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Ovi Symposium; forty-third Meeting Ovi Symposium; forty-third Meeting
by Edwin Rywalt
2015-01-17 02:13:27
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 Ovi Symposium:

“A Philosophical Conversation on the Nature of Art within Modernity
and the Envisioning of a New Humanism”

between Ms Abigail George, Mr Nikos Laios, Drs. Paolozzi, Paparella and Mr. Rywalt
Forty-third Meeting: 15 January 2015

symposium01

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Symposium's regular participants (in alphabetical order)

abigailAbigail George is an African activist for human rights, a feminist, writer and poet. She has received writing grants from the National Arts Council, Centre for the Book, and ECPACC (Eastern Cape Provincial Arts and Culture Council). She is not purely devoted to poetry but to pursuing writing fulltime. She has written two volumes of poetry, and her latest book is titled Winter in Johannesburg. Storytelling for her has always been a phenomenal way of communicating and making a connection with other people. All About My Mother (a collection of short stories) was published by Ovi magazine in July 2012.

laios_01Nikos Laios is a poet, artist, lover of philosophy and student of the human condition, currently writing poetry and producing art; he is also a sculptor, a photographer, widely read in the humanities. He hails from the highlands of Epirus in Greece; greatly influenced by the poetic traditions which have been passed down from his poet ancestor on his maternal side from the island of Cephalonia. He currently resides in North Sydney Australia, is an autodidact and a passionate ‘renaissance’ man, has always been a practical philosopher, throwing himself into the hard questions that life has to offer in search of elusive gems of wisdom.

enDr.Ernesto Paolozzi teaches history of contemporary philosophy at the University Suor Orsola Benincasa of Naples. A Croce scholar and an expert on historicism, he has written widely and published several books, especially on aesthetics and liberalism vis a vis science. His book Benedetto Croce: The Philosophy of History and the Duty of Freedom was printed as an e-book in Ovi magazine in June 2013.

papDr. Emanuel Paparella has a Ph.D. in Italian Humanism with a dissertation on Giambattista Vico from Yale University. He currently teaches philosophy at Barry University and Broward College in Florida, USA. One of his books is titled Hermeneutics in the Philosophy of G. Vico, Mellen Press. His latest e-book Aesthetic Theories of Great Western Philosophers was printed in Ovi magazine in June 2013.

rywaltEdwin Rywalt is a computer specialist living in Pennsylvania with his family. He is a talented and accomplished pianist with a college education from Columbia University and a life---long scholarly interest in the nexus between science, technology, and the liberal arts. Beginning in May 2014 he will be offering pro bono services to the Ovi Symposium with typo correction editing and other useful suggestions aiming at improving the overall format of the twice a month section of Ovi magazine. Perhaps in the future, if his commitments allow it, he may decide to join the Symposium’s ongoing dialogue.

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Subtheme of session 43: The Historical Consciousness Grounded in the Paradox of Man’s Freedom and God’s Providence.

Indirect Participants within the Great Conversation across the ages: Einstein, Dante, Dostoyevsky, Aquinas, Pollard, Lewis, Joseph, Buber, Descartes, Michelangelo, Handlin, Solomon, Paul, Christ, Croce, Hegel, Augustine, Marx, Machiavelli.

Table of Contents for the 39th Session of the Ovi Symposium (4 December 2014)

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Preamble by the Symposium’s coordinator Emanuel L. Paparella

Section 1: “The Origins of the Historical Consciousness founded on the Paradox of Man’s Freedom and God’s Providence.”

Section 2: “History as Contemporary History and Ethico-political Historiography.”

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Preamble by the Symposium’s Coordinator Emanuel L. Paparella

Recently, a series of articles have appeared in Ovi which offer complex political analysis of complex social problems such as shifting political alliances, or the social rights of sex workers, or the social role of professors within academia (dubbed as “pretenders”), or the isolation of academia from the inexorable commercialization of knowledge (the “knowledge is power” syndrome) ending up with the phenomenon of the Ivory Tower. Those articles are widely divergent but they all seem to have a common feature: they challenge the notion of man’s freedom within history. They either state, or at a minimum imply, that freedom is a delusion of man whose destiny, in the final analysis, is already set by deterministic historical and political forces.

