Writings by Dr. John C. Rao

Secular Italy and Catholicism: 1848-1915

Liberalism, Nationalism, Socialism and the Romantic Idealist Temptation

(A chapter in Models and Images of Catholicism in Italian and Italian American Life Forum Italicum of the Center for Italian Studies at S.U.N.Y. Stony Brook, 2004, pp. 195-230)

In many respects, the history of Italy since the collapse of the Roman Empire has been one of a “Dark Peninsula”. True, there are a certain number of bright spots familiar primarily to scholars, while the artistic and dramatic characteristics of ages like the Renaissance are well known even on a popular plane. Nevertheless, much of what happens in Italian History is seen by people, both scholars and laymen alike, through a glass, and very darkly indeed. At the top of the list, in this regard, is the entire, crucially important sphere of religious-secular and Church-State relations, whose study is badly vitiated by ideological and cultural prejudices.

When one is speaking of the Risorgimento and immediate post-Risorgimento eras, both Italian and non-Italian knowledge of the general intellectual, political, and social environment, not to speak of the more specific problem of religious-secular clash, is still, to a large degree, lost in this black hole. Description of the nineteenth century context of Italian life often descends into caricature; indeed, even into cultivation of the most simplistic “good guy—bad guy” myths. This is particularly unfortunate for the sense of historical perspective of Italian-Americans, since the Risorgimento, the decades following thereafter, and the difficulties of Church-State relations accompanying the movement for Italian unification provided the framework and much of the explanation for the Great Migration of the population of the Mezzogiorno to the New World in the period 1890-1914.

Clarifying this nineteenth and early twentieth century context involves first of all noting the reality of an anticlerical and even outrightly anti-Catholic spirit existing all through Italian History. That spirit was the product of many causes, beginning with a heritage of State absolutism nurtured by the ancient Roman bureaucracy, which continued its influence, even in the most obscure years of the Middle Ages, through the important function fulfilled by such officials as notaries. Hostility to the Church was also fed from the eleventh century onwards by two other factors: the ever deeper revival of understanding of Roman legal principles, and the increasing lay anger over papal recourse to interdicts, excommunications, and the calling of political crusades against its internal enemies, the most significant of which were those unleashed in the long-lasting struggle to obtain a friendly regime in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.

Such stimuli continued to embitter many influential laymen still later, in the Renaissance and Reformation eras, though their irritation was now aroused even further by the involvement of Spanish, Austrian and French dynasties in Italian affairs, and the association of their quarrels with the international Protestant-Catholic battle. Florentine and Venetian anti-Romanism could be extraordinarily heated, as evidenced by the writings of Niccolò Machiavelli in the early 1500’s, and the seventeenth century exchanges between Paolo Sarpi and the Roman Curia. Jansenist anti-papal reformism, Enlightenment dismissal of religious interference in natural life in general, and, finally, the Napoleonic reordering of much of Italy along the lines of the secularizing measures of the French Revolution, each with the aid of certain segments of the nobility and bourgeoisie, all played their role in feeding these tendencies down to the era of the Risorgimento.1

The strange coalition of monarchists, liberals, and moderate-nationalists which led the movement for independence and unification, created the Kingdom of Italy in 1861, and then engineered the annexation of Rome in 1870, inherited all of these various strains of anti-clericalism and anti-Catholic feeling, giving them a greater chance than ever before to triumph on a peninsula-wide plane. More radically democratic, anarchist, socialist, and nationalist groups, opposed as these might be to the particular combination of conservative and liberal secularist forces dominating Italy in the late nineteenth century, could still share with them a basic, vigorous, historically-rooted, world view hostile to some or all of the structures and teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. The combustible anticlerical material was, therefore, abundant and varied.

Moreover, it was stirred to fire heat in the nineteenth century due to another fact of life which was as vexing as it was unexpected: the revival of Catholicism as a consciously supernatural religion after its own bleak flirtation with naturalism in the years preceding the French Revolution. That peculiar tryst had seen the weakening, and, in some cases, entire disappearance of ideas, groups, and phenomena long intertwined with the explanation and practice of Catholicism, which now, in the course of the 1800’s, came back into active life with renewed élan. These included scholastic theology and philosophy, the Society of Jesus, and popular devotions such as pilgrimages, novenas and eucharistic adoration, all of which were horrifying to the Jansenist, Enlightenment, and basic secularist mind, and had confidently been presumed to be dead and buried. Most upsetting of all, the restoration movement in Catholicism in the nineteenth century brought with it a revival and centralization of that papal power which secularists associated with danger to the stability and independence of Italy, and, in certain respects, to a degree that was greater than any known even at the height of the Middle Ages. Noticeable in the pontificate of Pius VII (1800-1823), and more apparent still in that of Gregory XVI (1831-1846), the pace and significance of Catholic rebirth was represented, above all else, by the person and reign of Pius IX (1846-1878).2

Four points can be made about the character and pontificate of Pius IX which explain why his figure and labor stood out as symbols of the “Catholic Question” to secularists in the Italy shaped by the Risorgimento. To begin with, the pope was perceived by many supporters of the unification-independence movement as having betrayed what seemed to be his initial, providentially-guided openness to the success of both its specific goals and their root inspiration. Secondly, Pius IX’s charismatic, effusive personality made of him a truly modern public figure, fit for demonization after his initial fall from grace, and even more so after his elevation to the status of confessor by Catholics horrified at the overrunning of the Papal States. Next, the pope’s commitment to a clarification of Catholic differences with the Risorgimento, which he understood to be necessary once the misinterpretation of his position had led to revolution and war with Austria in the years 1848-1849, not only entailed the direct attack on liberal and nationalist principles found in the Syllabus of Errors (1864), but also began the process of official Church investigation of politically-charged social questions. Such concerns were stigmatized by the victorious alliance of moderates as a sign of sympathy for radical revolutionaries and peasant “brigands” operating out of the former Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. A Papacy encouraging discussion of them was a Papacy promoting rebellion and subversion.3

Finally, and, perhaps, most importantly, Pius instituted the non expedit rule, the papal policy which, while allowing Catholic participation in local political life, prohibited it on the national level in the new “robber” Kingdom. Calls for a boycott of the central, parliamentary establishment began with the politically aware Catholic Press and not through the Vatican. The non expedit had its roots in experiences dating back to the 1850’s, when Catholic activists like Dom Giacomo Margotti (1823-1887) saw that legally-elected deputies who did not subscribe to liberal nationalist ideals were excluded from the Sardinian Parliament. They soon realized that “when we took part in elections and in many places won a victory, we called down upon ourselves all manner of vexations, and our work went up in smoke”.4 Gradually, however, the Papacy came to share with Catholic activists a determination to turn what was perceived as a temporary abstention from a sham participation in the existing system into a serious preparation for a real participation in a future, better disposed Italy.5

Out of this ripened what secularists eager to build a strong and uncontested Italian State could consider one of the worst of the “rotten” fruits of the non expedit policy. “Preparation in abstention” meant the creation of a kind of shadow national government, through the construction and elaboration of a centrally-organized and nearly comprehensive Italian “Catholic Action” movement. For, although the Società della gioventù italiana (1868) always retained a certain autonomy, a multitude of other Catholic organizations and local parish committees were coordinated by the Opera dei congressi e dei comitati cattolici, founded in 1874 and given its definitive name in 1881, into a Kingdom-wide tool of serious importance. As that name indicates, the Opera met in regular congresses and carried out routine work through five permanent sections established in 1884: Organization and Catholic Action, Christian Social Economy, Instruction and Education, Press, and Christian Art. A generation or more of Catholic lay leaders was trained by the Opera, with the second section, headed, towards the end of the century, by Giuseppe Toniolo (1845-1918), Professor of Political Economy at the University of Pisa and founder of the Unione cattolica per gli studi sociali, being especially active.6

The Opera defined itself as intransigent, since it accepted the Syllabus and the pontifical directives; lay, since it was founded and presided over by laymen; papal, since it concentrated all Catholic efforts and organization in the service of the pope; and hierarchical, since its organization replicated the hierarchical Constitution of the Church.

