: You have lived and worked in Spain, England and Italy. How did you decide to leave practising as a constitutional lawyer in Spain, and move to England to study and then teach in a totally different field?

PM: A rather gradual process in point of fact. For some years, I did volunteer work in the Mental Health area, while also practising as a solicitor. At the end of the day, I decided to retool, as it were, and moved to England where I had the great good luck to study at Oxford University for three years, specialising in evaluating scientific research. On graduating, I was straightaway offered a position with Robert Gordon University at Aberdeen, where I lectured (2004-2008) on how to evaluate the efficiency of social policies. From 2008 on I have been lecturing at Teesside University, where I have focused more on research methods and evidence-based practice in the clinical field.

MM: I would like to ask one or two “left field” questions. Carl Schmitt, the NSDAP ideologue, is a very big cheese amongst Spain’s constitutional lawyers who will of course blithely refuse to discuss THE issue.´

Schmitt’s theory of the State of Emergency as the normal modus operandi for what he called “the State,” and his theory of the “State” as being literally founded upon the Friend-Enemy opposition, stands as the polar opposite to the humanist, optimistic notion of law espoused by Aldo Moro, who, one forgets, was amongst the drafters of the Italian constitution of 1946.

By the bye, Carl Schmitt is most likely the “spiritual father” of Emmanuel Macron’s new foreign policy spokesman, Miss Anastasia Colosimo, who teaches Political Theology (sic) at the Institut de Sciences Politiques.

As for ex-Prime Minister Mario Draghi, his modus operandi in all fields, was to call out a state of emergency on myriad sophistic pretexts.

Would you like to comment on Aldo Moro as a constitutionalist, as opposed to the Schmittians?

PM: Throughout the “Western world” an attempt is underway to suspend constitutional arrangements and replace them by a regime where every decision, whether or not it be legal, may be waved through in reliance upon a public health emergency.

More specifically, freedom of speech, of movement, the freedom to demonstrate in the streets, are all subjected to a systematic onslaught on the basis of a purported right to health on the part of society.

Most perplexing, perhaps, in terms of this attack on constitutional rights, is the docility with which a sizeable chunk of the citizenry has simply acquiesced. I would venture to opine that this attitude has arisen through several decades of relative well-being, and an ever-more pronounced craving for both physical and socio-economic comfort.

In that respect, contemporary society does appear strikingly similar to that Carl Schmitt describes, where a specious security becomes the supreme value in many citizens’ eyes, one for which they willingly delegate to the “sovereign,” the powers to decide, and to manoeuvre within a state of exception, over-riding the principle of lawfulness, all by reference to an alleged emergency.

On the quite other end of the scale, former Prime Minister Aldo Moro was a fervent advocate for our citizens’ constitutional rights, which he knew must be upheld even and especially where these may contradict public interest. As I have just said, this ideal of freedom, one which prevailed for decades throughout most of the West, has been frittered away by meretricious “security” criteria. Globalist-leaning leaders are hell-bent on making of the state of exception a standing rule of government, in a manner that would make Carl Schmitt himself green with envy.

MM: Another “left field” question. Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò has been very outspoken on major strategic issues and strongly opposes the “Great Reset.” He is almost unknown in France. Could you say a few words about his work?

PM: Monsignor Viganò is a Catholic Archbishop who, until he retired in 2016, held high responsibilities, most lately as Papal Nuncio to the USA. He first came to general attention through his August 2018 Letter to La Veritá, protesting at what he believed to be a protracted cover-up by Bergoglio and other eminent Churchmen, of alleged sexual misdoing by US Cardinal McCarrick. Furthermore, in recent years, Monsignor Viganò has acquired considerable international notoriety amongst dissident circles, owing to his comments on video and in geopolitical journals, where he has scathingly and very precisely outlined the Great Reset, of which the so-called pandemic was merely the opening shot. For those who so wish, I would suggest they consult Viganò’s statements, which appear on countless Telegram channels.

MM: As a non-Christian, I have no business discussing Church business. However, Pope Francis’ decisions concerning the “vaccines,” so called “climate change” and the extremely bizarre Council for Inclusive Capitalism with the Vatican, are all highly political.

You are a Catholic. How would you evaluate these manœuvres ?

PM: As a practising Catholic, I have known the Pontificates of Paul VI, Saint John Paul II and Benedict XVI, and the very brief Pontificate of John Paul I, acknowledging in all the figure of the Vicar of Christ.

When Benedict XVI resigned however, many Catholics were thrown into dismay, all the more so that although Benedict was modest and retiring, he had quickly become known as a bulwark against the dictatorship of relativism: his firm defence of non-negotiable principles made him the reference for hundreds of millions, doubtless billions of people who reject the tyrannical new world order.

Many observers, including myself, opined that the moral and intellectual authority gained by Benedict made him the globalists’ perfect target; they wanted him out, and someone else—namely Bergoglio—in, someone who would cheerfully embrace their pseudo-religion’s dogmas. From the moment Bergoglio was elected, his conduct unleashed grave concern amongst many Catholics.

Insofar as I’m concerned, although I’ve had to listen to interventions by Bergoglio which tend to systematically desacralize Catholic faith and tradition, I had refrained from expressing an opinion on his person, to avoid horrifying my entourage. In recent years, however, Bergoglio’s role and that of “his church” relative to the COVID-19 business and the so-called “vaccines” has compelled me to speak out on his true role.

With a modicum of discernment, from Bergoglio’s tone and from what he has said against those Catholics who rejected the vaccine mandates (egregiously cruel those mandates were, in Italy), one readily concludes who was the true and only Pope of the Church of Christ.

Not to speak of the latest Feasts of Nativity and Easter of Resurrection, where one finds Christ’s salvific action brazenly replaced by that of the COVID-19 “vaccines.”

MM: What were the true reasons Mario Draghi stepped down as President of the Council?

PM: The mainstream recounts a tale of Mario Draghi’s great mission, sabotaged by irresponsible political parties, notably the so-called “sovereignist, extreme-right wing Lega.” The reality is otherwise.

Carpetbagged into Italy by his supremos at Davos, Draghi’s task was to turn our country into a test-tube for the Great Reset. Once his government had been installed, with the backing of every party, save for Meloni’s Fratelli d’Italia, it rammed through vaccine mandates on April 1st, 2021 for all healthcare workers, and then drastically slashed constitutional rights via measures like the Green Pass, theretofore unheard of in any Western democracy.

The initial plan had been for Draghi to enjoy a lightning-swift tenure as Prime Minister, followed by his shoo-in election to the Presidency of the Republic in January 2022. Late in 2021, this seemed a done deal to many, above all to Draghi himself; he would then have become the anointed Carl-Schmittian, steering the state of emergency as the new, standing form of rule.

But things got nasty for Draghi during the elections. Some parliamentary groups like Lega, Fratelli d’Italia and the Conte faction of Movimiento 5 Stelle failed to reach a consensus, whereby not only did Draghi fail to get himself elected President—he garnered support so minute as to be ludicrous. That spelled his end. Draghi’s ego has been dented to a degree that little has been heard from him since.

My own view is that in Italy, despite the cruelty of the state of exception, a great many citizens never took their third shot of “vaccines,” thereby snarling up an injection campaign which was to end by January 2022 and smooth Draghi’s path to the Presidency.

Despite being embedded in the institutions, parties such as Lega, Fratelli d’Italia and Movimento 5 Stelle picked that up on their radar screen, and unlike the hard-core globalist parties like the PD, they kept a look-out for unrest in the streets. As a result, Draghi’s position as Prime Minister began to totter, until in July 2022, Lega, backed for the occasion by Forza Italia and thanks to the calculated ambiguity shewn by Conte, gave the Draghi project its coup de grâce.

Nevertheless, I must stress that, contrary to what the mass-media imply and what many citizens imagine, Draghi never lost his Parliamentary majority. It was not want of that majority which led him to step down—but rather the fact that he lost the backing of ALL political parties (though Meloni’s party was not in the Government, its opposition had always been symbolic, and thus useful to the regime). However, no stowaways are admitted on a mission like that assigned to Mario Draghi; the fact that some parties jumped ship and set up an oppositional front obstructed a project that was inherently totalitarian in nature.

MM: As Pino Cabras never tires of repeating, NOTHING can be done in Italy until the country withdraw from NATO, the EU and the Euro.

Giorgia Meloni has however made it clear that she will do none of the above. What game is she playing? Who owns her?

PM: Throughout what is by now a lengthy political career, Giorgia Meloni first appeared as a decent and rather courageous individual, the usual nonsensical attacks from militant “progressives” notwithstanding. That said, Meloni appears to be wanting in substance with respect to various political, legal and cultural matters, making her pretty malleable from the standpoint of certain factions. Since she joined the Aspen Institute and became Prime Minister, her manner in public has notably altered. For those, like myself, who had entertained some hopes of Giorgia Meloni, it has been disheartening to see her unsure of herself in press conferences, or striving to please journalists who only a short while back were praising Draghi to the skies, and now eagle-eye her every utterance, seeking a flaw.

On the plus side, Giorgia Meloni’s government, perhaps riding the wave of international events, has rather swiftly dismantled most of the Draghi-era constraints. While some, plausibly enough, like to think that she’s playing a double game, i.e., paying lip-service to globalism so long as it holds up, while keeping the lines to the streets open in the event the Davos crowd stumble or even crash altogether, that would mean having a thick hide and a kind of cunning that Meloni may lack—unlike Pedro Sánchez in Spain.

MM: The US Biolaboratories in the Ukraine having to be withdrawn owing to Russia’s discoveries, the Pentagon would now appear to be moving the P3 (doubtless, de facto, P4) labs to Italy. The Municipal Council of Pesaro (Marche) has just voted to sell a huge swathe of municipal terrain to a P3 lab. Only ONE Councillor voted against: Pesaro, L’Acquila, Livorno, Sigonella… and there are others. Who is financing this? Where does the money come from? Is anything known of the pressures on the local or regional Councils?

Italy’s first capital, Turin, is about to be turned into NATO’s capital, with the Pentagon’s weird DIANA project set to take over the city’s labs, universities and businesses.

How did the Pentagon swing that decision? Who in Turin’s Municipal Council voted for this? Who or what in the Italian Government approved it? Has money been changing hands?

PM: This is not an area where I have any special insights. Overall, let’s just say that historically, Italy has been a battlefield over-run by foreign powers, all seeking to stake a claim. This has ratcheted up since WWII, when Italy, at the centre of Cold War manoeuvres, owing to her strategic and political importance, has been turned into a Euro-Atlanticist colony.

That said, Italy also happens to be home to a people who, relative to many other Western countries, for historical and cultural reasons, entertain a great affinity with Russia. Accordingly, what happens on the Ukrainian front in the coming months, and its impact on the Atlanticist West in terms of the de-globalization now ongoing, will be most interesting.

MM: As many as 3 or 4 million Italians voted on September 25th for the anti-NATO, anti-vaccine mandate parties. Re-information news channels, blogs and websites are self-financed and garnering millions of views.

Are things starting to move? Is there hope?

PM: Doubtless on account of the massive onslaught on freedom in this country over the past few years, there have sprung up in Italy resistance networks and alternative news channels, deploying through social networks, which are likely amongst the best-organized in the world. Several channels actually have over 200,000 subscribers.

The time came when the founders and contributors to those news channels may have thought that their visibility was henceforth such, that political leadership was around the corner; they thereupon decided to stand for election in the Parliamentary elections in September 2022. Given that the potential electorate likely represented something in the range of 6 to 8 million votes, the dissident candidates would indeed have had a fairly good crack at entering Parliament.

The problem is however, that having never come to an agreement amongst themselves, four or five parties stood separately for election. What is more, a good number of dissidents saw the want of a constituent process, that should have led to a clear idea-platform, headed by people elected by the major resistance movements’ grass-roots. Consequently, those individuals decided not to vote, none of the so-called “anti-system” parties got into Parliament, and their influence has somewhat declined.

Bearing in mind as well, that with Meloni’s arrival, there’s been something of a return to Business-as-Usual, which has tended to douse the fighting spirit which had sprung up during the worst of the Draghi era.

At the time of writing, while public interest has never slacked in 100 Giorni da Leoni, Visione TV, La Finanza sul Web, and so many others, I do have the impression that the dissidents’ social and political activity has slightly fallen off. It will probably spring back to life only if those who run the country on behalf of the globalists try to mount a fresh, desperate attack, a thing one cannot entirely rule out—given the less-than-hopeful outlook for the globalists at this time.

Featured: “Ace,” by Robert Dean Stockwell; created in 2005.

Italy: Show some Guts, or be Gutted!

Galileo Ferraresi wonderfully succeeds in condensing within a few short paragraphs the Rise & Fall of his country, from the extraordinary position in industry and science attained in the world in the 1950s—not unlike that she played during the Renascence—to the breaking of every arrow in her quiver how over the past thirty years by the USA, the European Union and the associated Privateers. The “Britannia Yacht” reference is to the privatisation get-together held on 2nd June 1992, set up by the Bank of England’s British Invisibles (sic) and chaired by Mario Draghi, on HM’s Yacht then moored at Civitavecchia.

In 1936, as fascism was in full swing in Italy, the socialist Alberto Beneduce (1877–1944) split merchant banks from savings banks, nationalised the Banca d’Italia and forbade foreign capital from circulating freely in Italy.

From 1950 to 1960 Enrico Mattei and the ENI (the national petroleum company (excellent documentary here supplied Italy with gas and petroleum.

By 1953 Italy had become so wealthy that she simply crossed off half of Germany’s debt to her. The other half has never been repaid.

In 1954 Olivetti built the world’s first PC.