Confronted with this situation, so the argument goes, the best man can do is to understand those forces so that he can manipulate them for his own convenience. It all goes to challenge the notion that there may exist  natural laws which are rational and universal, that hint at a cosmic intelligence (what the Greeks called the “nous”), apply to human nature and need to be discovered in other for man to appropriately harmonize them to his own life, rather than abuse his inherent freedom rooted in rationality. It comes down to the age-old question: does man make history or does history determine who man is, or are they both true at the same time? Does historicism make everything relative to the times and society being examined, as some misguidedly believe? In a more philosophical theological mode the question comes down to man’s freedom vis a vis God’s Providence which most modern positivists, proud of their scientific enlightenment, see as mutually exclusive. But are they really?

The issue brings us right back to a revisiting of a crucial problem already dealt at some length in the pages of Ovi, in and out of the symposium, but perhaps deserving of a fresh new look. After all, one of the aims of this symposium is the consideration of humanistic modes of thought as essential to any viable future for Western Civilization. So, we are back to the future: back to Vico and Croce who have taught us much on how to resolve the conundrum of the Humanistic Liberal Arts vs. the positivistic scientific mind-set.

The first presentation of this 43rd meeting is by yours truly. It confronts man’s freedom with God’s Providence to assert that in fact the two are not mutually exclusive, that they need to be kept dialectically in tension with each other in order to arrive at any kind of viable universal ethical system; for without a universal ethical system, all laws and regulations become relative leading to a relativistic society and the law of the jungle where might makes right, the fit survive and the weak perish. That Machiavellian motto is certainly not the premise on which the United States of America, or the European Union are predicated upon. For if they are so predicated then Kierkegaard insight would apply: the sickness unto death consists in being sick and not even know it.

The second presentation is by Ernesto Paolozzi and it follows-up on the same theme of historiography and practical politics with chapter seven of his e-book The Philosophy of History and the Duty of Freedom already published in Ovi. The title of the chapter and the presentation is “History as Contemporary History and Ethico-political Historiography.” It basically encapsulates the thought of Benedetto Croce on historiography with its recapitulation of the thought of the original father of the modern philosophy of history: Giambattista Vico. Historiography intimates to the “modern” reader that there is an alternative to a materialistic positivistic relativistic culture and such an alternative may need to be seriously considered if humankind is to survive its present difficulties threatening to bring about the end of human history.

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1

 Man's Freedom/God's Providence: The Origins of the Historical Consciousness
A Presentation by Emanuel L. Paparella

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Frontespiece to Vico’s New Science (1725) illustrating the poet Homer on a pedestal,
Philosophy on a globe resting on an altar, and the all-seeing eye of God’s Providence in the left corner

 

 

 

“But that was it—you never could think what things would be like if they weren’t just what and where they were. You never knew what was coming, either; and yet when it came, it seemed as if nothing else ever could have come. That was queer—you could do anything you liked until you’d done it, but when you had done it then you knew, of course, that you must always have had to.”

                                                                                                           —John Galsworthy

The idea of freedom is peculiar to the West. Moreover, for the Western imagination this idea is nothing short of the underpinning for the historical consciousness. In fact, the consciousness of Man being his own history is one of the most striking characteristics of the Western world. It allows the self to turn back upon itself and judge itself ethically. This is possible because that same self conceives of itself as created in God’s own image and therefore essentially free, for this is a God that is free and creates freely. I dare say that there lies the theological genius of the West.

Several years ago in the mid-eighties, I taught Ethics and Comparative Religions in a private Episcopal School (St. Andrew’s of Boca Raton, Florida). At one point I ran into a theological controversy with the school’s chaplain who taught biology. The controversy centered on the issue of God’s freedom and whether or not God had to create the universe as we know it. He had delivered in chapel a wonderfully poetic narration of the creation event as described in Genesis. I praised the narration but took issue with one of its statements: “Then God felt lonely, so he created Man.” It seemed to me that such a statement invalidated the whole Judeo-Christian theological understanding of God and his creation. For if God needed to create out of loneliness, then He is determined and not free. And if God is not free, then his creatures cannot possibly be free either.

This is the dilemma that used to preoccupy Albert Einstein which led him to the famous statement: God does not play dice with the universe. Even God cannot declare that 2+2 is 3. But on the other hand without freedom, love, the greatest of Christian virtues, is also moot. It is the intertwining of love and freedom that makes for the grandeur of Dante’s Commedia; without them Western civilization cannot possibly be understood.

