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Ovi Symposium; Twenty-first Meeting
by The Ovi Symposium
2014-03-13 10:27:53
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Ovi Symposium:

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

between Drs. Abis, Buccolo, Nannery, Paolozzi, Paparella and Vena
Twenty-first Meeting: 13 March 2014



Direct participants (in alphabetical order):

alessadraDr. Alessandra Abis is a graduate of the Department of Foreign and Classical Languages and Literatures at the University of Bari. She, with her husband Arcangelo, founded the Adriani Teatro in 1992 in Italy. She has performed in Greek-Latin plays, among others: “Voyage in the Greek World” (Andromaca), “Miles Gloriosus” (Plauto), “The Last Temptation of Socrates (from Plato’s Ione Minor). Also from the Commedia dell’Arte: “Harlequin Doctor Flyer,” and “Without Makeup” (Chechov), “Four Portraits of Mothers,” Lady Madness (Erasmus’ In Praise of Folly).

buccoloDr. Maria Buccolo teaches theater at the University of Roma Tre in Rome, Italy. She is a graduate of the University of Bari and has participated in various projects aiming at establishing cultural bridges among nations and people, one of which is the Project for the Integration of Immigrants via the theater “Leonardo da Vinci Transfert Multilaterale dell’Innovazione” with the participation of four EU nations: France, Italy. Belgium and Rumania).

nannery01Dr. Lawrence Nannery has studied at Boston College, Columbia University and at The New School for Social Research where he obtained his Ph.D. He founded The Graduate Faculty Philosophy Journal and authored The Esoteric Composition of Kafka’s Corpus. Devising Nihilistic Literature, 2 vols. Lewiston: the Edward Mellen Press, 2006.

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.

venaDr. Michael Vena is a former professor emeritus at Southern Connecticut State University. He has a Ph.D. in Italian Humanism (with a dissertation on Leon Battista Alberti) from Yale University. He has published a book on Italian theater titled Italian Grotesque Theater (2001). Recently he has published an English collection of modern Italian plays by well known playwrights such as Pirandello, Fabbri and De Filippo.


Indirect Participants at this meeting within the “Great Conversation” across the Ages (in the order of their appearance): Mach, Poggi, Popper, Hume, Croce, Russell, Frege, Whitehead, Wittgenstein, Carnap, Abbagnano, Sartre, De Saussure, Heidegger, Lacan, Althusser, Piaget, Levi-Strauss, Foucault, Althusser, Della Volpe, Lukacs, Labriola, Gramsci, Adorno, Hokehaimer, Marcuse, Lenin, Marx, Freud, Hanser, Gombeich, Jung, Adler, Klein, Arnheimer, Collingwood, Vattimo, Ayer, Munro, Langer, Fubini, Benjamin, Jay, Husserl, Brecht, Artaud, Spitzer, Troeltsch, Dawson, Derrida, Descartes, Plato, Epicurus, Lucretius, Petocha, Havel, Kierkegaard, Habermas, Augustine, Feuerbach, Benjamin, Held, Valery, John-Paul II, Hegel, Marheineke, Gans, Hinning, Hoths, Michelet, Kant, Ormazol, Ahriman, Galileo, Vico, Herder, Hamaren, Goethe, Campanella, Thaulow, Chiarelli, Marinetti, Mann, Pirandello, D’Annunzio, Verga, Shakespeare, Chopin, Rosso di San Sepolcro, Antonelli, Cavacchioli, Goldoni, Morselli, Talli, Bondanella, Conaway, Ragusa, Plautus, Mauriac, Zorilla, Gasner.


Table of Content for the 21st Session of the Ovi Symposium (13 March 2014)

Main Sub-themes of the 21st Session: The philosophical implications of Neo-positivism for The Spiritual Identity of Europe

Preamble by way of an Abstract by the Symposium’s Coordinator Emanuel L. Paparella

Section 1: “The Return of Positivism and its Crisis: part one.” A presentation by Ernesto Paolozzi as translated from his book Vicende dell’Estetica (chapter 6).

Section 2: “Does the Center Hold? And is the Enlightenment still to Enlighten itself? Philosophical Reflections on the Spiritual Identity of Europe apropo of the Crisis in the Ukraine.” A presentation by Emanuel L. Paparella.

Section 3: “Is Vico Hegel’s Predecessor? ‘An unknown page from Hegel’s last few months of life.’” An imaginary conversation with Hegel by Benedetto Croce.”

Section 4: “Profile of a Great Italian Playwright: Luigi Chiarelli.” A presentation by Michael Vena.


Preamble by way of an Abstract by the Symposium’s Coordinator Emanuel L. Paparella

For the 21st session of the Ovi Symposium we have placed on the table four intriguing presentations. The first one is on neo-positivism in the 20th century by Ernesto Paolozzi. Part two will be posted in the next 22nd session. In this presentation, which has been translated from his book Vicende dell’Estetica, Paolozzi gives us an historical philosophical overview of the return of positivism or neo-positivism in philosophy beginning with Ernst Mach in the 19th century all the way to John Dewey, Popper and Kuhn in the 20th century. Paolozzi surveys some of the confusing philosophical movements of that era vis a vis neo-positivism explaining to us its assumptions and historical roots, and clarifies for us why neo-positivism (or scientism), no matter how one judges it, is an essential part of the modern era and without its analysis one may fail to identify any cultural malaise latent in it. As usual Paolozzi’s analysis and critique goes straight the root of the problem while dispelling much confusion on the subject.

The second presentation by Emanuel L. Paparella is in tandem with Paolozzi’s analysis of neo-positivism in as much as it examines the Enlightenment as an inspiring element for Europe’s modern and post-modern culture and identifies certain problems, as first intuited and identified by Husserl and Levinas, within the cultural-philosophical-spiritual identity of the new polity called the European Union; in effect those are the problems of extreme rationalism ultimately ending up in positivism which begin with Decartes and pervade much of modern philosophy. The very title of the presentation presents us with two crucial questions: 1) does the center hold? and 2) is the Enlightenment still to enlighten itself? Paparella attempts an answer to those questions and suggests that to simply emphasize democracy, economics, or politics in describing Europe’s cultural identity, as important as those are for any polity, remains a grossly inadequate assessment. We need to go back to the spiritual roots which make Europe a unique continent and culture; that is to say, we need to stop conceiving of Europe as a mere mega-polity competing with other big mega-nations or confederacies such as Russia, China, India, the US and think of it as an ongoing idea still under development and on a journey whose outcome remains unclear. The myth of Europa is suggestive in this regard. This intellectual operation can only be done by a return to origins in a Vichian imaginative mode. It is to be hoped that this presentation on Europe’s spiritual identity will also clarify some common confusions on the unique idea that is the European Union; confusions that become apparent every time there is a political crisis in Europe, the latest being the one in the Ukraine vis a vis Russia and democracy. There we have a culture, that of Russia that is, which considers itself “pure” and not tainted by decadent Western cultural phenomena deluding itself that it is defending its purity from the encroachments of NATO and the West in general. Of course it remains a misguided analysis but we in the West ignore it at our own peril.

The third presentation is an engaging one and is from none other than from Croce redivivus, so to speak, who in 1948 wrote an essay on Hegel by way of an imaginary conversation between himself (under the pseudonym of Sanseverino) and the great philosopher of history Hegel. Croce titled it “An unknown page for the last months of Hegel’s life” and it is presented here in its entirety in its English version by Donald Phillip Verene. It remains a rather obscure essay but important to begin to understand the nexus between Vico, Hegel and Croce. At the end of such an essay Vico is explicitly invoked by name and is introduced to Hegel as someone with whom he would find much affinity, followed then by an inquiry: whether or not Vico could be considered Hegel’s precursor as regards the dialectical method, the reconciliation of opposites, the paradox of Providence, geist as the final telos. Here a thorny question arises: is freedom the ultimate universal telos of life or is it a penultimate one? A question that Hegel leaves unanswered as indeed he must, given that he did not know Vico’s philosophy as well as Hans Georg Gadamer, who unlike Heidegger frankly acknowledged Vico as his precursor and as the trail blazer of modern hermeneutics.

Finally, in the fourth presentation Michael Vena presents a profile and an outline of the works of one of the most important Italian playwright of the 20th century: Luigi Chiarelli, someone at a par with Pirandello but almost forgotten today. He examines in depth some of his plays, especially La Maschera e il Volto and situates them within the framework of Italian Grotesque theater of which Vena is an expert, thus continuing  our ongoing exploration of the theater as an expression of our humanity and the needed aesthetic bridge between life and art.


The Return of Positivism and its Crisis: Part I

A Presentation by Ernesto Paolozzi
(from his book Vicende dell’Estetica)


Ernst Mach (1838-1916)
who inspired the Vienna Circle of 1929 and its manifesto:

The Scientific Conception of the World


The Science of Mechanics by Ernst Mach

It is almost superfluous to remember that every periodization is relative, devoid of real correspondences with the epochs one analyzes. In order for them to be enunciated, for if they are not enunciated one cannot even speak of history, it is necessary to choose a point of view considered the most faithful to reality but that remains above all meaningful within the totality of the interpretation one wishes to offer to the reader. Keeping this in mind we will hold on to the principle which we have held and enunciated up to now; that of essentially paying particular attention to the mass dissemination and propagation of the theories and the doctrines which we are examining.

As it is rather obvious, the dissemination and propagation of ideas and opinions, always come after the original springs of inspiration from which they derive, and they are not necessarily connected with each other, as it may seem from the outlines utilized in summaries, anthologies and scholastic essays. In between these creative fountainheads and the performance of those new ideas there is the entire journey of human history, with its political and social struggles, its scientific discoveries, its affective and moral passions, its economic rivalries, within  a tangled articulated complex of factors which cannot be untied except through arbitrary and convenient choices.

Therefore a point of view is always partial, and for various reasons: because it refers to the history of culture, to philosophy and aesthetics in particular. But we can assume that, even via particular points of view, we can arrive at useful albeit generalized interpretations. This is an assumption which, paradoxically, is founded on a fundamental theoretical act of humility: the consciousness that one cannot discuss anything from a purely general viewpoint, because when one thinks about it carefully, this same preposition “general viewpoint” is contradictory. A particular perspective is never general, but always particular, and there is nobody, except for God, that can look at the world not from a particular but from an absolute position.

Returning to our problem, we can assert that the 60s are the years that signal the return of the positivistic mind-set, those which follow the tragic World War II, the explosion of the first atomic bomb, the crumbling of two of three great dictatorships (Nazism and Fascism) which tormented the 30s and the 40s, the reconstruction of Europe, the definitive consecration of America as a global super-power, the birth of the bi-polarity USA-USSR, the emergence of China and the convoluted and contradictory development of the countries belonging to the so called Third World.

It goes without saying that on a purely philosophical level we need to date the “event” of many years. Usually, the rebirth of positivism to which the adjective logical is usually affixed can be identified with the foundation of the “Vienna Circle” in 1929, and the redaction of the programmatic manifest The Scientific Conception of the World. Stefano Poggi is probably right who in his well balanced book Introduction to Positivism (1985) goes back to the foundation of the “Ernst Mach Circle” to the beginning of the 1920s (the direct antecedent of the Vienna Circle, to the complex thought of Mach), the rebirth of positivism. But in this case too, within philosophy, it is not possible hypothesize too rigid descendances. Poggi write in this respect that “It is certainly true that the ways which go from the years of the “rebirth” of positivism to those in which the work program of those scientists and philosophers—who in reality were not interested in arriving at a monolithic vision of the world—are not linear and cannot be traced back as if they were a normal developmental, almost automatic, process. And it must be emphasized that it is exactly in the development of such a process, it takes form—later articulated in the work program branded neo-logical positivism—a research project which was inimical to the convergence of the psychological and the logical point of view. Obviously this implies the recognition of the massively problematic nature of one of the most critical motives of the original conception of Mach, to the objectively insufficient and in fact equivocal and strongly conditioned by logical debate at the end of the century” (p. 205-206).