From 1955 to 1960 the Lira was the world’s strongest currency and Europe’s most stable. [Fare aggio, means that the Lira was considered safer than gold, and was therefore bought at a price over the official exchange rate against gold.

In the 1970s, while at university Italian students received an educational allowance tallied to their plan of study, so as to live decently while learning.

In the mid 1970’s public transport at Bologna was free.

By the 1980s, Italy was the world’s fifth-ranking industrial power, and by the late ‘80s, could boast of the most politically-astute citizenry.

In the year 2000, the Italians were the world’s wealthiest people, with average savings of Euro 35,000 euro per capita.

In 1990, 70% of Italians owned their own home, a figure rising to the world’s highest – 81% – in 2007.

WHAT happened then?

In 1960 Adriano Olivetti took a train trip; alive as the train entered a tunnel, he was found dead when it emerged. One year later, Mario Tchou, his engineer who had invented Elea 9003, the first transistor PC, was killed in a bizarre road accident. “Thanks” to their disappearance, Italian electronics was taken over by the USA.

In 1962 Enrico Mattei was murdered by a bomb which blew up his private plane over Milan, putting Italy back under the Seven Sisters’ thumb.

The Lira came under attack from the $US and Italy became a plaything for US/UK economic and cultural power-games.

Italy’s citizenry was interested and involved in politics? Purge that from their minds! But how?

Force-feed them with television and radio programmes made by idiots for idiots; pummel them into becoming monomaniac football fans—has any other nation on earth three daily sporting newspapers?

Strong wine wants diluting, eh? Which is what’s been done with our citizenry, in line with Coudenhove-Kalergi’s plans. Ten million starving, apolitical immigrants have come to water down the 45 million Italians who were only too aware of their rights having been acquired by struggle.

The political parties’ bosses have been at pains to select for Parliament and Government the flabbiest, most corrupt, ignorant and mafiosi from amongst us. Politicians out for the main chance rather than statesmen seeking the public weal.

The same can be said of the trade unions: in 1975 a handful of penniless hirsute youths at Bologna launched the private Radio Alice to cover the student and worker uprisings. The Partito Radicale, another grouplet, broadcast its ideas all over Italy. But the trades unions, with millions of members, have never seen fit to set up a radio station, a paper, a broadsheet, a megaphone to link up the workers with the unemployed. Blind stupidity? Or a plan to purge our country of politics?

Public transport has been gobbled up by private operators so that it costs the earth to commute.

In order to raise our people’s cultural level, a century ago a school-teacher earned as much as a judge. Does he even garner what one might reasonably describe as a wage today?

Thanks to the IRI (Institute for Industrial Reconstruction), its state banks and companies, Italy had an industrial structure engaged in research and development of new technologies which then trickled down to small and medium business. But ever since the Yacht Britannia’s guests disembarked from their cruise, the Prodi/Berlusconi team, de facto in power for the past 25 years, has taken down the IRI, given away the State’s crown jewels, stripped away our industrial and banking power, thereby accomplishing Von Hayek’s liberal dream.

In 1992 the socialist Giuliano Amato and Co. reversed the 1936 Beneduce reform to allow foreign capital to circulate freely (globalisation) ; they privatised the Banca d’Italia and the public sector and allowed merchant and savings banks to merge.

As for the Euro, its introduction slashed our citizen’s capital by 50 %. A cup of coffee that had cost a thousand Lire suddenly cost a Euro, doubling the price, with everything following suit.

Add to the drop in purchasing power, the fall in wages. In 1974, a wage-earner could buy a 60m2 flat in Milan for the equivalent of three-and-a-half years’ salary; by 2015 that was nine years and it’s now hit eleven.

In the ‘50s and ‘60s, a family with two or three children supported by a single wage-earner was commonplace. People could live decently on that single wage, buy home appliances, a car and of course, a home. In 2022, one finds 30% of Italians unmarried or separated; 20 % of married couples have no children at all while 50 % are married—but few have more than one child. Politics and « the economy » have wrecked the Italian family.

Owning real property has been our citizens’ traditional “refuge” investment, the sole investment that has consistently gained value over time. However, by introducing the so-called “energy efficiency ranking,” property now drops in value over time, just as though it were a car, while the cost of maintaining that property cannot ever be recovered. Just that one simple law, one seemingly-innocuous stroke of the pen.

While in 1951 only 7% of the population were over 65 years of age, this has reached 25 % in 2022.

Every year, 145,000 educated young people emigrate to some country that offers better prospects.

What is to be done? A century ago, Lenin wrote… “He who wants to remain in Italy has but two alternatives: stand by idly and grow ever poorer, or throw oneself into the struggle to change the course of history and that of Italy.”

Put otherwise: Show some guts, or be gutted. (Essere coglioni o avere i coglioni).

Galileo Ferraresi is an Italian seafarer. Note that Ferraresi is endorsing neither the Radical Party, nor the Fascist Party, nor Radio Alice, but referring to noteworthy events or decisions of which they were briefly protagonists. This was originally published here and here. Translated from the Italian by Mendelssohn Moses. We have very slightly shortened the text, and altered the title to something a little less raunchy (Essere coglioni o avere i coglioni).

Dismantling Legacy Narratives: An Interview with Massimo Mazzucco

Massimo Mazzucco, film-maker and polemicist, is Italy’s best-known debunker of the mainstream media narratives. An associate of Giulietto Chiesa (1940-2020), with whom he founded in 2019, he came to prominence through documentaries dismantling the 9/11 gambit, thereby attracting armies of hostile fact-checkers. Alongside Margherita Furlan, one of the country’s most astute foreign policy analysts, and a disciple of the writer Giulietto Chiesa, Mazzucco has focused his efforts via the website, on unifying the Italian opposition to those who would blithely ram the European Titanic into the iceberg. He has recently published, Ucraina, l’altra verità [Ukraine—The Truth Viewed from the Other Side]. Mendelssohn Moses conducts this interview with Mr. Mazzucco.

Note: It may be useful for our readers to learn that Giulietto Chiesa, whose name, on the notorious Myrotvorets “hit-list,” was crossed out on his death with the label “Liquidated,” stated the following at a 2015 conference on the EuroMaidan coup d’état:

“The crisis in the Ukraine is not a regional one. It is the US, clashing with the rest of the world, and that starts with a direct onslaught on Russia. The US knew the Ukraine was a bomb waiting to go off… and intends to expel Russia from world financial markets, a radical shift which will alter the face of power worldwide… some pretext will be seized upon to freeze Russia out of the Swift system, and thus forestall all her financial transactions… I may be rowing against the tide, but it’s to save our skins. Were WW III to erupt, you and I along with all those who deride me as a conspiracy theorist will go up in smoke. I’m very concerned, because we are teetering on the edge of war, a great war. Before our eyes, lies the premise for WW III. Before ever the Ukraine enters NATO, something terrible will happen. On the borders between the Baltic States and Russia, preparations for war are underway… The crisis in the Ukraine is the opening shot in an onslaught by the USA and Europe against Russia, for which the sanctions are an indicator. The Ukraine is the stick with which to beat Russia… (Italy) will only recover her sovereignty if she withdraw from NATO and become, once again, a free, neutral and sovereign state. All the more so, that what NATO, what this sort of defence represents, will be utterly useless in the event of war.

Mendelssohn Moses (MM): Tell us a little about your websites and internet channels—, Contro TV, Casa del Sole. How did you decide to found them, and when?

Massimo Mazzucco (Massimo M):, the website I set up in 2004, was among the very first “re-information” sites in Italy. I launched it in the wake of my research into what went on at New York on September 11, 2001. As time went by, the site evolved, and we now deal with the major controversies of our time—from a “re-information” standpoint.

MM: You’re often seen on Cento Giorni da Leoni, Byo Blu, Visione Tv—the re-information channels in Italy—which are very high quality, and with which you cooperate closely. And they seem to be self-financed, which is quite an achievement. Is that correct?

Massimo M: Absolutely. Each one of our websites is self-financed, thanks to donations; and we are all in constant touch—by that I mean that we share all the most relevant information, and we often invite one another to speak.

Massimo Mazzucco.

MM: Only François Asselineau of the UPR here in France seems to have understood that the string-pullers are playing the same electoral game with Fratelli d’Itali and Meloni as they played with Cinque Stelle four years ago. Would you mind debunking the Meloni hoax for our readers? Who are her puppet-masters? What are some of her more egregious untruths? What is her so-called program?

Massimo M: Well, I don’t really think Giorgia Meloni is being “managed” by third parties. That said, to get into government, she decided to drop major planks of her platform, including pulling out of NATO and the EU! And she has had to claim that she backs the Ukraine and NATO 100%, despite having been rather less on board with Atlanticist positions earlier on. Having by now seriously blunted the point of her blade, she has come to resemble Mario Draghi, the outgoing Prime Minister, to a degree that once she gets into power, I fail to see how she might make any difference relative to her predecessor.

MM: The sovereignist opposition in Italy presented some remarkable candidates, on remarkable platforms—no vaccine mandates, no vaccine pass, no to NATO, no to the Euro, no to the EU. Italia Sovrana e Populare, the group around Davide Barillari, the allies of Pino Cabras, the Italexit with Dr. Gianni Frajese—doubtless the most high-powered group of people standing for office in the whole of Western Europe. Many of these people are brilliant intellectuals who have put their career and livelihood on the line over the past two years. They have proven that they have principles. Despite blackmail, threats and coercion, at least 20% of the population has refused to take the “vaccines.” That’s a 20% potential voter base. However, apparently no one has gotten into Parliament. How is this possible?

Massimo M: The bad news is that the parties which one might call “anti-system,” rather than all pulling together, chose to stand for election separately. As the Italian electoral system requires that one garner 3% of the vote to get into Parliament, not a single one of these parties has got in! All I can say is that I hope everyone has learned the hard way from this debacle, and that next time round, they stand united.

MM: Italexit candidate Nunzia Schiliro has just said on Byo Blu television news that a main reason for the dissidents’ electoral flop at this critical juncture is the “cognitive decline of Italian youth” and “galloping illiteracy in the general population.” Would you like to comment?

Massimo M: Well, although “cognitive decline” is a reality, my own view is that this is not the reason for the flop. As I’ve just explained, with each new party standing for office separately, they ended up shooting each other in the foot.

MM: Many young Italians have never heard of Enrico Mattei, a strategic genius who revolutionized Italy’s place in the world. He opened relations with Russia and China and launched the flow of gas from Russia—by the way. Should his ideas not be discussed and taught all over Italy, now?

Massimo M: Enrico Mattei held ideas which led to his death. His policy of cooperating with Russia did not wash with the USA, and since Mattei would not cave in to the Seven Sisters, the decision was taken to get rid of him. For Italy to assert his ideas, and what he stands for in history, would mean charging the USA with that crime, a move which Italy is not in a position to make at the present time.

MM: Massimo, you are the author of several documentaries on the events of 9/11 (Twin Towers), as an Own-Goal by the US against the US. The so-called “elites” appear to have decided they no longer need the Western population alive, for both financial and ideological considerations. Would you like to comment?

Massimo M: I’m not entirely certain that the Western elites no longer need their populations. They do need them, but as subject peoples, as slaves, rather than as upstanding citizens. The by-now notorious Great Reset road-map is a blatant illustration of that.

MM: An incredible public debate took place on June 7th between foreign policy analyst Giorgio Bianchi, military specialist Manlio Dinucci, and the high-strung chief editor of Corriere della Sera, Fiorenza Sarzanini. The latter had just published a frontpage piece on a purported “Putin lobby” in Italy, without however adducing a shred of factual proof. What is the fall-out from that debate?

Massimo M: Fall-out? Further to that debate, charges of blacklisting individuals have been leveled at Corriere della Sera. I would suggest that this has not precisely gilded their reputation.

[Following an Italia Sovrana e Populare public meeting at Rome on October 15, the journalist and ISP candidate Giorgio Bianchi and Francesco Toscano, head of ISP, flew to Gioia Tauro in Catania. From the airport, Toscano dropped Bianchi off at a hotel at 1 AM. At 3 pm, the room bell rang, and two police officers, along with the hotel receptionist, burst into the room. The police said they were “looking for information,” and searched his belongings. They had no search warrant, nor were any charges pressed. Bianchi has no criminal record.

Further to the Corriere della Sera front-page attack in early June on “Putin’s lobby in Italy,” including Bianchi’s photograph, this is the second or third time incidents of this nature have occurred in relation to Bianchi, who in August was granted an exclusive interview with Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Maria Zakharova].

MM: Italy has been occupied since 1955 by NATO—there are over 100 NATO/US bases, two of which at least have nuclear weapons. In the event of war with Russia, Italy, generally considered the world’s most beautiful country, would be entirely destroyed. Is there any understanding of this among the people?

Massimo M: The Italian people, more’s the pity, do not grasp how real that danger actually is. We tend to imagine that nuclear war only happens in films—whereas, it could break out at any moment.

MM: Thank you for this interview, Massimo.

Who is Giorgia Meloni?

Let’s begin with two facts: Giorgia Meloni is the first woman to get premiership in Italy, and also the first belonging to the Right. We must underline these two aspects if we want to understand how Giorgia Meloni became what she is today.

She was born in 1977 and raised in a poor neighborhood of Rome, the Garbatella. Her home was not a happy one—her father left her mother when she was 11, and she had to study and work hard in her early years. She graduated from high school, with an interest in tourism, and where she studied two foreign languages—English and Spanish. She speaks both.

In 1992, at the age of 15, she joined the Youth Front, an organization for Right-minded young people, as she wanted to find a way to react to what was happening in Italy because of the Mafia, and she thought that only the Right was somehow holding out against it. In 1996, she became the national leader of the student movement “Student Action,” the youth organization of the National Alliance party, formerly the Italian Social Movement, which had been organized soon after World War II by some former Fascists (whilst many other former Fascists joined the Communist party).