None of this substantially changed in the 1880’s and 1890’s. Leo XIII (1878-1903) is frequently depicted as the antithesis to Pius IX, and did, indeed, explore various strategies for dealing with the new Kingdom of Italy. Nevertheless, Leo’s whole political approach was consonant with the main lines of the movement for Catholic revival as adopted in his predecessor’s reign, and clearly manifested a wish to extend the influence of the Church in daily life still further. Nothing substantive came of dreams of official reconciliation. Leo always insisted upon the retention of some kind of Temporal Power, his diplomatic maneuvering with the new German Empire and other European nations frequently involving speculation regarding its side effects for restoration. His criticism of the errors accompanying the drive for national unity, as reflected in an address of 26 July, 1887, was reminiscent of the anti-Risorgimento articles of La Civiltà Cattolica from the 1850’s and 1860’s, and still quite biting. The Pope maintained the non expedit policy, and allied the Church more solidly still with concern for the Social Question through his encyclical letter, Rerum Novarum (1891), and its justification of the trades unions movement, nuanced though this might have been.7

The nature of Catholic political action was, however, transformed considerably under the direction of Pius X (1903-1914). Most remembered for his sanctity, and a doctrinal firmness displayed in his battle against Modernism, this northern-born pope, the first since unification who did not come from the former Papal States, was not as troubled as his two predecessors by the specifics of the Temporal Power question. He was, moreover, a man of pronounced democratic temperament, and impatient with many of the formalities and unwritten traditions guiding the behavior of the aristocratic-minded Leo XIII and Roman Curia, viewing them as obstacles to effective action. All this led to his sympathy for alterations in practical Catholic Action, with major, complicated, and, perhaps, unintended consequences for Church-State relations, as will be catalogued in more detail below.8

The Kingdom of Italy confronting these popes was a centralized but constitutional monarchy under the House of Savoy. Although the Court did exercise a certain influence in political affairs, Italy was governed much more by the interplay of forces in its Parliament, its municipalities, and in the Press. Before turning to a discussion of the specific attitudes towards the Church and Catholicism expressed by any of these elements of Italian political and social life, it would be wise to take a glance at the different parties and factions shaping their views in more or less organized fashion: the Right and Left factions of the Liberals, the Anarchist-Socialists, and the Nationalists.9

The many difficulties in understanding the Italian Destra can be clarified by realizing that it is a completely different beast than a rightist element in most other European countries, such as France. No supporters of the Kingdom of Italy could ever be identified as legitimists or proponents of a traditionalist program in which religion played a central role, given that they had accepted and worked for the creation of what itself was in its essence a moderate revolutionary State. Real rightists either abstained from participation in the government after 1861, or were extremely few in number, including some nostalgists for pre-1848 Piedmont, or followers of the other, fallen peninsular dynasties. Italian “rightists”, like the Count Camillo Cavour (1810-1861), Count Stefano Jacini (1816-1891), and Marco Minghetti (1818-1886), were actually men who had adopted liberal and moderate nationalist principles that had proven to be useful to the strengthening of the power of the House of Savoy, and were in no way averse to a vigorous and multiform utilization of the authority of the State.

1876 saw the end of the dominance of this so-called “Historic Right” in the government of Italy, power then falling into the hands of the Sinistra, which was, as intimated above, simply another segment of the basically liberal party that had created the new nation. Associated at its origins with such pronounced anticlericals as Urbano Rattazzi (1808-1873), the Left was now directed by Agostino Depretis (1813-1887), a freemason, like many of the other members of his faction. It was much more wedded to the ideals of the free market and the minimal State than its rightist opponent, and, dimly reflecting its earlier republican tendencies, advocated a modest expansion of the suffrage. Troubled greatly by internal governmental scandals, the mainstream of the Sinistra was worried by the increasing disaffection of the Estrema. This force included intransigents of republican sympathies, radicals focused on the domestic injustices of the new Kingdom rather than the foreign affairs that seemingly obsessed their more temperate leftist confrères, and national heroes such as Giuseppe Garibaldi (1807-1882) who considered themselves to be vaguely socialist in sentiment. In fact, opponents within the Sinistra feared that the Estrema was a potential parliamentary conduit for the expression of all manner of advanced socialist ideas already stirring popular and press circles.

Socialism, one needs to remember, was an extremely broad and ill-defined term for most of the nineteenth century. It included among its supporters people who simply wanted steady work, and others, the developers of the trades unions movement, who wanted that steady work to be honorable and justly paid. Socialism also was the goal of the small, but active bands of anarchists, intellectually stimulated by the Russian, Michael Bakunin (1814-1876), who had come to the peninsula in 1864 and remained there as a force for the next ten years. One segment of that movement, headed by Carlo Cafiero (1846-1892) and Errico Malatesta (1853-1932), formed the Federazione italiana dell’Internazionale anarchista (1872), taught its message through various rather short-lived journals, as well as the latter’s book, l’Anarchia (1891), and aimed down the path of direct action versus the State and other authorities. Another branch shed Bakunian principles and took up the cudgel of legal action. This group included Andrea Costa (1851-1910), who was elected to the Italian Parliament in 1882, as a result of the Depretis suffrage reform. It ended up working alongside Leonida Bissolati (1857-1920), Anna Kuliscioff (1854-1925), Professor Antonio Labriola (1843-1904), who lectured on Marxism at the University of Rome, Claudio Treves (1869-1933), and Filippo Turati (1857-1932). Its journal of intellect was Critica Sociale , founded in 1891, and its political organ the Italian Socialist Party, which emerged in Genova in 1892, three years after the establishment of the Second International in Brussels.

Socialist deputies, upon entering Parliament, did, indeed, sympathize with by the Estrema faction of the Left, especially its so-called radical wing, just as the mainstream of the party feared. Severely tested by government repression from the 1880’s onwards, Italian Socialism continued to reflect the mixture of influences leading to its birth; i.e., republican, anarchist, Marxist, trade unionist, and pragmatist elements simultaneously. Such a mixture enabled men of widely different temperament and intellectual concerns to express sympathy for it. Not surprisingly, therefore, the party conference of 1900 approved two approaches to achieving the Socialist program, those of Maximalism and Minimalism. Maximalists gathered round Labriola and the idea of a more critical break with the existing order of things; Minimalists around the parliamentarians and the possibilities of the parliamentary system, with both factions seeking to gain control of the party newspaper, Avanti!.

Personalities of extremely individualist bent took part in the growth of a new nationalist movement, leading to the creation of the Italian Nationalist Association in Florence in December of 1910. These included such figures as Francesco Coppola (1878-1957), Enrico Corradini (1865-1931), Luigi Federzoni (1878-1967), Giovanni Papini (1881-1956), Giuseppe Prezzolini (1882-1982), and Scipio Sieghele (1868-1913), publishing in journals like Il Regno, La Voce, Leonardo, and L’Idea Nazionale. Their anger was directed against the “legal” Italy which had abandoned the call to greatness of the Risorgimento era expressing what they saw to be the deepest sensibilities of the Italian spirit. Legal Italy had dedicated itself in the positivist, materialist, post-Risorgimento decades to the petty ambitions of the unadventurous bourgeoisie, realized through the soul-killing parliamentary machinery identified and attacked by Angelo Camillo de Meis (1817-1891), Gaetano Mosca (1858-1941), Alfredo Oriani (1852-1909), Vilfredo Pareto (1848-1923), and Pasquale Turiello (1836-1902). Nationalists claimed to speak for the “real” Italy, the land and population that had not yet realized its manifest destiny, either by completing itself geographically or in answering the needs of its suffering southern peasantry. Armed conflict would be the means by which Italy would escape from its corrupt, legal shell and perfect itself, “redeeming” Italians living within the borders of Austria-Hungary. War would also restore to its rightful Italian owners the old Venetian territories now under Ottoman control, and offer lands to the men of the Mezzogiorno in those parts of Africa, such as Libya, still in need of a European colonial master. What was essential to affect this perfection was true, energetic, charismatic leadership, the kind offered by leftists such as Francesco Crispi (1819-1901), Prime Minister on two occasions in the 1880’s and 1890’s, but cut off in his labors due to the disaster at Adowa in Abyssinia in 1896. Nationalists, like socialists, gained great sympathy in varied strata of Italian society, among former anarchists, admirers of modern technology following Filippo Tommaso Marinetti’s (1876-1944) famous Futurist Manifesto of 1909, and, ultimately, Italy’s most curious literary mixture of quixotic influences, Gabriele d’Annunzio (1863-1938), the author of the jingoist La Nave, and future patriotic icon.10

All these politically-active Italians of the decades preceding and encompassing the Great Migration had present before them the picture of a Church that still maintained and wished to retain a formidable hold upon Italian life; an institution that, nevertheless, experience had shown could contemplate adoption of different strategies in its attempt to survive and prosper. Three positions regarding what to think and do about that Catholic grip and will to power grew up among the members of the various Italian parties, and the Court, Parliament, municipalities, and Press that they utilized. I will label these the approaches of the “rejecters”, the “pragmatists”, and the “palingenesists”. While a clear theoretical distinction among all three attitudes may easily be traced, there was no iron curtain separating movement from one to another. It was always especially possible for representatives of the first two approaches to slip into attitudes characteristic of the third.