Stefano Poggi who authored Introduction to Positivism (1985)

This is all the more true if one remembers that the elements which contributed to the crisis of the old and the new positivism can be traced back in Mach just as after the experience of the “Vienna Circle”, it can be traced back to Popper and his followers who also had a positivistic predisposition.

These crises often enough took place within the schools themselves, as it had already happened for British Empiricism which found within the genial reflections of Hume its most relevant and radical critique. As is well known, Hume’s philosophy, was the spring board for the overcoming, and to some extent for the deepening of the empiricist themes conforming to the new 19th century philosophy. Similarly, at the beginning of the new century was it not Croce who utilized the Machian critique to construct his theory of the pragmatism of the sciences? And were not the post-Popperians of the 70s to place in a crisis, accentuating exactly Mach’s instrumentalism, with an aggressive argumentation which was even greater than the first anti-positivistic reaction, the scientific epistemology of the last thirty years of the 20th century?

We cannot now get into the concrete theoretical discussion on the specific philosophical doctrines of the new positivism, neither can we pretend to have exhausted, on the historical plane, the research of the origins. It would be both useless and pedantic for our research. Which does not means that we ought to deprive ourselves of searching for a unifying motive present in various schools of thought which, although containing the germs of the dissolution of neo-positivism, nevertheless contributed to the diffusion of a reappearing scientific mind-set.

Even American pragmatism, for example, represents an antecedent to positivism, even if in some aspects it is also its negation. On the other hand, it is not always possible to clearly distinguish between schools of thought and individual philosophers. How can we classify the complex and at times confusing activity of Bertrand Russel, the work of Frege or Whitehead? What weight should we assign to Wittgenstein, the philosopher of positivism par excellance, but also one of those who contributed to the creation of a crisis within itself thus greatly modifying his own system of thought?


Ludwing Wittgenstein (1889-1951)

But what ought to give us pause for reflection is the creation of “koinè”, of a Weltanschauung which pervades all fields of knowledge, even if philosophical thoughts per se continues to produce theories which are opposite to neo-positivism. Those new philosophers of science, secure in their new found verificationist creed (verificationism being the criterion, in truth not very original, by which they thought they could draw a line and determine the border between science and metaphysics), tended to interpret the world and, consequently to continue the criticism of interpretations of those who thought differently, reading it, so to speak via the analysis of language. Thus language, the new absolute container of facts and human life, is the protagonist of this new philosophy.


Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947)

In any case, neo-positivism and the so called “analytical” schools which originate with it, needs to be distinguished from classical positivism. This new mind-set does not include, and it will never include, the original enthusiasm for the  progress of the sciences and the certainty that what they give us are absolute truths. There is a calculation at play of the probability of the veracity of sciences and of the same philosophical research and it becomes the focus of the new doctrines. The most famous of the neo-positivists after Wittgenstein, Carnap, writes a well thought out synthesis thus: “In one respect the two disciplines are similar; in the sense that they both are concerned with logical relations among enunciated, one (deductive theory) of the necessary implication, and the other (inductive theory) of the measurement of confirmation, interpreted as a numerical measurement of a partial implication. Nevertheless, staying with the usual exception of the word “inference” which indicates a passage of enunciated established by other enunciated, or the acquisition of a new assertion from given assertions, only the deduction appears to be enumerable among the inferences…The success of a inductive process, rather than consisting of the establishment of a corresponding assertion, includes as essential part the value which is obtained for its confirmation… Therefore, inductive inference, as distinct from deductive inference, is resolved not by the acquisition of an assertion, but in the determination of its confirmation measurement.”


Jean Piaget (1901-1980)

So we see that neo-positivistic philosophy is founded on an empiricism with formalistic implications and logistics which will issue in a true scholasticism of formal logic.


Rudolph Carnap (1891-1970)
Who wrote Logical Foundations of Probability in 1950

But the true and deep sense of the new positivism, with all the upside and the limitations which accompany positions which are too stark, was the attempt, via logical analysis of language and hypothetical-probabilistic empiricism to ferret out any form of overt or covert metaphysics. In this sense the triumph of the “facts” was proclaimed once again, even if the nature of those facts was different, against the assumed fairy tales of speculative philosophy. Here the famous essay of 1932 of Carnap titled The Overcoming of metaphisics through the logical analysis of language is instructive in as much as in it a confusion is detected between metaphysics and philosophy as a whole.


A.J. Ayer (1910-1989), a Founder of Logical Positivism

The fundamental limit of such a position and vision of the world, which is in itself a metaphysics, (whose nature was denounced and individuated by many defenders of  the same “school” such as Ayer) consisted in having destroyed philosophical problems without resolving them. It became fashionable to quote a sentence in the Tractatus of Wittgenstein which went like this: “On what we cannot speak we need to stay silent.” On what one needed to stay silent, if one surveys the analysis of the neo-positivists, is ethics, art, religion, history, or in other words, all which could not be inserted within the limitations of the linguistic analysis, all that interests men and not only scholars.

In this aspect the new positivism was radically different from the first. It was devoid of the thrust, the efficacy of ethics and politics which the first one possessed.  In this regard Nicola Abbagnano speaks of the first positivism as a sort of Romanticism of sciences to point out a certain naivite as well as its limits, but also its strength which invariably accompanies the great movements of opinion. The second one is more astute and it is certainly more rigorous, and perhaps less invasive, but it remains the expression of a shabby era which has lost many enthusiasms. Nazism, Stalinism, atomic explosions had left their mark. The critique of metaphysics carried on even by non positivists philosophers like Heidegger and Croce, the German historicists, Sartre and many others had also left an imprint.


Ferdinand De Saussure (1857-1913)

While in the philosophical field the contrast and the clash among various philosophies left no winners or losers, and while there was a withdraw from the real dialectic of life to the academic halls giving rise to mere academic wars, the real challenge and discussion, the fight for the domination of a pragmatic operative culture, was resolved at least for a period of time in the absolute victory of the positivistic mind-set. For a few years, in an obsessive mode, sociology, anthropology and psychoanalysis did in fact replace even philosophy.


Jacques La Can (1901-1981)

In France, where this scenario unfolds, even the engagè existentialism of Sartre cannot keep up. While it is true that some philosophers of a certain reputation as speculative philosophers continue to operate and even the theology of the Catholic world carries on, the field is nevertheless dominated by Structuralism. This current of thought and opinion assumed the character of cultural fashion and represents one of the most typical examples of modern homologation driven by mass-media, cultural industry and academic schools. Ambiguous and agitated men, at the border between “literary scandal” and the current fashion, such as the psychologist-structuralist Jacques Lacan, obtained success by inserting themselves within the inane triumph of the structuralist movement which indeed exhibited some felt exigencies and found its “authors” in those antecedents which while not representing a significant moment in the history of thought, did surely contribute to the general culture. Hence De Saussure and the Russian formalists, and for some aspects, the gestaltists, were the “masters” of a Piaget (who dominates in the psychological-pedagogical), Althusser (who attempted the creation of a Marxist structuralism), Levi-Strauss (who essentially remained an anthropologist), Foucault (author of imaginative but not always rigorous historic-structural reconstructions), Lacan and many other scholars of various countries.


Michel Foucault (1926-1984)

Structuralism spread mostly in the field of linguistic and consequently in aesthetics. We can find antecedents in the so called stylistic critique of scholars as important as Vossler and Spitzer, however the general set-up of the new mind-set, and the particular researches, at times conducted with a truly excessive pedantry, represent the typical model of the recurring scientific mentality.


Antonio Labriola (1843-1904)


Karl Vossler (1872-1949)
Author of The Spirit of Language in Civilization

The metaphysical research of totalizing structures which determine history (with the consequent death of man, of subjectivity, of creativity, and therefore of freedom) implied on the level of specific researches, the possibility of cutting up history, art, life, to find, and often to invent nexuses among those parts that justified them as belonging to a totality which however could not fall into the infamous trap of the Hegelian method. But in reality Hegelian dialectic represented exactly the overcoming of the naïve structuralist exigency, the pretense of being able to fool the world while declaring its independence and determining its goals while understanding it as determinate. In historicism we have the birth of the so called school of Annales headed by the great historian Marc Bloch which defended a quantifiable abstract kind of history and which damaged the middle instructions of French students, as it has been widely recognized.


Marc Bloch (1886-1944)

In the field of literary and artistic criticism, the pretension of understanding poetry and language as constituent parts of ample structures which contained within them mini-structuralist elements, logically led to the denial of the value of a work of art, the very function of criticism and the poetic which then became a mere exercise devoid of any meaning. Man was depersonalized on the ethical as well as the intellectual level, subjectivity was humiliated to the point that the personal ethical and political commitment of individual scholars appeared as a happy contradiction.


Louis Althusser (1918-1990)

The positivistic mind-set was also reflected in this pivotal aspect, which represented a parenthesis in a more vast mode of feeling life in years of conflicts and contradictions. The contradictions soon exploded in the political and the cultural field. There was the year of the contestation (1968), so to speak, which mixes the cards and not only in France. Together with the triumph of human sciences, of sociology and of psychoanalysis, the myth of the imagination to Power takes over, of absolute creativity and of historicity as a fundamental element of man. Those are the years when neo-Marxism reaches the apex of its success, becomes a common language, penetrates the consciousness of millions of people, hegemonies the press, the mass media, and the university.


Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937)

The clash between neo-positivism and anti-positivism takes place exactly within the great Marxist political challenge. Granted that Lenin had insinuated himself in the discussion with his volume Materialism and empiricist critique, and that in Italy, Antonio Labriola and then Gramsci had contributed to the abolition of the myth of scientism, nevertheless in the 60s the same Marxists to accuse neo-positivistic epistemology of being the ideological cover, the very structure of Capitalistic power, the vehicle by which the domination of man on man is carried out, via s subtle technique of an occult persuasion. But even if within the school itself (as Lenin proves) Marxism had attempted a dialogue with the sciences, a fierce debate ensues between historicist neo-Hegelian Marxists and thinkers who sought to found Marxism on a new assumed progress reached by epistemology. One thinks of  Louis Althusser in France and Galvano Della Volpe in Italy. But even thought the most conscious Marxism remained tied to thinkers such as Lukacs and Bloch (and in Italy to Labriola and Gramsci), even the contesting current presented itself as an antagonist of the ruling scientism.  (End of part I; to be concluded as part II in the next session of the Ovi Symposium).



Does the Center Hold?
And is the Enlightenment still to Enlighten itself?
Philosophical Reflections on the Spiritual Identity of Europe
Apropo of the Ukrainian Crisis
A Presentation by Emanuel L. Paparella


…Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity…

                                                 --William Butler Yeats

The historian Ernst Troeltsch once declared in one of his volumes that Europe had ceased to be Christian in the 18th century. Of course such a statement referred not to individuals but to the cultural identity of Europe as a whole. Some post-modern thinkers such as Christopher Dawson not only would agree with that statement but would also point out that indeed the 18th century is the watershed separating Christendom, so called, or the old Europe, and the new modern Europe. This New Europe, after World War II has finally transformed itself in the European Union and is based on purely neutral, that is to say, non-ideological, economic, scientific, positivistic educational foundations. As Ernesto Paolozzi has well shown above, positivism and materialism’s residues remain strong in modern European culture. So the question aroses: are those foundations reliable and solid or is there something missing? Are the spiritual components of those foundations missing? And if so, is their absence a confirmation that a more perfect union transcending nationalism will forever elude the European Union? I have written three books on this thorny theme. Sometimes I feel that I am addressing the deaf or I am talking to a wall. In this presentation I will once again attempt to offer a brief distillation and summary of my answers to such a question. The answer seems all the more important to me in the light of the latest crisis in Europe hinting at a return of the iron curtain and of the cold war.