In 1998, she was elected as a councilor for the Province of Rome, and served till 2002. In 2000, she was elected national director of Youth Action, the youth wing of the National Alliance. In 2004, she became the first woman chairing that organization.

Two years later, after the 2006 Italian general elections, she was elected to the Chamber of Deputies as a member of the National Alliance, and she became the youngest vice-president of the Chamber ever. In that same year, she also started working as a journalist.

After the Center-Right coalition’s victory in the 2008 general elections, she was appointed Minister of Youth in the government chaired by Mr. Berlusconi. She remained minister—the youngest minister ever in the history of Italy since 1861—until November 2011, when the cabinet was forced to resign.

All the while, she showed independence of mind. For example, she asked Italian athletes not to take part in the opening ceremony of the 2008 Olympics held in Peking, as a protest against Chinese policies towards Tibet—a personal initiative not shared by Premier Berlusconi and Foreign Minister Frattini. Then, in 2009, she voted against the law that proposed to introduce euthanasia in Italy. In the same year, she pushed through a 300-million-euro state initiative to support new enterprises, workers and students through special loans.

As far as readers of The Postil may be concerned, we must underline that in January 2016, she participated in Family Day, an anti LGBT-rights demonstration, and declared herself to be against LGBT adoptions—and to be pregnant and was she thus speaking also as a mother-to-be.

She opposes abortion, euthanasia and laws recognizing same-sex unions. Although she accepts what are still Italian laws which allow for both abortion and civil pacts regulating same-sex unions, yet she has, at the same time, declared herself to be in favour of a full application of the laws on abortion, which, as they now stand, render abortion far less easy than it has been in previous years.

She officially spoke against same-sex parenting in a rally in Rome in 2019, and harshly and successfully opposed the so-called Zan Law Decree, a proposal for an anti-homophobia law, which, upon approved, would have been a full victory of the harshest politically correct wing—and a mortal wound to the existence of the Church’s doctrine.

She publicly and officially supports the Anti-Gender Movement, which arose in the 1990s. She has said that she favours a change of the Italian Constitution in order to have a clear and explicit prevention of same-sex couples adopting children.

The Europe-wide Leftist, pro-Muslim approach is something she strongly opposes as well. Thus, she has been accused of xenophobia and Islamophobia, simply because she opposes the uncontrolled arrival of immigrants from Africa and Asia. Rather, she favours a planned migration policy. Furthermore, she criticized Italy’s relations with Saudi Arabia and Qatar, because both countries support fundamentalist theories which, she says, are the root of the growth of Islamic fundamentalism all over the world. As a result, she criticized what she called the “silence of the West” about the Asia Bibi case in Pakistan, and advocated a stronger stance by the international community against human rights violations in that country.

Before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, she supported a better relationship between the West and Russia, and closer ties between Italy and Taiwan, although she firmly condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine as soon as it happened in 2022.

A member of the Aspen Institute since 2021, in February 2022 she spoke at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Florida, and told the American conservative attendees that they must defend their opinions against progressives and the politically correct.

Whilst Eurosceptic and not too keen on how things are going in Brussels, she is also the president of the European Conservatives and Reformists Party, the centre-right political group in the European Parliament, established in 2009, under the founding principles of the Prague Declaration. She is quite supportive of NATO and in favour of the American-European partnership as it currently stands.

The main charge against her is that she is a former Fascist, having chaired a crypto-Fascist, and hence antidemocratic, party, and having started her political life in the Italian Social Movement, which, as mentioned earlier, was partially established by some members of the Fascist Party, soon after the end of World War II.

In fact, this charge against her is completely false. The Italian Social Movement renounced its Fascist roots in early 1994, when its General Secretary, Giancarlo Fini deeply and fundamentally changed the Party, re-named it National Alliance, and led it to victory in the 1994 general elections, within the conservative and moderate coalition. That Party disappeared in 2009, when it merged into the People of the Liberties, a new, moderate, liberal-conservative, Right party.

Three years later, in 2012, Giorgia Meloni criticized the government headed by Mr. Monti and thus left the People of the Liberties, and joined two other politicians to establish a new conservative party, named Brothers of Italy (by the way, this name comes from the opening three words of the Italian national anthem). She has chaired this party since 2014.

As for Fascism and Brothers of Italy, an honest observer should also note that there was and is no room for extreme-right activism and neo-Fascists in it; and in fact, the former and the latter have grouped into two different parties, named Forza Nuova—New Force—and CasaPound – House of Pound, referring to the late American poet, Ezra Pound.

Mrs. Meloni was always very attentive to whatever might have linked Fascism to her Party. She has underlined Fascism to be “history,” in the sense of it being finished with long since, and thus without influence in current affairs. As early as 2008, her declarations were so clearly against the Fascist past, and in favour of the full respect of the Constitution, that the Union of Young Jews declared itself to be happy with them.

In conclusion, we can say that Mrs. Giorgia Meloni severed whatever link with Fascist history that some members of the party might still have had, and she is sincerely democratic and pro-NATO, and sincerely pro-family and all that that implies. She understood that her Party had to fill a niche within the Euro-conservative group, whose chair, as mentioned already, she got in 2020, immediately after Ryszard Legutko. This allowed her to gain international relevance, which no Right Italian politician has ever had before.

Giorgia Meloni is a self-made woman—she comes from a lower middle-class family that lived in a poor district, and with no family connections or support. She worked hard and forged her own political destiny, one step at a time. And now, she can readily show the world that the Italian Right can win elections and can rule in a wise and firm way, making Italy no longer a toy of some European and progressive interests, aimed at keeping the country as a mere tool on the international stage.

Giuseppe Bisso holds an MA in Political Science, and is an entrepreneur, and a former political activist. Until a few years ago, Mr. Bisso worked with Georgia Meloni in various endeavors.

Savonarola and His Cult

On 26 August 1583 a long and alarming-sounding letter was making its way through Florence, sent by the city’s leading prelate, Archbishop Alessandro de’ Medici, to its main political authority, the Grand-Duke of Tuscany Francesco I de’ Medici. With respect to the cult of Girolamo Savonarola, the Dominican friar who had been hanged and burned at the stake in Florence in 1498, the archbishop observed: “si fanno delle conventicole per le case” (“they hold conventicles in houses”). Alessandro de’ Medici was referring to the Florentine laypeople who were gathering in private homes to venerate Savonarola. His remark tells us that, nearly one century after Savonarola’s death, the cult of the friar was still alive and that it was being practised in private households and not in public.

This essay examines the domestic cult of Savonarola and aims at providing a concise answer to a set of crucial questions: did domestic devotion to Savonarola really exist and if so in what did it consist? Why was it domestic? How reliable are the hagiographic sources that document it? How did political and religious authorities react to it? How did Savonarola’s followers manage to preserve it? How does it fit into the larger picture of Counter-Reformation Italy? Answering these questions will also help us to understand why the domestic cult of Savonarola continued throughout the sixteenth century, unlike his public veneration.

To begin with, we need to grasp the nature of Savonarola’s domestic cult. In the same letter of 1583, with reference to both lay and religious people, the archbishop gave a detailed description of these conventicles:

They secretly celebrate his office as if he were a martyr, they keep his relics as if he were a saint, including the stake from which he was hanged, the iron shackles that supported him, his clothes, his hoods, his bones which were left over from the fire, his ashes, and his cilice. They keep the wine he had consecrated, they give it to the sick, they collect his miracles, they produce portraits of him in bronze, in gold, in cameos, and in print.

From Alessandro de’ Medici’s account, it was clear that the collections of miracles ascribed to the friar were an essential component of a religious practice that sought to preserve Savonarola’s memory as a saint and a martyr. The most important of these is a text known as the Trattato dei miracoli (Treatise of Miracles of Fra Girolamo Savonarola), a collection of miracles that were attributed to Savonarola’s intercession. The Trattato was not the work of a single author: it was compiled during the course of the sixteenth century by various anonymous writers who wished to contribute to the development of a collective memory of Savonarola as a saint who had miraculous powers. This was a process of memory construction whose obvious hagiographical aim was a part of a larger operation aimed at whitewashing Savonarola’s image and turning a figure deemed by religious authorities to be a heretic and schismatic into a saint.

Understandably, like many other works on Savonarola penned during the same period, the Trattato was never printed: it was part of a clandestine literary production that could be written, circulated and read only in manuscript. Printed books needed a formal permission from the Roman Catholic Church authorities and no imprimatur of orthodoxy could be granted to a text that rehabilitated a heretic.

Owing to the unusual way the Trattato was produced, every manuscript copy of the work is different from all the others. The richest one of all, the one with the greatest number of miracles, is the MS Italian 13 in the John Rylands Library in Manchester. This is a thick volume, written in vernacular Italian in the sixteenth century in a clear hand, though poorly preserved. It contains more than one hundred miracles, the most recent of which dates to 1578. In it, there are many accounts that cannot be found in any other version of the work. Many speak of a devotion to Savonarola that was practised in private households.

The stories and people vary, but they all have this in common: in each narrative a miracle occurs after Savonarola (or one of his fellow martyrs) has been invoked and worshipped by some man or woman in dire circumstances. Such is the story of the sculptor Bartolo da Montelupo, who had been poisoned in Bologna in the house of a Canon of the local Cathedral. He lay bedridden for six months growing thin and weak, at which point he prayed to the late Savonarola who appeared to him. The friar instructed Bartolo to get up and leave the house, which he did; and from that moment he found that he was perfectly cured.

Then there is the story of a semi-paralysed Florentine woman named Cassandra Acciaiuoli. After languishing in bed at home for a long time, one day she prayed to the “three friars”—Savonarola and the two fellow-friars who had been executed with him in 1498. No sooner had she concluded her prayer than she suddenly felt better, her legs came back to life, and she was able to stand up and walk again.

These are just two examples of a huge number of miracles performed with Savonarola’s intercession for the benefit of private citizens who had prayed and sought help from him in their own homes. Quite surprisingly, the household might conceal different kinds of objects that could be used, if needed, to obtain a miracle from Savonarola. The wife of Paolo degli Albizzi was healed by a piece of Savonarola’s cowl which she conveniently kept in a trunk, while another Florentine woman, very seriously ill, immediately recovered after taking in her hand a portrait of Savonarola she owned.

This may imply that the devotion to Savonarola did not only exist in time of need: relics and portraits were often kept in the houses of the Florentines and other people, just as today portraits or devotional objects of official saints may still be found in many Italian households. And the domestic devotion of another sick woman, Fiammetta Martelli, appears to have been even more structured, since her bedroom was organised as a sacred space. Afflicted by an incurable disease of the throat, in 1565 she promptly got better after reading a biography of Savonarola, placing a relic of the friar on her diseased body part, and praying to him at a small altar in her bedroom. In the case of Carlo Pitti—suffering from a painful illness in his leg in Florence in 1508—we also have the text of the Latin prayer he recited in his room while holding a fragment of Savonarola’s flesh, before recovering and being able to walk again.

In the Trattato, invoking Savonarola clearly ran counter to more traditional medical methods. In fact, a certain Iacopo Lancillotti positively refused to take his doctor’s prescription and preferred to pray to Savonarola, upon which he was immediately healed. And sometimes devotion did not end with the recovery, as in the case of the Ferrarese Pellegrino Depedai. In commemoration of his miraculous healing, every week, on the same day, Depedai lit a candle in front of a portrait of Savonarola he kept at home. It is also interesting that apparently the domestic cult to Savonarola was not confined to Italy: the Trattato dei miracoli also tells of a priest healed in his home in Spain while lying in bed, after he had called on Savonarola who promptly appeared to him.

Most of the accounts contained in the Trattato tell of people lying in bed with a serious, often terminal illness, invoking Savonarola’s help to recover. This image calls to mind countless Italian ex-voto tablets: votive panels that were common in Renaissance Italy and were produced to thank the religious figure responsible for a miracle and preserve and transmit the memory of the event. In these tablets the scene is often centred on the sickbed, which plays a very important role in the creation of a sacred space. Unfortunately, no votive panel is known for Savonarola’s miracles, which is not surprising considering that he was an illegal saint whose cult had been forbidden. Ex-votos were made to be displayed at shrines and were much less easy to produce, reproduce, hide, and circulate than a manuscript volume.

Apart from the traditional healing of ill people lying in bed, other kinds of miracles exist in the Trattato, including a debtor obtaining a deferral for his payment and even a rotten and fetid wine transformed into an exquisite drink that smelt of violets. Savonarola’s miracles thus seemed to extend far beyond the domain of healing, and to encompass a wide range of practical problems that the faithful needed to solve. The more inexplicable the outcome, the more it could be ascribed to supernatural intervention and the more Savonarola’s authority was enhanced. The picture drawn by the narratives in the Trattato is one of a widespread devotion that was not limited to Florence, Tuscany or Italy, practised by both lay people and clerics, men and women, nobles and people of humble rank.

The accounts contained in the Trattato dei miracoli and in sources like it, such as biographies and hagiographic narratives written by Savonarola’s many followers, raise a question of trustworthiness that cannot be ignored. They certainly tell us much about popular culture and popular narratives, but to what extent can they be regarded as historical sources? What needs to be determined here is the reliability of the first part of the story, not the second: not the account of the supernatural event but of the report that people would invoke Savonarola’s help when they were ill in bed or in some other trouble. In other words: did devotion to Savonarola really exist in sixteenth-century Italy or was it the creation of the hagiographers who were seeking to build up the myth of the late friar? I argue that the Trattato’s narratives stem from a true historical fact: devotion to Savonarola really existed, was well known inside and outside Florence, and was an integral feature of early modern Tuscan piety.

