Of Liberty and Tolerance

Did I manage to go to all the five events I mentioned as worthy of attending in my last post? Well, not all. Four, in fact, and I still managed to snatch a pisolino in the Saharan heat that is gripping Italy!

The first event was the publication of the original version of Benedetto Croce’s speech delivered in Bari’s Teatro Piccinni  in January 1944

There were significant contributions by Michele Olivari professor of modern history at Pisa University and Giampietro Grosselle, legal forensic graphologist at Livorno’s Court of Justice. I discussed the issue of contemporary word processing with Grosselle afterwards suggesting how much more difficult it is now to be able to interpret the writer’s character and mood from a printed sheet. Yet there is still a lot to learn in a word-processed document; for example in its layout, choice of font and it’s possible to uncover crossings-out and insertions easily by using the appropriate options. So all is not lost.

(Prof.  Marcello Cherubini of the Fondazione Montaigne introducing proceedings)

Why should Croce’s notes be of any interest except to specialists? It’s because Croce’s broadcast laid the foundation of the Italian republic and its constitution as we know it today.  OK that’s fine but why should Bagni di Lucca be involved? It’s because in September 1943 the Cassibile armistice was signed which (unfortunately theoretically) ceased hostilities between the allies and the Italian government. The allies had invaded Sicily and the Italian government arrested Mussolini for misconduct of a disastrous war. The northward thrust of the allies was not quick enough for the Third Reich to prevent sending panzer divisions into Italy and capturing Rome. The royal family escaped to Bari and for the next two years Italy was involved in one of the cruellest civil wars Europe has ever seen, with a puppet Nazi-fascist government in the north and a provisional government in the south. Even Rome’s eventual deliverance in 1944 did not stop the bloodshed and the war for Italy did not finish until April 25th 1945 – a date which has become a national holiday – the ‘giornata Della Liberazione’. (For more information on the context see my post at https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2016/03/18/amazing-find-in-greenlees-archive-at-bagni-di-lucca/ )

(Exhibition in the library associated with Greenlees and Croce)

Ian Greenlees, (see my post on him at https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2014/09/13/an-aesthete-in-bagni-di-lucca/ ) was director of Bari radio between 1943 and 1944: critical years in which the King of Italy declared the armistice and in which Croce made his seminal speech.

(Portrait of Ian Greenlees in Bagni di Lucca’s Library)

Benedetto Croce was one of Italy’s greatest twentieth century philosophers and one who did not disdain to enter into politics. I suppose the nearest equivalent in the UK would be Bertrand Russell and in many respects their ideas had similarities. Like Russell Croce quit Christianity for a spiritual and moral philosophy of life. A pacifist, Croce quickly turned against Mussolini after political activist Matteotti’s murder by fascists in 1922. He invented a term which he applied to the Italian government and would be equally well-applied to the present UK government: ‘onagrocrazia’ or ‘government by asses’.

Amazingly, despite many threats and the ransacking of his library, Croce survived fascism and was appointed a minister without portfolio in Badoglio’s post-armistice government. Strangely, Croce voted for the retention of the monarchy in the constitutional referendum of 1946 which turned Italy into a republic, and regarded the peace treaty, which removed a large part of Venezia Giulia including Trieste (which only became part of Italy again in 1954), as humiliating.

Croce, who was the only survivor when, as a sixteen-year-old, his family was wiped out in an earthquake, remains to this day a somewhat complex and ambiguous figure. That’s why his friendship with Ian Greenlees and the documents exchanged between them, which were only re-discovered last year in Bagni di Lucca’s library Greenlees archive, are so telling.

In the ‘sketch’ there are some significant crossings out and word changes. For example, the Allied government must be ‘loyal’ rather than ‘generous’ to Italy. In another part fascism does not just ‘destroy’, it ‘corrupts and destroys’.

Croce was, above all a liberal philosopher, politician and historian who was greatly influenced by the Italian illuminist philosopher Giambattista Vico, so significantly revalued in recent times.

Above all Croce prized liberty and tolerance. It is, therefore, with some considerable preoccupation that I hear on the news today that a tit-for-tat attack by a white van driver has left one person dead and seriously injured ten others.

I think of the civil war in Italy, which came so close to Bagni di Lucca with its ever-present fortification remains  (there was also a visit on Sunday to the gothic line dividing axis and allied forces and whose anti-tank wall passes just south of local Penny supermarket. You can see my visit to this wall at https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2016/04/15/catching-the-train-at-borgo-a-mozzano/ ).

I also think of the UK as a divided country too: divided by that ghastly brexit nonsense whose negotiations are to start today. I also think of the division in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea where the average wage of the better–off is over five times greater than that of the less well-off and where the difference between the average life expectancy of the two wage-groups is twelve years. Indeed, I remember as an unbelieving six-year old being driven through the shabbier parts of Kensington by my parents and my mother mockingly reading aloud a street name sign with the inscription ‘The Royal Borough of Kensington’. (Chelsea was added in 1965).

I just hope liberal tolerance will win through. After all, Italy was in a political psychosis in 1945 and has managed to keep itself together despite continued political instability and discontinuity, so much so that Italians are now declaring to me: ‘we thought we had to put up with an impossible government ‘all’Italiana’ but we think your country’s government has beaten ours in being even more ‘all’Italiana’!

I wonder what broadcast Benedetto Croce might have made on RAI TV and radio today…

(Every important occasion in Italy, like this book presentation,  ends with a nice ‘rinfresco’)

 

 

 

 

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