By “rejecters”, I obviously mean those for whom any true reconciliation with the Church and Catholicism as they actually existed was not a serious consideration. Giosuè Carducci (1835-1907), with his Hymn to Satan (1863), might be said to have provided a literary manifesto for the most vehement proponents of this approach, and Pius IX certainly believed the outlook expressed therein to be the logical result of cultivating the secularist doctrines of the “robber Kingdom”. Indeed, any overall examination of Italian public life would illustrate that the rejecter’s camp still held many cards in its hands in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and this from the Court down to the level of the man on the street.

To begin with, although King Umberto I (1878-1900) was as friendly as possible in his dealings with the Church under difficult circumstances, and Queen Margherita positively effusive in her demonstrations of religious conviction, Vittorio Emmanuele III (1900-1946) showed an outright disdain for everything Catholic. A man of classically nineteenth century positivist convictions, he avoided religious ceremonies and used only Protestant and Waldensian nurses for his children. Within the confines of his very pronounced sense of constitutional decorum, the King demonstrated sympathy for Italian political figures who shared his basic secularism, such as the leftist, Giuseppe Zanardelli (1826-1903), who was Prime Minister very early in his reign, and the socialist, Leonida Bissolati. Vittorio Emmanuele’s public dealings with men of the cloth were limited to the most perfunctory and inescapable level on inevitable state visits throughout the country. It was said that the only religious building that he inaugurated during his reign was the Synagogue of Rome.

Moreover, the King was also close to Masonry, which had opened itself to penetration by a much more determined secularism in the latter part of the nineteenth century, once belief in some kind of Supreme Being had been struck from the requirements for membership. Masonry was a strong force in most elite Italian circles, its significance increased by the fact that politicians in all Latin countries often found masonic lodges to be suitable settings in which the members of the loose party coalitions of the day might privately and quietly come to compromises which would be difficult to arrange in the public eye. Zanardelli, under whose name the penal code of 1889 chastizing priests for “abuses” connected with their ministry was promulgated, was a prominent, masonic anticlerical, as was Ernesto Nathan (1845-1921), the Mayor of Rome at the time of the troubled commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of the creation of the Kingdom in 1911.11

Vexations emerging from the Council of Ministers, Parliament, and municipal governments, as well as from all political factions, from the Right to the Socialists, were still extremely common after the initial spate of anticlerical legislation promulgated at the time of the establishment of the Kingdom, and then expanded and extended to the Eternal City after 1870. Thus, Prime Minister Francesco Crispi was responsible both for the removal of the Duke Leopoldo Torlonia (1853-1918), Mayor or Rome in 1887, as punishment for his enthusiastic message of congratulations to Pope Leo on the occasion of the latter’s priestly jubilee, as well as for the creation of the electoral machinery that would wrest the city’s government from the hands of Catholics and philo-Catholics. Prominent statesmen often wished to prosecute those suggesting that further changes, such as the obtaining of international guarantees for the Papacy, were required for the peace of Church and State in Italy. The penal code of 1889 was followed by a law on pious legacies of July 17, 1890, and the Zanardelli-Cocco Ortu proposal for legalizing divorce of 20 February, 1902. All these were bitterly opposed by the Church, using the parish and Opera organization to mobilize petitions against them. In fact, the entire decade preceding the First World War was filled with polemic, favorable and hostile, regarding governmental measures concerning everything from control of primary school education and the place of religious instruction within it, to supervision of seminary educational reforms, the rights of Catholic organizations to be represented in governmental councils, and the criminal pursuit of those contracting a religious marriage before passing through a civil ceremony. The speech of Ernesto Nathan, on September 20, 1910 praising the superiority of that lay civilization which had triumphed in the Eternal City in 1870 and would be celebrated in the Roman exposition of the following year, was typical of much anti-Catholic municipal rhetoric, arousing the protests of Pius X himself, and contributing to the decision to prohibit Catholic mayors from participating in the commemorations in the capital in 1911.

Probably the most important of ministerial interferences in the life of the Church took place in the troubled atmosphere of the last decade of the century. It was at this time that agricultural hardships led to the revolts in 1893 of the Sicilian fasci, disturbances among peasants in other parts of the peninsula, and, ultimately, to the 1898 riots in Rome, Florence, and Milan. Disorder was quelled with particular ferocity in the Lombard metropolis in May of 1898. Crispi and his subsequent imitators, the Marchese di Rudinì (1839-1908) and General Luigi Pelloux (1839-1924), struck hard on such occasions at all those groups perceived as being friendly to “Socialism”, including the supposedly “red” leaning Catholics. 27 May, 1898, saw the Marchese di Rudinì ordering the close of practically all of the constituent associations of the Opera dei congressi, three thousand in number, the prohibition of numerous Catholic journals, and even the arrest of leaders of the Catholic movement, like Davide Albertario (1838-1902).

Anticlerical journalists representing all political factions from the Right to the Socialists still plied their wares to a sizeable audience, with stories ranging from the classic uncovering of unnatural clerical lusts to Church persecution of intelligent and courageous dissenters. Stories of this kind were to be found in Il Secolo, Gazzetta del Popolo, Messaggero, Vita, and Avanti!, as well as in journalistic “histories”, such as Benito Mussolini’s (1883-1945) biography of Jan Huss. Perhaps most blatant in this regard was L’Asino, subtitled è il popolo, utile, paziente, e bastonato, run by Guido Podrecca (1865-1923) and Gabriele Galantara (1865-1937), and won over to the socialist camp soon after its creation in 1892. Such journals helped to unleash the kind of anti-Catholic incidents marring the transfer of the remains of Pius IX to San Lorenzo in 1882, the dedication of the statue of Giordano Bruno in the Campo dei Fiori in 1889, the commemoration of the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus in 1892, and the fiftieth anniversary of the foundation of the Kingdom of Italy in 1911, the “anno di lutto”, as La Civiltà Cattolica called it in protest against its pronounced anticlerical character. Writers like Jessie White Mario (1832-1906), in La Riforma, and articles in La Nuova Antologia, spread the notion that the Church, more than any other force, lay behind the revolts of the 1890’s. Many others taught the simple positivism and scientism that played an important role in Social Darwinism and Marxism, following their counterparts in the rest of Europe in dividing the world into the camps of those infallibly aiding progress and those hindering it, and taking it for granted that the opening of every new train station indicated a victory over obscurantist religion.12

Nevertheless, even contemporary observers noted that under the threat of more pressing problems, open, direct, persistent “excommunication of Catholicism” was very much on the decline as the old century turned into the new. What always remained strong, however, was the psychological obstacle preventing some people who came from a background of hostility to the Roman Church from moving from a passion for her destruction to a serious contemplation of an alliance with her in the face of new dilemmas. This potentially inhibited all those of Jansenist or other anti-papal religious heritage, survivors of the most heated Church-State battles of the Risorgimento, industrialists involved in a capitalist development which was indifferent to the problems of those whom it displaced and disgruntled, and even the children of families living in fervently Catholic areas, for whom anticlericalism became, as Jemolo notes, a non-conformist necessity. It helps to explain the desire of press moguls like Luigi Albertini (1847-1941), with his Corriere della Sera, to try as best they could to act as though Catholicism simply did not exist at all.