In addition to the Trattato, a hagiographical work that was clearly inspired by Savonarolan propaganda, the existence of a Savonarolan cult is attested by other types of sources, such as letters, ordinances, chronicles, writings, liturgical texts, and even relics. Obviously, it is more difficult to find direct testimonies of private and intimate devotions than of cults openly performed in public places in front of hundreds of people, such as celebrations in churches or processions. This could have led to an underestimation of a phenomenon that was not only confined to the home but was also practised clandestinely. That said, even public documents can provide some useful evidence. Many of them are indirect testimonies, produced by worried religious and civic authorities who wished to suppress the Savonarolan cult, such as Archbishop Alessandro de’ Medici’s letter cited at the beginning of this essay.

The very existence of these concerns is itself a demonstration that the cult existed and was largely practised, or nobody would have felt the need to intervene. The ordinances against the cult of Savonarola in convents and private homes commenced long before 1583. Indeed, as early as February 1499, less than a year after the friar’s execution in May 1498, Francesco Mei, Procurator of the Dominican order, issued an ordinance banning any conversation about Savonarola and his prophecies, the possession of the three friars’ relics (bones, hair, fragments of skin, pieces of wood taken from the scaffold) and those of anybody else who was not canonised by the Church. It also prohibited the exposition of Savonarola’s prophecy both in public and private (“in publico vel private”).

A later offensive, which did not concern only the Dominican order, was launched in 1515. In that year, Giulio de’ Medici, vicar of the Florentine archbishop and future pope Clement VII, issued a new ordinance against Savonarolan devotion: anyone who harboured in his house ashes, bones, teeth, portraits, imprints, other relics or writings of the friar must turn them in to the vicar of the archbishop or face punishment. In 1545 the duke of Florence, Cosimo I de’ Medici, himself took action and even accused the friars of San Marco of idolatrous veneration of Savonarola, and promoting his worship as a saint.

Contrary to what one might think, after forty years, the problem had not gone away. Apparently, friars and lay citizens still had the unseemly habit of evoking Savonarola’s miracles, and their cells and households were still cluttered with objects associated with him. In 1585, not long after Alessandro de’ Medici’s concerned letter to the Grand-Duke, the head of the Dominican order acted again, as his predecessor had done in 1499. The fact that the new ordinance’s content is almost the word for word copy of the old one is the best demonstration that the devotion still existed. In much the same way as Francesco Mei had done, Sisto Fabbri, Master General of the order, commanded as follows:

Nobody must dare to name the name of Girolamo Savonarola when dealing with friars, nuns or lay people, to discuss his life or his miracles, or him and his companions in any way, or keep his portraits, pictures or any kind of object…. We order… that all such objects are to be handed over within one day (Ordinance of Sisto Fabbri, 5 April 1585).

That the above-mentioned objects were being used for the purposes of an illicit devotion and not for the harmless preservation of the friar’s memory clearly emerges in another passage of the same ordinance which refers to an earlier unheeded decree prescribing that only people officially canonised by the Church could be venerated, and not those who had been condemned. Formal ordinances issued by the authorities are not the only testimonies of the domestic cult of Savonarola. Sometimes convent chronicles mention friars and nuns praying to Savonarola in their own cells. The works written for and against the friar during the sixteenth century also tell us that private homes in and outside Florence were occasionally transformed into sacred spaces to worship Savonarola. Both defenders and opponents agreed that a cult of Savonarola existed. The former saw it as evidence of the spiritual fascination a true prophet exerted over a number of faithful, the latter as proof of the deception he had intentionally perpetrated on his naïve followers.

The most interesting testimony is undoubtedly that of the Dominican bishop Ambrogio Catarino Politi, a controversialist who turned against Savonarola after being one of his staunchest supporters. As such, he was in a privileged position to know even the most secret practices of the friar’s followers. In his Discorso contra fra Girolamo Savonarola (1548), printed exactly fifty years after Savonarola’s execution, he painted a vivid picture of the way Savonarola’s followers still venerated the late friar:

They should not superstitiously worship him, as I know for sure many of them are wont to do and persist in doing. And they keep his painted or sculpted image with letters that read ‘Prophet and Martyr’. There are even others who keep his ashes or some other things of his and venerate them as holy relics (Politi Ambrogio Catarino, Discorso contra la dottrina et le profetie di fra Girolamo Savonarola [Venice, Gabriele Giolito: 1548], fol. 18r).

As if this were not enough, Catarino also went to the trouble of offering advice to the authorities in order to show them the way to eradicate the cult of Savonarola: “‘strictly to order that nobody should dare to venerate him [Savonarola] in any way, and to forbid all the conventicles which I heard are held, where sacrifices and group prayers to Fra Girolamo are made.”

Another important source are the Divine Offices composed in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries for the purpose of praying to Savonarola. At least one of these was certainly composed during the papacy of Clement VIII Aldobrandini (1592–1605), when Savonarola’s followers thought that the time had finally come for him to be canonised. These texts were meant to be recited on the anniversary of Savonarola’s death (23 May) and inserted into the Roman Breviary. The offices are divided into parts to be prayed at different times of the day, and their structure – including psalms and hymns, antiphons and responsories – follows the traditional Catholic Liturgy of the Hours. The texts contain invocations to “Beatus Hieronymus” (“Blessed Girolamo”) and “Sanctus Martyr Hieronymus” (“Saint Martyr Girolamo”) and a long part is devoted to the description of Savonarola’s life from his childhood to his death. We do not know exactly when, where and by whom they were recited orally, but we may suppose that this is the sort of “office” to which Archbishop Alessandro de’ Medici was referring in his letter (“they secretly celebrate an office in his honour as if he were a martyr”). The picture is completed by material sources: alleged relics of Savonarola are currently housed in the Convent of San Marco in Florence, the very place where Savonarola spent all his years in the city: a cowl, a rosary, a wooden fragment of the scaffold, two cilices and a piece of cloth.

Obviously, there is no way of assessing whether these objects were actually linked with the friar himself. Most were donated to the convent in 1686, almost two centuries after his demise. However, their importance clearly goes well beyond whether they can be reliably attributed. Regardless of the links tracing them back to Savonarola, we know that relics like these existed and were an integral feature of the domestic devotion to Savonarola in households and convent cells.

Having ascertained that domestic devotion to Savonarola existed, the next question that arises is why this devotion was domestic. The most obvious answer is that, being prohibited, the Savonarolan cult could not be practised in public places. With the exception of the years 1527–1530, when a popular, anti-Medici republic was reintroduced in Florence and public celebrations in honour of Savonarola flourished, the cult of the friar was unwelcome not only to the Florentine government but also to religious authorities in and outside the Dominican order. Another possible answer focuses on a more intimate and private side of devotion to Savonarola.

We know that in the Savonarolan years the friar promoted theatrical and collective celebrations, not only public processions but spectacles performed in public squares before huge crowds, such as the bonfire of the vanities or the trial by fire. Nevertheless, alongside this sensational and public devotion a different kind of piety developed, one that was characterised by solitude and meditation. After all, Savonarola himself emphasised the primacy of mental over vocal prayer. Most importantly, Savonarola explicitly encouraged the practice of domestic devotion among late fifteenth-century Florentines. In one of his sermons, delivered in the Florentine cathedral in Lent 1496, the friar set out the programme of a liturgy to be recited in every home each evening and morning by all the members of the family, regardless of gender, age, or social status:

You, fathers, must order that at twenty-four hours on Saturday evening everybody should be at home with your family, and then all of you, men, women, children and servants shall go to a place in your house and here on your knees you shall recite the seven psalms and the litanies…. And then in the morning…. it will be good that you gather again in the same place, the master and the lady with the children around and the servants, and recite matins for the Virgin [Savonarola G., Prediche sopra Amos e Zaccaria, 3 vols., ed. P. Ghiglieri (Rome: 1971–72) vol. 3, 234–235].

His words did not go unheeded if we are to believe one of his hagiographers who (with clear exaggeration), observed that the kind of life Florentines led in the privacy of their homes was no different from that of churchmen: “In their houses [lay people] used to live like friars and clerics, and many noble people, waking up in the morning in their houses, and during the day, used to celebrate the divine office” (La vita del beato Ieronimo, 88).

In addition, Razzi wrote in another work: “We keep this veneration… with us, privately, and with God… in the hope that one day, at the order of the Holy Roman Catholic Church… he [Savonarola] will be canonised.” In short, Razzi claimed the right to a domestic devotion to Savonarola in spite of the friar’s condemnation, as if private devotion should not only be accepted de facto but recognised de jure. As if everybody, inside his own household, should be free to pray to and worship whomever he wanted, including a man condemned as a heretic. If this sounds odd, and in open contradiction with the Counter Reformation’s control over the private sphere, it is worth mentioning the decree that the Congregation of the Holy Office issued only three years later, in September 1601. The decree prohibited only public unauthorised prayers, and this meant that the Church surrendered control over private devotion. A confirmation of this compromise which was implied in the 1601 decree arrived, shortly after, from Giovanni Paolo Mucanzio, secretary of the Sacred Congregation of the Rites, the Catholic Church’s body responsible for the liturgical cult and canonisations. When asked about the legitimacy of the cult of a non-canonised person, he answered: “public cult and veneration… cannot be given to anybody without licence or authorisation of the Apostolic See… but private devotion and veneration cannot be denied to anybody.”

The same answer was also given by one of the most powerful and authoritative theologians of Counter-Reformation Italy, Cardinal Roberto Bellarmino: “whether it is permitted to venerate a noncanonised person, I answer that the private cult is permitted, but not the public one… It is permitted to invoke a non-canonised person… but not in public litanies.”

A manual for inquisitors composed a few years later refers to the 1601 decree and confirms that toleration towards the private sphere had been assimilated in everyday practice. In his Sacrum tribunal printed in Rome in 1648, the inquisitor and theologian Francesco Bordoni explained that the faithful were allowed privately to venerate people who had not been officially canonised by the Church: “They may invoke and worship [them] in their needs in private and secretly, because the decree forbids only public cults.”

The insistence on the word “private” in all the passages above, and my implicitly equating it with the term ‘domestic’ calls for a semantic clarification. One may think that the private cult refers to the interior dimension of prayer instead of the actual physical space where prayer was conducted, just like Savonarola’s distinction between mental and vocal orations. This is not what was meant, as was made quite clear by the theologian Felice Contelori in one of the major treatises of the time on canonisation, the Tractatus et praxis de canonizatione sanctorum, published in 1634. According to Contelori, place is the first criterion to distinguish a public from a private cult: a public cult is one held in a public place. A few decades later another work was even more explicit: in private homes people were allowed to venerate the portrait of a noncanonised person, “quia est cultus privatus” (“because this is a private cult”).

There can be no doubt that the “private” devotion referred to by Mucanzio, Bellarmino and Bordoni was the same thing as the “domestic” devotion practised in a household, a convent cell, or another private place. And, most importantly, this was the private devotion that Razzi claimed for his Savonarolan spirituality, and that in the same years the Congregation of the Holy Office renounced control over. This surrender of control over private devotion certainly comes as a surprise, in view of the fact this was an age when the Inquisition strove to intervene in a number of non-religious aspects of domestic everyday life, such as superstition, fasting, swearing and concubinage. But prayer was something different, and this compromise ultimately allowed a dual practice to emerge, creating the conditions in which certain devotions were prohibited in public but permitted in private spaces. Clearly this is a far cry from the ordinance issued by the Procurator of the Dominican order at the end of the fifteenth century, which sought simply to repress devotion to Savonarola “in publico vel private.”

The cult of Savonarola was certainly part of the processes known as the “domestication of the holy” and the “spiritualization of the household” which have ignited recent scholarly discussions, and not only with reference to Italy. After the Counter-Reformation, these processes involved the transfer of holy objects from sacred places into the household and, as a consequence, the sanctification of domestic space. The transfer of cults into private space clearly might allow the faithful to elude the control of Church authorities that oversaw the forms and contents of religious practice. It is not surprising that some centuries earlier the Carolingian Church conducted the process in reverse and transferred relics and the cults surrounding them from households to monasteries in order to bring them under institutional control.

In the sixteenth century the household could be a place of dissent, opposition and resistance to the official religion imposed by the state. With specific reference to early modern Italy, John Bossy observed that “the Counter-Reformation hierarchy seems to have taken it for granted that household religion was a seed-bed of subversion.” Duke Cosimo I and Archbishop Alessandro de’ Medici must have thought the same about the domestic devotion to Savonarola in Florentine houses and convents, but events would soon demonstrate that the friar’s legacy was no longer dangerous, neither politically nor religiously. As both the Republican and the Protestant threats had been defused, those few who wished to pray before an image of Savonarola could continue to do so, as long as they kept away from prying eyes.

Stefano Dall’Aglio is a political an religious historian at Ca’ Foscari University of Venice. He is the author of Savonarola and Savonarolism, The Duke’s Assassin: Exile and Death of Lorenzino de’ Medici (winner of the Helen and Howard R. Marraro Prize), and Voices and Texts in Early Modern Italian Society. A version of this article appeared as a chapter in Domestic Devotions in Early Modern Italy.

Featured: A polychrome terracotta bust of Savonarola, attributed to Marco della Robbia, later Fra Mattia (1468-1534), and dating from the late 15th and early 16th centuries. (On loan to the Museum of St. Mark by Alessandro Kiniger, the current owner. From the collection of Giovanni Malfer).

Ernesto De Martino: Crisis of Civilization

Ernesto de Martino (1908-1965) was an Italian historian of religions whose work is still not well-known in the English-speaking world, but his study of magic and its use in modernity is essential.

