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"The End of Italy" and Dante's New-Old Social Paradigm "The End of Italy" and Dante's New-Old Social Paradigm
by Dr. Emanuel Paparella
2011-12-02 07:13:28
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On November 15 2011, there appeared in Foreign Affairs an article by David Gilmore titled The End of Italy which begins thus: “Why should we be surprised Italy is falling apart? With dozens of languages and a hastily made union, it was barely a real country to begin with.” The article was translated into Italian and published approvingly in a right-wing on-line publication, l’Occidentale.

It created a spirited reaction pro and con by Italian readers, as well as English readers. That was not too surprising. What was surprising however, to me at least, is that hardly anybody, not excluding the author of the article, mentioned that classical work of Italian Literature dealing with Italian unification, Il Gattopardo by Giuseppe di Lampedusa. There, via the Prince of Salina one can discover the real reasons for the failure of a unification based on Machiavellian nationalistic foundations.

None of the comments nor the author mentioned the universal vision of Dante for a united Europe and Italy’s role in it as found in his De Monarchia. To none of the commentators it occurred to apply to the EU the Italian analogy of a failing union in crisis in search of a lost cultural identity; or for that matter, the universal experience of the Roman Empire with a common universal language, Latin; or the universality of the Catholic (i.e., universal) Church or the universality of the Renaissance born in Florence and disseminated in the whole of Europe. No one even mentioned the need for new social paradigm on which a genuine union (on both sides of the Atlantic) may be envisioned.

What was emphasized rather, as right wing publications tend to do unfortunately, was a negative and divisive regionalism which necessitates, as per Gilmore, a federalism which would respect the original regionalism under which Italy was born as a modern nation. It is hardly mentioned that Spain, France, Belgium, the Netherland all have separatist secessionist movements a la Umberto Bossi or a la Wilder pointing to an outrageous paradox in the era of the European Union: that rather than the fomenting of a strong union, the way back to good old nationalism and the war of all against all (as described by Leopardi in 19th century Italy) may be underway in the EU while lip service is paid to the greater good and the greater union. What points to it is that no debate ensued on the need for a new paradigm, and not just for Europe but for the whole of Western Civilization.

It then occurred to me that in the past I have written two articles on Dante and one on Christopher Dawson. The first one on Dante was written four years ago on May 7, 2007 and was titled Dante’s Vision of a United Europe ; the second one on Dante was written two years ago on December 28, 2009 and was titled Dante’s Timelessness; the one on Dawson, placed in between the two on Dante, was written three years ago on January 28, 2008 and was titled Christopher Dawson and the Making of Europe .

What these three articles have in common was the consideration of new-old paradigms for a Western culture in crisis as proposed by Dawson’s reflections on Dante and the 12th century. Assuming that at least some readers have deepened their knowledge of both Dante and Dawson, and within the context of the examination of new imaginative social paradigms for Western Civilization, the EU and Italy, that I have been exploring lately in the pages of this magazine, I would like to revisit those two genial authors and their vision of Europe. The author who  provided the most informative and inspiring writing for my research on this subject was Domenic Manganiello (a professor of English in Canada) who wrote a piece recently titled Christopher Dawson and the Age of Dante. These reflections follow his outline of the subject. 

Undoubtedly, as Manganiello points out, Dante is central in Christopher Dawson's project of restoring Christian culture to the West. He wrote about Dante as "The greatest literary genius of the Middle Ages," who produced a masterpiece that symbolized the most "perfect expression of the power and the glory of the medieval cultural achievement".  For Dawson Western civilization reached the peak of its formative process in the Middle Ages. To understand what makes Europe tick one has to understand (not necessarily agree or practice), the main stream of Christian culture which is located in the 12th century and specifically in Dante’s Commedia.