Despite the Inquisition, the Crusades, the scandal of the Papal schisms and the corruption of the clergy, Christian theology has always understood in principle (by which principle it also condemns itself when it fall short) that genuine love always desires the increase rather than the diminishing or the control of others’ freedom. On the other hand, as Dostoyevsky has shown in his novels, without the freedom to hate and to refuse love, one cannot possibly love either God or one’s neighbor. It is in that freedom that lies the human drama of Dante’s Inferno, rather than an alleged sado-masochistic medieval propensity for asceticism, pain and misery, as the Enlightenment philosophers misguidedly surmised. Ultimately the chaplain and I concluded that a better description of what might have been going on prior to creation might be that God, far from being lonely, was already in good company in communion with his Son. Michelangelo depicts this on the wall of the Sistine chapel with a Christ that looks like a Greek Apollo. That Christ scandalized many pious Christians but obviously He is not merely the historical Jesus of Palestine born or incarnated as a human being at a particular place, at a particular time, from a particular people. It was the overflowing of this reciprocal love between Father and Son (the Spirit) that prompts God to freely create the cosmos in order to freely share this love as Aquinas intimates in the Summa. In fact, the human community of which the primordial prototype is the family is conceivable only because there is already a transcendent paradigm of community, what Christian theology calls the Trinity. Therefore the goodness and abundance of life derive ultimately from love, and God in his act of creation far from being determined, remains utterly free and transcendent.

The roots of this powerful Western idea go deeper than Christianity itself. They are found in Jewish theology of which Christian theology is an offshoot. The Jews, without philosophically articulating a theoretical understanding of the philosophy of history (we need to wait for Vico for such an understanding), were the first people to fully grasp the importance of freedom for the whole created order and its development through time and space. We now take it for granted, but this idea of a free God who freely creates creatures who in turn freely determine their destiny, is a truly revolutionary idea. It presents us with a God who is radically different from all the other capricious anthropomorphic gods of Western or Oriental religions up to then. It is that idea that makes room for another revolutionary idea, that Man is his own history.

This is not to deny that both the ancient Greeks and Romans contributed advanced ideas regarding intellectual and political freedom. However, their kind of freedom was grounded in political and social institutions rather than in the self. Rome, after a while, is not only an idea but a goddess through which the Romans, not unlike modern technocratic society, narcissistically and idolatrously worship their own achievements. On the other hand, the consciousness of freedom residing in a self related to its Creator is a uniquely Jewish phenomenon which enters the Western world via Christianity and eventually becomes the fountainhead of man’s historical consciousness.

The reader may be wondering, what exactly is the definition of historical consciousness? Were we to condense the various definitions given by cultural anthropologists we could hazard this one: an attitude that holds that history is a paradigm, a myth, if you will, of perceiving and ordering Man’s reality. Now, this concise definition assumes a faith in the presence of meaningful purpose and order in a universe ever reaching for a greater realization of meaning. This is one of the rock bottom beliefs and without them neither historical consciousness nor science is possible.

The inner dynamic for this historical consciousness can be located in the biblical covenant between man and God, of which the most significant event is the giving and receiving of a promise with an ongoing and ever renewed expectation of its fulfillment. In other words, this relationship between Man and God is based on a promise and a trust in its fulfillment. This constituting of certain persons (e.g., the prophets), certain places (e.g., Jerusalem), and certain times (e.g., the Exodus event) as of eternal significance, intimately involves God in the historical process. It is intriguing that the very connotation for the word truth in Hebrew is “trust in the future,” practically a definition for faith itself.

We are back to the conundrum of God’s providence and man’s freedom. We may well ask ourselves: if Man, created in the image of God, is free and responsible for his own history, how can he possibly remain such if God, at critical junctures, intervenes in human history? Are not man’s freedom and God’s providence mutually exclusive?