Student Years under Fascism

It is no coincidence that Ernesto de Martino published his first scholarly article as a twenty-one-year-old student at the University of Naples on Oswald Spengler’s (1880–1936) The Decline of the West (1918), one of the most important books published during WWI.1 Although scholarship has lamented that “The Decline of the West” (La decadenza dell’Occidente) consists of only “two immature pages,” and has hastily denied it the status of “insight, or, even less, formulation of specific hypotheses or theories,” it is of immense value to the historian of ideas. In fact, it is the starting point of what would become the marking trait of de Martino’s thinking for the rest of his life, namely a profound fascination with the crisis of his own civilization.

Besides the fact that Ernesto de Martino was born in Naples on December 1st 1908, we do not know much about his childhood and upbringing. Ernesto’s father, who gave his own name to his only son, was an engineer for the Italian State Railway, and his mother Gina Jaquinangelo was a teacher. About Ernesto Sr. it is said that he was secularized and patriotic. Introducing his mother, scholars emphasize that she was secular yet open to mediumistic and spiritualistic experiences. De Martino’s family was required to move frequently due to the profession of the pater familias. As a consequence, the young Ernesto moved in between Florence, Naples, and Turin. After finishing the liceo, where he studied Latin and German, he enrolled at the Polytechnic University (Politecnico) to study Engineering in 1927. Having done so in order to please his father, he became quickly dissatisfied with this inherited course of studies. A year later, de Martino left the Piemontese capital to return with his family to Naples where he commenced his studies in philosophy and religion.

The ideas lived out by his parents—between religion and the nation— thematically inform his early intellectual activities, which also move between these two concepts. In fact, de Martino’s early explorations of religion were closely related to his political engagement with fascism. Not unlike their generous treatment of other eminent Italian historians of religion—such as Raffaele Pettazzoni (1883–1959) and Giuseppe Tucci (1894–1984)—scholars have been slow to grasp the weight of de Martino’s youthful endeavors. In the case of de Martino, commentators have generally reduced his involvement with fascism to a mere outgrowth of the indoctrination in the Italy between the world wars.

There is, of course, some evidence for such a reading. After the March on Rome in late October 1922 and Benito Mussolini’s rise to power, the Duce quickly made the myth of Italy as new nation and as herald of cultural rebirth into his regime’s “political program.” To use a term coined by French sociologist Jean-Paul Willaime, Mussolini’s fascism became an “état éducateur.” In practice, this was nowhere more apparent than in his endeavors to portray fascism as a movement of youth and in his efforts to establish a program of political catechism. This led to “a gigantic operation of ‘public relations’ and ‘social pedagogy’,” which was first introduced in schools and universities, and then in other realms of culture, until it pervaded most sectors of Italian society.

De Martino entered the University of Naples in 1928 and immediately joined in the Neapolitan section of the GUF, the Fascist University Groups (Gruppi Universitari Fascisti), which served as the central vehicle for political persuasion in university education. Two years later he registered with the National Fascist Party (Partito Nazionale Fascista, PNF) and, in 1932, he joined the Blackshirts (Milizia Volontaria per la Sicurezza Nazionale). In her influential book, entitled Ernesto De Martino: Les vies antérieures d’un anthropologue (2009), the French anthropologist Giordana Charuty has convincingly shown that the newly established GUF were aimed at making university students into “apostles of the revolution [who] operate the pen just as well as the sword.” The fascist groups offered the students many benefits, such as a center to study, a library, and medical services. Charuty notes that all of these were “measures of ‘assistance’ through which the regime favors the learning process of variant competences necessary for the progression within the new social hierarchies, while simultaneously endeavoring to exercise ideological control on the teachers as well as on the students.” This being said, it is imperative to acknowledge that de Martino’s fascism was much more than merely convenient opportunism. In fact, I will demonstrate that he regarded fascism as a result of and response to a profound crisis affecting the modern Western world.

As for his early intellectual formation, de Martino was shaped by a trident of teachers: Adolfo Omodeo (1889–1946), Raffaele Pettazzoni (1883–1959), and Vittorio Macchioro (1880–1958). In 1932, he defended his dissertation on Greek ritual practices under the supervision of his most official teacher, Italy’s foremost historian of Christianity, Adolfo Omodeo. Two years later, as he proceeded to publish his research in Italy’s preeminent journal for scholars of religion, Studies and Materials in the History of Religions (Studi e materiali di storia delle religioni), he did so upon the invitation of the journal’s founder, the towering figure of religious studies in Italy, Raffaele Pettazzoni.

This being said, the theme of his earliest piece of academic scholarship, the “gephyrisms,” ritual jeers performed on the bridge of Cephisus in Athens during the procession of the Eleusian mysteries, point to the third and most esoteric of de Martino’s teachers. Vittorio Macchioro, indeed, wrote a highly influential book on Greek mystery religion by the name of Zagreus (1920/30), which offered an analysis of the paintings in the Villa of the Mysteries (Villa dei Misteri) in the Ancient Roman city of Pompeii after their discovery in 1909.

The villa in the South of the peninsula is famous for a series of spectacular and well-preserved frescos. Pursuing a career as curator in archeological museums, Macchioro had privileged access to these frescos, which are generally believed to depict the initiation of a young woman into the Greco-Roman mystery cult. Largely due to the neglect by the official Italian academic world—unlike the two renowned professors at the universities of Rome and Naples, de Martino’s third guide would never fulfil his dream of gaining access to a university position—Macchioro’s massive impact on his student’s thought has remained obscured for a long time. Considering that the creative interpreter of Greek religion was lecturing at some of the world’s most prestigious institutions and cultivated contacts with such luminaries as Mircea Eliade and Aby Warburg, it is indisputable that he is one of the most underestimated Italian intellectuals of the twentieth century.

De Martino and Macchioro maintained a fertile correspondence that started in the summer of 1930 when de Martino was stationed as a military cadet in Northern Italy. It would last for nearly a decade and provide us with precious insights into a profound and complex relationship. After the initial letters in 1930, the correspondence was interrupted for almost five years during which Macchioro traveled to lecture throughout the world—particularly in Europe, the United States, and India. During this time, the teacher’s career was “in full bloom,” while de Martino, finishing his dissertation in 1932 and making his first forays into religious studies journals in 1933 and 1934, matured from student to scholar. When their correspondence resumed, Macchioro still resided in India and prepared for his return to Trieste. De Martino, on the other hand, lived in the Southern Italian city of Bari where he taught history and philosophy at the Liceo Scientifico A. Scacchi. Around the same time, de Martino married his guru’s favorite daughter Anna (1911–72), who after finishing her studies in art history became a teacher at the technical institute of Molfetta, in December 1935. Just as Mussolini and the women of his nation—giving up their gold wedding rings in exchange for rings of steel during the “Day of Faith”—entered into a “state of mystic communion,” the wedding between Ernesto and Anna played a unifying role in the relationship between him and his new father-in-law. Vittorio, isolated from his own family, was relying on his new son-in-law for some of his emotional connection with his daughter and wife, who lived with him in an apartment on Corso Vittorio Emanuele in Bari. With the birth of Ernesto’s first daughter Lia in 1936, the bond between the two men deepened further. At this time, de Martino started to address his mentor no longer as “illustrious professor,” but rather as “dear professor,” “dear friend,” and, finally, “dear Papa.” The same is true for Macchioro who extended his paternity from his daughter to his son-in-law, signing every letter as “your father.”

What strikes the reader of their correspondence is not its content, but rather the apocalyptic atmosphere, the prophetic hope, and the overall dramatic tone expressed therein. Macchioro’s existence was marked by moments of intense crisis, religious experiences of rebirth, and radical metamorphosis. First and foremost amongst them was a “disheartening and aporetic” moment as a volunteer during WWI. According to Triestine scholar’s own account, it was during the night of Maundy Thursday (Giovedì santo) in 1916 when he was saved by divine hand and encouraged to dedicate the rest of his life to religion. What followed were multiple spiritual conversions, leading him first from Judaism to Catholicism, then to Protestantism, and finally back to Catholicism. In this vein, Macchioro liked to assume the mantle of the spiritual guide or the prophet towards the young Ernesto. In a letter he sent from Calcutta on September 3 1935, we read:

These are great days, my son. Apocalyptic days: God is revealing himself. If we could chat, I would tell you other things that provide you with a more complete picture of the apocalypse. I feel it like an enormous power: It started with my sickness that destroyed and reconstructed me, and now it continues with the testament and with the marriage. No one can tell what the apocalypse is yet to bring and how the revelation will continue, but I believe that one thing is certain: God is with us.

It is apparent that Macchioro felt a deep spiritual connection to his son-in-law, projecting the atmosphere of apocalypse and rebirth into their relationship. He described their bond, in a letter sent to de Martino in 1939, as a “spiritual symbiosis” and a “progressive fusion of two destinies and two souls.” There is little doubt that de Martino felt quite likewise for most of the 1930s. In his first letter, he told his prophetic guide about being “saved by a personal religious experience” in his quest to study Italian myths through the lens of Rudolf Otto’s numinous. A few years later, he mentioned a first adolescent “religious crisis” during his years in Florence, before he wrote the following lines in January 1939:

From now on, I should look at you with other eyes, and this means not the way one looks at the scientist or the artist, but the prophet. You might be suspicious of my enthusiasm. Nonetheless, I am certain, very certain, that the things are this way. My studies, of which you are the guardian angel, confirm it for me every day. Your existence does not solely concern the realm of my ideas, in which case it would not be that big of a deal. It concerns all of my spiritual life, my feelings, my character. I now look at things differently; I judge and feel differently.

Ruptured Modernity in Need of Orientation

While the letter exchange does not leave any trace of Macchioro ever offering his new son the “complete picture of the apocalypse,” de Martino himself would go on to dedicate much of his academic research to the revealing of such a vision. Throughout his career, he identified the radical rupture brought about by modernity as the most fundamental factor contributing to the cri-sis of his civilization. The idea that modernity represents a moment of crisis would remain remarkably stable throughout de Martino’s life. Consider, for instance, the following reflections stemming from the end of his life, where he makes a distinction between “traditional civilizations,” which “base them-selves on the intellectual intuition of a transcendent and sacred eternal truth,” on the one hand, and the modern Western world, on the other. Describing it is as “the only existing anti-traditional culture,” a “monstrosity,” and “a barbarity,” de Martino elaborates his time’s key attributes:

With the modern age… the patrimony of the eternal, metaphysical, and sacred truths has entered into crisis. Disorder, individual opinions, loss of unity, dispersion in groundless multiplicity… agitation, lack of superior principles… Democracy is the separation of the temporal from the spiritual, the social order from the sacred… the formation of modern nations, another element of dispersion and of disorder, of division and contradiction in the modern civilization.

Elsewhere, de Martino found the first signs of modernity’s crisis in the Renaissance period, which he similarly described as “the source of this loss of unity.” More importantly, he argued that the true issue might not simply lie in a loss of unity, but rather in its inability to reestablish cultural coherence: “The Renaissance was the time when the nascent modern civilization very quickly manifested an insufficient power of expansion and incorporation of the relics of the past, a defect that later on remained, at least to some extent, its constant characteristic.”

If we look a bit deeper, it becomes apparent that this loss of unity was due to two major transformations that dominated our culture during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries: The secularization of politics and the scientification of reason. On the one hand, it was a time during which the old Christian world-view was gradually abandoned and a new secular vision started to dominate the Western world. Liberalism, as a set of political ideas, arose out of the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century wars of religion and culminated “in the Treaty of Westphalia,” which drastically recalibrated the balance between poli-tics and religion in Europe. In the political realm, modernization meant that religion would be “replaced by an autonomous politics,” which was “based on purely secular foundations,” conceived in exclusively “human terms, without appeal to divine revelation or cosmological speculation.” As de Martino put it in some hand-written notes in the early 1930s: “Westphalia: When the interest in that which you believe in diminishes, one declares ‘religious tolerance.’ The peace of Westphalia only represents a decline in Christian faith, both catholic and reformed.”

Mattias Koenig, more comprehensively, summarizes the most important modernization theories as being marked by their common emphasis on the “rationalization of previously religious world-views,” “a differentiation of religion and non-religious institutions,” “a pluralization and privatization of religious beliefs,” “a general decline of religion,” and then rightly elaborates on “the core of the classical paradigm of secularization, namely the thesis of a differentiation between politics and religion.” In Germany, this process was accelerated after the establishment of the German Reich in 1871, which brought a further distancing from the traditional Christian worldview by means of an unprecedented urbanization and industrialization. On the other hand, these political, industrial, and economic revolutions had significant scientific consequences as they allowed for the enlightenment of culture. Of particular importance was the unprecedented collection of data. Not only did Western people learn more about their bodies and the material world surrounding them, but they also accrued a massive amount of information about other cultures and other times through historical and philological research.

These transformations in the political realm—where the sacred world of Christianity gave way to a new political vision premised on the autonomy of man—and in the scientific realm—which was marked by an unprecedented accrual of new data about the world in its full cultural and temporal reach— had important consequences for the self-depiction of Western modern humanity. Indeed, although Western culture was empowered by its new socio-political and scientific accomplishments, the rupture of the old worldview and confrontation with many others, caused an unprecedented “need for orientation (Orientierungsbedarf).”

Modernity’s preferred tool to reestablish order in its socio-political, scientific, and, ultimately, cultural self-understanding was temporal in nature. For much of modernity, at least since the Enlightenment, the single most valuable tool for making sense in this new world was “progress.” Reinhard Koselleck—a wonderfully insightful expositor of modernity—has laid bare that modern man’s relationship to time changed dramatically between 1750 and 1850, what he calls the Sattelzeit or Neuzeit. It was during this period that the Western world experienced the “temporalization of history” (“Verzeitlichung der Geschichte”). This meant that the term “history” was for the first time thought of as a “linear and irreversible ‘arrow of time’,” as a totalizing force capable of encompassing all the particular histories, events, and processes.