This return to the Middle Ages by Dawson was not prompted by nostalgia for the old order of Western Christendom. His advocacy of Dante must be attributed instead to the integrity of his historical vision. He set out, in the first place, to "exorcise the ghost of an ancient error" that had haunted historical scholarship. This cultural prejudice had originated in the excessive idealization of classical antiquity by Renaissance humanists, was then passed on to the Enlightenment philosophers, and from them gradually percolates to the modern secularist ideologies. An example we have looked at recently is the Calvinist theology of the Puritans considered the first European pioneers and settlers of the US, which then becomes the Protestant secular ethics; another is Straussian philosophy which simply by-passes the whole medieval period to return to what it considers the gilded age of Europe: ancient Greece, already examined in previous articles.

In any case the influence this prejudice exerted on the popular imagination cannot be underestimated. It has prevented a proper historical appreciation of the Middle Ages. Post-Renaissance scholars tended to ignore even the existence of a Christian culture. They had coined the term "Middle Ages" “Dark Ages,” and “Gothic” to mean a kind of "cultural vacuum," a sort of barbarism between two ages of progress---the ancient civilization of Greece and Rome and the civilization of modern Europe. Voltaire's dismissal of the medieval period as "a thousand years of stupidity and barbarism" is well known.

Dawson, while indicating that indeed Christian culture cannot be simply equated with medieval culture, since it existed before the Middle Ages, nevertheless insisted on viewing Christian culture as an "intelligible historical unity" that gave rise to the actual sociological entity we now call Europe. For Dawson it is in fact impossible to understand a culture unless one understands its religious roots. The Middle Ages are the world from which we come and to which in a sense we still belong. To forget that is to lose one’s cultural identity.

Enter the 19th century’s discovery of the Middle Ages which Dawson described it as "an event of no less importance in the history of European thought than the rediscovery of Hellenism by the Humanists." The Romantics did not see the Middle Ages simply as a gap in the history of culture, but found in them "something utterly different from the world that they knew--the revelation of a new kind of beauty." They discovered the dolce stil nuovo ("sweet new style") of Dante and the Italian poets of the thirteenth century.

But how does The Divine Comedy also dramatize the centrifugal forces that ruptured the cultural unity of the Middle Ages? The answer lies in Dante's philosophy of history, which was based on the medieval apocalyptic thinking of Joachim of Flora and the Franciscans, on Thomistic ethics, and on the political ideals of Aristotle and Virgil. These building blocks---above all St. Thomas's demonstration of "the independent and autonomous existence of the natural order, of the distinction between reason and faith, nature and grace, yet of their harmony in difference" -- rendered possible Dante's conception of a mysterious parallelism between the worlds of Christianity and pagan antiquity, between the Church and the Roman Empire. His vision of the political unification of humanity in a single world-government marks the first time in Christian thought that the earthly and temporal city is regarded as having its own supreme end, a sort of penultimate end which is however important to arrive at the ultimate end: Augustine’s city of God.

This new yet old interpretation of history recalls the medieval tradition of the Holy Roman Empire and the Augustinian concept of the City of God, but, at the same time, it anticipates the humanism of the Renaissance and "the modern liberal ideal of universal peace as well as the modern nationalist ideal of the historical mission of a particular people and state". Although Dante still embraces the ideal of Christian universalism against the territorial and ecclesiastical ambitions of the new national monarchies, he places his hope in the Empire for its realization rather than in the Papacy. His call for a messianic prince who would save Italy and reform the increasingly corrupt human face of the Church fell on deaf ears. The Prince who actually did come was Machiavelli. The drive for raw political power, along with the conflicts of opposing religious traditions, ultimately proved too strong for the centre of Christian unity to hold. And this is the tragedy of modern Italy, a country which has unfortunately opted for Machiavelli’s quest for power and nationalism rather than for Dante’s universalism as found in the Roman Empire, the universal Catholic Church and the Renaissance.

As a result, Dante's philosophy constituted an idiosyncratic witness to Christian universalism. However, the "distinctively Christian character" of his secularism and his humanism set them utterly apart from those of classical antiquity. The enduring legacy of The Divine Comedy remains its spiritual realism: "There is nothing subjective or ideal in his world, everything has its profound ontological basis in an objective spiritual order. The intelligible and the real are one". The religious element in his poem, therefore, represents not simply an allegory, but the fundamental structure of reality.