Some post-modern philosophers such as Derrida echoing Heidegger attribute the problem of modernity to a mistake made at the beginning of Western culture, to Plato’s metaphysics in particular. This assumes an initial continuity between modern rationalism and the principles of reason as formulated by the ancient Greeks which is now severed. Others draw a distinction between the original principles of rationality and their modern interpretation. They trace the root of that distinction, with its dramatic political implications, to the modern turn toward the human subject as the only source of truth and its consequent pragmatism. This turn was initiated, to be precise, by Renè Descartes, widely considered the father of modern Western philosophy.

What post-modern thinkers seem to reject is not only Enlightenment rationalism, but also the original Greek form of rationality. For them rationality is little more than behavioral attitudes, a sort of incessant self-correction and perfectibility patterned after the experimentalism and self-correction of science. This is considered progress within positivism and neo-positivism, as Paolozzi has correctly pointed out in the above essay. In fact, it is branded as a deterministic inevitable progress: the latest and newest is always the best. Allegedly, it does away with disastrous and destructive universalist totalizing ideologies, the grand scheme of things a la Hegel, the grand narrations, often at war with each other. The argument is this: it is better to be more modest in one’s goals and humbly attend to immediate social and economic needs. Welcome Epicurus and Lucretius, the relativism of the Pragmatists and the positivists, away with Plato’s grandiose Forms.

What is conveniently side-stepped are some fundamental issues at which we shall look a bit more closely. Indeed, the ineluctable fact is that Europeans no longer agree on spiritual values; those values that, despite political conflicts, were in place prior to the Enlightenment and even prior to Christianity. It took the Czech philosopher Jan Patocka (who in turn greatly influenced Havel) to dare propose, in the middle of the 20th century, a return to an idea that used to be characteristic of the European tradition since the Greeks but in the 20th century is seen as a scandal and an anomaly: the care of the soul by way of a great respect for truth and the intellectual life, holistically conceived.


Jan Patocka (1907-1977)
Author of Plato and Europe

Plato had claimed that it is through that life that we, as human beings endowed with a soul, partake of the life of the Ideas and share the life of the gods themselves. Later, Christians adopt this notion but change its direction. For Christians, teoria, or contemplation, remains the fundamental principle of any viable culture. Bereft of it, a civilization is left with nothing but a sort of aimless and blind praxis leading to its eventual destruction. Christopher Dawson for one explored and clarified this idea in his famous The Making of Europe.


Christopher Dawson (1889-1970)
Author of The Making of Europe

So, the next question is this: can such a principle based on the primacy of teoria, the soul and the spirit, as advocated by Plato play a role in the spiritual unification of Europe? Which is to say, must the commitment to reason abandon a sort of rationalistic universalism in order to embrace an opposite an anti-rationalist particularism? To deepen a bit more: is not abstract rationalism and its irrationalistic reaction responsible for much of the ominous nihilism which Nietzsche, for one, claimed hovers over Europe like a menacing specter? Has it not, in fact, corrupted the very principle of reason that, up to the Enlightenment, had constituted Europe’s spiritual identity? Has it not turned wisdom against itself?


A New Europe in Search of its Soul
by Emanuel L. Paparella (2005)

Prior to World War II, the philosopher who most acutely perceived the spiritual crisis that rationalism has caused in Europe was Edmund Husserl. In a famous lecture delivered in Prague on the very eve of one of the darkest chapters of modern European history, he said this: “I too am quite sure that the European crisis has its roots in a mistaken rationalism. That, however, must not be interpreted as meaning that rationality as such is an evil or that in the totality of human existence it is of minor importance. The rationality of which alone we are speaking is rationality in that noble genuine sense, the Greek sense, that became an ideal in the classical period of Greek philosophy.”

All we need to do is give a cursory look at Husserl’s philosophy of phenomenology to be convinced that Husserl regarded modern objectivism as the quintessential expression of this rationalism. It reduces the world, which for the Greeks was a spiritual structure, into an object, and reason into an instrument for manipulating matter.


Edmund Husserl (1856-1938)

One may ask, how then did Husserl view the spiritual identity of Europe? He advocated that the particular must be fully reintegrated with the universal, an idea that Kierkegaard too had proposed. Husserl says that “Clearly the title Europe designates the unity of a spiritual life and creative activity--no matter how inimical the European nations may be toward each other, still they have a special inner affinity of spirit that permeates all of them and transcends their national differences…There is an innate entelechy that thoroughly controls the changes in the European image and directs it toward an ideal image of life and of being. The spirited telos (goal) of the European in which is included the particular telos of separate nations and individual persons, has an infinity; it is an infinite idea toward which in secret the collective spiritual becoming, so to speak, strives.”


Europe beyond the Euro (2012) by Emanuel L. Paparella
An Ovi e-book available for free at the Ovi Bookshop

But the question persists: is it possible at this point in its history to revive the spiritual idea of Europe? An idea that, despite its violent historical conflicts still ongoing in Bosnia and the Ukraine, not to speak of the renewed right leaning nationalist separatist movements, has kept its people united within an unrestricted diversity? Food for thought, to be duly digested by those of us who, like Husserl, are perceptive enough to sense the spiritual crisis he was talking about.


Europa: An Idea and a Journey (2012)
By Emanuel L. Paparella

In his Philosophical Discourse on Modernity Jurgen Habermas attributes the failure of the Enlightenment to the intrusion of foreign elements which derailed its original program of full human emancipation. He finds nothing wrong with the project itself, aside from the fact that it was prematurely abandoned for a romantic return to some form of pseudo-religion, such as the worship of nature in the 19th century, the era of Romanticism. Undoubtedly there is something unfinished about the Enlightenment, but contrary to what Habermas believes, it is not the execution of the project that failed to reach a conclusion but the concept itself. Many question nowadays the very principle of rationality that directed Enlightenment thought. This may sound paradoxical, for indeed it is the adoption of reason by the Greeks and the subsequent synthesis with Christianity as achieved by Augustine and Aquinas that distinguishes European culture from all others and defines its spiritual identity.


Jurgen Habermas (1929-    )

To be sure, the real culprit was not reason or rationality but rationalism, which was unknown to the Greeks. Rationalism is a modern invention inaugurated by Descartes and consisting in a separation of the particular from the universal and assigning supremacy to the universal while misguidedly assuming that a rationality constituted by the human mind could function as the same comprehensive principle that it had been for the Greeks. To the contrary, a rationality of purely subjective origin produces mere abstract, empty concepts in theory and pursues limited human objectives in practice, mostly narrowly focused upon economic and political concerns. Einstein had it on target: ours is an era characterized by perfection of means and confusion of goals.


St. Augustine (354-430)
who laid the foundation of a synthesis of Greek culture and Christianity

Indeed, in developed societies where economic concerns have become all-important and dominant, the protection of sub-national identities and minority groups are at risk. One place where any obstacle to economic development has been successfully eliminated is the United States, usually mentioned as a model of federalism encompassing many nationalities. Many EU politicians advocate nowadays a United States of Europe. That may sound progressive, but it remains a chimera given that the nationalistic and regional identities are still very strong in Europe; nor is it necessarily desirable.


Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274)

It would be a mistake for the EU to imitate the US and attempt a repetition of a mega-nation which would translate into a super-power bent on power and the forcible exportation of democracy (an oxymoron if there ever was one). The crisis in Ukraine is indicative of this mistake. What Putin and the Russian mind-set fears most is a mega-nation right next to Russia bend on expansion of its territory. The better route for Europe is to deepen in spirituality rather than expand in territory. Not to do so has a price, that price will be further erosion of Europe’s original spiritual unifying principles, the very roots of its cultural identity, and the embracing of a bland mixture of varied cultures leveled to their least common denominator. Soccer games heralded as a unifying principle may indeed be emblematic of that mistake. What some Europeans fail to grasp is that what keeps so many ethnic nationalities and groups together in the US is a constitution which guarantees certain basic rights transcending nationality and even the very power of the State in as much as they are conceived as universal and inalienable even when they are breached in practice. Those enshrined ideals make “a pluribus unum” possible, as indeed the dollar bill proclaims.

As the conflicts in the Balkans which inaugurated the 21st century in Europe have shown only too well, it will prove quite difficult for Europeans with different languages reflecting diverse cultures to create a United States of Europe, but it would also be misguided if they do attempt it. As it is, all the worst features of American popular culture have been imitated, even by those who are anti-Americans, while the best is largely unknown or ignored. This is a phenomenon which has always intrigued me whenever I travel to Europe. It can even be observed in the pages of Ovi magazine dedicated to the EU. That is not to deny that one of the major achievements of the European Union has been the preventing of a major destructive conflict on the continent at the level of a world war for the last sixty years or so. However, to count on mere political-economic motives to completely free Europe from its past destructive legacies may be a miscalculation. Calling oneself a “Newropean” will not do the trick either. It would suffice to take a hard look at the xenophobia that has raised its ugly head and pervades the EU nowadays, especially its most affluent countries. Superficially it seems directed at immigrants coming from outside Europe, the so called “extra-communitarians,” but often the real target is a neighboring country perceived as opportunistic or a parasite on the body politic called the EU.

What seems to be lacking within this economic, political, educational coordination that is the EU is a deeper kind of integration based on an inclusive spiritual idea. How is this to be achieved in a secular democratic society pledged to protect the rights of all its citizens and their diversity? A nostalgic return to the Greek-Christian synthesis and the Christendom of medieval times (at times imposed politically) will certainly not do and is not even desirable. That was a synthesis meant for Europeans Christians (many of them forced to get baptized by their kings who found it politically convenient to switch from paganism to Christianity), not for non-Christians, not to speak of the non-Europeans which are now counted into the millions in Europe.

In any case, it is undeniable that at present no spiritual foundation for a genuine unification exists. The present proposed Constitution which nobody even calls constitution any longer but a compact, mentions a fuzzy kind of spiritual heritage almost as an after-thought. Many Europeans don’t seem to be too concerned about such an absence, if indeed they even perceive it. And yet, some kind of new synthesis is needed. Unfortunately, it will not even be envisioned, never mind implemented, unless Europeans, begin a serious reflection and a debate on the original idea to which Europe owes it cultural unity and identity. That carries the risk of being perceived as an old European, maybe even an anti-modern and anti-progressive, rather than a “Newropean,” but I would suggest that without that original idea, which precedes Christianity itself, a crucial novantiqua synthesis will not be perceived either and Europeans will be sadly condemned to repeat their history. 

What is this European original foundational spiritual idea that precedes even Christianity? Simply this: a commitment to teoria, the theoretical life which in its Greek etymology means the contemplative or reflective life in all its various aspects: the philosophical, the scientific, the aesthetic; in short the primacy of a holistic life of contemplation. All this sounds strange to modern and post-modern ears accustomed to hear praxis and a purely pragmatic utilitarian notion of rationality emphasized over and above theory. Marx, for one, expressed such a mind-set in the 11th of the Theses on Feuerbach with this catch-all slogan: “The philosophers have only interpreted the world differently, the point is to change it.” Indeed, but to start with praxis is to put the cart before the horse.

Unfortunately, postmodern theories, in an attempt to reject an extreme kind of rationalism, have also rejected the primacy of reason understood holistically and tied to the imaginative, which had ruled Western thought since the Greeks. Precisely the belief in that primacy, together with a common faith that could envision the transcendent, had been one of the spiritual foundations of Europe. It was that kind of devaluation and departure from foundational traditions that Husserl was decrying before World War II.

Here the question naturally arises: is it still possible to revive the ideals behind Europe's spiritual identity? If this requires returning to a common Christian faith and to a pre-modern concept of reason, it will prove practically impossible. Science, as the positivists have taught us, demands a more differentiated notion of reason than the one inherent in ancient and medieval thought. As for the common Christian faith that forged such a strong bond among Europe's peoples, many Europeans have lost it, if they ever had it, and most recent immigrants, many of them Muslims never had it to begin with. This is not to forget that Moslem civilization in Spain during the Middle Ages was more developed and advanced than a Western civilization devastated by the Barbarians.