As experts have demonstrated, in light of the overwhelming rise of alterity through new discoveries, the discipline of religious studies appropriated this new “time regime” because it offered its scholars a “comprehensive paradigm for ordering the new data.” With Hanegraaff, we could say that “the concept of ‘religion’ emerged, during the early modern period, in response to a crisis of comparison caused by the increasingly overwhelming evidence for global diversity in human belief and modes of worship.” Without much hesitation, students of religion used it to reestablish order in a godless world by locating any new culture, language, or religion that they encountered along a temporal axis that was driven by progress and moved inexorably from primitive cultures to the Western world’s superior sophistication. This became particularly evident in anthropology, where Auguste Comte’s (1798–1857) positivist model of cultural development and Charles Darwin’s (1809–1882) biological theory of the evolution of species found their places within the humanistic framework of “evolutionism” developed by Herbert Spencer (1820–1903).

The creation of the concept “religion” coincided with the coining of others, such as “savage,” “barbaric,” and “civilized.” Serving the purpose of giving meaning to a disoriented civilization, these concepts turned the “heavy, tumultuous thickness of history, into an airy, die-straight thread.” The evolutionary current of religious studies was offering orientation in response to the overwhelming number of new discoveries in space by lining them on a temporal string. As one scholar noted many years ago: While the sighting of alternate histories “encouraged men to see parallels between primitive and civilized practices,” the theory of progress and evolution “drew the sting and the stimulus from the comparison by regarding the former as relics, aliens from another era.” Since then, especially in the wake of post-colonialism, an impressive cohort of scholars from diverse disciplines, primarily history, religious studies, and anthropology, has continued to argue that modern thinkers organized special realms (cultures, natures, and people) along a temporal axis that was based on evolution. As Eric Sharpe noted for the term “religion:” “Religion became something which it had never really been before. From being a body of revealed truth, it became a developing organism.” Thanks to these types of studies, I can move on without digging deeper into the petrified soil of our past to unearth the skeletons buried by scholars of religion.

In the modern time regime, the political and the scientific transformations were ultimately mapped onto the model of progress. If progress provided the axis, “religion” and “liberalism,” as well as “irrationalism” and “reason” were used to indicate specific positions along the axis. Indeed, religion and irrationalism were henceforth seen as a “tradition,” an inferior form of culture, relegated to some early strata of civilizational development, considered as conservative, and usually studied in cultures far removed from our own secularized world. Liberalism and science, by contrast, were considered to be “modernity,” that is, progressive and future-oriented categories used to describe our own culture and its advanced principles.

The Crisis of the First World War and the Rise of Oswald Spengler’s Cultural Pessimism

Everything would change with the devastating events of WWI. With the “sacred canopy” of religious order lifted, the “traditional structures and lifeways” torn into pieces, the pre-modern embeddedness within fixed conceptions of time and space “emptied out,” and with “progress” no longer a viable option in light of the destructive historical circumstances, a new sense-making crisis ensued. De Martino, like many of his contemporaries, started to doubt the validity of the premises of liberalism. In unpublished archival notes, written during the early 1930s, he commented that “the liberal individual is still a slave because of the existence of nature, an evil that dodges the jurisdiction of its will, an evil that it needs to endure.” Consequently, so de Martino concluded, “the liberty of the individual of liberalism [is] a useless declamation.” As political thinkers started to doubt the validity of liberalism, scholars of religion too abruptly abandoned their faith in reason and in evolutionary theories while getting pulled into the whirlwind of crisis. Talk about crisis and decline was one of the most popular responses to the collapse of the progress-liberalism-science nexus. In his analysis of the discourse of the crisis of modernity during the Weimar years, Michael Makropoulos has not only identified “crisis” and “contingency” as the two key terms for this period, but also emphasized the tremendous impact of WWI on the consciousness of modernity. “The 1920s,” so he remarks, “were not in this perspective the crisis of modernity, modernity was itself the completion of the historical crisis of the modern age.” Put differently, only with the cataclysmic failure of the myth of progress following the First World War does the crisis becomes so acute that even the past centuries are read under the category of “crisis.” As a student at the University of Naples, when the young Ernesto published his first article, he did so by standing on the shoulder of one of the twentieth-century’s greatest crisis-thinkers, Oswald Spengler (1880–1936). Spengler’s eponymous The Decline of the West (1918) had a “seismological” impact when it was first published in 1918; hitting the “nerve of time,” it became an immediate bestseller in the post-WWI climate of Germany. Even Ernst Cassirer, a neo-Kantian philosopher of a radically different orientation, was impressed by the book’s fortune noting that “the cause of Spengler‘s success is to be sought rather in the title of his book than in its contents,” as it “was an electric spark that set the imagination of Spengler‘s readers aflame.” Based on its pseudoscientific morphology of world history according to which each culture functions like a biological organism, moving through a series of stages that invariably culminate in a final period of destruction, it perfectly reflected the pessimistic worldview that dominated those years. Although there existed individual voices of pessimism before the outbreak of the war—I am thinking here particularly of Jacob Burckhardt (1818–1897) and Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900)—and Spengler started his epoch-marking work before its outbreak, it was Germany’s disastrous defeat in 1918 that “tilted [its] delicate balance,” throwing the country in an unprecedented crisis. Even more, the war has been described as “the great seminal catastrophe of this century,” as a caesura that “initiated the European self-destruction and the end of European supremacy in the world,” and as the beginning of a thirty-year long “European civil war.” It is therefore not surprising that Spengler’s Untergang and its “epic metanarrative of how the sun of an entire civilization was setting, [turned] into an international bestseller.”

While this cultural pessimism might have been particularly prominent in Germany—perhaps, as Ian Kershaw speculates as a consequence of the “wide-spread feeling of national degradation” resulting from the Treaty of Versailles (1919), the blame for the war, and the significant debt payments—the sense of crisis was a pan-European phenomenon. Consequently, Spengler was only the most prominent of a series of prophets of crisis proclaiming the West’s downfall in increasingly apocalyptic tones. Italy was pulled into the war in the summer of 1915, a year after the assassination of the heir to the Austrian throne. Unsurprisingly, the nation, which already before the war was one of the “weakest of those states that had developed a minimal level of modern industrialization,” was “plunged into an even deeper structural crisis after the cessation of hostilities,” which claimed the lives of six hundred thousand of its young men. Besides Spengler, who was well received in Italy, the peninsula had its own share of cultural pessimists.

In some ways, both the prophetic figure of Macchioro and the young Ernesto were part of this group of people. This is not only apparent if we look at their correspondence, but also if we examine de Martino’s writings during those years. Between 1932 and 1934, a few years after his inaugural writing on his century’s most famous pessimist, the newly-minted PhD published three articles in which he furthered his inquiries into the crisis of his civilization—“Letter to the Universale” (1932), “Current Observations” (1934), and “Critique and Faith” (1934). Here too, de Martino’s message remained the same: He spoke of the “days of crisis,” of the “explo[sion] of the crisis of the System,” of the “disorientation of the consciousness facing its fate to change its own Weltanschauungtoto caelo,’” and of “a crisis… that befalls the West to this day.”

De Martino was aware of the fact that the change on the temporal axis—the replacement of “progress” with “decline”—had to be accompanied by a critique of the ontological and the epistemological convictions of modernity. In describing the latter, he struck up one of the most reverberant tunes of the pessimist’s swan song by blaming the “excessive development of our critical faculty [which is] locking itself into the lucid concept of the philosopher” for the crisis of modernity. Experts have noted that de Martino’s “critical faculty” can be identified with “critical reason,” the “calculating and utilitarian ratio of Enlightenment origin.” Regarding the ontological crisis, de Martino appreciated that the conceptualization of religion is the result of a backward-looking attitude that was “armed with historicism” and characterized by an exclusive “enthusiasm [for] historical considerations: One could even say that for [the historian] only the past holds dignity and grandiosity.” He also defined the darkness surrounding him as a “crisis of ideals and faith” and, citing a paragraph of Ernest Renan’s The Future of Science (1891) that he “holds particularly dear,” he blamed “the critical spirit” for “prohibiting chimeras by poisoning them.” De Martino juxtaposed the modern conception of religion as historical fact to that of pre-modern times, when religion was conceived as myth, which is always marked by “propulsive,” “enthusiastic,” and based on a sense of “duty-to-be.”

Flavio Geisshuesler, at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, is a historian of religions with an expertise in the contemplative systems of Indo-Tibetan Buddhism. [This article is an excerpt from his recent book, The Life and Work of Ernesto De Martino.]

The Italian Street

Several years past I was granted a summer sabbatical in beautiful, sunny Provence. My base was a traditionalist Benedictine monastery where I was privileged to engage in a deep study of the ancient Roman liturgy.
My stay was accentuated by a somewhat fitting element of penance as well, for I happened to be there during a Mediterranean heat wave dubbed “Lucifer.” The unrelenting sun and soaring temperatures resulted in actual forest fires breaking out in the countryside very near to where I would take my daily strolls. My assigned monastic cell had no American-style air conditioning and it was necessary to close the heavy wooden shutters all day in a desperate attempt to stop the withering radiation from heating up the room to cooking temperature. It helped somewhat, I suppose, but the long-term effect was that I ended up baked like a clerical baguette in a monastic oven.

The Benedictines deserve great respect for their penitential lives dedicated to night and day Divine Worship under such hard-living conditions. That said, in short time I was on the road, zipping past Nice and heading Eastward. I broke for a brief visit to the magnificent Principality of Monaco. Pushing on, I was soon safely immersed in the cool sea breezes, culture, cuisine and Catholicism of Italy.

The “Italian Street,” if one might so call it, is a complex, somewhat tricky reality. This is uniquely the case for an American priest resolved to go about the entire time donning a cassock in public.

Many Italians, like the French, have been diminished by secularism. Yet there does seem to endure a particular warmth (or should I say, heat) for the Church. In bella Italia there is still a great deal of openness and friendly love for priests that brings out smiles. Still others appear indifferent but convey a not so subtle message: “Padre, you might think I’m ignoring you, but I am watching you out of the corner of my eye, so you’d better be on your toes! And if you pass the test I’ll buy you a limoncello, d’accordo?

Different than in reserved and sophisticated France, there is a Catholic exuberance in Italy that amicably endures. The towns are absolutely full of churches, sometimes one next to the other. There are charming little shrines to Our Lady on corners, on walls, on pillars, everywhere. And all have fresh flowers before them or perhaps a burning candle in testimony to some anonymous person’s Faith. There are always people at Mass, despite the statistics, and on my particular Sunday in the North that week the seaside church was happily packed.

It is tempting to conclude that an atheist in Italy is really just smarting in the face of the hardships of life. That is a danger for all of us of course. A deceased and famous Italian journalist claimed in life to be a “Catholic atheist.” Towards the end of her earthly tenure she was granted an hours long interview with Pope Benedict XVI. Emerging, she proclaimed him to be the greatest man in Europe. She died, if my sources are correct, with the Last Rites and bequeathed her library to the Gregorian University in Rome. As the saying goes, an Italian atheist maintains that there is no God, and the Madonna is His Mother!

Besides food, art, music, architecture and religion, the wonderful Italians have also perfected cynicism. It is almost an attitudinal art form, especially when at times it is directed at Holy Mother Church and the clergy. If one can stay ahead of this it keeps the conversation exciting. If not, it cuts to the heart.

Therefore, I knew it was taking a risk wandering about as I did. One such street cynic levelled a gratuitous barb at me as I ambled about admiring the elegant palazzi of Florence. He actually stopped square in front of me to score his point with maximal acidic effect. I was taken aback and wanted to be sure I understood, asking, “Signore, tu m’insulti?” (Sir, are you insulting me?). To which he hissed, “Per forza” (Of course!). There was no yelling, just an opportune jab at a priest. It really was that straightforward and uncomplicated.

But I quickly got on top of it, made a mental note of his gratuitous rudeness to a complete stranger, and we parted ways, almost in a business-like manner. I would go further and say that his brazenness was of the kind that quarrelsome family members exhibit. There is, after all, a great deal of operatic yelling in Italy. If a German were to do such a thing one might – well, let’s leave that to the reader’s imagination to decide. At any rate, I intuitively grasped that peculiar reality and saw no reason to engage. Plus, it was time to get an espresso since it was after lunch. There was no time to waste!

Yet another man crazily yelled out above the din as I walked along, “Morte alla Chiesa Cattolica! Viva Giordano Bruno!” I perceived this to be a rather perplexing exclamation, since Bruno is long dead (he was a heretic by the way, so think the details through a bit) and the Catholic Church lives on and on.

Shortly thereafter on the same busy street a man with slick hair pulled back in a pony tail and looking like Di Niro’s character in The Mission materialized in the midst of the hustle and bustle of a teaming crowd, grabbed my arm and yanked me to the side away from the thrall mob of tourists. I was a dead man this time for sure! But there was no stiletto between the ribs awaiting me. Rather, he just wanted to confess, right there in the street! You see, the mean old cynics are mixed right in with those who have genuine devotion. He quickly cancelled out his compadre’s brutishness.

In Genoa a man beckoned from a doorway set in a grungy back alley down which I had taken a wrong turn. He told me straight off how much he loved God, the Church and his parish priest. He was hurting terribly since his father had recently died an untimely death. He showed me the photo of his handsome family patriarch which he carried close to his heart. Italians know how to grieve a death. I blessed him and we went our ways.