In his book Chance and Providence: God’s action in World Governed by Scientific Law (S. Scribner, N.Y., 1958), William G. Pollard suggests that the biblical story of Joseph and his brothers is exemplary of how God is involved in the historical process and how Man retains ultimate responsibility for that process. Pollard rightly points out that perhaps only a story or a myth is capable of fully integrating the two realities of Man’s freedom and God’s providence. This story begins with a deliberate evil deed committed by Joseph’s brothers: the selling of their brother Joseph into slavery. Joseph’s subsequent rebuke, “you meant evil against me,” is meant to suggest that they are utterly responsible for their foul action. Their guilt on the other hand is revealed in this statement by the brothers themselves: “It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for the evil we did to him.” Joseph however reassures them thus: “Fear not, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” Pollard points out that this is the Judeo-Christian concept of destiny. Destiny is whatever is willed by God. God’s will is creation’s destiny. Or as C.S. Lewis renders it in Preface to Paradise Lost, “Those who will not be God’s sons become his tools.” And in fact, the moral lesson that Pollard wants us to derive this biblical story is that through fortuitous chances and accidents working through Joseph’s life-history, God’s providence emerges. The brothers meant evil, the outcome is good. Joseph’s words are instructive here: “Am I in the place of God?” Which is to say that, in the light of the happy outcome of the story, Joseph far from seeking revenge can only be grateful for God’s providence at work in human events and turning to good what Man meant for evil.

From this simple but powerful story we gather that the biblical view of chance and accident is that they are integral part of the fabric of providence which operates in what Martin Buber has described as the world of I-Thou; a world where we find notions such as freedom, grace, destiny, judgment, redemption, repentance, forgiveness. Those notions are alien, even repugnant, to the world of I-it, the rationalistic Cartesian world of observable objects and events with which modern science is mainly concerned.

The problem arises when the scientific mind-set attempts to reduce even history to the unfolding of deterministic impersonal laws within nature. This became inevitable once the Cartesian paradigm was in place in the seventeenth century. Within that paradigm nature itself is placed under the firm control of man’s rationality thus ending up with naturalism or economic and social determinism.

What these rational historical theories seem to lack is a theme in history. They abysmally fail to suggest to the reader a sense of the grandeur and drama of history; that is to say the vision of history as narrative and drama with a beginning, a middle and an end, open to new choices and directions, with a plot that while remaining hidden hints at a forward movement and a sense of direction. Indeed, the very first line of Genesis intimates to the perceptive reader that this definitely not a boring story. It is a story worthy of Michelangelo’s brush. God is both author and story teller as John intimates with his “In the beginning was the Word.” The universe is God’s poem. The name that the Judeo-Christian tradition gives to this drama is “providence.”

In as much as this drama remains open-ended, since chance and accident intermingle with the reliable and the predictable, it is different from science. Events and behavior cannot be controlled in history as in a laboratory. Oscar Handlin, for example, in his Chance and Destiny: Turning points in American History, draws attention to the fact that crucial military victories have been won or lost due to the sudden arrival of a storm. Something like that happened in the biblical Exodus event. This drama, unlike scientific experiments, is not repeatable except in Man’s imagination. Moreover, contrary to science, the human historical drama rests its confidence on the fact that not the most probable but the most improbable can be counted on happening.

One caveat is in order. A false dichotomy between science and religion has been promoted by some who are religiously inclined. It consists in conceiving of God’s providence in an over-spiritualistic or vitalistic mode, as a sort of deus ex machina, an added non-physical force within nature. When science cannot find this force, it proceeds to debunk the whole of man’s religious experience. This estrangement leaves both science and religion the poorer. But in reality the deus ex machina is not the biblical notion of providence. While not provable objectively, it is not an irrational, quasi magical extra-terrestrial force within nature. It is merely inaccessible to a detached, uninvolved, strictly objective Cartesian mode of apprehending reality. It simply does not rest on the same presuppositions underpinning scientific knowledge.

Scientific knowledge is discovered knowledge. The same Greek word for truth (aletheia) means to discover. On the other hand, the providential drama of history is apprehendable by an historical consciousness which to the Jews meant revealed knowledge. This kind of knowledge is accessible only through a relationship, namely that of the covenant with the living God. A covenant is much like a marriage, and in fact the concept of Christian marriage derives from it as Solomon’s Song of Songs or Paul’s metaphor of the Church as Christ’s bride would suggest). The knowledge that a husband and wife have of each other is inaccessible outside the covenant, the commitment if you will, of the marriage bond. A so called “live-in” with no commitment will yield a different, inferior kind of knowledge, that which accrues to a corporation’s contract wherein unmet expectations leave the partners free to abrogate the contract.