One example of a political figure of this type is the Baron Sydney Sonnino (1847-1922), half Jewish, raised as a Protestant, rightist in temperament, proponent of a powerful lay state, painfully aware of the weaknesses of the “legal” organs of the new Kingdom in the face of the “real” problems of the South in particular, and yet lacking substantive psychological stimulus to engage in anything other than half-hearted bridging of the secular-religious abyss. Such men were souls in agony. Sonnino was very much on the hunt for a means of building deeper support for an Italy which possessed little in the way of solid historical and emotional roots, but in a manner that could circumvent the need to treat Catholicism and the Church as equal partners in the enterprise.13

A late nineteenth and early twentieth century activist eager for a non-Catholic intellectual position that might come to his aid in constructing a stronger, secular-minded Italy generally found the crude positivism of the day unappealing and insufficient to his needs. It was this intransigent and simplistic materialism which was brutally criticized by Benedetto Croce (1866-1952) in “A proposito del positivismo italiano”, in his journal, La Critica, in 1905. Practically all the existing parties in 1900 paid court to such positivism, the Estrema and the Socialists in perhaps the most pronounced fashion, and all, in consequence might intellectually be found desperately wonting.14

Serious men could, however, turn to another fountain from which to drink, that which was fed by the broad stream of nineteenth century thought which may be labeled Romantic Idealism. This outlook reflects a heady combination of concerns for feeling, passion, freedom, will, and identification with the masses, presented in a charismatic, prophetic, and seemingly spiritual framework that nevertheless can also justify the exercise of the most brutal, physical force. It emphasizes the importance of the individual as a means of underlining the superiority and dignity of the human person against mechanist insistence upon inflexible mathematical and scientific laws, and the need to display individual “energy” and “action” in order to confirm the justice of a man’s convictions. Discussion of various aspects of Romantic Idealism entails what might appear to be a lengthy digression from a precise historical argument into a hazy realm of philosophical and psychological speculation, but it is one which I believe greatly assists in clarifying the confused international climate of opinion from which the more thoughtful Italian strain of anti-Catholicism gained much of its intellectual inspiration. I will, therefore, take the liberty of steering Italian History into this speculative continental whirlpool, in the hopes of drawing substantive, if mystifying fruit from it by the end of the chapter .

Perhaps the most potent of the variety of sources of Romantic Idealism can be found in the writings of the Swiss thinker, Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778). Rousseau felt himself to be the prophet of an infallible mission based upon his certain possession of “virtue”. For Rousseau, virtue was not something which was attained, even if only in part, by personal action, as a Catholic might think. Rather, it was a “state of being” completely separate from each of man’s activities but one: that of sincerely stripping himself of all that was not “natural”; i.e., all that was not spontaneous to him, the non-spontaneous being identified by Rousseau as masquerade, pretension and hypocrisy. This stripping-down action he considered himself to have successfully performed, especially when answering critics of his behavior in his Confessions (published posthumously, 1782), where he revealed to the world everything deepest within his soul, without consideration for the effect that such disclosure might have upon his personal fortunes. Having through such an action become “virtuous”, Rousseau had no further need to be ashamed of deeds that others thought to be reprehensible; deeds which he himself would have considered to be reprehensible in a “non-virtuous” man, who did not openly proclaim a consistent commitment to spontaneous “nature”. Rousseau had come to terms with himself as the consistently passionate, natural man; Rousseau was, therefore, good. He was also perfect, because truth and virtue could not help but allow the completely liberated person to reach complete self-fulfillment.15

More than this, however, Rousseau was actually Everyman. Anyone who sincerely stripped himself down to his natural state, and thus became truthful, virtuous and free, as Rousseau had done, would have to be indistinguishable from him. This is why the various lovers in his widely-read Nouvelle Héloise (1761) are actually only loving themselves as they see their images in other people, and the teacher in his enormously influential Emile (1761) can be said by Rousseau to both liberate the child and make the youth into himself at one and the same time. For “the whole art of the master is hiding this constraint under the veil of pleasure or of diversion in such a way that they think they want everything that one obliges them to do....There is no subjection so perfect as the one which retains the appearance of liberty; thus one captivates the very will itself “.16 Conversely, anyone who is not Rousseau-like, anyone who criticizes him and his actions, anyone who fails to pity him in his trials, is neither free, nor virtuous, nor truthful. In fact, he is not human. Blum describes the situation well in commenting on Rousseau’s discussion of himself as the “spectator-animal” contemplating the pointless being--the “suffering animal”.17

The Spectator animal was denied pleasurable pity in regarding the suffering animal because the suffering animal was evil and hence unworthy of sympathy. Since Rousseau knew that mankind was, like him, good, he was forced to the awful but inevitable realization that the creatures who treated him so heartlessly were not really people at all, that the key to the mystery was that ‘my contemporaries were but mechanical beings in regard to me who acted only by impulsion and whose actions I could calculate only by the laws of movement’. He was now really alone, the only human being left amid a throng of automatons; the human race existed solely in him.

Rousseau was convinced that the non-virtuous and non-human world around him was basically hostile to the effort to perfect it. The duty of Everyman-Rousseau was to make that world into himself or cause it to disappear before it do him any further damage. The question of an initial flaw undermining the value of this entire argument could not even be imagined; the sincere, virtuous, free, liberated Everyman was free from error. No discussion concerning the ground and justification of this underlying truth was permissible. It was a self-evident given. Doubt regarding his position would in effect mean allowing the sham world of the hypocrite to influence him once more. A critique of his obvious rejection of the doctrine of Original Sin, such as that offered by Archbishop Christophe Beaumont of Paris, had no meaning in the Rousseauian universe whatsoever. It simply proved the fact that the prelate, by belief and profession a slave of a supernatural religion, was not thinking naturally. He was not really human. Logically speaking, he was one of the suffering animals for whom no sympathy could be felt, and who could be eliminated.18

A Rousseau-like conviction of the infallibility of the free, non-hypocritical, virtuous, natural man, and the simultaneous reliability of this perfect being as the key to understanding the Will of the People, was so endemic to nineteenth century revolutionary thought as to defy any attempt to exhaust depiction of its incidence. It regularly appears in literature, in the novels of men like Hugo and Stendhal, in appeals to the example of Napoleon, and in the manifestos of the leaders of liberal, democratic, nationalist, anarchist, and utopian or Marxist socialist movements. We are constantly told that proponents of one cause or another are ”sincere” (i.e., spontaneous, non-hypocritical, and natural) in their beliefs, and, therefore, virtuous and infallible; that their sincerity is revealed by an energy and consistency of often inconsistent and passionate action that only the Enemy of the People, destined for the rubbish heap of history, could fail to recognize as being good. Again, others cannot be judged by the same standard as the Rousseauian Hero if they are not incorporated into that Hero’s Mystical Body—his immediate entourage, or the organization that he has created to carry out his and, by definition, the People’s will. Thus, for Hugo, the revolt of “The People” accepting his message is redemptive; the revolt of the mass of the inhabitants of the Vendée (or the Italian resisters to the French revolutionary invasion in the 1790’s) is a vile riot. The massacres perpetrated by the former are redemptive; a tap on the finger by the latter in self-defense is the most wretched of crimes. Elimination of the Enemy of the People is a cleansing by the actively virtuous, perhaps the most noble of spiritual measures in an obscurantist universe that uses a supposedly supernatural spiritual sense as yet another justification for base, hypocritical sham.19

Italy was very sensitive and open to all these arguments. In fact, it developed a love affair with romantic, idealist maxims of Rousseauian flavor. The ground for them had long been prepared by the Jansenists, who were unshakeably convinced of the infallibility of their interpretation of Catholicism, and outraged by the suffering that they had endured at the hands of papally-backed hypocrites for remaining true to their (self-evident) virtuous state. Jansenists were themselves an influence in Rousseau’s understanding of Christianity in his brief period of flirtation with the Roman Church. It comes as no surprise that Pisa, in that Grand Duchy of Tuscany which was perhaps the most important center for the dissemination of Jansenist ideas in Italy, was already an eighteenth century foyer for the spread of the Swiss radical’s teaching as well, and one that influenced Filippo Buonarotti (1761-1837), the first great Italian revolutionary agitator, active in the life of Carboneria. The attraction of Napoleon as the charismatic man for all seasons, whose Energy and Action justified his transforming the world around him, was strong in Italy. Much of the peninsula had been swept up in the general-consul-emperor’s whirlwind, and many of its bourgeois inhabitants were given new ambitions through the influence of his revolutionary changes, which were favorable to their interests.20