As I entered the Cathedral of Genoa, the hometown of Christopher Columbus, an elderly, well-dressed man with the typical Italian balding pattern and sporting an elegant ascot stopped me on the steps. I presumed he had been in the church to pray and perhaps light a candle. But he was tainted by that biting cynicism which kept lunging intermittently at me during that week. He did not greet me so much as go off on a tirade about the “spazzatura” ruining his fair city. It’s an ugly word, and as he said it he pointed to the poor and downtrodden sitting on the church steps eating focaccia, which especially enraged him for some odd reason. They needed a “crack on the head!” he said. Scoffing, he added that the clergy would do nothing about it at all (Voi non fate nulla!)

There you have it: It was my fault and if I were serious about the spectacle on the church steps, not to mention the Gospel, I should go clunk their coconuts immediately! He was so extreme and dramatic that he was almost charming in a sit-com sort of way. I managed to say something reassuring, slipped inside the cathedral and found a glorious side altar where a kindly sacristan set me up for Mass.

In a parking garage as I left the city of Venice I spotted a young man feverishly digging in a garbage can. There were other people about so we could easily have missed each other. Yet we both looked up at the same time and our eyes locked. He was Italian. And he could not ignore a priest walking by, especially since I stopped and said, holding my thumbs to my first two fingers and shaking them up and down, “Amico, ma che fai!?” (My friend, whatever are you doing!?). He was desperate, caught in a complex web of problems partly of his own making, reduced to eating garbage because he could not ignore the elemental urge of his body simply to eat. He was a Catholic. He has a worthy name, it is Antonio. He believes in Jesus but his life is a disaster. Yet there was a brief moment of hope. He bowed his head as I gave him a blessing. We parted ways with his fear filled eyes burned into my heart. We think we ourselves could never end up in a such a state. I wonder though…

Every single day I was repeatedly approached by people begging. Now how is it that some who are evidently cultured are so adept at hurting a priest, even insulting him to his face, whilst the downtrodden practically come to us on hands and knees? I suppose the old bunioned cynic would scoff that the beggar just wants money (perhaps because that is what they themselves love) and sees an easy target in the clergy. Yet that in itself is a testimony to the clergy. The beggars see hope in the priest, even should it be through the confused lenses of their untidy lives.

I took the time to talk to each person who held out a hand. Some were quite dirty, some were horribly deformed, many were immigrants. But did you know that they all have names? They came from somewhere and have fears and hopes just like us, mingled with a torrent of complex problems that have landed them in their humiliating state. They are largely ignored and many told me that they are stung by the indifference of the throngs of people marching by with selfie sticks, Gucci handbags and touristic determination etched grimly on their faces to get to the next cultural marvel. Meanwhile Christ is languishing in the streets. How much more sublime it is to be a pilgrim rather than just a tourist.

In the train station of Florence a gypsy girl with dark brown eyes and braided hair came up to me and we began to talk. The gypsies are often despised in Europe. They are nomads and are quite discomfiting to the comfortable classes. But a gypsy has also been raised to the altars, Blessed Ceferino Giménez Malla.

A cynic bellowed, “That’s right, just one!

Thank you, sir, for that contribution. Permit me to continue: the holy gypsy defended a Catholic priest who was being maltreated, which was not quite the fashionable thing to do in 1930’s Catalonia. He was subsequently awarded the palm of martyrdom by his leftist interlocutors.

Now the particular gypsy beggar girl with whom I was chatting had two babies, a husband and a name. And then, with genuine humanity, she even asked me how I was doing. The cynics don’t do that, except to find out if you spent too much on your shoes or something so they can judge the priest for being a phony. She was a Romanian Orthodox. I offered her a priestly blessing which she readily accepted, and with bowed head.

In the same train station an elderly bearded man in a beige tunic then approached me, begging. A few steps away stood watching protectively a burly Italian police officer who looked like Luca Brasi. I nodded to him as if to say “I’m OK, officer, grazie tanto.” The beggar was named Mahomet. He told me he was a Muslim from North Africa. He had great worry in his eyes and written in the lines of his face. He had a family, was weakening with age, had been a laborer but was now unemployed. He felt himself despised in Italy and he was hungry. We talked, and for quite some time. Before we departed ways, I offered him a blessing. He looked at me with uncertainty. I then stated forthrightly, “I am a Catholic priest. I am willing to call down God’s blessing upon you. But you must understand who I am and what I am offering you. And you must say yes freely.” His hesitation changed to resolution, he bowed his head, and said, “Yes, please bless me.” Then, laying my hands upon his head, and invoking the Name of the Holy Trinity and through the intercession of the Virgin Mary, I imposed a Christian blessing upon this Muslim man in the midst of the packed train station of Florence. There was a pause, and as we parted ways he thanked me.

It happened. The encounter left me marveling at the movement of unexpected grace. Mahomet of North Africa does not know Francis M. de Rosa (with his many and admitted faults). To him I was just an anonymous priest, a man not even of his own kind. But there was a recognition that the priest represented a bit of hope right then and there. This is the power of the Gospel and this is the only true answer to the Muslim situation in Europe. We must show these strange newcomers the greatness of our Holy Religion and we must do so with supreme love and confidence. They too must find Jesus Christ. They too are called to the family of the Holy Catholic Church. On a large scale it is a very complicated matter, of course, and I do not want to be naïve or simplistic. Yet before me for those few moments there stood just a frightened fellow human being, whom age and fatigue and cruel circumstance had ground down to the point where he was forced to beg for bread to eat, in public, before all the hostile passers-by in the grungy train station of Florence.

In truth he needed more than the few coins I spared. He needed someone to look him in the eyes and ask his name. And in God’s Providence I myself needed to do so to encounter our common humanity that groans beneath the weighty woes of life in this Valley of Tears.

Father Francis M. de Rosa is a priest of the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia. A graduate of Niagara University, the Ateneo della Santa Croce in Rome and Mount Saint Mary’s Seminary in Maryland. He also holds a Licentiate in Sacred Theology from the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family in Washington, D.C. He has published articles on bioethics in the Linacre Quarterly and the National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly. He was ordained in 1997 and is the pastor of St. Elizabeth Catholic Church in Colonial Beach, Virginia and St. Anthony of Padua Mission in King George, Virginia.

Featured image: “Italian Street,” by Dmitri Danish; painted in 2021.

The Leaven Of The Heart

We are so very pleased to bring to our readers the first translation into English of a short story by Ignazio Silone (1900-1978). This story (in Italian, Il lievito del cuore) was published in 1956, in the magazine Prospettive Meridionali. Silone, novelist and short-story writer, was nominated several times for the Nobel Prize. His most famous novels are Fontamara, Bread and Wine, and the Secret of Luca.

A truck sped along a flat paved road, lined with young poplar, locust and elm trees. It was the month of August, just after the wheat had been threshed. The truck passed a roadside billboard that read: FUCINO CORPORATION—BORGONUOVO RESIDENTIAL VILLAGE.

Right after appeared the village. From a distance, it appeared to be of recent construction. In all, about fifty two-story farmhouses, with four rooms each. On village piazza, the usual Sunday crowd of peasants, broken up into many groups talking animatedly. In the middle of the piazza, a large fountain: on one side the church; on the other a shed for the storage of farm machinery and work tools. Some large posters, planted on the four corners of the piazza, showed graphs and statistics on the early results of land reform throughout southern Italy. In the distance, silhouettes of other farmhouses under construction.

Under the canopy, some peasants looked curiously at a rotovator, which replaced the plow pulled by oxen for breaking up the clods of soil (the traditional ristruccatura). Others were being told about how a cereal weeder worked. But the dominant thrust of the conversations was sad. The harvest was meager, the wheat had blight and was shrunken; the ears were full, the grains empty. No one wanted to buy it; the farmers needed money and the prices of new wheat were low. What was going to happen at sowing? You can’t sow wheat that had rust.

The truck seen earlier stopped in the middle of the piazza, near the fountain, and the driver, a vigorous young man in shorts and a T-shirt, got out. He was immediately approached by some farmers who were waiting for him.

“Your final answer, Marco?” they asked him.

“No,” he replied.

A lively altercation ensued.

Marco refused to join the production and work cooperative. He was against cooperatives. He was for risk and individual profit. Others now took part in the discussion. The words got violent.

The cooperative was in a critical phase. Maybe it had made too many expenditures. Now it needed a truck and was unable to buy or rent one. Marco refused to work on credit.

“You’ve been a black marketeer and you’re still a black marketeer,” a young farmer, a certain Achille, shouted at him.

A scuffle ensued. Marco brutally knocked Achille down, but his shirt was also torn to shreds. At that moment, a group of believers, mostly women, came out of the nearby church. Some young men followed their girlfriends, from a safe distance.

A young woman, Silvia, Marco’s girlfriend and Achille’s sister, came near.

“What happened to you?” she asked them both, but talking mostly to her brother, who had a swollen eye.

“It was your black marketeer,” Achille replied.

The argument flared up again.

Silvia took her brother away and did not even reply to Marco who asked her to come with him to the cinema for the afternoon. Some of the farmers commented on Marco’s attitude. Yhey repeated their pros and cons, but the prevailing opinion was that the cooperative had failed and should be dissolved. Some had already resigned.

Two old peasants, evidently not from Borgo Nuovo, approached the fountain to water their donkeys. But Marco pushed them away. He had to put water into his truck.

One of the old men looked at Marco, first with curiosity, then smiling, and said to the other, “Don’t you recognize this young man? Look at him well. Doesn’t he look like the son of that good soul Antonio Orecchione?”

The other old man confirmed this. “Like him, it must be him.”

Marco heard the words of the two and asked resentfully: “What have you got against my father?”

“Against? Nothing,” one of the two old men answered him cheerfully. “I can really only wish you one thing. I wish you looked like him.”

“Did you know him?”

“We grew up together. We even did a little jail time together.”

After watering the donkeys, the two of them walked away.

“Do you know them? Who are they?” Marco asked a fruit dealer who had his cart near the fountain.

“They’re from Borgo Vecchio,” the fruit seller replied, mentioning the village on the hill. “One of them they call Biagio the basket maker.”

In the evening, Silvia waited in vain for Marco to make up. Some of her friends passed under her window and invited her to go for a walk. But she refused, giving some excuse. Irritated by her fiancé’s delay, she ended up bickering with her brother Achille, who took the opportunity to spill the beans on Marco.

“We do not know whose son he is,” he said. “His father died, was murdered. Great job reference. He grew up, he says, in an orphanage. But others say in a correctional facility. He’s fiercely selfish, shamelessly so. He has the mentality of a black marketeer, he wants to earn a lot, immediately and with little effort. While you’re waiting for him, maybe he’s with another girl.”

Silvia took refuge in her room and cried.

In the meantime, Marco had gone up to Borgo Vecchio, in search of Biagio the basket-maker.

On the hill, the land is harsh and bare. The houses of the village are poor, black, smoky; hovels and stables all in confusion. Marco left the truck at the entrance to the village and wandered through the alleys.

The contrast with Borgo Nuovo was striking. In a little piazza, a farmer was beating wheat the old-fashioned way, with a stick. A woman was fanning the lentils with the còscina, a wooden crate used at grape harvest. You could hear goats bleating and children crying. The old people sat on thresholds of houses and looked at Marco with indifference.

In one of the alleys, he meets an acquaintance.

“What are you doing here? I thought you were in Switzerland,” he told him.

“I was in fact there two years and now I’m back,” the other replied.

“How much did you earn up there?”‘

“More than here. With the money brought back I bought the vineyard.”

“Quit work? Why did you come back?”

“What do you mean, why? I was born and raised here. Money’s not everything.”

Marco looked at him with pity. What a fool. But he led him to Biagio’s house.

The old man was at the door and at once recognized Marco. He called his wife, the neighbors. “Guess who this is? Take a good look at his face.”

There was a general commotion.

“He looks like his father resurrected,” said one.

“Your face is like his, but are you like him in character too?” said another.

“I don’t know,” said Marco, “you know, I never knew him.”

Biagio invited the guest into the house and offered him a drink.

“It’s a light wine, but it’s from our vineyard,” he said.

The table was covered with a waxed canvas on which was depicted the Brooklyn Bridge, with the water of the East River phosphorescent.

“Have you been down there, too? Were you making good money? And why did you come back?”

“See, that’s a question your father wouldn’t have asked me,” Biagio told him.

“What was my father like? I know almost nothing about him. Some speak of him as a saint, others as a criminal,” said Marco.

“Neither one nor the other, but an honest man,” Biagio replied. “Let’s sit outside, in the cool air,” he suggested. “We’ll talk better.”

Marco, Biagio and his wife sat outside the door. In front of them lay the Fucino basin. At the edge of the basin, at the foot of the hill, the lights of Borgo Nuovo could be seen.

“At that time,” Biagio said, “life was difficult for honest men. They were times of misery. The phylloxera and the downy mildew ruined us. We ate meat once or twice a year. We walked barefoot. We saved the use of shoes for great occasions. Young people smoked corn leaves. We worked from dawn to dusk. We were paid a pittance. We still had oil lamps and wooden plows. Those who could, ran away. In November, every year we celebrated the ‘mass of the Americans,’ the mass for those who were leaving for America. Every year the church was full. The rest of us would be in the square every morning, waiting for a master or a farmer to call us for the day. Those who were not called would tighten their belts.

“As for strength of will to work no one was equal to Antonio Orecchione. He was a strong and generous young man, and always good company. For several years he was always first in the race of the straight furrow. He was unsurpassed in taming foals and calves. Only misfortune could reduce such a man to landlessness. In the same year, the flood took away his crops and his father broke his leg. When such misfortunes happen even once, you have to pay over a lifetime. Your father had to sell everything. There were worse things. As it is written in the Gospel, there were those who, though they had a thousand sheep, wanted the sheep of the poor man who had only one. To get it, in this case, he used the law, deception or violence.

