Ideological Profile of Twentieth-Century Italy


Anyone interested in the entire sweep of political thought over the last hundred years will find in Norberto Bobbio's Ideological Profile of Twentieth-Century Italy a masterful, thought-provoking guide. Home to the largest communist party in a democratic society, Italy has been a unique place politically, one where Christian democrats, liberals, fascists, socialists, communists, and others have co-existed in sizable numbers. In this book, Bobbio, who himself played an outstanding role in the development of ...

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Anyone interested in the entire sweep of political thought over the last hundred years will find in Norberto Bobbio's Ideological Profile of Twentieth-Century Italy a masterful, thought-provoking guide. Home to the largest communist party in a democratic society, Italy has been a unique place politically, one where Christian democrats, liberals, fascists, socialists, communists, and others have co-existed in sizable numbers. In this book, Bobbio, who himself played an outstanding role in the development of Italian civic culture, follows each of the major ideologies, explaining how they developed, describing the key actors, and considering the legacies they left to political culture. He wrote Ideological Profile in 1968 to explain from a personal perspective the history behind that decade's tumultuous politics. Bobbio's defense of democracy and critique of capitalism are among the themes that will particularly interest American readers of this updated edition, the first to appear in English.

Beginning in the late nineteenth century with positivism and Marxism, Bobbio next presents the ideological currents that developed before the outbreak of the First World War: Catholic, socialist, irrational and anti-democratic thought, the reaction against positivism, and the thinking of Benedetto Croce. After discussing the impact of the war, the author turns to the revolutionary-reactionary polarization of the postwar period and the ideology of fascism. The final chapters consider Croce's opposition to fascism and the ideals of the resistance and conclude with the post-Second World War "Years of Involvement."

Originally published in 1995.

The Princeton Legacy Library uses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 1996

"Noberto Bobbio's survey of intellectual traditions in Italy throughout this century is a welcome and timely contribution to Italian historiography. As a guide to the currents of thought, debates and publications that have both informed and disparaged Italy's democratic development this volume is indispensable."Western European Politics

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691601465
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 7/14/2014
  • Series: Agnelli Series
  • Pages: 282
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.70 (d)

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Ideological Profile of Twentieth-Century Italy

By Norberto Bobbio, Lydia G. Cochrane


Copyright © 1995 Princeton University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-691-04352-4



A great coalition gathered to oppose positivism in the early years of the twentieth century, but in Italy positivism never really took hold, and the reaction it provoked was an enormous tempest in a teapot. Positive philosophy arose with Saint-Simon, at the beginning of the nineteenth century, as a first and still rough awareness of the profound transformation that the Industrial Revolution had produced in society—a revolution that had overturned the constituted order, not by substituting one political class for another but by replacing the rule of the politicians and the metaphysicians with that of the industrialists and the scientists.

As a philosophy of history, positivism from Auguste Comte to Herbert Spencer discovered that humanity's progress toward betterment in the new century would consist in a shift from a military society to an industrial one; from a society of strata, controlled by priests, to one of free but sharply competitive classes, regulated by scientific knowledge. In a country as economically backward as Italy, it was predictable that positivism would arrive late and, once transplanted, would either not thrive or, as with Carlo Cattaneo, a splendid exception, would seem premature.

In Cattaneo there is an evident connection between social change and new philosophy—between the growth of mercantile and middle-class society and scientific philosophy. It seems much more evident in him than in the official, scholarly, and scholasticized positivism of the final decades of the century that was implanted onto a barely nascent industrialization in only one small part of the country too fragile to support the new graft. In Italy of the time, official positivism was a philosophy without roots in society, and despite the ardor of its neophytes and the prestige of their patriarch, Roberto Ardigò, it never seemed at home. Enthusiasm and a burning desire to oppose tradition were not enough to lend vitality and dignity to a body of thought that seemed both anachronistic to contemporary Italians and—given the combined hostility of secular and clerical spiritualism, allied in a holy crusade against the new Enlightenment—a totally hopeless cause.