Why are Dawson's observations about the Age of Dante still relevant today? Especially instructive is Dawson's view of the thirteenth century as a unique period in European history: “Europe has seen no greater Christian hero than St. Francis, no greater Christian philosopher than St. Thomas, no greater Christian poet than Dante, perhaps even no greater Christian ruler than St. Louis”. Christianity had attained its most complete cultural expression in the Middle Ages.

It is against a background of Christianity that all our thought has significance. An individual European may not believe that the Christian Faith is true, and yet what he says, and makes, and does, will all spring out of his heritage of Christian culture and depend upon that culture for its meaning. Only a Christian culture could have produced a Voltaire or a Nietzsche...If Christianity goes, the whole of our culture goes. The iconoclast necessarily depends on the Christian cultural tradition he seeks to demolish in order to make sense of his own act of rebellion. Dawson believed that the future of our culture depends on preserving its Christian roots.

Becoming conversant with the mindset of the Middle Ages, however, will not, by itself, get rid of our present cultural malaise in the West. Dawson reminds his readers that "the Christian ideal most of all tends to transcend all cultural forms". Medieval Christendom is worthy of study not merely as an intellectual exercise for the detached observer, but because it offers "the outstanding example of the application of Faith to Life". We can learn both from its achievements as well as from its failures. Medieval culture does not belong to some golden age long since dead, but is always alive for the Christian who believes that "the past and present are united in the one Body of the Church and that the Christians of the past are still present as witnesses and helpers in the life of the Church today".

Dante understood this truth very well. In the midst of local and world crises that signalled the waning of the Middle Ages, he turned to the saints---Peter, James, John, Dominic, Francis,  Aquinas, Bonaventure, and Bernard---to help him make a personal examination of conscience. . From the outset, then, Dante realizes that he must change himself before he can change the world.  At the beginning of the Comedy the pilgrim-poet finds himself in the dark wood that leads to hell; gradually he learns that the whole of Western civilization finds itself there too. Civilizations too, as Vico has taught us, find themselves in decline and get sick. The sickness unto death is to be sick and not even to know it. Dante, as per Dawson, can supply the urgently needed diagnosis and prognosis to restore health to Western culture. All that is needed is a post-modern less biased and more “enlightened” attitude toward religion in general and Christianity in particular. That is to say, the Enlightenment has still to enlighten itself.

 


     
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Roman Stranger2011-12-02 20:51:18
FOUR POINTS IN PASSING...

WHERE DOES DANTE EVER REFER TO A "UNITED EUROPE"?

>Dawson reminds his readers that "the Christian ideal most of all tends to transcend all cultural forms".

WHAT IDEAL DOES *NOT* TRANSCEND ALL CULTURAL FORMS (WHATEVER THESE MAY BE)?

>Straussian philosophy which simply by-passes the whole medieval period to return to what it considers the gilded age of Europe: ancient Greece

THE CLAIM ABOVE IS PATENTLY FALSE. IT IS WELL KNOWN BY SCHOLARS WHO HAVE READ STRAUSS, THAT THE PHILOSOPHER RETURNED EXPLICITLY TO *MEDIEVAL RATIONALISM* (REPRESENTED ESP. BY MAIMONIDES) AS ANTIDOTE TO THE CRISIS OR EVEN DEMISE OF *MODERN* REASON. SOME OF STRAUSS'S BEST KNOWN STUDENTS SPECIALIZED IN MEDIEVAL PHILOSOPHY.

>Dante still embraces the ideal of Christian universalism against the territorial and ecclesiastical ambitions of the new national monarchies, he places his hope in the Empire for its realization rather than in the Papacy.

WHERE DOES DANTE EVER INDICATE THAT ANY EMPIRE MIGHT REALIZE "THE IDEAL OF CHRISTIAN UNIVERSALISM"? WHERE DID DANTE EVER SPEAK IN THE TERMS IN QUESTION?

>The intelligible and the real are one.