Within the covenant however, the Jews remain eternally the “chosen” people. This living God is like a jealous husband who cares for his creation by acting primarily in human history through the events and situations of his creation. This is an historical experience simply because an historical people, living in an historical place, at an historical juncture in time, entered into a covenant relationship with God. That experience yields real knowledge, albeit different from that obtained through science from observing and studying nature.

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Original cover for Vico’s third edition of the New Science (1744)

This is the paradox of freedom and providence in Vico’s speculation on history. Here I simply wish to point out that providence as basis of historical consciousness cannot be grasped by the limited route of rational science. By its very nature science can deal only with what is apprehended in an objective mode by an observing, uninvolved subject. Chance has to be eliminated as much as possible to allow for the repetition of controlled experimental conditions. But even here there is a caveat. Modern quantum mechanics has strongly suggested to the modern Cartesian mind-set that perhaps the rationalistic object/subject dichotomy may prove a bit too simplistic for the apprehension of reality. That perhaps contrary to what Einstein presupposed God does play dice with the universe after all.

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Giambattista Vico (1668-1744)

I suggest that what we should come away with from those musings on the biblical notion of providence is that the Jews gave us a preliminary revolutionary way of making sense of reality, a myth if you will, whose logos or meaning is this: Reality is historical and is based on the seeming paradox of God’s and Man’s freedom in a complementary relationship. It is only with Vico, however, that this Western historical consciousness becomes fully self-conscious and systematic.

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 2

History as Contemporary History and Ethico-political Historioagraphy
A Presentation by Ernesto Paolozzi
(Chapter 7 of his e-book The Philosophy of History and the Duty of Freedom)

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Benedetto Croce (1866 --1952)

In History, Theory and Practice, written between 1912 and 1917, and first published in German, Croce asserts that history, if it is truly history, is always contemporary history. This assumption, whose subversive claim is clear, is both theoretical and polemical, as any philosophical proposition. From a logical point of view, it is clear that historiography, since it is founded on judgment, can only be “contemporary,” as it arises out of exigencies or an interest contemporary to the historian, even if what is being investigated is a remote past. In a polemical sense, Croce means to refute both the objectivist histories and thesis histories, as well as mere chronicle and aprioristic history.

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It is the present that “creates” the past, just as in Kant the eye makes the world, and historical judgment changes because of its nature, that of never being definitive but always ready to be put into question. There is no doubt that at first Croce’s concept can appear relativistic, subjective and idealistic, according to the point of view and the terminology one employs. If everyone makes history according to his intellectual or practical needs, what guarantee do we have as to the veracity or objectivity of the story being told? In recent times, but even in the past, we have come to think of historiography in terms of story (récit), of mere narrative experience, devoid of any real truth-content. Is Croce the unaware and unrecognized precursor of relativistic hermeneutics, of what has been effectively defined as “weak thought”?  Is Croce the first postmodern thinker, granted that this definition means anything? Croce would deny peremptorily this presumed relationship, just as he took great care to differentiate his historicism (which he defined as absolute) from the relativistic one (if indeed it was) of the so-called German Historicism, offspring of the crisis of Hegelianism. Judgment, which is always contemporary because it unites particular and universal, is always, in its form, true. If it changes it is because the conditions change, which does not mean that in previous formulations it was false. If, for instance, one is convinced that art is the beautiful, he will regard the work of Dante as not artistic because he only focuses on the allegorical-moralistic aspect. If, at a later moment, one “discovers” that beside the allegory, the Commedia is a work rich in representations, in images, in short, in expressive force (that is, art, according to our definition), the judgment changes, but not the form, that is, the intentionality of the concept itself. Historiography changes with the changing of history, culture, interests, but this does not meant that it vanishes because truth is nothing more than this process of continuous and infinite succession of judgments. There is no truth with capital “T.” Hegel would have said that truth is a process, becoming, it makes itself.

Although this point deserves a longer and a more in-depth discussion, this partial clarification that confirms the “contemporaneity” of every history, also denies, as its logical consequence, all those false histories or pseudo-histories that do not satisfy those requirements because they do not originate from a real need, from a true interest, but remain closed within the circle of mere erudition. Hence, the resolute negation of the distinction between chronicle and history (there is no chronicle that precedes History), between the “facts,” which supposedly precede interpretation providing it with an objective base, and judgments. Once again, then, a concise polemic with respect to positivism, whose philosophical and methodological “ingenuity” seems to bring historiography back before Vico, who claimed the inseparable unity of philology and philosophy, of the verum and the factum. In fact, Croce does not condemn serious and rigorous philology, which is certainly essential to historical research which employs it toward a synthesis that in reality is inseparable.