Giuseppe Mazzini (1805-1872), the foremost Italian nationalist thinker and organizer, grounded his certainties about God, man, nationhood, and democracy in a theism whose precise roots have been hotly debated by different historians. Whatever their roots, they were backed by infallible, prophetic utterances that exude the omnipresent Rousseauian motifs, and the conviction that energy and action are the sure signposts guiding men to truth.21 Italian nationalists of even a moderate spirit had little difficulty proclaiming the indefectibility of their program in similar fashion. Massimo d’Azeglio (1798-1866) and the editors of Il Cimento, for example, thought that they could adequately defend themselves against the charge of unwittingly unleashing an amoral nationalist crusade with which the Jesuits of the Roman journal, La Civiltà Cattolica, taxed them, by pointing to the sincerity, generosity, and ipso facto correctness of the Risorgimento’s intentions.22 Even Italian Marxism in its most positivist form spoke frequently not with the voice of science, but with that of the author of the Confessions--prophetic, charismatic, natural, and absolutely certain of accurately representing the popular will.23 To be an educated non-Catholic Italian, as to be an educated, non-Catholic European, was to breathe a climate of opinion permeated by ideas best expressed by Rousseau. To be a Catholic, in the mind of someone raised in this zeitgeist, was to be the proponent of an unnatural, hypocritical religion disguising base motivations under the cover of the supernatural, and to appeal to a counter source of infallibility that could only make him an enemy of spirit, freedom, and the people at one and the same time. And even Catholics themselves were affected by this atmosphere, through the writings and example of the Abbé Félicité de Lamennais (1782-1854), whose Paroles d’un Croyant “directly inspired Mazzini’s Faith and the Future of 1835, which he considered his best work.”24

But, here, someone might object that Rousseauian influences in Italy were far overshadowed by those coming from Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831). Indeed, no one can deny that Hegel had an enormous and much more demonstrable vogue in official circles of both the Risorgimento and the new Kingdom of Italy. Hegel’s books were smuggled into prisons in pre-unification days for the inspiration and encouragement of righteous suffering nationalists, who needed to be shown that history would vindicate them. His ideas were promoted through the work of Francesco de Sanctis (1817-1883), Minister of Education in the 1870’s, and the academic and literary circles in Naples surrounding Bertrando Spaventa (1817-1883) and his brother, Silvio (1822-1893). Their influence was central to the development of the greatest of Italy’s early twentieth century intellectuals, Benedetto Croce and Giovanni Gentile (1875-1944). Michael Bakunin, the seminal anarchist teacher, sang paeans to his Hegelian heritage, while no self-conscious Marxist, like Labriola, a student of the Spaventas, could do anything but confirm the German’s significance as well.25

Be this as it may, Hegel’s argument, in practice, is, nevertheless, a variation on the theme dear to Rousseau. It presumes that nature is shaped by a spiritual principle of freedom, incarnating and working itself out in history through the clash of energetic manifestations and counter epiphanies, as these are charismatically revealed and commented upon by the Prussian professor. Hegel proclaimed the nineteenth century standard bearer for spiritually propelled action-for-freedom to be the coercive authority of the modern State. His teachings were, therefore, immensely useful in defending the righteousness of the Italian Risorgimento doctrine of the necessity of building, through violence, a unified, independent State. They were also handy in support of the measures of Italian rightist lay authorities who valued the “transcendent” qualities of that institution in its battles with a Church, a pope, and a Syllabus of Errors which they saw as hopelessly out of touch with the world of the truly spiritual and undeniably infallible. The combined Risorgimento-rightist appeal to spirit and freedom on the one hand, and encouragement of secularization and police repression on the other, proved to be a potent tool for confusing the more logical, Aristotelian, Catholic mind seeking cogent arguments to oppose it. Anyone interested in the complications of the intellectual battle thus unleashed should consult the exchanges between Luigi Taparelli d’Azeglio (1793-1862) of La Civiltà Cattolica and Bertrando Spaventa.26

Practical consequences are especially noticeable when these theories were applied to the issue of education. Hegelian adulation of the use of the State to achieve freedom in a way that was offensive to Catholics was omnipresent in journals and parliamentary reports from the 1850’s through the 1870’s, and underlay much of what was done in this realm thereafter. “Unregenerated” people were said not to be allowed the opportunity to succumb to the temptation of entrusting their children to the care of monks and nuns. Antonio Gallenga (1810-1895), writing in Il Cimento in June of 1855, well demonstrated the kind of approach that Catholics loathed, when he claimed for the State the total right to educate, religious being kept from this task until the people had been given “the discernment of good and evil”. Up till the moment that “national regeneration” was completed, he insisted, the State had the duty to exercise, “let us say it frankly, the tyranny of educating”. A proper State required “the unity in one person of the attributes of highest magistrate and supreme pontiff”, in order to root out the long centuries of servitude with which the Church was associated. It was useless to cite the example of England and America as models of freedom, he concluded, since in these countries, nothing positive was demanded from the individual:27

But here among us the citizen is the property of the State: the law of conscription binds them to the soil of the fatherland during the most florid period of their life. The State has therefore the right and the duty of exercising over him an almost paternal tutelage. It would scarcely be able to consider him responsible to the laws of the land if it neglected or permitted others to pervert its moral and political education. That State that did not claim for itself the sole right for educating would only half understand the duty of legislator.

And Hegel, after all, was himself but a product of the other wing of the anti-mechanist tradition, that which was shaped by one of the greatest of Rousseau’s contemporary admirers, Immanuel Kant (1724-1804). Kant, awakened by David Hume (1711-1776) from his “dogmatic slumbers”, was as concerned as the Genevan prophet for rebuilding order upon nature, and a nature that could not be expressed by conforming oneself to the faulty information coming from outside the human person. He, too, was ultimately forced back upon an assertion of the infallible, sincere, non-hypocritical will that universalizes and proves itself in energetic action. However traditional the kind of order that Kant might have thought would emerge from this process, it seems to me that its practical, historical effect was to give carte blanche to different thinkers to assert varied and conflicting universalizing wills as infallible guides to order in a universe lacking objective (hypocritical?) scientific and logical laws: the natural, passionate, irrational individual; the conspiratorial, nationalist organization guided by the charismatic, spontaneous prophet; or the State shaped by the liberated, the strong-willed, and the consistently energetic men of action.

All the concepts discussed above responded to something embedded in the Italian anti-Catholic’s mindset. Hence, Italian admirers of the lay State trained in Hegel’s thought were always potentially open to Kantian or Rousseauian influences, while the same is true the other way around. Even the appearance of certain more traditional rightist treatises on the library shelves of turn of the century non-Catholic Italians has generally to be understood in the context of an attempt to utilize them to romantic idealist purpose. This is why Italian thinkers eager to escape the barren silliness of mechanist, positivism were susceptible to the arguments of other Europeans groping in the same direction, but finding it impossible to do so without falling into the Rousseauian-Kantian anti-mechanist camp; men of “energy” and “action” like Henri Bergson (1859-1941), with his concept of élan vital, or Georges Sorel (1847-1922), in his Reflections on Violence (1908).28 This is why one can find in the statements of all the varied inheritors of Romantic Idealism a frequently unconscious mixture of what would appear to be conflicting themes: on the one hand, devotion to an anarchic freedom based on a non-hypocritical energetic action which defines consistency as firm commitment to willfulness and the changeability of personal whim or a spiritualized “history”; on the other, an appeal to the use of State organs of physical repression to destroy that liberty in those deemed incorrigeably tied to a slave mentality. And, finally, this is also why none of them ever really raises himself to an appreciation of a truly spiritual Catholic position. For Romantic Idealism, of both Rousseauian and Kantian-Hegelian origins, is itself a by-product of the same naturalist, anti-Catholic, Enlightenment outlook that gave birth to mechanist positivism; a weltanschauung which was held together, at its outset, only by a seemingly transcendental Deism begging to be logically refuted and brought down entirely to earth.