THIS SOUNDS LIKE A PLATONIST'S AXIOM, PROVIDED THE INTELLIGIBLE IS NOT UNDERSTOOD A LA HEGEL AS THE REALIZATION OF AN IDEAL. GOOD THING DAWSON REASSURES US THAT "There is nothing subjective or ideal in [Dante's] world."


Emanuel Paparella2011-12-03 05:35:04
http://www.johnreilly.info/dwg.htm

In passing on the passing, as already mentioned in my piece above, that Roman strangers of various stripes and convictions should suddenly appear to egregiously attack Dante’s universal vision of a world government and declare the end of history to propose a Platonic polis outside of time (inevitably hiding a hidden agenda of xenophobic anti-multicultural nationalism), is not very surprising, as indeed other comments galore to the Foreign Policy article in question amply testify to. As mentioned, what remains surprising is that NOT ONE of those self-declared experts on the end of Italy parading as sages on stage has taken up the challenge of Giuseppe di Lampedusa’s Il Gattopardo and the refusal of the Prince of Salina within such a novel to accept the invitation to join in the building of the brand new nation in 1960 called Italy in 1960; a nation this who eventually falls in a monstrous contradiction: that of a Mussolini who espouses both a narrow-minded rabid nationalism while feigning himself a Roman emperor redivivus with universal goals for Europe and the world. It is as if the novel, by now a canon of Italian literature, does not even exist for those "experts."

As regards the strange and bizarre fallacies proposed in the stranger’s comment on Dante’s De Monarchia I propose to said stranger, be he Italian or not, classicist or Hegelian, Straussian or Vichian, an attentive reading of John J. Reilly’s essay titled “Dante’s World Government: De Monarchia in the 21st Century,” as above linked. At least it gets its historical facts right.


Emanuel Paparella2011-12-03 10:43:15
P.S. On Strauss' view of Medieval philosophy, it looks as if the Roman Stranger before egregiously charging others with "patently false claims" ought to have remembered the fact that Strauss wrote a book titled Athens and Jerusalem where he points out that medieval philosophy tried and failed to reconcile two utterly irreconciliable traditions, the Biblical and the ancient Greek. Also he should have remembered that the greatest representative of medieval philosophy is St. Thomas Aquinas who actually used Aristotle as the underpinning of his philosophy and proved that the synthesis was desirable and indeed possible. Selective amnnesia is a sure sign of sophistry parading as serious scholarship.


Roman Stranger2011-12-03 15:28:15
DR. PAPARELLA,

THE VISION I QUESTIONED--NOT "ATTACKED"--IS YOURS, NOT DANTE'S.

PLEASE NOTE, FROM THE ARTICLE YOU COMMENTED ON: "David Gilmour is a British historian and the author of award-winning biographies of George Curzon, Rudyard Kipling, and GIUSEPPE DI LAMPEDUSA. His most recent book, The Pursuit of Italy: A History of a Land, Its Regions, and Their Peoples, was published this month."

SINCE WHEN IS A QUESTION A "FALLACY"?

STRAUSS *NEVER* WROTE A BOOK TITLED "ATHENS AND JERUSALEM". THIS IS THE TITLE OF AN ESSAY IN WHICH HE UNEQUIVOCALLY CRITIQUES VARIOUS READINGS OF A/J, INCLUDING THE TERTULLIAN ONE YOU ERRONEOUSLY REFER TO HIM.

ST. THOMAS WAS A GREAT MEDIEVAL THEOLOGIAN. WHERE DID HE EVER SPEAK OF HIMSELF AS A PHILOSOPHER? FOR ST. THOMAS, THE GREATEST MEDIEVAL PHILOSOPHER WAS "THE COMMENTATOR" TO ARISTOTLE, I.E. IBN RUSHD (AVERROES).

THE LAST TIME I CHECKED, THERE WAS PHILOSOPHY EVEN OUTSIDE OF CHRISTIAN HEADINGS. THIS SUGGESTS THAT THE ALLEGED CHRISTIAN SYNTHESIS OF REASON AND AUTHORITY IS BY NO MEANS CONCLUSIVE.