If in Croce’s view, there is no value in anecdotal histories (even though he himself had been an impassioned collector), in the history of curiosities that more or less excite the imagination, in documentary history, and alike, it does not mean that the real (contemporary) need of the historian is assimilated to the a priori of those stories that we could define thesis histories. Subjectivity does not imply distortion of events subservient to a pre-constituted will, even for noble ideals. Thus Croce denies truth value to those philosophies of histories that aimed at demonstrating, by instrumentalizing the “facts” of history, a general and abstract conception of life. From St. Augustine to Hegel to Marx, Croce’s critique targets the overall attitude assumed by these philosophers beyond the depth of their theories and, as we said, of their ideal and moral intentions. There is no doubt that in debunking the traditional and somewhat trite idea of history as magistra vitae (since it is always life, the present, that puts the past into perspective) there is at play a Marxist reminiscence. Namely, the idea that an objective history does not exist but only and always a biased, instrumental, ideological history, or whatever else one may wish to call it. As we have seen, the basic diversity between Croce’s theory and that of Marxist historians consists in Croce’s belief, of theoretical and ethical origins, according to which judgment is always a judgment that aims to arrive at the truth. Croce speaks of the interest for truth, the need to see clearly before taking action. This is not a dogmatic, predetermined truth which, in order to confirm it, one constructs a convenient past.

The influence of Marxism does not end here. Croce himself reminds us that from Marx he learned, as we have already seen with the “discovery of utility” as a spiritual value, to realize the importance of economic factors in history. It is precisely on this theme that Croce’s critique (in Latin America they thought of him as a reformist), in denying philosophical value to Marxism, proposes to view it as a canon of historical interpretation, a good pair of glasses to look at historical events, but not to absolutize as a metaphysical principle. “Metaphysical,” precisely, since to raise just one aspect of life, even if it is the material principle of economy, as a founding moment of the entire history of humanity, means wanting to explain the whole of reality through an entity that is situated outside reality itself, outside becoming, as being the only generating cause, a sort of secular causa sui.

History, therefore, is not determined by any particular or privileged cause, least of all it is a quantitative whole of special juxtaposed histories (economic, juridical, institutional, cultural histories, history of ideas, customs, and so on) reducible empirically to one comprehensive, universal history. There is no doubt that for Croce one can and must privilege one aspect, one moment of the immense flow of history, but the real universality is in the ability of putting judgment into motion, in the way the events are qualified. It is the interpreter’s point of view that confers the necessary unity. In this sense, and only in this sense, history is always positive history, that is, of the categorical value that one confers to the event which, however brutal, has a sense, a meaning, in the complex web that holds the many events together. Historiography, therefore, is never an executioner. It neither condemns nor absolves. In a certain way it justifies but, let it be clear, at the level of logic not of morality.In short, it understands moral judgment as valid for action, for history in the making, not for the one that is already made. To understand the reasons of an event, of a dictatorship for instance, does not mean resigning oneself and not combating the possible advent of new dictatorships. This is the circle of thought and action.

In 1924, Croce meant to define what we commonly understand for history with the well known definition of a ethico-political history. This was a definition that could seem (and in some ways is) ambiguous and contradictory with respect to his doctrine of the unity of history. With this formula, Croce intends to stress the ethical and religious character (i.e. secular religiosity) of history understood as history of human civilization. In fact, the addition of the adjective “political” goes to prove the will of the philosopher not to abandon the logical synthesis between ideal moment and moment of force, both dialectically indispensable for the evolution of life and, therefore, history. From this point of view the new definition ends up by attributing to history a strong unitarian sense since, in the end, the many possible histories find a sense in the unique history of peoples, namely the one that flows, precisely, into ethico-political feelings and ideals. To give one example, it will certainly not be from the histories of parliamentary institutions, or from the history of fine arts, that we will be able to determine the overall level of a people’s civilization.