Admittedly, positivism was not a particularly good philosophy. Its importance was not philosophical, however, but lay rather in the positive (i.e., nonspeculative) mentality that the philosophy, mediocre as it was, both encouraged and mirrored. Unfortunately, the "positive school" in Italy took positivism to its bosom more than it did positiveness, but it did encourage the development of the sciences, in particular the social sciences, which had always led a sorry life in the shadow of the "presumptuous and sterile philosophy of the Italian Schools." With Cesare Lombroso and his disciples it made notable contributions to advances in criminology and it launched studies in sociology, ethnology, and Cattaneo's "psychology of associated minds," none of which had ever met with great fortune in Italy. With Gaetano Mosca positivism opened the way (a road that did not lead very far, however) to scientific studies of politics, and above all, it provided an occasion and stimulus for a flurry of studies in economics and encouraged an unequaled and genuinely Italian school of economics from Maffeo Pantaleoni to Vilfredo Pareto and Luigi Einaudi. Positivism was not an original philosophy, however, and even less a "philosophy of the future." Quite the contrary: when it arrived in Italy, where it peaked in the 1890s with Ardigò's famous trilogy, Il vero (1891), La ragione (1895), and L'unità della coscienza (1898), positivism was already in decline in the lands it had come from. In reality, when idealism cut short its agony it was already moribund.

In 1898, when one of the most incredible collections of students' panegyrics in honor of their mentor was published to celebrate Ardigo's seventieth birthday, two of Henri Bergson's most important works, Essai sur les données immédiates de la conscience (1889), and Matière et mémoire (1896), had already appeared in France, and Maurice Blondel had already defended his thesis, L'Action, at the Sorbonne (1893). In England, Spencer had been banished and neo-Hegelianism was all the rage (Francis Herbert Bradley's Appearance and Reality was published in 1893), and in the United States, William James had already published pragmatism's most popular work, The Will to Believe (1897). Historical positivism and, with even greater reason, the rigid and dogmatic version of it that had been dominant in Italy was finished everywhere, prompting a witch-hunt for "scientism" on the part of a perennial spiritualism. Positivism eventually used criticism of science to achieve an internal reform that led to neopositivism, but in Italy scientific philosophy was too violent to permit the Italian positivists (Pareto aside) to effect internal reform. Rather than correct the errors in their system, they adapted, willy-nilly, to the new philosophical tendencies, dissolved their materialism in an insipid and—fortunately—innocuous spiritualist brew, and diluted the polemic charge of an antimetaphysical philosophy with a conciliatory eclecticism.

From the ideological point of view, positivism represented a progressive, naturalistic, and essentially optimistic interpretation of the Industrial Revolution. This was true of both of the two politically opposed forms of positivism: an enterprising and aggressive liberalism and a gradualistic and defensive socialism (which occasionally joined forces against their common enemy, a debilitating and corrupting state protectionism). The first looked to Herbert Spencer, the Darwinist, as their patron saint; the second, to a Darwinized Marx. In reality, social Darwinism was nearly always a philosophical ingredient in both schools of thought, combined, on one side, with the theory of economic liberalism and, on the other, with the determinist and economics-oriented gospel of Marxism. For the Liberal positivists, the struggle for existence was nature's way of providing for the survival of the fittest (those best suited for making society advance); thus it should not be hindered by artificial political institutions like those of the traditional states, which originated in warfare, not in commerce. For the Socialist positivists, class struggle, which reached its greatest intensity in capitalistic society, would by the force of things generate the definitive elimination of the class society. Much more than Marx, it was Herbert Spencer whom they admired as the titan who liberated humanity from the chains of the past. At Spencer's death Francesco Papafava, an acute observer of Italian society and a man not given to facile enthusiasms, wrote of him, "He was the greatest emancipator of souls and intellectual exciter of the nineteenth century, and his attempt to describe the entire universe through and through will remain among the greatest intellectual monuments."

The two major representatives of economic liberalism of these years, Maffeo Pantaleoni (whose Principii di economia pura was published in 1889) and Vilfredo Pareto (whose famous Cours d'économic politique appeared in 1896), were declared positivists and convinced Spencenans. Equally ardent positivists (hence only partly Marxists—that is, Marxists only if Marx could be reconciled with evolutionist positivism and, though more approximately, with Spencer, a rabid Liberal) were Achille Loria and Enrico Ferri, Napoleone Colajanni, and Saverio Merlino—in short, all Italian theorists of socialism except Antonio Labnola (1843–1904). It is true that when Colajanni stated that Spencer's ideal was socialist, "some hypercritical philosophers called [him] an ass," but he continued to argue his point with only a few concessions to his adversaries. Saverio Merlino, perhaps the clearest head among the Socialists of positivist leanings and someone who had never confused Marx with Spencer, drew a distinction between the catastrophic conception of socialism and the "positive" conception: "Socialism's conception must be less abstract, less simplistic, better informed than it is today concerning the positivist method, which is the only truly scientific one." Filippo Turati, speaking of his formative years, wrote:

When, as young men just liberated from Christian-Catholic mythology, borne by the impetus of a youthful reaction to all the most nihilistic negations, we nonetheless sought that psychological ubi consistam that is an inalienable necessity for all those whom nature predisposes to "take life seriously," it was Roberto Ardigò who posed in us some of the most solid building blocks of our mental and moral edifice.

One handbook of socialist propaganda advised readers to "first read any summary of Darwin and Spencer that gives the student the general direction of modern thought; then turn to Marx to complete the formidable triad that worthily makes up the gospel of contemporary Socialists."

Beyond the divergent views of a right-wing positivism of Liberal tendencies and a left-wing positivism of socialist leanings, positivist philosophy educated the generation that came of age during the final years of the century to a more reasoned and reasonable conception of political conflict. It also helped that generation to an awareness of the problems in a modern industrial society that required not hasty solutions but solutions reached through a knowledge, which only a positive education could give, of the objective laws regulating both historical and natural evolution. In a brief work published in 1895, one of Lombroso's disciples, Guglielmo Ferrero (protesting against the reactionary politics of Francesco Crispi), neatly summarized the frame of mind and the aspirations of positivist youth:

We are tired of a political science that thinks it is saving a nation in conditions as grave as Italy's [by] dissolving the Workers' Party, sequestering L'ltalia del Popolo once a month, and knocking over busts of Karl Marx in all public and private gathering places.... To fortify ourselves, we prefer the healthy bread of real and positive observations over the alcoholic liquor of inebriating phrases. We have no illusions: we know that there are many ills that the work of one man, one party, or one school cannot remedy; that the laws of social life, in large part still unknown, are stronger than we are. Still, regarding the action that man can undertake, we demand that it be guided by reason.... Enough! Represent whatever party or social class you will, but be reasonable, intelligent, and well-educated men. Have some idea in your brain.

The reaction against positivism that was widespread at the start of the "new century" was more than a critique of philosophy; it was also a criticism of politics. The campaign against an antihumanistic determinism, an arid naturalism, clumsy sociological simplifications, an ingenuous adoration of raw facts, and the reduction of humankind to its environment went along with polemics against the reformist ideas that were shaking the old order, against the dreaded coming of a democratic broadening of the power base, and against the rise of new social classes—in a word, against both democracy and socialism.

The first attack on positivism (in the final years of the nineteenth century) came from the Left, however. That is, it came from an interpretation of historical materialism more faithful to the texts and less eclectic. Enrico Ferri's Socialismo e scienza positive (1894), a synthesis of the positivist interpretation of Marxism, bore a subtitle, Darwin, Spencer, Marx, that clearly indicated its thrust. The work demonstrated the total compatibility of Darwinism with Marxism and Spencer's evolutionism with Marx's scientific socialism (which "supplemented, or rather completed, in the social domain, the scientific revolution begun by Darwin and Spencer").

Antonio Labriola's first study on historical materialism, In memoria del Manifesto dei Comunisti, was published the next year (1895), and it was followed by a second study, Del materialismo storico: Dilucidazione preliminare (1896), and a third, Discorrendo di socialismo e di filosofia: Lettere a G. Sorel (1897). From the first pages, Labriola settled his accounts with the positivists in no uncertain terms: Socialists who put their trust in Marx's interpretation of the historical process had nothing against being called scientific, "provided that others do not, by that token, confuse us with the positivists, often [our] guests but not always welcome ones, who like to monopolize the name of science."

In the third of these studies, Labriola subjected Spencer to a good dressing down in remarks he attributes to Marx: Spencer was

the last isolated vestige of English seventeenth-century deism; the last blow of English hypocrisy against the philosophy of Hobbes and Spinoza; ... the ultimate transition between the egotistic cretinism of Mr. Bentham and the altruistic cretinism of the Rabbi of Nazareth; the last attempt of the bourgeois intellect to save, by free seeking and free competition in this world, an enigmatic shred of faith in the next.