Emanuel L. Paparella2011-12-03 16:57:34
In 2001 a book by David Janssens came out in Dutch titled ATHENS AND JERUSALEM which was a study of Leo Strauss’ thought. A revised English version came out in 2009 and was reviewed by Thomas Hibbs in First Things.

Here for the benefit of any reader but especially those self-declared experts who need to unburden themselves of much ignorance on this subject (a subject last dealt in great detail by a Papal encyclicals on Fides et Ratio--Pope John Paul II-- which is NOT about theology and reason but philosophy and reason as Aquinas Summa is also, then commented in Italian by Vittorio Possenti in a book titled Reason and Revelation, as translated in English by your truly, Ashgate Press 2000) is an illuminating excerpt from such a review.

“In a 1932 letter Leo Strauss wrote, 'I cannot believe and . . . therefore I search for a possibility to live without faith.' That search, which began in the 1920s, led him from contemporary theological debates and the modern liberal critique of religion to medieval Jewish and Islamic thinkers and back to Plato and Socrates, from whom Strauss learned that 'raising the question regarding the right way of life—this alone is the right way of life.' [In this book] … Janssens gives an instructive account of the origins of Strauss's discovery of Socratic philosophy and also helps to explain something that has often puzzled appreciative Christian readers of Strauss: why he devotes so little attention to, and why HIS STUDENTS REMAIN FOR THE MOST PART BLISSFULLY IGNORANT OF cHRISTIAN THOUGHT."(emphasis mine)

P.S. This conversation redolent of a diatribe has all the sophistic signs of a regression ad infinitum and ad nauseam for myself and the readers that may still be paying attention. There will be no other reply to any further comments from anonymous sources.


Emanuel Paparella2011-12-04 01:25:04
P.S.S. For the record, a further follow-up: nowhere in the article in question does David Gilmore mention Giuseppe di Lampedusa nor the Prince of Salina, which makes my point that knowig about Il Gattopardo he was neverthless selectively amnesiac when it came to reporting the events of 1860 culminating in the unification of Italy, the same problem that the anonymous Roman stranger has leading the perceptive reader to suspect sophistry at its worst in the name of scholarship.


Emanuel Paparella2011-12-04 17:40:32
A further follow-up: a private reply on the matter which has nothing personal and private to a friend (George) who participates actively in a forum to which I belong:

Thanks for the feedback George. What you say on a united Italy is indeed quite true and to the point. Indeed, you are quite right, more than a mere geographical expression (north and south, as has been suggested by somebody else in the convivium) Italy is an idea that needs to keep in harmony the particular (the 20 regions and their dialects) and the universal (the Empire, the Catholic Church, the Renaissance).

That is what the likes of the secessionist Umberto Bossi and his cohorts don’t seem to know or to grasp very well when they advocate a Italy full of xenophobic nationalism and anti-multiculturalism. That is the way down into war and chaos, not the way up to universal justice advocated by Dante in his De Monarchia. That was already exemplified 60 years ago by the utter confusion a Mussolini revealed when he advocated at the same time the Roman Empire and a nationalistic colony-grabbing Italy competing with other European nations, England being one of those.

All that is not to say however that the so called problem of the Mezzogiorno does not exist. It was there from the beginning of Italian unification and remains to be honestly addressed today. Most of the massive Italian emigration abroad took place after the unification of the country in 1860 and 90% or so was from Southern Italy. It does no good to hide that simple fact with fancy ideas such as the South represents the past and tradition and the North represents the future and progress. That is why I mentioned Il Gattopardo and the fact that neither Gilmore nor any of his commentators mention it. It is there in the words of the Prince of Salina that we have the explanation why many Southern Italian did not join enthusiastically in the building of that mint new country with a mint new King residing in Turin rather than Naples. ... David Gilmore would have done a greater service to his own country in pointing out the divisions still existent there in the era of the EU. Gilmore knows full well the novel of Lampedusa since he wrote a biography of the author but it is nowhere mentioned in his article in Foreign Affair which was translated and picked up by a right wing newspaper such as L’Occidentale; hence the still ongoing controversy on both sides of the Atlantic.



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