Does the above reflection intimate perhaps that Europe must be satisfied with a merely political, technical, scientific, and economic integration? Such a spiritually "neutral" union does indeed appear to be “enlightened” in as much as it avoids the unfortunate religious-cultural conflicts of the past. Furthermore, many Europeans today think that social and cultural differences obstruct or slow down the process of economic growth and social progress. For the new barbarians, those whom Vico calls “the barbarians of the intellect,” the selling of cars or pizzas is more important for the market than cultural concerns or even ideological concerns. Why, then, don't all Europeans adopt English as the common language for science, business, and technology, leaving French, Italian, Spanish, German, Dutch, and Scandinavian languages to private life?

Again, this may sound strange to post-modern ears, but if the European Union were reduced to a means for smoothing out political and economic transactions among its member states, not only would the individual states, not to speak of regions, gradually lose their identity, they would also be doomed to play a very subordinate role on the world stage in the future. Even today, only a half century after the United States has economically and politically come to dominate the world, its powerful media and commercial enterprises have deeply affected the languages, the communications, and the cultural patterns of Europe. The effect is most visible in the smaller nations. Thus in the Low Countries the language of the news media has become infected with American idioms, bookstores are filled with American publications or translations thereof, television and cinema compete for the most recent American shows or films—all this at the expense of linguistic purity and respect for indigenous literature. The result is a general decline of native creativity. What is even more perplexing is that what is being imitated is not the best of American culture (which is there if one takes the trouble to look for it) but the worst and the mediocre.

Be that as it may, whoever controls the economy of another country is likely to control its culture as well, as Benjamin, Adorno and Marx have well taught us. This is one of the main fears of Putin and the Russian mind-set, and it is not without foundation. Building a strong economy of one's own, as Europe is doing at present, is a necessary step to resisting such domination. But that alone may not be sufficient. If the European Union were to be reduced to a mere economic union, its leveling effect on European culture would in the end be comparable to the one the United States has begun to exercise. We are all Americans because we all drink Coca Cola; and we are all Europeans because we all go to soccer games on Sunday! To the contrary, Europe's political and economic unification must be accompanied by a strong awareness of a distinctive cultural and spiritual identity. This is the reason why the dispute over Europe's Christian heritage is so important. In writing the preamble to the EU constitution, the most significant element in the European tradition is erased at the peril of building on political sand, as Kurt Held reminded us in his essay on Europe titled The Origins of Europe with the Greek Discovery of the World,” with the following words: “A European community grounded only in political and economic cooperation of the member states would lack an intrinsic common bond. It would be built upon sand." Powerful words. Is anybody listening?


Kurt Held (1897-1959)

The American techno-economic model of a political union is not suitable for Europe, especially of a Europe which has forgotten its spiritual roots and in the past has substituted them with destructive political ideologies of the right and of the left. Being a new country, with immigrants from various traditions, the United States had no choice but to build politically on a spiritually and culturally neutral foundation, but the separation of Church and State is deceiving to most analysts. Its spiritual roots remained strong and were in fact a unifying principle as the slogan on its currency “In God we Trust” would suggest. Even today, more Christians attend Church on Sunday in the US than in the EU. This base enabled the United States to integrate the economy and the social institutions of its states into a strong and coherent unity that resulted in the most economically and politically powerful nation in history. But the glue that held the uniform structure together were the ideals of the Enlightenment (ultimately based on a Judeo-Christian ethos) as enshrined in its Constitution. There is a lesson there for Europe to be pondered carefully before embracing anti-Americanism or, even worse, a slavish imitation of all the worst features of American culture while ignoring what can admired.

Contemporary Europeans have preserved their diverse languages, customs, and histories, even at the regional level, and that points to an appreciation for tradition and heritage which is indispensable for a strong cultural identity. But, to reiterate, Europe needs a strong spiritual reintegration as well as a political-economic one. That requires that it assimilate essential parts of its spiritual heritage: the Greek sense of order and measure, the Roman respect for law, the biblical and Christian care for the other person, the humanitas of Renaissance humanism, the ideals of political equality and individual rights of the Enlightenment. The values left by each of these episodes of Western culture are not as transient as the cultures in which they matured. They belong permanently to Europe's spiritual patrimony and ought to remain constitutive of its unity. None can be imposed in a democratic society. Yet none may be neglected either, the theoretical no more than the practical, the spiritual no less than the aesthetic.

In recent times Europeans, discouraged by the self-made disasters of two world wars, have been too easily inclined to turn their backs on the past, to dismiss it as no longer usable, and to move toward a different future declaring themselves “Newropeans” with a new modern identity. In the years after World War II, the model of that future was America. In recent years, Europeans have become more conscious of their specific identity and are beginning to intuit that such an identity resides in the past; it stems from a unique past, created by the hundreds of millions of men and women who for three millennia have lived on "that little cape on the continent of Asia" (Paul Valery) between the North Sea and the Mediterranean, between Ireland's west coast and the Ural Mountains. It has given Europeans, in all their variety, a distinct communal face.

This new awareness of cultural identity makes Europeans view the entire continent and its many islands, not only their country of origin, as a common homeland with common purposes. This unity of spirit in a rich variety of expressions must be remembered in forging the new European unity and ought to be mentioned in the EU's constitution. It ought to be remembered also by  North Americans whose roots are indeed partly Europeans; in that sense they too are also Westerners and inheritor of Western civilization, albeit accepting and integrating other experiences such as the African, the Native American, the Latin-American, the Asian.


Pope John-Paul II (1920-2005)

Heidegger, in decrying the illusion of the technological neo-positivistic fix-all exclaimed that “not even a god can save us now,” which in the final analysis is a cynical cry of despair devoid of any ethical concerns. I am not so pessimistic and deterministic. I believe that a recovery of the true patrimony of Europe is still possible. I for one opt for the warning of a former Pope (Paul John Paul II) who in a speech at the EU Parliament on October 11, 1988 in Strasburg, warned Europeans that: “If the religious and Christian substratum of this continent is marginalized in its role as inspiration of ethical and social efficacy, we would be negating not only the past heritage of Europe but a future worthy of European Man—and by that I mean every European Man, be he a believer or a non believer.” I can surmise the astonishment of the “Newropeans” and assorted secular “brilliants” of neo-positivistic “faith” at such a quote and imagine them exclaiming: Really? To which I’d simply answer “Yes, really!” and then just add the proverbial injunction: let those who have ears, let them hear.



Is Vico Hegel’s Predecessor?
“An Imaginary Unknown Page from Hegel’s Last Months of Life”
by Benedetto Croce


Benedetto Croce (1866-1952) 

This translation of this little-known piece by Croce appeared in The Personalist 45 (1964). It is the imaginative fulfillment of two impossible wishes, stemming from the Hegelian basis of Croce’s idealism: (1) to gain from Hegel directly an assessment of the essence of his philosophy; and (2) to gain Hegel’s approval of Vico as his predecessor. Croce’s first important essay on Hegel, What Is Living and What Is Dead in the Philosophy of Hegel (1907; English trans. 1915) remains an excellent source for the study of Hegel’s metaphysics, showing that the Hegelian dialectic is based on the contrariety of opposites, not on contradiction. Croce’s The Philosophy of Giambattista Vico (1911; English trans. 1913) remains a valuable study of Vico’s thought, despite its failure to recognize the originality and mportance of the “imaginative universal.” ...Who is Francesco Sanseverino, Hegel’s young Neapolitan visitor? He is first of all Croce…

In 1948, Croce wrote an essay on Hegel in dialogue form called “An Unknown Page from the Last Months of Hegel’s Life.” This dialogue represents his most mature thoughts on the Hegelian philosophy. In a footnote added to a later edition of this essay Croce asks the reader: “Is it necessary to warn you that this ‘unknown page from the last months of Hegel’s life’ is a product of my imagination, a bit of whimsy that came to my mind one sleepless night, and which I wrote down in the morning?’” The content, however, is not just whimsy, for as Croce states, “I have taken the material from my familiarity with Hegel’s thought and from my frequent internal dialogues with Hegel.” Even the setting of the dialogue “is not altogether without historical foundation, for traces of a fruitful and critical attitude toward the Hegelian philosophy are truly to be found in the nineteenth-century Neapolitan culture, and if not in 1830, at least about the middle of the century.” Croce closes the footnote with the observation that “Criticism, as well as the power to state a new truth, which are always indivisible, have, in the present case of Hegel, a particular importance, because they have the power to determine the general direction of philosophy in our time, that is, the road which it must necessarily and logically follow, and which, moreover, it has in fact already begun to travel.”

                                                                                           --Donald Phillip Verene


George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831)

"Who is it?” said Professor Hegel, raising his head from the large writing desk and from the papers in which he was immersed. The servant, who had just answered the knocking at the front door, was entering Hegel’s study. “A foreign gentleman who would like to speak to you, and wishes to know if you will receive him. He has written his name here.” The professor read: “Francesco Sanseverino of Naples,” and he suddenly remembered the young Neapolitan who had come to pay him a visit in Berlin about seven years ago, in the spring of 1824, furnished with a letter of presentation from an Austrian general and diplomat who had been in Italy at the time. This young man had become acquainted with Germany in 1812–1813 as an officer in one of the Neapolitan regiments which participated in the Napoleonic expedition in Russia, and later in the factional wars which followed in German territory; and, intelligent and studious as he was, he had tasted the quality, vigor, and originality of the intellectual life of that country, and had been attracted to it. When he returned to Naples he continued to procure and read German books and to nourish his desire to revisit Germany in order to become better acquainted with its new culture and its new philosophy. And when, in 1819, he had the chance to go to Berlin for the second time, he was able to witness the ascent of the Hegelian star, and to hear the impressive inaugural speech which Hegel had given the year before to introduce his university lectures (wherein the German people were designated as the “elect of God in philosophy”), and he observed how after the war of liberation the impetus toward greatness and philosophical superiority had united with the impetus toward faith in the new power of the Prussian state.

In 1824, when he embarked on his journey, he had already completed a careful reading and had seriously studied all the books published by Hegel: the Phenomenology, the large Logic, the small Encyclopedia, and finally the Philosophy of Right, and he had even obtained some of the essays published here and there in magazines; but he was still in a period of learning and of turning over in his mind what he had learned, more eager still to listen than to speak. He paid a visit of respect to Hegel, in which he made known his admiration and the labor that he was dedicating to the Master’s works and that he hoped to fi nd himself through them. Hegel was pleased with the simplicity and sincerity of his words, and also with the Neapolitan irony by which he looked at himself objectively, with an understanding that does not exclude a smile.

Sanseverino listened to Hegel’s lectures at the university, and met and talked with some of the greatest Hegelian scholars of the time such as Marheineke, Gans, Henning, Hotho, Michelet—the Master’s faithful disciples; but not even with them did he engage in discussion. He told Hegel of his intention to come back and visit with him within a year and was kindly encouraged to do so.

Back in Naples he resumed his study and meditation, and he was able to tread the Encyclopedia, published in 1827, which had been greatly amplified and enriched, and he resigned himself to his inability to obtain the course of lectures which the students were later to publish, although they were undoubtedly very useful for the development they presented, especially that of the history of philosophy and aesthetics, and for which the books written by Hegel provided in nuce the principles and essential outline. He finally returned toward the end of the summer in 1831, and found that the Master had recently arrived from the countryside, where he had taken his family in order to avoid the main part of the cholera epidemic which had spread to Germany. He was courteously received by Hegel, who was a well-mannered man, free of that roughness of which Germans sometimes vainly boast.