There is no doubt that Croce’s doctrine feels the effects of the incipient struggle that liberty will have to conduct against the new totalitarian regimes of the twentieth century and, therefore, that the emphasis shifts from the evaluation of history as power and force of Machiavellian and Marxist memory, to that of platonic origins, as we said, of history understood as history of moral freedom. But in either case, it does not seem to us that from a purely philosophical point of view, Croce meant to privilege a single aspect of the complex human events.

As in the case of aesthetics, it is not possible to distinguish, almost hierarchically, the activity of Croce the theorist from Croce the critic, in the same way that one cannot affirm that his historical works derive mechanically from the methodological ones. In fact, their gestation is strictly interwoven with his vast and varied philosophical activity, and they are closely connected to the development of the historical conditions of his time. History of the Kingdom of Naples (1925) closes, in a certain way, the period of erudite research that Croce devoted to Naples (famous his work on the theaters of Naples) and represents the first remarkable example of ethico-political history. The Storia dell’età barocca in Italia. Letteratura e vita morale, (History of the Baroque Age in Italy. Literature and Moral Life) (1929), with its famous polemic on the baroque, is also exemplary, for certain aspects, of his method and judgment, his thought and taste, who saw in baroque artfulness a flaw both in poetry and in moral life, and in whose harsh judgment one can detect a devaluation of the baroque. After all, it cannot be denied that if the baroque had been an empty rhetorical exercise, as in part it was, Croce’s critique would be well-founded.

A History of Italy, 1871-1915 (1928), even in the purity of its historiographical undertaking, that is, in the impartiality that characterizes it, is not at all neutral, in fact it is decisively a polemical and political work, tending to demonstrate the “superiority” of the entire civilization of liberal Italy over Fascist Italy. The History of Europe in the Nineteenth Century (1932) is probably the most well known (certainly outside of Italy) and may be the most controversial of the historical narratives that make up the great tetralogy. This fundamental work, which narrates in a style worthy of the greatest prose writers of any age, the triumph and the decline of liberalism in the nineteenth century, is at the same time an acute reconstruction of the historical events of that century, an essay of political philosophy, an invective against totalitarianism, a moral witnessing as sincere as it was suffered. In this work, a vision is drawn of the original liberalism and of the present one and, at the same time, and coherently with this vision of the world, one finds a resolute act of faith in liberty that was of great encouragement to so many who in that dramatic historical moment, seemed to have lost all hope. This is the sense of the famous closing lines of the book that, so often quoted, is still worth remembering, with the admonition that to fully understand the sincerity of the style one must keep in mind the historical moment in which it was written. The same goes for the repeated call to Christian religion understood as the foundation of Western civilization, jeopardized by totalitarian regimes, a call which echoes the sense of that famous statement “we cannot but call ourselves Christians,” uttered by a lay philosopher who had also singled out the Church, as a political organization of dogma, the eternal enemy of the State.

A history inspired by the liberal idea cannot, even in its practical and moral corollary, end with the absolute rejection and condemnation of those who feel and think differently. It simply says to those who agree with it: “Work according to the line that is here laid down for you, with your whole self, every day, every hour, in your every act; and trust in divine Providence, which knows more than we individuals do and works with us, inside us and over us.” Words like these, which we have often heard and uttered in our Christian education and life, have their place, like others from the same source, in the “religion of liberty.”

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 END  OF 43rd SESSION OF THE  OVI  SYMPOSIUM (15/01/2015)

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Intro - P. 1 - P. 2 

2nd Meeting - 3rd Meeting - 4th Meeting - 5th Meeting - 6th Meeting - 7th Meeting - 8th Meeting -

9th Meeting - 10th Meting - 11th Meeting - 12th Meeting - 13th Meeting - 14th Meeting - 15th Meeting -

16th Meeting - 17th Meeting - 18th Meeting - 19th Meeting - 20th Meeting - 21st Meeting -

22nd Meeting -23rd Meeting - 24th Meeting - 25th Meeting - 26th Meeting - 27th Meeting -

28th Meeting -29th Meeting - 30th Meeting - 31st Meeting - 32nd Meeting - 33rd Meeting -

34th Meeting -35th Meeting - 36th Meeting - 37th Meeting - 38th Meeting - 39th Meeting -

40th Meeting -41st Meeting - 42nd Meeting - 43rd Meeting -

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