In his famous inaugural lecture in Rome in 1896, published by Benedetto Croce under the title L'università e la libertà della scienza, Labriola stated his own thoughts on the matter unequivocally:

I pause only to note the nearly unbelievable verbal misunderstanding by which many (particularly in Italy) ingenuously confuse the specific philosophy that is positivism and the positive—that is, with what is positively acquired in unending new social and natural experience ... What happens to such people is that they fail to distinguish what pertains to the man of science and what to the philosopher in Spencer, who, sparring with the categories of the homogeneous and the heterogeneous, the indistinct and the differentiated, the known and the unknowable, is himself a dead man—that is, at times an unconscious Kantian and at times a Hegel in caricature.

Labriola's Del materialismo storico, his second and by far more important study, was something like an introduction to historical methodology as gleaned from a correct understanding of Marx's thought. It attacked both idealist historians, who thought history could be written by approaching historical events from the wrong side (that is, from men's ideas, not from their socioeconomic relations), and positivist historians, who had chosen the right approach—facts—but had failed to find the right compass to guide them through the thickets they had discovered. That compass was historical materialism, understood as a realistic but global concept of history. On the one hand, historical materialism made possible an objective comprehension of facts and of their succession—a comprehension that was finally made possible by tearing away the wrappings that men's ideas had put around facts but that was limited to "the objective co-ordination of the determining concepts and the determined effects." Rather than "subjective criticism applied to things," it was "the discovery of the self-criticism which is in the things themselves." On the other hand, historical materialism was an instrument of investigation that made possible an overall vision of the "process" of history, unlike the "partial, one-sided, and incomplete" visions of the positivists: one had to reach beyond "knowledge of particular facts" to understand "history as a whole." As a realistic conception of history, historical materialism was not simply a philosophy of history in the manner of Hegel or Spencer but the first serious attempt to found a science of society (not to be confused with positivistic sociology). As a global conception of the historical process, it offered a guideline for comprehending all of historical evolution and for discovering its immanent direction. It was not a key to be turned over to the metaphysicians, the openers of all doors.

Labriola's studies had no political intent except indirectly and in such a long term that it seemed less a deadline than a postponement sine die. Rather, they were written when Labriola, dissenting (at times sharply) from the direction impressed on the Socialist Party by its founders (the Partito socialista italiano was formed in August 1892), had beaten an impatient and scornful retreat from militant politics, without renouncing his right to intervene occasionally, however, to scold, counsel, encourage, or warn the party and offer somewhat gloomy predictions and judgments, both pertinent and impertinent. His quarrel with the positivist Socialists was not only philosophical but ideological and political, even though his ideological and political dissent was strictly dependent on philosophical disagreement. Labriola had two quarrels with the party Socialists. First, they had moved too quickly to launch a workers' party without a working class. Thus the party would have to be "put into the workers' minds on the sly," thereby risking its rapid degeneration "into one of the usual factional futilities all'italiana." Second, the party Socialists had been unable, precisely because of their first mistake, to form any political program that did not involve petty bourgeois reformism, legalitarian compromise, and complicity with the ruling class in order to obtain a modest advantage today in exchange for renouncing the revolution tomorrow. Contradictory as it might seem, he reproached the party both for moving too fast and too slowly.


Excerpted from Ideological Profile of Twentieth-Century Italy by Norberto Bobbio, Lydia G. Cochrane. Copyright © 1995 Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission of PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Foreword to the Series
Biographical Note
Translator's Note
Ch. 1 Positivism and Marxism 3
Ch. 2 Catholics and the Modern World 15
Ch. 3 The Forces of the Irrational 33
Ch. 4 The Antidemocrats 45
Ch. 5 The Two Socialisms 57
Ch. 6 Benedetto Croce 69
Ch. 7 The Lesson of Facts 81
Ch. 8 World War I: An Interlude 91
Ch. 9 Between Revolution and Reaction 103
Ch. 10 The Ideology of Fascism 122
Ch. 11 Croce in Opposition 133
Ch. 12 The Ideals of the Resistance 143
Ch. 13 The Years of Commitment 157
Ch. 14 Democracy on Trial 169
Ch. 15 Toward a New Republic? 187
Explanatory Notes 203
Bibliography 215
Index 229
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