After he had told Hegel about his work during the intervening years (he avoided, however, any mention of his participation in the Neapolitan constitutional revolution of 1820–1821, knowing how Hegel thought in politics, and how these revolutions and convulsions were judged by him as due to an “inferiority of the Latin people”), the Master asked to what conclusions his studies had led him. This brought Sanseverino to the point of his visit and the topic that he wanted to discuss. Sanseverino asked first of all for permission to give a more detailed account of the reasons why he greatly admired Hegel’s philosophy, or rather, the very attitude of his philosophy, which seems to have originated in mental needs far richer and more modern than those of even such a revolutionary as Kant. “Kant,” he said, “was oriented toward the physico-mathematical sciences as the true and proper field of human knowledge, and he had also been a direct cultivator of these. But he neglected and almost ignored the history of mankind, and even had but a it and miss knowledge of the history of philosophy itself. He was not very sensitive to poetry: his poets were Horace and Pope. He had no experience of the other arts, with the exception perhaps of music, which he judged the ‘indiscreet art,’ because it makes itself heard even when one does not wish to hear it. By a miracle of critical acumen, by gathering the observations of those who were beginning to discuss the nature of taste, he came to recognize in a negative but profound way some aspect of beauty; but he did not identify this with art, and he understood art as a game combining intellect and imagination, which was a conception not too far removed from the traditional one of art as an imaginative embellishment of a didactic content. “The lack of a historical sense weakened his theory of politics; the lack of a poetic sense weakened his religious conceptions; his own ethics were austere, but also abstract and not very human. He was a revolutionary who preserved a culture almost entirely of the eighteenth century; he was a romantic in his a priori synthesis, in his conception of the beautiful, in his postulation of the practical, while his education had been classical and intellectualist.

“But your philosophy,” the Neapolitan interlocutor concluded, “is an entirely different matter: it is not oriented toward physics and mathematics, but toward poetry, of which it is a complement, toward religion, which it clarifies, and toward history, which gives it concreteness and actuality. With this kind of interest it answers more than any other to the nature of philosophy, and to the moral needs of the modern era. “And then,” he added, “there is something else in the physiognomy of your philosophy that pleases me. Despite its severity and sometimes didactic aridity, I can perceive a man who has felt passionately, a man who has loved and has lived. Could Kant ever have written those words of the Philosophy of Right that defi ne and dignify the conjugal state, in which the natural instinct loses its importance and above it is formed a spiritual and substantial bond, indissoluble, and superior to the accidents of our passions and desires?

“I will not repeat how the old bachelor Kant defined matrimony, which for him was a contract. Nor would a Kant ever have become as enchanted as you in admiring the penitent Magdalen, as portrayed by Italian painters, in such a way as to show indulgence toward Magdalen and to interpret kindly her sentiments and her life, because (and one would say on this point even you were conquered by the seductions of the sinner) with her beauty, with her overflow of feeling, she could not help but to love nobly and profoundly, and one could say that her error, her beautiful and touching error was her excess of sorrow and penitence.

 “And what disdain and scorn toward the ascetics who pursue their own moral perfection, toward those scrupulous ones who torment themselves in their eagerness for that perfection! ‘What does the world care,’ she says to them, ‘about your belabored and studied perfection,which, after all, is a rather egotistical and vain pursuit? What does the world care since it wants and expects constructive works? You have sinned: well, don’t think too much about it and redeem yourself through works.’

“Beneath the philosopher I like to fi nd a man who loses his patience now and then and who has a sense of humor. For example, when you thought about Newton (understood as standing for the mechanical conception of reality) and his discovery caused by an apple falling on his head, you jokingly observed that the apple had always been an evil omen for mankind: it was responsible, through Eve’s sin, for man’s expulsion from his earthly paradise; and also, through the judgment of Paris, for the Trojan War, and now for Newtonian physics. Another example of your humor is when you told your worthy colleague Schleiermacher, who restricted religion to a ‘feeling of dependence,’ that on these terms ‘the best Christian would be a dog.’” Hegel smiled at these quotations from his satirical remarks, and particularly those which recalled to memory events of his life, his loves, the natural son whom he had brought into the world, and even the moments of jealousy which he occasionally caused his young wife, whom he loved and venerated, by his excessive attention to beautiful singers.

“After having declared my sympathy, if I may say so, with your philosophy, with the physiognomy of your philosophy, it is now for me to determine the great truths that you have introduced into philosophy, the great truths which, even though they could be misunderstood, denied, or abused (and in your present adversaries one can already see the signs of such reluctance and rebellion), no one will ever be able to destroy them, because they will always spring up again from their roots. But for this too I need your permission. I cannot state these truths as you state them, using the same words in the same order, with the presuppositions, consequences, and references that these truths introduce. If I had to state them in this way it would be better for me to remain silent. The poetry of a poet I can, rather I must, read by transfusing and immersing myself into his words, sounds, and rhythms, thus joining my soul to his, actively participating with him only in those things in which he reveals himself as a poet. But a philosophical sentence must be received by thought, that is, one thought received by another thought, the latter receiving it by embracing and enveloping it, and only through critical elaboration can it be comprehended.”

“Indeed,” Hegel observed, “I have become rather impatient with the frequent repetition of my formulas. Some time ago a Hungarian used to follow me around, and in order to prove to me that he knew my philosophy, he memorized page after page of my books, and he used to recite them to me; and I, in order to get rid of him, had to tell him that this was heroic and admirable, but that it showed little speculative talent. Even our dear Mr. Cousin does not give me much comfort, for he is very interested in my philosophy but refuses in advance to understand it as something above and beyond him. ‘Ah, how difficult this all is!’ he would exclaim, pressing his hands to his head, whenever any of my pupils would offer an explanation to one of his questions. And he was impatiently awaiting, as he told me in one of his letters, the publication of the new Encyclopedia in order ‘to grasp something,’ and ‘to adjust to his size some shreds of my great thoughts.’ Even my students disappoint me with their excessive fidelity, which has a tendency to make static that which I feel in me as dynamic, and I am afraid of a slavish dependency whereby faith in the teacher predominates, for with this comes the partiality and fanaticism of a school. “I also wish, and have so far waited in vain, to see my thought return to me via the mediation of another mind that understands and comprehends; that is, as you said, that critically understands and translates into other words. Therefore I am listening with great interest to hear from you in your own words what those great truths of mine are.”

“First of all, you have put an end to the absurd theory of philosophical concepts, separated from facts, thinkable in themselves apart from facts; you have also put an end to the no less absurd theory of facts established in themselves without concepts. The concept, which is the concrete universal, or Idea, as it may be called, is the unity of the universal and the individual, and therefore is judgment in action. Thus, the new concept of the philosophical concept has its origin in the Kantian a priori synthesis; but it is to your credit that you have lifted this out of the physico-mathematical sciences for which Kant had at first constructed it, and have recognized it as the law of knowing (or better still, one should say, of the spirit) in all its forms; and you have seen that the true judgment is not merely a classification or empirical proposition, but is a judgment of categories, that is, a judgment of value.”

 “Now, given the concept of the concrete universal, the distinction between the ‘truth of reason’ and the ‘truth of fact’ vanishes, each being a truth of reason and a truth of fact at the same time; and, as a consequence of the greatest importance, not only does the separation between history and philosophy vanish, but also the distinction between them. Every historical proposition contains a philosophical affirmation, and every philosophical proposition contains a historical affirmation. History is redeemed from the contempt in which it has been held for centuries as a mere report of facts, and philosophy is redeemed from the vacuity and uselessness of which it has been and still is accused. But this implicit identification, which is of the greatest importance to the mental life, this healing of a generally admitted and acknowledged scission, is accompanied by a separation—which is the second great truth and of no less importance—a separation of two mental forms which were badly fitted together and molded on one another, and whose unity has always been attempted, that is, of philosophy and science.”

“The concepts of science—as you have observed—are a product of the intellect, not of reason, are arbitrary and not necessary, and obey not philosophical but practical needs. With this, philosophy acquires its full autonomy in regard to science, and science in regard to philosophy: the problem of the one is not that of the other. The third great truth is the definitive resolution of the dualism of positive and negative, of good and evil, of light and dark, of Ormazd and Ahriman, thanks to the demonstration that the negative is not opposed to but within the positive, that evil is not opposed to the good, that non-being is not opposed to being but is in being, so that true being is becoming. The negative moment is not reality in itself, but reality caught in its becoming, in the effort of the separation and overcoming of one form and the reaching of another, when the form which must be overcome and which resists or tries to escape overcoming presents itself for this very reason as negative and as evil, as error, ugliness, and death.”

“From this dialectic comes the important aphorism that ‘what is real is rational and what is rational is real,’ that is, the sacred and divine (because willed by God) character of the past and of history, on which we build and from which we progress, but of which no part can be denied or condemned without denying or condemning and destroying the whole texture of history and reality. but the undisputable truth of that aphorism sometimes seems to vacillate in the person who feels the actual and terrifying presence of the evil he is fighting against; for this reason it is necessary to add that the duality of the rational and the real, which is abolished by historical thought, is posited, re-established, and firmly held by the practical and moral conscience, through which it defines its own terms (Sein and Sollen), and which is not theoretical but practical and moral action. This should reassure all those who are afraid that the moral conscience will disappear from the world, that evil will be equated with good, and that the brutality of fact will be substituted for judgment and moral action.”

“In your interpretation,” said Hegel, “I recognize my own thought; but there is also something more, something that I have not put there, and which, it seems to me, I cannot put there, like the identification of philosophy with historiography, the practical character of the natural sciences, and the different relation of the rational to the real in historical reality and in practical and moral action; and above all there is much less of what I have brought together as essential to my system.”

“It is for this reason,” replied Sanseverino, “that I felt it necessary to declare at the beginning that your thought, such as I would have stated it if I had to summarize it, was only such as I could expound as true or verified after passing it through my mind, and consequently it includes inferences which you did not make and excludes other inferences and developments which you did make, but which I am unable to accept as true. Would you be so kind as to make allowance for one of my statements by removing from it every shade of arrogance, and by taking it only in the sense that even a genius, besides being divine, is also human, which brings out the splendor of the divine?”

“When I pass from your great and fertile principles to their actual application in your system, it seems to me that a malign force has frequently intervened, preventing these principles from reaching their logical consequences, and forcing you to accept that which was intrinsically extraneous and contradictory to them, and worse still, applying the dialectic to that which it does not fi t, and, worst of all, rendering the dialectic superficial and mechanical by forcing it to be used in this way. Now, I cannot say how this has happened, because if truth justifies itself and affirms its own reasons, then error cannot point to its origin as non-truth because with that it would reveal itself as an error, and would deny itself, and the critic, or the author turned critic of his own thought, can well define what a given error consists of, but never exactly how it arrived with him in the world. On this point only more or less abstract and psychological conjectures are possible, unless one is willing to be satisfied with a generic statement, like the one that every error originates in following an impulse different from pure thought, an impulse different in kind but basically always, in one way or another, utilitarian.”

“If I said, for example, that you have given birth to error by letting yourself be dominated by traditional religious conceptions, or by the traditional doctrines, divisions, and methods of the schools, then I certainly would have indicated a connection between those errors and those conceptions and doctrines, but I would not have explained the inexplicable, for how is it possible that your powerful genius, which as rebelled against and destroyed so many time-honored convictions and preconceptions, could have remained subject to them in other cases, that is, why could it not have proceeded with the great work of refutation? Indeed, it is impossible to assign a ‘why’ to that which has not taken place; and an error is in the final analysis an assumed but unactualized concept, which is not thinkable, and therefore has not taken place.”

“Well,” Hegel said, “let’s put aside the question of the ‘why’ which even I do not believe can be defined, and which perhaps does not even exist, and tell me all about the part of my system which you find unacceptable. Also, make a point by point indictment against me, and I will willingly listen, for it will be a great relief from the insipid criticism which is directed against me in the magazines and journals, and from the frequent praise and agreement which surrounds me. I see clearly that you are not one of those haughty opponents, of whom there are plenty, who bore me with their useless and vain contradictions. But you have a thoughtful and meditative mind, in which contradictions are born in inquiry, and are part of the inquiry itself.”