Several factors were thus coming together in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to indicate the possible creation of new, lay movements that could conceivably bring together the many heads of Romantic Idealism, and, in particular, the combination of irrational will with private violence or coercive state power. Anarchism of the anti-parliamentary Errico Malatesta variety, as well as that promoted by part of the syndicalist movement, intent on escaping Marxist mechanism and finding some immediate tool by means of which to wipe out the corruption of authority, were very much susceptible to such developments. So was the more impatient strain of Socialism, represented, among others, by Benito Mussolini. Both of these sources provided recruits for the force that would most effectively profit from the latest appeal to energy and action, the new Italian nationalist movement. And this, in turn, would pave the way for the emasculation of Parliament in 1915, and the victory of fascist squadrismo after the First World War. D’Annunzio, the Futurists, and other nationalist devotés all worshipped at the shrine of a fascinating and explicit anarchic cult of violence and coercion which sometimes reached absolutely grotesque proportions, the profoundly anti-Catholic character of which was not lost on them:29

…the Nationalists could hardly preach of the mysterious powers of war and violence without rejecting the Christian view of peace and humility. A D’Annunzian, Nietzschean pose of neopaganism was very much in evidence among the imperialists. Papini in the Leonardo indulged in this, scoffing at what he called pecorismo nazareno. Corradini spoke of Christianity as ‘pathological and economic’, whereas life consisted of conquest and struggle. In this, Papini and Corradini, as well as D’Annunzio, were capitalizing on Carducci’s ‘Romanism’ as expressed in the Odi Barbare long after Carducci himself had abandoned the idea as artistically sterile.
Nevertheless, the winds of the times seemed more to be blowing away from the “rejecters” and their efforts to circumvent Catholicism, towards the second position, that of the “pragmatists”, those who wished to reach some open reconciliation with the Church and the Catholic position in society. Although this tendency claimed much of its constituency from men who were either indifferent to religion or merely disgruntled by the more exaggerated manifestations of clerical power, it also included individuals of firm anti-Catholic belief who were convinced that the deeper importance of other questions required a practical change of policy on their part. One could find supporters of the pragmatic viewpoint among practically all of the forces active in Italian political life.30

By 1876, rightists had become greatly concerned about the potential demagogic effects stemming from the Left’s proposal of an expansion of the suffrage, modest though this actually was, and the weakening of State power accompanying its more pronounced espousal of free market principles. They turned, in consequence, to urgent appeals to Catholics, to abandon the non expedit policy, and join their “natural allies” in a campaign against a resurgent “Jacobinism”. Problems arose from what the orthodox judged to be the dubious professions of Catholicism coming from some men of the Right, as well as from the impossibility of accepting their infallible, spiritualized Hegelian State as the final arbiter of what constituted abuses in governmental contretemps with Church. It was difficult for Catholics to forget the mass of anticlerical legislation passed between 1861 and 1876 under rightist auspices, and the fact that Minghetti had himself boasted, when faced with criticism on this score from the Left of the high level of royal interference with the free action of the Papacy and Catholic organizations during his tenure as Prime Minister. Additionally, insofar as Catholics were active politically, on the local level, they found themselves more in tune with the leftists, and sharing with them a desire for an extension of the suffrage.

In fact, that historically anticlerical Left proved itself to be open and pragmatic in national matters also, as its awareness of the weaknesses of the new Kingdom, which they desperately wanted to play a major international role, became more vivid. The Left did nothing to harm the modus vivendi for cohabitation with the Papacy which followed Pius IX’s rejection of the Law of Guarantees of 1871. Even Zanardelli, whose anticlerical convictions we have already noted, refused to entertain the suggestion of more rabid opponents of the Church, who wanted those bringing up new plans for reconciliation prosecuted. As the social crisis matured, leftists hoped that Catholic concern for private property and order would be a tool for bringing the Church into unified action with them versus Anarchism and Socialism.

In this, they were joined by a former member of the Estrema, Francesco Crispi. Crispi, a freemason of deist convictions who had opposed the Law of Guarantees, had warned Bismarck and Gambetta of the international danger of the Papacy in 1876, and had sacked Torlonia as late as 1887, gradually emerged as the leader of the effort to form an alliance with Catholics in defense of the established order. He refused to take part in the ceremonies inaugurating the creation of an organization honoring the atheist, Giordano Bruno in 1889, and claimed, now, to be happy with the system of practical cohabitation with the Church which maintained the existing equilibrium. Other anticlerical heirs of Angelo Brofferio (1804-1866), Giuseppe Ferrari (1811-1876), Francesco Domenico Guerrazzi (1804-1873), and Ferdinando Petruccelli della Gattina (1815-1890) in the Estrema faction could still be venomous, however. And this fact, along with serious moral concerns for the social responsibility of property, doubts regarding the commitment to free-enterprise of a party that had began by confiscating Church property, conviction that materialist socialism was merely a development of the same naturalism that had produced materialist capitalism, and fears of merely being used by a basically unaltered Crispi, led Catholic activists and prelates to back away from the Prime Minister’s advances. His sharp reaction to their recalcitrance, as the crises of the 1890’s increased, seemed to justify their reluctance.

Anarchism was closed to offers of cooperation with an authoritarian Church, but the still vague socialist movement allowed for some pragmatic proposals to emerge from its undefined ranks. The young Francesco Saverio Nitti (1868-1953), the future radical statesman, invited the Church, in Il socialismo cattolico (1891), to consider the way in which friendship for the socialist cause would benefit it. Despite the violent rants of l’Asino, disdain for cooperation with outrightly religious organizations, and the often bitter ridicule by socialist workers of their Catholic comrades, the party was never officially hostile to individual believers. Bissolati, Turati, and Treves all made it abundantly clear that such issues troubling Catholics as the divorce proposal of 1902 were purely upper class bourgeois concerns. Still, the reality of the role of materialist Marxist principles in the socialist movement, and the potential competition for control of the masses that its growing organization threatened, made activists like Toniolo and Romolo Murri (1870-1944) more concerned to draw stimulus and lessons from it for the purpose of better opposing it.

Liberals of both rightist and leftist complexion made new efforts to obtain pragmatic cooperation from Catholics in the period of social calming following the assassination of Umberto I at the hands of the anarchist, Gaetano Bresci, in 1900. These were the years most associated with the dominance of that dispassionate, peace-loving, Piedmontese supporter of the organs of legal Italy, Giovanni Giolitti (1842-1928). Giolitti was open to compromises with Catholics, but saw no need for any dramatic reconciliation as a prelude to joint action. La Nuova Antologia, which had published articles in favor of repression, turned away from an approach that seemed to menace all freedom of association. Rightists, by now, generally lacked the old Risorgimento interest in Church matters, perhaps due to an indifference to all theological and philosophical issues that would have seemed impossible to a Cavour, a Bettino Ricasoli (1809-1880) or a Ruggiero Bonghi (1826-1895). Indifference was demonstrated by their general lack of concern for the Modernist Controversy, which they considered to be an internal Church issue, and one that interested the State only insofar as it required defense of the civil rights of those who were excommunicated by the pope. The American example of Church-State relations, already appreciated by Crispi in the 1890’s, was held up to ever further praise. A group of senators, disturbed by radicalism and socialism, began to pursue Church assistance versus enemies of individual freedom and property, while putting Catholics on warning regarding such “utopians” in their ranks as Toniolo and Murri. More modest proposals for divorce were presented by leftists in Parliament, while old rightists like Sonnino rejected the divorce project entirely. Alessandro Fortis (1841-1909), a Prime Minister from the ranks of the Estrema, was even willing to appoint the Marchese Nerio Malvezzi, “a Catholic… who dared to say that the Law of Guarantees had not closed the Roman Question”, into his cabinet in 1905, although he paid for it with opposition bringing his ministry down.31

While Liberals appealed to Catholics to join them against madcap colonial ventures, proponents of precisely such enterprises also made their voices heard by the second decade of the new century. Not all nationalists labeled the Church a divisive, effeminate institution, or were averse to exploring ties to it. Pragmatist proponents of conciliation could appeal to a joint nationalist-Catholic disdain for a legal Italy shutting out the legitimate demands of the real nation. Some of those favoring North African colonization also argued that this would solve the social problem of the Mezzogiorno, which troubled Catholic reformers as well. Nationalists were pleased by the reality of support from prelates, priests, and laymen, especially children of old Catholic families, and hoped to build upon the interpretation of the war with the Ottomans over Libya that broke out in October, 1911 as a Crusade against Islam.32

The chief practical method by means of which Italian governments accomplished the work of accommodation was that of trasformismo. This term, utilized by Agostino Depretis in 1876 to describe efforts to work with, and “transform” the existing rightist government into one which reflected the will of its new, but divided, leftist masters, had a history in Italy extending back to the days of the Count Cavour. Giolitti was one of its master practitioners in the period before the First World War. Trasformismo sought to avoid radical divisions by, in effect, co-opting the representatives of all important political movements, well-established or embryonic, and winning them over to actions acceptable to the governmental majority. If the most energetic “enemy” figures could be won over to support the ruling coalition, the troops that they commanded would be left without leadership. While functioning nicely to maintain stability, successful trasformismo prevented the voice of serious opposition from being effectively heard in the organs of “legal” Italy even more than limited suffrage did. Pragmatists might appreciate it, but it was detested by men of strong conviction in the Estrema, as well as the more uncompromising Socialists, Nationalists, and Catholics, all of whom often viewed it as the most cynical tool of a thoroughly cynical parliamentary system.33

More thoughtful pragmatists could easily find themselves becoming supporters of the third position, that of the “palingenesists”. Palingenesis, formed from the Greek words “again” and “birth”, was the idea that a new and much better society was “emerging” in the nineteenth century, one that was destined to develop out of the earlier forces dominating western life, and one that would eliminate past divisions in a higher unity releasing energy for ever happier and humane projects. Such a vision rejected the pessimism of the apocalyptic thought popular in some religious-minded circles of the day, and reflected much more the hope for a “third age of humanity”, “the arrival of the age of gold under the sign of universal fraternity through social justice”, redolent of the prophecies of Joachim of Fiore.34 Palingenesis could be appealing to any defender of “modern” ideas who still possessed a spiritual sense and did not want to jettison his personal Christian baggage and that of European civilization as a whole.

