La Ferita della Modernità: Intellettuali, totalitarismo e immagine del nemico

La Ferita della Modernità: Intellettuali, totalitarismo e immagine del nemico

Book Reviews violent totality which it critiques, but on the evidence even of Hegel und der Staat one cannot dispute the fundamental importance of Ros...

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Book Reviews violent totality which it critiques, but on the evidence even of Hegel und der Staat one cannot dispute the fundamental importance of Rosenzweig’s work to all attempts to formulate a philosophy of infinitude.

Sean Hand London GuildhaN University

La Ferita della Mo~rnit~ Inte~et~ali, Totalit~mo e Imm~ine de1Nemico, Mauri&o Serra (Bologna: il Mulino, 1992), 357 pp., IL 38,000. It is nowadays fashionable to denigrate the Italian Republic. So authoritative and so conservative a journal as The Economist is cheered by the prospect of tumbrils rolling, at least metaphorically, through the streets of Rome and urges the political liquidation of the entire Italian ruling class. The sceptical historian is perplexed by the extremity of this condemnation. The financial record of the Italian Republic, since, in 1946, TheEconomist predicted that it had no economic future, seems one of extraordinary if uneven achievement. However ambiguous and idiosyncratic, Republican Italy has also been a place of some welfare, many freedoms and much culture. In this last regard, Maurizio Serra is an emblematic figure. Son of one of Italy’s leading liberal historians and named ‘Maurizio’ after the partisan ident~cation of Ferruccio Parri, a politician who helped transmit some of the values of the anti-fascist resistance into the constitution of the Italian Republic, Serra is a diplomat, currently serving in his country’s embassy in London. Somehow he manages to find the time simultaneously to be a distinguished historian of ideas. In the book under review Serra has set himself a formidable task in this latter regard. It is to analyse, and thus presumably to cauterise, the ‘wound of modernity’ which, in his opinion, maimed so many intellectuals during this century and especially between the wars. His main targets are those who, from any point on the ideological divide, lookedto an ‘alliance between new intellectuals and the masses in the name of Beauty, Youth, Destiny and revolutionary palingenesis’ (p. 15). His ambition, he says, (p. 26) will be to examine the relationship between the intellectuals and their ideas, in the belief that the ‘wound of modernity is attested by the fact that, in our times, there is no existing system able to impose universal values’. Not ‘religion, nor the idea of progress nor so-called Western civihsation’ can give satisfaction amid our discontents. From this somewhat pessimistic premise, Serra proceeds to anaiyse ‘modern barbarians’ before 1914 and ‘bad teachers’ (maestri) wherever they be found-Nietzsche and Maurras, Heidegger, Brasillach, Sartre and Aragon, William Joyce and Kim Philby (odd choices these last two as they scarcely deserve a place in any intellectual Serie.4) and many more. All, he argues (p. 174), in one way or another fit into the course of that ‘parabola which, from the traitor and the renegade, leads to the bad teacher (and) is a crucial aspect’ of the reaction ‘of the European intellectual elite to the wound of modernity*. The message grows bleaker still. If treachery, betrayal, and an arrogant deference to ‘totalitarianism’ characterised intellectuals between the wars, their situation has scarcely improved: ‘the rise of mass society’, Serra concludes, ‘has had the effect of rendering banal any intellectual flirtation with rebellion or subversion, and even with terrorism’. ‘ In tate capitalist society, the public role ofthe intelIe~tua1 seems almost fatally ludicrous or merely decorative’ (p. 175).


Book Reviews

To find sanctuary from this threatened abyss, Serra advises, the best hope lies in a reasoned return to the guidance of Benedetto Croce. Though he notes his respect for such (very different) contemporary historians as Rosario Romeo, Renzo De Felice and George Mosse, Serra’s real respect remains with the great Liberal, Neapolitan ‘good teacher’. It is Croce, he maintains, who, in his own era, sturdily condemned ‘simplifications and simplifiers’, and thus was ‘a real son.. ., even if an involuntary one, of modernity’. It is Croce’s classically idealist methodology which Serra replicates in his own writing. It is Croce who, Serra explains in a last chapter, can perhaps save us in these desperate times of ‘the end of history’. Personally, I remain a little unconvinced by much of this-the elitist definition of culture, the glib acceptance of the validity of the model of ‘totalitarianism’, the privileging of Croce, the conservative pessimism, the limited understanding of the Anglo-Saxon world, the Eurocentrism, and the certainty that ‘history as myth’ is the sin only of the ‘other’. But, while democracy survives, the House of History has many mansions. Maurizio Serra, servant of the ‘First Italian Republic’, has written an elegant and intelligent book. It is to be hoped that the creation of a Second Republic will not lessen such intellectual achievement. Richard


University of Western Australia

The Avila of Saint Teresa: Religious Reform in a Sixteenth-Century (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1992), xviii+218 pp., $12.05.

City, Jodi Bilinkoff

This is a paperback reprint of a 1989 publication, and valuable in being so. Despite the reference to Teresa in the title, one of the most refreshing features of this book is that Teresa and Carmelite reform, 1560-1580 take up only one chapter. The first four are studies of the city, aristocratic dominance and monastic foundation, public works and private goals, and a new definition of reform, with a concluding chapter on Avila after Teresa, up till 1620. The book is the work of an historian, who locates Teresa in her context, which included converted Muslims and Jews, and with overall political control in the hands of a few elite families. Battles over parish antiquity and therefore precedence in religious and civic processions were among their preoccupations, negotiating with the cathedral chapter, fostering religious houses and therefore the Christian cult. DoAa Elvira Gonzalez de Medina, a distinguished concubine of one of the cathedral chapter, founded the Carmelite la Encamacion which Teresa was to join. The terms of endowments might powerfully determine the actual form of religious life, for ‘anniversary masses and other commemorative prayers helped the soul of the deceased toward salvation and proclaimed the power and continuity of his(sic) dynasty as surely as the family escudos carved upon the chapel walls’ (pp. 51-52). A reformer needed the ‘new men’ who were challenging the power-holders, in an expanding Avila of the first half of the sixteenth century, short of basic resources such as food and water. The influence of such religiously inspiring leaders as Juan de Avila (who never actually set foot in the place), Gaspar Daza, Jesuits, and the particular spirituality of Mari Diaz cut across ‘class lines’ as did new educational institutions. Teresa’s own transformation under the guidance of reformers led to her insistence on voluntary poverty and asceticism, with Franciscan Peter of Alcantara an immediate support. Radical separation from traditions of honour and family which had dominated religious life also