“And I,” replied the Neapolitan, “will take advantage of your generosity and license, for it allows me to present a sort of indictment, as you call it, which, because of its boldness, is a form favorable to the preciseness of critical formulations, and which is as agreeable to me as it should be to you, since you have no time to waste: boldness, after all, in this case is a literary form and not an indication of lack of respect. To start with, I would like to ask what has given you the right to conceive and work out a ‘philosophy of nature’? This really surprises me for you had already exposed the fact that the science of nature is a construction of Verstand, of abstract intellect which proceeds via conventions and arbitrary divisions of the indivisible, and from that you reached the necessary although not explicitly expressed conclusion that Nature as something external has no other reality outside of this natural science, with which it entirely coincides; that is, it is no longer permissible to speak of Nature either as a form or degree of reality, or as ‘the other in itself,’ opposed to spirit, for the mystery of nature has already been exposed by you, thanks to a simple logical analysis.”

“Well, notwithstanding that, and in spite of that, you have continued to acknowledge the reality of nature, and a super-science or philosophy of it, the ‘philosophy of nature,’ by which you have in fact revived antiquated Aristotelianism and the semi-mythological natural philosophy of the Renaissance, because of which and against which Galileo had erected a physico-mathematical and experimental science, whereas you have taken the antiquated philosophy of nature from the hands of your young friend Schelling, elaborated it, and made it your own; and you have not been afraid of this gift which was handed to you by that lively and agile genius, though you recognized the weakness and speculative inferiority of his thought in relation to yours. It would not have been so bad if this philosophy of nature had joined itself to your system, beyond and above the science of nature, without being bound to it in any way, as an allegory or fantasy to be either accepted or rejected. But you have placed it in a relation of continuity with the science of nature, whose concepts ‘would pave the way’ and would prepare for the final work of philosophy. Philosophy cannot accept those concepts since they are arbitrary and conventional, either as its forerunners or as its helpers, and thus philosophy must get rid of them at the beginning, because they don’t belong to it, not even as construction material.”

“And in addition to this practical negation of the logical theory of the natural sciences, which is one of the most important principles established by you—a redeeming principle—you have also formed in another field a philosophical discipline which is the negation of the unity of philosophy and history: the ‘philosophy of history.’ If philosophy and history become identical in the unity of the concrete universal, then one cannot conceive of a philosophy that treats history philosophically, a history which is already in itself and for itself philosophical; and you, because of that philosophy, have lost the intimate unity of philosophy and history. Contributing to this is the little esteem in which you have always held historians as unthinking narrators of facts; but a more sensitive examination would have shown you that whenever history and not chronicles is in question, thought intervenes to interpret, qualify, and spiritualize the narration; and far better, deeper, and richer is that narration insofar that the work of thought is better, deeper, and richer, so that there is no way of breaking the unique and continuous process and of indicating the point at which the work of philosophy which was really present from the beginning, could be inserted.”

“Indeed, in this respect there should not be anything else to do except to make a pedagogical recommendation: that is, for the historians to develop, correct, and deepen the philosophy which is implicitly adopted and to dismiss their fear of philosophizing, and for the philosophers to cast off their disdain and ignorance of historical things and to attend to a philosophy better than that which they held in the past and which they still hold, a philosophy which is much more pertinent to a knowledge of man and history.”

“The ‘philosophy of history’ can be found in the Hebrew prophets and in Christian theology, and, after having disappeared almost completely in the historiography of the Renaissance (though it was kept alive in the theology of the Christian universities), it reappeared in the Neo-Kantian philosophy, and it has found in you an authoritative supporter, although it is neither philosophy nor history but an oscillation which equally injures both the philosophical moment and the historiographical one. Even though you have been highly praised for your new and original interpretations of the great philosophers, proving that you are a genius of equal caliber, for you have raised the history of philosophy above purely erudite history and above those who are partially pledged to engage in the defense of a single school or of a neutral and eclectic philosophizing—even though you have done this, the method of the philosophy of history introduces into the history of philosophy the predeterminate design of a unique problem which philosophy would undertake to explore to its beginning, would continue to explore more deeply in the course of time, and would fi nish by resolving it, and with this close its own history.”

“The same or analogous thing happened in the history of art and religion. They were all placed, thanks to that philosophical treatment of super-history, in Procrustean beds, and all were eager to get rid of these restraints and to take a freer course—a course all the more truly philosophical the less one introduces into it a repetitious and arbitrary philosophy, an artificial and preconceived design.” Hegel attentively followed this accusation, especially what was said about the disturbing element which had introduced itself into his very popular lectures on the history of philosophy, art, religion, and the state; but he did not say a word.”

Sanseverino continued: “I also did not understand why you ever wanted to preserve the tri-partition which was common to the German schools of the eighteenth century, and which has had a long history, going back to the ancient times of the Stoics, of logic and metaphysics on the first level, and philosophy of nature and philosophy of spirit on the second level. After we have banished the philosophy of nature, for the reasons I have given, and compared the logic and the philosophy of spirit with one another, it is difficult to see why the fi rst does not completely jump over into the second and dissolve itself in it. A philosophy of spirit in which the logical spirit does not have its whole development can hardly last. On the other hand, the logic that you have presented is itself already partially a philosophy of spirit, because it embraces the cognitive spirit, the practical spirit, and the absolute or dialectic spirit, which is the backbone of philosophy, and it also embraces the anti-dialectic, dividing, and abstracting function of the intellect, which is the father of science.”

“From this one can see that your categories are understood at least in part as forms of spiritual activity, although others of these categories are omitted, and in other parts the categories follow one another as a catalogue of concepts to be clarified. I abstain from entering into details concerning your theories of right, politics, art, religion, and absolute spirit; but it seems certain to me that the Logic, placed at the head of the system, occupies the same place as it did in the old school systems, functioning as an organ whose purpose it is to build the system, whereas a philosophy such as the philosophy of spirit cannot be constructed if it does not at the same time construct the whole, that is, the full concept of the spirit. But that which mainly comes before me in this system as contrary to the above established great logical principles is not only its divisions and the place given to the various doctrines, but also and above all the end to which your system is directed and the method which you use.”

“It corresponds completely to a history of the world and its creation, or rather to God before the creation of the world, who has at His disposal all the categories necessary for the creation of the world, and at last He decides to create it by getting out of Himself, by transforming Himself into something else, by making Himself nature, and then from nature, which is animated by His divine breath, He re-emerges in man, in the consciousness and spirit of man, and little by little he becomes subjective or cognitive spirit, and from this is transformed, converting Himself into objective or practical spirit, and creates the world of right, of morality, economics, politics, history, and from history He finally returns to Himself as absolute spirit, at fi rst through the two progressive but insufficient attempts of art and religion, and then as pure Idea, being completely satisfied and happy with Himself.”

“Such is the picture of your philosophy, which is the picture of the cosmos, and a history with a given theme and a predetermined end, so that all the steps which are completed in it are a concatenation of solutions which become less and less imperfect, but which are imperfect nevertheless, except the final one which marks the end of the world and the entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven. But how does it happen that a thought, which by means of the concept of the concrete universal had liberated man from the phantasm of nature and made of it a voluntary construction, voluntary but evidently not arbitrary because it turns out to be useful for certain ends, and in compensation you have given it the endless field of history, with its perpetual becoming and the infinite creation of always new forms—how does it happen that this thought relapses into a conception of transcendental religiosity, in such a way that I have already heard from the students who surround you, and with whom I had a chance to talk, of a renewed theism and a renewed and clarified Christian theology?”

The Master had listened to this criticism without batting an eye; but Sanseverino, even though he was hurrying at the end, added this corollary: “And what about the method” he said, “the method which should have been the dialectic one, and which you employed under the name of dialectic in the construction of your system, is it not perhaps the destruction of the dialectic itself, that is, if a great truth could ever be destroyed once the mind had grasped and formulated it? “Not even you, Master, could destroy the force which you have set free from the dark cave in which it was shut; by now the force is in the world and no one will ever be able to drive out, cancel, or weaken it, not even its own liberator, at whose disposal it has never really been, and even without him it will continue by means of its own vigor and right to dominate, correct, and judge, searching and finding others who will perform these services which it seems that you, after having rendered one of the greatest and most memorable services, no longer wish to give it. Either you do not want to see it, or you cannot; but such is the fate of man, of the superior man who comes into the world with a mission to perform, who knows that the work of thought, the human work, goes on to infinity, and he must resign himself to the fact that the lamp of life will pass to other hands.”

 “A great Neapolitan philosopher, whom you have probably not yet read or been able to study, although in these last few years his major work has been translated into German, a genius whom you could recognize not only as your precursor but also as someone who satisfies some needs that were overlooked by you, and who, although Catholic by profession, is much more free from the ties of ancient religious beliefs—I am speaking of Giambattista Vico—who after he had written and rewritten his masterpiece several times, stopped, and felt that he had completed his task in the world, and in two lines of one of his sonnets he touched on this event of his personal history: From this trembling hand falls my pen, And the treasury of my thoughts has been closed.”


Giambattista Vico (1668-1744)

“But, to return to the dialectic, how did it originate, and what did it later become? It began as an attempt to sweep away the dualism of positive and negative, of truth and error, of life, and death, of good and evil, and the terms it used for this were the forms, the categories, the values of the spirit, the true, the beautiful, the useful, and their contraries; and because of this the act itself was a distinction between these forms and a transfer of one into the other, a becoming, through the purgatory or hell of nothing, or as one might call it, the negative potency—impotency of being, in such a way that man at every instant conquers the good, the beautiful, the practical, the true, and at every instant risks losing them, unless he acquires another new one, as it is imposed upon him by his own spiritual nature. But this categorial character and this intrinsic distinction in the dialectic have been obliterated by you in the course of the construction of the system, in which, by means of an arbitrary dialectic and a mere formula, you have dialecticized that which cannot be made dialectical, that is, the empirical concepts and the collective historical processes; this is the result of the historical-theological design that you have accepted and have attempted to carry out.”

“The reflective man will never be able, before the display of that wearisome history of continual delusions, to utter the cry of Faust to the fleeting moment: Stay, you are beautiful; and he will always find himself before an act which does not give this moment of satisfaction and repose because it never becomes united within itself, contradiction remains intrinsic to it, and intrinsic also is the anxiety to get outside it. Indeed, in this vision good and evil break out of their confines: the good which is not changes into the evil which always is, except in the final and definitive instant, where we find the further inconvenience that that which no longer is is the world itself—the world in which we live and with which the philosopher must acquaint us, encouraging us to live in it with dignity.”

Hegel did not interrupt Sanseverino, and he remained attentive but silent. He felt that it would be a sign of little courtesy or intelligence to engage in a dispute with a man who had meditated over his books, and who had confidently come to pour into his soul and mind the conclusions of many years of labor, which deserved to be rethought by him before making them the object of contradiction and dispute, or even of major or minor assent; nor, on the other hand, did his interlocutor expect an answer, aware as he was that when confronted by objections of this kind a serious mind cannot surrender, but only rethink them at the right time and place, and wait to see if they will give new stimulus or open new ways to his own thought in its original course.”

Therefore he listened and kept silent; and instead of engaging in philosophical discourse, he stood up, familiarly put his arm under the interlocutor’s arm, and led him over to a window of his studio. His house was a small one on the arm of the Spree at Kupfergraben, close to the city but far from its noises; and he pointed across to the castle of Monbijou, which could be seen ahead, with its gardens and the recently begun buildings of the huge museums. And, at the break in the conversation, Hegel asked simply and affectionately what Sanseverino was planning to do upon his return to Naples.

“I plan to continue to be your scrupulous, grateful, and devoted disciple, who will never forget how much he has learned from you, and how by you he has been led to higher altitudes of thought, freed from doubts and tormenting struggles, and made a despiser of that vulgar and superficial philosophy to which most people adhere. The task that I will set myself will be to outline a systemization which, in my opinion, follows logically from your great speculative truths but which is not that which the surrounding society and the German tradition have induced you to make: not a theological one but a secular one; not complicated and heavy but simple and agile.”