One group of people extremely interested in palingenesis and the uncovering of its mysteries was the Saint-Simonians: Claude Henri de Saint Simon (1760-1825), Barthélemy Enfantin (1796-1864), Saint-Amand Bazard (1791-1832), Auguste Comte (1798-1857), and their many fellow-travellers, like Charles Fourrier (1772-1837). Horrified by the violence and rejection of social order represented by the Revolution, the Saint-Simonians set out to illustrate the laws underlying community life, and the principles by means of which it had grown and developed, organically, through the ages. In this manner, they could show how one historical era had been the prelude for the next, and how the teachings of Jesus, the cult of the Virgin, a hierarchical priesthood, a liturgy, and many other elements of western civilization still had a role, transfigured though it might now be, in modern life. Liberals, democrats, and nationalists all around Europe could, and did, all tap into palingenesist visions, along with fervent supporters of more particular causes dear to one or another nineteenth-century group.35

Catholics also responded to palingenesist arguments. To understand why is to have to turn once again to the figure Lamennais and his Rousseauian respect for the sparks unleashed by the non-hypocritical, natural order of things. Lammenais’ connection to the energy syndrome was “traditionalism”, that philosophical-political school which disdained the role of reason in grasping the truth, and, for that matter, in passing on the Faith as well. For Lammenais and traditionalists as a whole, the truth could not be understood, and the faith could not be taught, rationally; rather, they were handed down by the power of the very nature of things themselves, by means of a solid society’s culture, institutions, and people. For traditionalists, the Revolution’s basic untruthfulness was evident in that, in order to accomplish its program for the salvation of France and her people, it had tried, against the opposition of the majority of those people, to destroy the culture and traditional institutions whose energy had created and defined France and Europe in the first place.

Problems for Lamennais came from the fact that one part of the tradition—the Catholic part—was not as active as it had to be. It itself lacked energy. If it continued to lack energy, then it would run the risk of not shaping the environment and not passing down the truth in the only way that truth effectively could be transmitted: namely, through society and social action. Hence, the need to shake institutions and people out of their torpor and “indifference”, and restore their desire to fight energetically for what was true. The Essay on Indifference, his first important work, was really not an apology for the Catholic Faith; it was much more a call to energetic action.

Torpor could scarcely be hounded out of the Catholic soul if the Church as an institution were unable to function as she must. Thus, the Papacy, so cruelly harassed by the Enlightenment and the Revolution, had to have its just and full powers appreciated and restored. In addition, the Church in each nation had to be unchained for action under papal guidance. Unleash the Papacy and the national Church together, and indifference would retreat. With the retreat of indifference would come the willingness to commit energy to struggle, and with more energetic struggle would come advancement in truth.

Unfortunately, both the traditional monarchy and the national episcopacy fettered by it themselves lacked commitment to truth and the requisite courageous energy to free the Church. Casting about for an alternative force to lead the defense of traditional culture and Catholicism within the nation, Lamennais was led, ironically, to an untraditional conclusion. The Catholic People, which as a whole had also been unjustly and absurdly enchained by a legitimate monarchy playing the Enlightenment game, became, almost by default, the pillar on which to energize the tradition, politically and socially, inside the nation.

But here yet another unexpected problem intervened. The Papacy failed to see the truth. The very institution whose energies Lamennais was most seeking to release, and which would have most benefited by the liberation of the Church from the legitimist State through the work of the Catholic People, rejected his logic. It had lacked energy and erred. This left the Catholic People as a whole on their own as the sole defenders of the Truth within a given nation, a “silent majority” destined now to do its work even in opposition to those who were thought but yesterday to be its leaders. Palingenesis gave Lamennais the means to explain this phenomenon. In Paroles d’un Croyant, he argued that “the republicans of our days would have been the most ardent disciples of Christ eighteen centuries ago”, thus, in effect, teaching that contemporary Catholics should see in them the best guides to the meaning of Christianity in the nineteenth century .36

Two themes appearing more clearly than any others in the nineteenth century palingenesist vision were adopted by Lamennais. One insisted that the age that was “emerging” from the European past was one that would overcome the confessional differences of what Lamennais called a mere “diplomatic Christianity”. The third epoch of Humanity would see society enjoying the communion of a universal religion transcending an historical Faith which had outlived its usefulness, whose standard-bearers, again, as Lamennais noted, would be the People:37

How far we still are from that religion of devotion, of self-forgetfulness for the good of all; in sum, of that fraternity of which one speaks so much! I only find it in the People; the People surround the cradle of the future, just as the shepherds at Bethlehem surrounded that of the God about to be born. Blessings on the little ones, the simple of heart. It is those who will save the world.
Moreover, the age emerging out of the Christian past would be “socialist” in character. We have seen that the precise definition of “Socialism” in the nineteenth century was a tricky question at the very best, given the wide variety of understandings and aspirations then attached to it, but the idea that it involved a concern for economic inequality and social injustice was universal. Secularists, spiritualists, Protestants and Catholics alike were involved in Socialism’s birth and evolution. For our purposes, one ought to note that Catholics like Philippe Ballanche (1776-1847) and Philippe Buchez (1796-1865) were fervent proponents of the concept of the emergence of Christianity into Socialism, the former seeing the essence of the Christian mission as the abolition of inequality in his day, and the latter elevating the Revolution, Robespierre, and the People into the instruments of a constant battle against tyranny until the great day of the final liberation of all should arrive. Similar themes were elaborated in the Catholic Parisian journal, L’Ere nouvelle, of 1848. And Lamennais himself also evoked some of the language of the Socialist palingenesists in his commentaries on the Gospel of Mark, which he read as a kind of allegory of his own historical fate.38

Mazzini and Garibaldi were sympathetic to the palingenesist approach, the former having been deeply influenced by Lamennais, and both men having traveled in Saint-Simonian circles. The founder of Young Italy sought to turn the former priest from violent revolutionary writing to violent revolutionary action. Mazzini reproached him for his inactivity by letter from London, urging him, at the very least, to lead a regenerated priesthood basing itself purely on God’s love, to guide a “Church of Precursors which I should like to see you found while waiting for the People to rise”, one that would embrace the heavens and the earth:39

Why do you only write books? Humanity awaits something more from you…Do not deceive yourself, Lamennais, we need action. The thought of God is action; it is only by action that it is incarnated in us….So long as you will be alone, you will only be a philosopher and a moralist in the eyes of the masses; it is as a priest that you must appear before it, a priest of the future, of the epoch which is beginning, of that new religious manifestation of which you have a presentiment, and which must inevitably end in that new heaven and new earth which Luther glimpsed three centuries ago without being able to attain it, since the time had not yet come.
Lamennais’ influence in Catholic Action, even after his excommunication, was immense. Liberal Catholicism was founded by men who came from his camp and expressed openness to the “energetic” reform movements of their day, while claiming to reject the theoretical principles that had brought him into ill repute with the Papacy. His ideas, the ideas of a palingenesis connected with expressions of energy and action, and the Romantic Idealism lying behind them, revived, again, in Catholic circles, in Italy as elsewhere, in the 1890’s and 1900’s, through the example of movements like the Sillon, the development of Modernism, and the influence of writings like Maurice Blondel’s (1861-1949) treatise, Action. They would continue, despite papal condemnation, to gain further strength after the First World War.40 Mazzinians, Risorgimento nationalists in general, and men of the Right in particular, expressed a mix of Liberal Catholic, Hegelian, and Saint-Simonian sentiments that easily fit into a palingenesist perspective. Even Croce, an a-religious defender of lay culture with no place for true transcendence in his vision, gave a palingenesist timbre to some of his comments in La filosofia della pratica, by speaking of the religious man as the philosopher’s little brother. His one time collaborator on La Critica, Giovanni Gentile, dabbled in efforts at reconciliation with Catholic thought, claimed appreciation for the logic of men like the Civiltà editor, Luigi Taparelli d’Azeglio, but happily jettisoned earlier Church doctrine which had been superceded by the demands of modern “energies”.41 In short, there was always some support in Italy for the idea of the “emergence” of a “higher” religious viewpoint, and this from both Catholic and secularist starting points.