“One year your father Antonio went to winter with the sheep in the Puglie. When he returned here in the spring, he told us: ‘Along the way, I heard that there is a law for the poor peasants of Southern Italy that also concerns us and that no one here has ever explained to us.’

“We wrote for information to a lawyer in Sulmona who confirmed the fact. The law wasn’t much, but still it was the law. A farmer who had only one donkey or only a couple of goats was not paying taxes.

“Antonio rounded up about ten friends and we showed up at the town hall. We apologized for the disturbance and explained the reason for the visit. The gentlemen at the town hall did not deny that the law existed; but, in order to benefit from it, they told us, an application from each person concerned was necessary. And since up to that day no one had made an application…

“So, we all made the application. For those who could not write, Antonio made the application for them and they signed it with a cross; and we were exempted from the tax. I won’t tell you the resentment of the two or three landowners of the village against Antonio, especially since he, at that time, didn’t even have a donkey or a goat.

“From that moment on, they targeted him; cowardly trying to starve him. In the enthusiasm for the result of the tax, a league of peasants was formed here. And in the headquarters of the league, they opened a small cooperative that resold, almost at the price of purchase, some consumer goods, such as oil, cod, sulfur for the vineyards. It was not, in itself, anything extraordinary. ‘What is extraordinary,’ said Antonio, ‘is that we are united and that we advise one another.’
“It was harvest time. For a month, as usual, there was a great lack of labor. One morning, we went to the piazza to wait for the call. The bosses arrived with their farmers, and quick as anything they grabbed up all the laborers. The piazza was empty. The only one who wasn’t called was your father, Antonio, even though there was not another reaper to be found like him here. It was punishment.

“Things only got worse. To work during harvest Antonio had to go to Celano, where he had some acquaintances. One evening, where Borgo Nuovo is now, someone burned a hundred sheaves belonging to one of our landowners. Even before establishing whether it was an accident or a crime, several of us were arrested as suspects. Among those arrested was Antonio, although he could prove that at the time of the fire he was at a great distance from the place.

“We were only released when the time of harvest work was over and the profit lost. Antonio was in the greatest distress. He had been engaged for three years to Assunta the dyer; he could not postpone the wedding for long. For love of that girl, he made a turnaround that surprised us all.

“One evening he came to the league and told us that he was resigning and not to count on him anymore, because he had to mind his own business. The next day he entered the service of one of the local landlords, as a guardian. ‘Guardian’ was a way of saying something like the manager’s henchman, but also his bailiff. When a dispute of the master became complicated, the manager said that it would be given to the guardian to deal with.

“The day we saw Antonio for the first time with his rifle on his shoulder, his leather leggings and his cap with a visor, we could not believe our eyes. To tell the truth, he too was ashamed. If he met us, he would slip away or look elsewhere, although no one dared reproach him—he had to lok after himself too. But you had to know Antonio to know if he would stay in that job for long. He could be violent, but not evil.

“One night a fire broke out in the league office. The few goods of the cooperative were destroyed. The next morning Antonio reappeared in the piazza without rifle, nor leggings, nor cap. He had resigned from his post. He had resigned from his job and the reason for his resignation soon became known. He had refused to take part in the fire at the cooperative’s headquarters. Did he know the arsonists and their instigator? ‘If the judge questions me,’ he said, ‘I will tell the truth.’

“He spent what was to be his last evening here, where we are sitting now, together with other friends. Although he certainly knew he was in danger. he made no mention of it. He was a man of who loved company and enjoyed being with friends again. Some of his words from that evening have never left my mind since. ‘Everyone has the right to look after himself,’ he said, ‘but not at the expense of others.’ Even selfishness has its limits.

“He wanted to go home fairly soon, because his wife, Assunta, was seven or eight months pregnant and he didn’t want to leave her alone. He left here at nine o’clock, but the sky was overcast and so the alleyway was in complete darkness. We followed the sound of his footsteps. Then a gunshot thundered.

“I grabbed a lantern and we ran. We found him lying on the ground in a pool of blood, dying.

“That murder made a huge impression on the whole neighborhood. In a way, it was from that night on that things changed here. I mean, not in appearance, but on the inside, in the way we look at ourselves. The landlord, who had Antonio’s life on his conscience, was not harassed by justice, but he left here anyway and never came back. The delinquent we suspected as the perpetrator of the murder was not harassed either, but he went away and never came back. There is only the agony of poor Assunta now to tell… “

“Continue, please,” said Marco to Biagio.

“The one who can tell you about your mother better than us,” said Biagio’s wife, “is Francesca the soap-maker. The two were always close and remained so until the end. Should I go get her?”

“I can go to her. Where does she live?” replied Marco.

“Up there behind the church.”

Marco found Francesca also sitting on the doorstep.

“What do you want? Who are you looking for?” the old woman asked him.

“Auntie, did you know a certain Assunta the dyer, the wife of Antonio Orecchione?” asked Marco.

“Leave the dead alone.”

“Do you remember that Assunta had a son?'”

“Yes, according to the will of her father, who was already dead when she gave birth, she named him after her grandfather, Marco. He was raised in the city, in an orphanage, and it seems that he became a bad boy.”

“Auntie, you mustn’t believe the gossip.”

“No, no, I’ve heard about it from people who know him. He stays in Avezzano, but he hangs out a lot in Borgo Nuovo. Apparently, he’s a real scoundrel. in short, the opposite of his father and mother.”

“Please stop, Auntie, because I am Marco.”

Francesca’s emotion and excuses had no end. Then the old woman started shouting for the neighbors to come running. “Do you know who this is? Don’t you recognize him? Look at his face, I recognized him right away.”

Many people surrounded and welcomed Marco. Then Francesca invited him into the house and offered him, according to ancient custom, a piece of bread, a glass of wine to drink, and an egg.

“Biagio the basket-maker told me that you knew my mother well,” said Marco.

“We shared sleep and tears,”‘ says Francesca. “If one went on a pilgrimage, the other could not stay at home. If one took communion, the other couldn’t abstain from it. If one received a letter, the other could not hide it from the other. Do you know why she liked Antonio and married him? He was gracious man. For friends he would pawn his own shirt.
“When Antonio, forced by need, had to wear the uniform of the bully, hardships for poor Assunta began. Her remorse was that Antonio had done it out of love for her. Then came that night of blood. We feared that the unhappy wife would go out of her mind. The birth that brought you into the world was very difficult. The doctor said right away, ‘She won’t live.’

“She still lived, a week, but with a totally clear mind. She knew she was dying; her anxiety was for the future of her son. She begged the priest to have him admitted to an institution. Before dying, she offered her life to God so that her son would grow up as honest as his father. ‘I don’t care if he’s rich or poor, but that he’s honest’ were her last words.”

Marco shuddered.

Francesca watched him in silence. “You don’t seem mean to me,” she told him. “Maybe the disease of easy money has gotten hold of you. I have a relative down in Borgo Nuovo, I know how people live down there. Much better than here. But are they happy? They do nothing but quarrel. And how long will the abundance last? The government has given you the flour, but everyone must put in the leaven himself.”

‘What do you mean by leaven?”

The old woman pointed in the direction of the heart. “Without a little heart nothing good is done. In what man does, the heart is like the leaven in bread. It makes it grow again….”

Marco’s truck quickly descended towards the plain. The countryside was dark and silent. All around Borgo Nuovo, only crickets and frogs were heard.

The truck stopped at a street corner. He tiptoed to a ground-floor window and knocked lightly on a shutter.

“Silvia,” he called under his breath.

The girl was watching, waiting, still dressed. She came over to the window and moved away the shutters, just a hand-breadth.

“What do you want, you shameless man?” she said to him.

“You must excuse me,” Marco replied.

“No,” she answered back. “I’ve had enough of you. You’re mean and selfish. You don’t have one true friend. I’m having tea. It’s over,” the girl said and shut the shutter in his face.

While this brief dialogue was taking place, in the next room Achille, Silvia’s brother, had woken up. He recognized the voices, and fearing that Silvia was going to bring Marco into her room, he took the revolver from the drawer of the bedside table and stood guard behind the shutters until he saw Marco walk away.

Marco returned to his truck and continued on his way. As he crossed the yard, he saw banners still wet with glue around the poles of the electric streetlamps. He got out of the truck to find out what they said. It was a summons for an extraordinary meeting of the cooperative, set for the evening of the next day. The topic was—”Proposal for Dissolution.”

The next day Silvia, on her bicycle, roamed the length and breadth of Borgo Nuovo, giving her acquaintances the most diverse excuses, in the hope of meeting Marco, not being very happy with the way she had treated him the night before. Passing through the square again, Silvia stopped for a while near a group of farmers and housewives discussing the latest news of the agrarian reform and the fate of the cooperative.

“We’ve overstepped our bounds,” said one. “The wagon is new, but the donkey is old. We’re not used to so much news at once. The cooperative spent everything it owned on the threshing machine; it did wrong. The government should take care of it.”

“God help you,” said another.

The school teacher intervened. “Do you know how much has been spent so far on roads? For canals? For farmhouses?” He quoted figures. Some contradicted him. Each one had something to say.

“After all the effort came fatigue. Were you waiting for gnocchi all cooked and ready to dig into?”

Silvia continued her search. She asked the young attendant at the gas station, “Have you seen Marco?” “I was waiting for him, but he didn’t show up,” she said.

Marco spent the whole day in his garage in Avezzano. He was in a foul mood, and didn’t respond to his mechanics’ jokes, and missed an opportunity for an adventure with a foreign lady who needed a small repair to her car and who invited him on a trip.

In the evening he returned to Borgo Nuovo. The square was unusually deserted. From the meeting room behind the farm machinery shed, he heard the echoes of the cooperative’s assembly. Everyone was there, even non-members.

Marco got closer, listening through the door. At the end of the room there is a small table. The president was seated. Next to him someone was reading the administrative report, trying to justify the expenses, wanting to show that everything had been done correctly.

Several voices interrupted him: “If that is so, why did things go wrong? Put it to the vote! A vote! Dissolution!”

The speaker himself admitted that this was not the way to go. “We do urgently need a truck, but we lack the money to buy or rent it. We have some receivables, but they are uncollectible. So, all right, dissolution! But mind you, it’s a loss. We will lose what little we had done.”

New shouts interrupted him: “To the vote! To the vote!”

Before the vote, the president asked if anyone wanted to speak against the dissolution. It was at this point that a violent scuffle broke out near the door, around Marco who was the cause of it. Some people interpreted his presence as mockery. Shouts of “Out! Out! Throw him out!” were heard.

Marco struck formidable blows left and right and managed to break through into the middle of the room. He asked the president to let him speak.

“About what?”

“Against the dissolution.”

“But you are not a member. In fact, you have been the cooperative’s most ardent opponent.”

“I’ve changed my mind. Right now, I’m all for it. What do you lack to keep going? A truck with a driver? I am at your disposal, with my truck.”

The surprise was general, and lets overlook the issue of formality that Marco did not have the right to speak.

“Come forward,” the president told him. “Say what you have to say, but start by swearing that you are not drunk and that this is not a joke.”

Marco stepped forward, frank and resolute.

“Speak,” the president told him.

“Since I’m not a lawyer, but a driver, I don’t know how to make speeches, so don’t interrupt me,” he said. “If you interrupt me, it’ll end in fist-fight, and you know I’m not afraid of that.”

“Talk,” the president told him.

“Do you know why things went wrong here?” says Marco. “The fault lies with two categories of men who, no offense intended, can be called by names of animals: the wolf-men and the sheep-men. The wolf-men, I too have been one of them so far, are the absolute selfish ones, without the slightest regard for their neighbors; the ones who are better off if they see that their neighbors are hurting. Then there are the sheep-men, the passive and indifferent ones. Those who have grown up with the aid to earthquake victims, who’ve settled for the subsidies for the various wars, who’ve survived with the UNRRA, the Pontifical Commission, the Quakers, and who consider land reform as manna falling from heaven and therefore are in the habit of sleeping on their backs with their mouths open. Is it possible for things to go well with the majority being wolf-men and sheep-men? Sure, we’ve received the land, the machines, the fertilizers, the houses. But it’s not enough.”

“What’s missing?” someone shouted at him.

“Don’t interrupt him,” the president pleaded. “Don’t get him swinging his fists!”

“What’s missing,” Marco continued, “an old peasant woman from Borgo Vecchio, who maybe some of you know, called Francesca the Soap-maker, explained it to me. The government has given you flour, Francesca told me, but it’s not enough to make bread, because you need leaven to make it grow again. The whole day long, I thought about the words of that old woman, and I think I now understand one thing. Wolf-men and sheep-men cannot do anything good, because they themselves are nothing good. Whatever men do, if they want it to ‘grow,’ they have to put their hearts into it. How do you want the business of a cooperative to grow, if it’s made up of wolf-men and sheep-men? The difference, however, is this—wolves die wolves and sheep die sheep. But men, we do not know how but it is certain, can change. “So, if you’re up for it, I’ll tell you frankly, I’m not backing down. Tomorrow morning, at five o’clock, I’ll be here, in front of the door with my truck and, if I find a team of you, we will go and load up.”

As Marco spoke, the assembly quickly went from surprise, to disbelief, to enthusiasm. At the end, a great ovation stifled his words.

Achille, Silvia’s brother, walked up to him and embraced him.

The next morning, Marco’s truck was in front of the cooperative’s door, when the men chosen as loaders arrived.

As the truck was about to leave, Silvia came on a bicycle.

“What do you want?” shouted Marco. “We’re in a hurry!”

“I can’t shout what I want,” Silvia replied.

The girl jumped on the step to talk to him without the others understanding.

“All right,” she told him, “that land reform takes heart, but a little bit you have to reserve for me.”

Featured image: The Fiat 615, from 1952.