“If the unity of philosophy and history can be inferred from the concept of the concrete universal—an inference which you refused to make and still do not want to admit, but which is necessary—then that which truly occupies and fills in the entire field of knowledge is history; furthermore, it conforms to a human need, which is not to know ideas in themselves but facts, i.e., concrete reality, to which the knowledge of ideas is indispensable but instrumental. And if this is the way things are, what form will philosophy take? None other than a logic of history, that is, a clarification of the concepts by means of which historical interpretation is carried out. And this logic or methodology is a thing of no little value, because it is neither more nor less than an entire philosophy of spirit; it is a philosophy which cannot be exhausted by any book because it is in a continual process of growth, and because history, with its movement causing new problems for thought, creates a never-ending process.”

“Philosophy is never definitive, and systems are not static but always in process, and it is better if we call them provisional systemizations, intervals where one can catch one’s breath whenever it is possible to do so, as at the end of a period of completed meaning. None of the problems which have presented themselves as problems to philosophy remains excluded by this philosophy of spirit, which welcomes them all and resolves them by reducing them to problems of the spirit, in whose sphere solely, if they have a meaning, they are solvable. Therefore, the professor of philosophy should not be afraid that the methodological conception of philosophy is an impoverishment of philosophy, because, on the contrary, it is an enrichment, and it wants lively minds which, to speak truly, we do not usually fi nd in those professors who amuse themselves with ancient, inconclusive, and sterile problems. And in this philosophy of spirit it will be necessary to reconstruct the theory of art and aesthetics by removing from it what remains of ancient rhetoric and poetics and of recent psychologism, and by understanding the aesthetic principle in its originality by purifying and preserving it from contamination, whether panlogistic or hedonistic.”

“It will be necessary at the same time to found a philosophy of vitality, or of utility, as one may call it, by unifying that which is dispersed in the various theories of politics, economics, motivation, etc. It will be necessary to formulate a theory of historiography, including a criticism and history of this theory; and I leave out other desiderata that I have in mind.”

“Naples, with the minds that gather there from the provinces of southern Italy, is a city in a certain way disposed to these studies; it has given to Italy almost all its philosophers worthy of the name, and it is always open to sublime speculation, yet not without a certain sense of realism which recalls the concrete and historical. Herder, Hamann, and even Goethe were aware of and sensed the philosophical strength of Naples. And now, with the new young king, one can breathe; hope and faith are reborn; ‘private studies,’ as they are called, which are schools of university level outside of the university, multiply rapidly, and they are due to the free choice of those eager to learn; foreign books circulate, and serious magazines are published by well-prepared writers—so I am not disappointed to have to return down there. Even your philosophy is beginning to be known, but alas, just in a way I wish it would not be: as a sort of rationalized religion, whose cultivators already assume an air of priestly intonation, and they will attempt to form a church. This is a danger which it will be necessary to counteract.”

Thus conversing they finished the day, and their hearts felt as close as their minds, for the opposition of ideas sometimes creates a sort of nearness and brotherhood. Hegel, when Sanseverino was leaving, said to him with a certain moving affection that he was counting on another visit of his to Berlin in the not too distant future. But in the days that followed he always had in mind that conversation, attempting to re-examine his own theories in the light of the objections that had been raised by the Neapolitan gentleman. He tried to defend them to himself and was retaken by doubts which had occurred to him at other times, but never with the same force as they now had.

Hegel had conceived a philosophy which had given a foundation to the universe and closed history; his system completed, ordered, and fulfilled a millennium of philosophical work; it recognized the contribution that every other system had made and reconstructed them all in a powerful final act of correction and synthesis. And, after this, the history of man reached its completion by reconnecting the beginning to the end, and it was not possible to see from where a new stimulus or material for work could come. But this, which would seem to be a colossal presumption, was the consequence of the design adopted by a philosophy modeled on the traditional religious account of the Creation, of the laborious course of the world, and of its resolution in the world beyond. Because of this its author was free from that self-glorification, that expectation of present applause and future triumph, and from that fanaticism which animated Tommaso Campanella, the foreteller of the City of the Sun and the perfection that the world would reach before chaos could turn everything into one.


Tommaso Campanella (1568-1639)
Author of The City of the Sun: a Poetical Dialogue (1602)

The philosophical sovereignty which Hegel had exercised over the last decade of his life, and which still retained its full vigor, did not intoxicate him. Nor must it be believed that he was satisfied and secure with his own work; his son Charles heard him exclaim: “What God has damned me to be a philosopher?” His wife said that often in the midst of his work she used to hear him muttering: “I cannot get my hands out of it!” It seems to me that it is just as Thaulow has written, that Hegel perhaps thought that philosophy began with him, but not that it ended with him. That objection, so neat and sharp, which had been raised and discussed by a visitor who had come from far away but who had nevertheless become very close, was fi xed in his mind: the guiding thought is extremely ingenious, but the system, instead of strengthening the value of it, contaminates, weakens, and compromises it. On the other hand, his mental life had been consolidated by long study in this rich system; and even though he accepted the criticism that was now coming to him, not from an adversary but from a disinterested, open-minded, unbiased and diligent reader and disciple, the task, if it really occurred to him, of retracing the road that he had traveled for more than forty years of hard work, and of changing his course and arriving at a point different from that which he had believed to have been the terminal one, and on which he had woven and extended the great canvas of his teaching, which by this time had become an aspect of the political mission of Prussia—such a task would have overwhelmed him and almost frightened him. Because from where could he have drawn the energy necessary for such a demand, that energy which is not of pure thought but a concentration of all the forces of a human being, even of the physiological ones, of his emotions, enthusiasm, dedication, sacrifice, as if nothing else in the world existed, or rather all is dedicated to the end to be reached, and only thus can he physically life and breathe? This he had experienced in the past, especially during the great mental crisis upon emerging from youth, as a hellish anguish and a divine joy, and when he composed the Phenomenology (he put the manuscript of it under his arm while the echoes of the cannons of Jena were still reverberating) he felt himself voluptuously consumed by that work of pain and love. But from where would this energy now flow back into his veins? And would not this flowing-back be a miracle, a miracle of such a nature that if it did happen it would be against nature and almost incestuous?

A feeling of humility and renunciation rose in his heart, and he thought that the work that he had completed, with its truth and its error, had not been willed by him but by inspiration and necessity, by the best he had in himself, although inscribed and circumscribed by human weaknesses. It was well that it should remain in the world in this form, in the historical moment at which the world had arrived, as a teaching but also as an experiment and admonition, both on account of what it brought to it that was positive and perennial and on account of what itput before it that was negative, contradictory, insufficient, to be undone, to be straightened, to be placed in a different way—the material for anew work—for a new work to be created, and by a new man. A feeling came to him, which had at the same time something heroic and paternal about it, similar to that of Hector who, looking with pride on his young son, thought that people would say: The father was not this strong. He even surprised himself sometimes by reciting the lines of old Giambattista Vico, which he had learned from his Neapolitan friend, about the treasury of thought which had been widely opened for him all these years and was now closed, and it would have to be reopened for others; and together with humility, which demanded dimitte, a tranquil conscience arose in him that he had been a servus Domini, and at the altar of God he had deposited the work that He had commanded him to do and had allowed him to accomplish within the limits set by Him.

Yes, all this was true, and the conclusion just. But when it is pointed out to a man of thought that there is an error in his thought in which he rested as though it were the truth, or if he suspects that there is an error, how could the prick of remorse be laid asleep in him, and how could he live with that error without investigation, correction, or confutation? How could one expect him to remain cold and indifferent toward that which had been the goal of his life and toward which he felt the moral responsibility to care for and protect its uncontaminated purity?

Not being able to turn his mind away from this piercing inquietude, Hegel completely renewed his faith in his life’s work, which was the bread that he had broken for the enthusiastic listeners in the hall of the Berlin University. He was still rather rich in mental vigor; indeed, that same year, having been shaken by the rumor of the revolutionary events in France, he had written (in conformity with his political faith, and with the robust spirit of a conservative suspicious of the homes à principes who had risen against the hommes d’état), a long essay against the English Reform Bill. He continued to enrich himself with the lessons of new developments, for he would not have been able to accept the counsel of wisdom and to stop at what he had already done supposing he had lost the certitude of the truth that he had once acquired and held.

This was his state of mind when the cholera, which had started to withdraw from Berlin, suddenly returned and in all its fury took away in a few hours Hegel himself, the greatest philosopher of his time, on November 14, 1831. When Hegel’s faithful and affectionate students began to publish, in addition to the works he had written, a dozen volumes of his lectures, they emphasized the form of the system, in the way that it had been organized and particularized in academic teaching, yet at that time the origin of the system remained little or not at all known.

The history of the laborious formation of his thought had to wait until a century later when it was reconstructed from the unpublished papers of his youth. And only about a century later was the critique which the Neapolitan scholar had presented to Hegel in the above-reported conversation renewed; then Hegel the philosopher was contrasted with Hegel the architect of a system, the Hegel alive, as it was said, and the Hegel dead. This crisis no longer confined itself to the Neapolitan circle, where Hegel had been much studied in the nineteenth century and where he had faithful followers even in the era of positivism, but it also spread to the rest of Italy; and in Italy the philosophical thought of Hegel has since renewed its vigorous action in a systemization completely different from that which pleased him, and consequences have been drawn from it that he did not wish to draw, and theories that he had accepted from his predecessors which could not be maintained had to be completely rebuilt from top to bottom. Even the name of the system itself had to be changed, because “absolute idealism” was no longer suitable and failed to grasp the fundamental features, for which reason a new name, proper to it, automatically suggested itself—that of “absolute historicism.” However that may be, Hegel now belongs to us; that this is not enough for us is the obvious effect of his belonging to us and of the possession of him which we have, for the possession of a thought is valuable only insofar as it prepares for a new life and new thought.


Profile of a Great Italian Playwright: Luigi Chiarelli (1880-1947)
A Presentation by Michael Vena


Luigi Chiarelli (1880-1947)

Luigi Chiarelli's contribution to modern theatre was acknowledged in his day by many authoritative witnesses including Thomas Mann, Filippo T. Marinetti, Antonio Gramsci, while Luigi Pirandello not only supported the concepts of the grotesque but extended them in the multi-faceted variations of his own production. Chiarelli's plays were translated into many languages and performed on the stages of Europe and the Americas almost as quickly as in Italy. In 1921, while riding the crest of popularity, the playwright quipped humorously, with a great deal of subtle ironic foresight, that: “é giunta una grande notizia da Londra. Un illustre cercatore ha scoperto in quella meravigliosa testa di Omero che al British Museum il manoscritto di una commedia sconosciuta di Willy Shakespeare. La commedia s'intitola La maschera e il volto. L'azione si svolge sul lago di Como. Si tratta di un marito che ... AhimŽ! Adesso  tutto  si  spiega. [Great news has come from London. A distinguished researcher has discovered in that wonderful head of Homer which is at the British Museum the manuscript of an unknown comedy by Willy Shakespeare. It's entitled The Mask and the Face. The action takes place on Lake Como.  It deals with a husband who ... Alas!  Now everything unfolds].

The upshot of this statement has a double significance now. In the first place Chiarelli remains indeed an author to be discovered; his works deserve more critical attention in Italy and also in the English-speaking world. There are very few entries under his name in our major American and English encyclopedias.  Secondly, in the passage above, Chiarelli seems to imply a rapport in dramatic primacy between his own age and the Renaissance tradition, superbly exemplified by Shakespeare but also by commedia dell'arte and pastoral drama down to the origins of melodrama.

Chiarelli was an innovator and he knew it. One might call him the contrary voice of his age; yet his lively intelligence and sharp artistic sensitivity mellowed the polemics in which he engaged, whether he was dealing   with   his  grotesque   portrayal  of  reality,  his  conception  of  the eternity of myth, or his anti-existentialism. Thomas Mann was not off the mark when he stated that the theatre of succeeding generations would follow the patterns set by two great playwrights: Chiarelli and Pirandello. As a progressive voice of the new theatre, here is how Chiarelli characterized the genesis of his little masterpiece at the beginning of the grotesque movement: “La maschera e il volto  nacque  da una posizione critica oltre che filosofica e polemica ... critica perchè sovvertiva tutte le regole della vecchia tecnica teatrale, infrangendo i  logori  schemi imperanti sui quali si modella la letteratura drammatica europea.” [The Mask and the Face was born of a critical as well as philosophical and polemical position . . . critical because it was subversive of all the rules of the old theatrical practice, shattering the prevailing threadbare norms on which European dramatic literature is based.]


Program Picture for The Mask and the Face

The author breaks away from the stale models of nineteenth-century bourgeois situations which, except for the very special works of D'Annunzio and Verga, had conditioned or even plagued the theatre-going public for decades. Chiarelli is concerned with ideas and problems of a philosophical nature; but what strikes us most is the originalitv of his approach: from his a priori distortion of reality to his demonstratio per absurdum of his theses.

The Mask and the Face is generally considered Chiarelli's masterpiece. It is an ironical comedy in three acts, written during the summer of 1913 in the manner of the modern Italian grotesque. Chiarelli satirizes here the conventional attitude toward marital infidelity and the differences between what we preach and what we actually do. The plot centers around the dilemma of a betrayed husband who, to avenge his honor, pretends he has killed his wife.


Program’s Cover for The Mask and the Face

Count  Paolo Grazia  and  wife Savina, typical members of upper  middle-class Italian society, are having  a reception  in  their  villa on Lake Como. While the  group  is  engaged  in  a  discussion on  the subject  of  infidelity,   Paolo   states that if he were betrayed by his wife he would kill her, because a  "husband who forgives is subject to ridicule"  and  "for such a husband there is nothing left but suicide."   That same evening he discovers that his beautiful  wife Savina is indeed betraying him. His natural impulse would be to forgive her, but he dismisses such a solution for it would belie his public  pronouncements. He therefore compels her to leave Italy in secret and to live abroad under an assumed name, while he tells everyone that he has thrown the adulteress in the lake. Paolo is taken into custody, but later is acquitted thanks to a glowing defense presented by Luciano, a lascivious lawyer who happens to be Savina's lover. Paolo is welcomed home with public honors by his friends and the authorities; as a result of this sorry spectacle which society has imposed on him, he is overcome by disgust and repulsion as he realizes the absurdity of  "killing" for the opinion of others. "Is there nothing serious in this world? They turn the most agonizing tragedy into farce!... Clowns! ... And it is for those people that I ... Clowns!"


Original edition of La maschera e il volto (1913)

But  Paolo pays still another price for his fictitious murder. One day, the corpse of a woman is recovered from the lake. Everybody identifies it mistakenly as Savina's. Paolo feels obliged to concur in their opinion. Consequently, the corpse is brought to his house and a lavish funeral is arranged. In the intervening time, the real Savina returns and Paolo begins to feel the true nature of their love, as the image of death gives meaning and value to their lives. His impending catharsis signifies also the triumph of the philosophy of Cirillo, the most positive character in the play, who from the beginning has questioned the validity of  conventional attitudes.

Unfortunately, some guests attending the funeral surprise Savina in the house. Her appearance -- there -- is, for them, no laughing matter, nor is it a good joke in the eyes of the law.  Marco, a magistrate, points out to Paolo that this time he faces a prison term for simulation of a crime and falsification of documents. To avoid that, Paolo and Savina must run away -- as outlaws -- toward an authentic freedom. They make their furtive departure while burial services begin with Chopin's funeral march.


Choosing the mask for the day

Clearly, Chiarelli's social concerns and moral angst become an emblem of his theatrical self-reflexiveness; and the theater, as the place for simulations,improvisation and conflict, offers the obvious artistic setting to exemplify such concerns.  So, in dramatic form, he makes his attack on empty social conventions. His polemic, verging at times on tragic farce, is skillfully tinged with humor, fraught with paradox, and full of surprises. It lends itself to a rich development, typical of the post-war drama of the twenties. In fact, the play is considered one of the first successful attempts to rejuvenate Italian and European theatre and to free it from the trammels of the customary "triangle" (husband, wife, lover) situations inherited from the nineteenth century. An important aspect of the polemic presented by Chiarelli is the contrast between form and reality. Form here is not used in a Crocean sense, but rather as  signifying an outward appearance, a stereotype, a mask. Chiarelli operates therefore in an intellectual sphere closely related to Pirandello's. But The Mask is less pessimistic than most of Pirandello's plays: Chiarelli's conclusion seems to imply that a tolerant acceptance of life can be won though an understanding of its contradictions.

Chiarelli would be prone to follow this logic: other people can't really judge us for what we are; they tend to judge us by isolated instances or specific acts. They impose a mask on us which we cannot strip off, either because that is the way they can best deal with us or because our principles prevent us from showing our true faces when it might be dangerous to do so. Thus we become a form. If form, then, is the only reality which counts for others, we might just as well create our own form and impose it on others as a mask that would allow us to follow our inner feelings in the most free and emancipated ways.


Michael Vena’s pedagogical text
La maschera e il volto

The necessity of pretending is justified as a means, not as an end. (In addition, by now the theories of the subconscious are also telling us that we hardly determine the nature of our own souls). Undoubtedly, The Mask and the Face is a product of that deep intellectual crisis and moral disorientation which marked the years preceding and immediately following the First World War. In this respect, the drama gives character and direction to a brief but significant movement called grotesque. By this term we refer to a genre of theatre wherein the passions and tragedies of life are mechanically simplified and shockingly distorted. The grotesque incorporates positivistic disenchantment, social criticism, and an unusual concept of ethics which denies traditional values and leans toward a relativistic philosophy. Authors adhering to it scorn such a miserable mode of existence. They expose contradictions, absurdities, vanity, hypocrisy, but generally leave their protagonists in the midst of unresolved conflicts. In such a situation, in this seeming confusion, life itself becomes a laughing-stock to them or tragically hopeless. This view of the world is made manifest in the works of Rosso di San Secondo (Puppets of Passion), Luigi Antonelli (The Man Who Encountered His Self), Enrico Cavacchioli (The Bird of Paradise), who, along with some aspects of Pirandello's literary personality, represent the main authors of the grotesque. As for The Mask and the Face, we notice some positive developments which change the lot of the protagonists and show what power love can have as a catalytic agent in the elimination of the conflict between form and reality, between the mask and the face.

Other Works by Chiarelli

The remainder of Chiarelli's literary production can be categorized mainly along the lines  of the grotesque. La scala di seta (The Silken Stairs, 1917) presents the contrast between two men:  a decent one doomed to failure and an unrepentant  ballet dancer named Desire'.  Desire'  enjoys the life of pleasure and success, allegorically portrayed as a silken stairway that leads to the height of  fame.  By means   of outrageous extortions,  he becomes a  minister in the government,  while his honest and capable opponent is forced into humiliation.   Ironically,  he begins to display his temper in a seemingly uncompromising  situation;  he becomes an object of ridicule by insulting, in as speech,  a cheering  crowd,  and  then   breaking into a wild waltz.  In Chimere (Chimeras,  1919)  Claudio and Maria  cherish a dream  to be a devoted lover and a pure soul,  respectively.   They slowly descend to the most debasing concessions,  thus disclosing the thoroughly superficial nature of their ideals.  Morte degli amanti (Death of the Lovers, 1919)  is a parody of conventionalism of two melodramatic lovers who dream up headlines newspapers will use to extol their relationship, after they have  consummated in suicide their romantic  existence.  Luckily, they will be saved by the woman's husband.  Fuochi d'artificio (Fireworks, 1922) deals with an old theme in a modern fashion.  It depicts the plight of a destitute man, Gerardo, whom everyone believes to be very wealthy.  His reputation for non existent  wealth is skillfully fabricated by his secretary Scaramanzia. This play was widely acclaimed.  It completes the cycle of Chiarelli's grotesque.

However, his creative efforts are not limited to the grotesque.  As early as 1917, he produced La portantina, a political satire,  and Le lacrime e le stelle  (1918),  a morality play of the war years. Subsequently,  we have  Jolly  (1928) , Un uomo da rifare (1931),   Carne bianca  (1934),   Cerchio magico  (1937),  Pulcinella  (1939),  Enrico  Vlll (1940) ,  in addition to various one-act plays and a  substantial number of short stories,  which from 1932 appeared in La Stampa and were later collected in two volumes,  La mano di Venere (1935)  and La figlia dell'aria (1939). We also have Enea come oggi (1938) and Ninon (1940),  representing a type of   drama Chiarelli  characterized  as mythical.   Finally, toward the very end of  his life, he gave us Essere which is in marked contrast to his previous plays. Essere is an allegorical drama (performed posthumously in 1953)  in which the author reveals his need for faith in a supreme being.

Biographical Note

Luigi Chiarelli was born at Trani in the province of Bari on July 7, 1880.  He received his secondary education at the Liceo Viconti in Rome, but the early death of his father prevented him from attending a university. Nevertheless ,  he soon became well known in literary circles,  and  contributed verse as well as prose to periodicals such as L'Alfiere and La Patria.  His first attempts as a playwright also belong to this period (1895-1910).   In 1911 Chiarelli joined the Milanese newspaper Il secolo as a reporter.  It was in Milan that he became acquainted with the most  important theatre groups in Italy. The following year he succeeded in having two one-act  plays performed , Una notte d'amore and Er Gendarme, the latter in Roman dialect.  Later, he went on to Turin to direct the review Armi e Politica (1914).   With the outbreak of World War l , although he was drafted , Chiarelli was allowed to continue his literary activities and his work as a journalist.  But recognition was yet to come.  Not  before May 29, 1916 , did Chiarelli establish his position as a dramatic writer;  that night a theatre company from Rome ,  the Compagnia Drammatica di Roma,  staged his The Mask and the Face at the Teatro Argentina.  The play was an immediate  success throughout Italy, and soon after in America  and Europe.  That same summer the renowned actor  Virgilio Talli insisted upon another production at the Teatro Olimpia in Milan,  and assumed its direction.  This was the first  of several successful cooperative ventures between the famous actor and Chiarelli. By the end of 1918 Chiarelli had founded the troupe Ars Italica, and entrusted its artistic direction to Talli; Goldoni's  La Locandiera and Morselli's Glauco were  staged. In 1921 Chiarelli organized another company, Comoedia, which presented The Merry Wives of Windsor.  Two years later while continuing his activity as playwright  he also joined the Corriere Italiano as a drama critic.  He was instrumental  in proposing the establishment  of a state theatre at  the First National Congress of the Theatre (1924).   As president of the Playwrights Union (Sindacato autori drammatici) Chiarelli exerted a great  deal of influence within and outside Italy; indeed his commitment  to the theatre continued until the last years of his life.

Aside from his plays Chiarelli also wrote short stories  and essays,  and translated  a number of works from Latin, English, French, Spanish, including Plautus'  Aulularia and Menaechmi, Shakespeare's  The Merry Wives of Windsor, Mauriac's Asmod, and Zorrilla's Don Juan Tenorio.  He regularly  reviewed films for the Roman daily Il Tempo. Chiarelli also enjoyed some success as a painter. He died in Rome on December 20, 1947.

This introduction appeared in the Connecticut Review, vol. 7. no. 2, 1974.  For Chiarelli and  the 'grotteschi'  see also the Dictionary of Italian Literature edited by  Peter Bondanella and Julia Conaway, Greenwood Press , Westport, 1979, and the Columbia Dictionary of Modern European Literature, N.Y. , 1980 (article  by  Olga Ragusa). Under "Italy", see The Reader's Encyclopedia of World Drama, John Gasner, ed.,1969, and the Oxford Companion to the Theater,1951, pp. 407-8.  For a copy of the original text edited by Michael Vena, contact Editions Soleil publishing, Toronto, Canada, 2002. Order Desk: 1-800-261-0833.






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 -


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