Whether for pragmatic or palingenesist reasons, many Italian Catholics were eager for a change in the Church’s prohibition of participation in national political life from the 1860’s onwards. Aside from the movement of “patriotic priests” of the Risorgimento era, one can note the yearnings of such prominent writers as Fr. Carlo Curci (1810-1892), a former editor of the determinedly anti-unification La Civiltà Cattolica, who paid for his change of heart about reconciliation and alliance with the more conservative elements within the government by expulsion from the Society of Jesus. Other enthusiasts included the contributors to the Florentine journal, La Rassegna Nazionale, founded by Count Stefano Jacini, a rightist statesman, in 1879, which sought to bring both Catholic and moderate non-Catholic thinkers together, and the novelist, Antonio Fogazzaro (1842-1911). Hopes were particularly high among these men in 1886-1887, as can be seen in the exchange of ideas on this issue between Monsignor Geremia Bonomelli (1831-1914), the Bishop of Cremona, and Leo XIII, and their expectations following the pope’s conciliatory letter of May, 1887, Episcoporum ordinem. Church participation in the public sorrow for the colonial losses at Dogali in Abyssinia (1887), Father Luigi Tosti’s (1811-1897) pamphlet, La Conciliazione, with its exuberant prophecies for reconciliation in 1888, and the joy of many Catholics over the friendly expressions of King Umberto I (1878-1900) on the occasion of Leo’s priestly jubilee, all attest to a similar hope for change. We have seen how these dreams came to naught in the tense social atmosphere of the late 1880’sand 1890’s.

By the late 1890’s, however, many more activists within the Opera dei congressi were seriously divided over their future attitude towards participation in national politics. One group insisted upon continuing business as usual, neither compromising with the existing authorities, nor opposing them in politics directly, lest the Socialists, whom it considered to be simply the more radical child of an erring liberal parent, pick up the pieces in a bitter public conflict with the government. A second force, many-headed in character, thought that business-as-usual was no longer opportune. One of its constituent elements, from 1899 onwards, wished boldly to declare liberal economic policies to be erroneous and immoral, and longed for the creation of a distinctly popular political party. Although priests like Don Romolo Murri were prominent in its ranks, it was nevertheless convinced that its social concerns would give it a broad appeal beyond the immediate camp of believers that would require operation outside the constraints of the ecclesiastical hierarchy.

Another faction, which came to be known as the clerico-moderates, wished, by 1908, to take advantage of the signs of a weakening of liberal opposition to the Church to see if a broader “conservative party” might be created. Catholic abstention from national politics would end, and leaders who had been prepared during that abstention could move forward to exercise direct influence over Italian political life. This group included the old conciliarists around La Rassegna Nazionale, younger proponents of cooperation such as Filippo Meda (1869-1939). and, eventually, even the editors of La Civiltà Cattolica, which began to speak sympathetically of the work of leftist Prime Ministers like Luigi Luzzatti (1841-1927) and the need for devotion to the Italian Army.42

Papal involvement with these three approaches became more intense after the turn of the century. To begin with, Leo XIII, on January 18th, 1901, published the encyclical letter Graves de communi, in which he made it clear that he was not in favor of the creation of a distinctly Catholic mass party in Italy. This may well have been because of his recognition of a recrudescence of Mennaisian tendencies, in France as well as in Italy. If the words “Christian Democracy” were employed at all, Leo insisted, they could only legitimately be employed to indicate “a beneficent Christian action in favor of the people”; not as a statement committing the Church qua Church to a party involved in democratic politics. Moreover, as the first of its two names emphasized, “Christian Democracy” could only exist with reference to a grounding in the Christian Faith; a direct appeal for the votes of non-Catholics was thereby excluded. Even what today would be called a “preferential option for the poor” was dismissed as unacceptable by the pope, since a true concept of “the People” had to include all social classes, coordinated into one harmonious whole. Leo did, however, praise those who were engaged in a democratic action that did all it could to lessen the sufferings of the ordinary man.

But papal action did not end here. It was further stimulated by an intensification of the debate within the Opera. In September of 1902, Giovanni Grosoli, a man who was rather favorable to the more social-minded democratic elements of the movement who were looking forward to the eventual creation of a political party, became President of that organization. At the XIX Congress in Bologna, from November 10-13, 1903, it became clear that the supporters of Grosoli and the much more committed Christian Democrat, Romolo Murri, had gained the edge over the faction which was eager to continue abstention from politics and maintain a joint anti-liberal and anti-socialist approach. An imprudent circular from Grosoli indicating that “old questions”, presumably such as those surrounding the Temporal Power, no longer mattered that much to contemporary Catholics, stirred a second intervention, this time by the new pope, Pius X. While personally content to let the Temporal Power issue die, he was disturbed by what he considered to be the Opera’s lay-clerical insubordination to higher ecclesiastical authority. It was dissolved, by order of the Secretary of State, Merry del Val (1865-1930), on July 28, 1904. Section II, dealing with Social Economy, was alone maintained to emphasize the fact that “beneficent action in favor of the people” was not being punished by this severe measure.

Pius X, like Leo XIII, clearly disliked the idea of a creating a distinct, Italian Christian Democratic Party appealing for non-Catholic support. He, too, felt threatened by Mennaisian concepts. This can be seen not only by his condemnation of the French Sillon, but also by his reproach of Bonomelli of Cremona, who had begun to praise the separation of Church and State, and his chastisement of Romolo Murri, the journal, Cultura sociale, the Lega Democratica Italiana, and every other initiative that envisaged a democratic cooperation of officially constituted Catholic organizations with non-Catholics who were inspired by the concept of ‘social justice’” rather than by religion.

Still, Catholics, by the time of the general election of 1904, had already shown little respect for the non expedit. Pius X”s restructuring of the Catholic Movement on June 11, 1905, with the publication of an encyclical letter, II fermo proposito, took account of this. Section II of the Opera became the Unione Economico-Sociale dei Cattolici Italiani. An Unione Popolare tra i Cattolici d’Italia was established on the model of the German Volksverein. Most importantly, however, the Unione Elettorale Cattolica Italiana, designed to prepare Catholics for participation in political life on the national level, also now made an appearance. With the “business as usual” position abandoned and the hopes for a Catholic Party squelched, Rome ended by opting for the clerico-moderate line, pushing the Unione Elettorale towards the kind of contractual agreement with more conservative-minded liberals already utilized in other countries. While the non expedit remained on the books, Il fermo proposito empowered bishops to dispense from its strictures, and it was quite clear to everyone that its days were numbered, officially, as well as on the practical level.43

The great chance to put the plan into operation came with the introduction of universal male suffrage, which Giolitti felt could no longer be resisted, in 1913. This increased the value and impact of the Catholic vote for “conservatives”, resulting in the famous and highly successful “Pact” of 1913 of the President of the Unione, Vincenzo Ottorino Gentiloni (1865-1916) with the Giolittan Liberals; an “alliance” that some moderate Nationalists would also not have been averse to joining. Seven “commandments” laid out by the Unione were subscribed to by a large number of individual Liberal candidates for office, all of them assuring support for Catholic policies in exchange for Catholic votes. The non expedit was lifted entirely to allow election of the men in question, guaranteeing victory for over two hundred deputies.

Revealed by a variety of sources, ranging from the Corriere della Sera to La Civiltà Cattolica, the Gentiloni Pact aroused the last anticlerical storm of the period with which this article is concerned. A mass of Rightists, Leftists, Estrema supporters of both republican and radical hues, and Nationalists took up the cudgel in defense of secularist principles. These included Sonnino, Albertini, Luzzatti, two future Prime Ministers, Antonio Salandra (1853-1931) and Vittorio Emmanuele Orlando (1860-1952), most of the Press, and numerous student organizations. The State was endangered by its ancient enemy once more. Much was made of the address of Antonio Rossi, the Archbishop of Udine, at the VIII Settimana Sociale at Milan, in November-December, 1913, as proof of the evils that cooperation could engender for the civil authority. Rossi had merely argued that the Temporal Power issue could be adequately resolved through adding international backing to the Law of Guarantees. This reopening of what secularists considered to be the closed Roman Question, was said to show a rebelliousness and even lack of patriotism which was a portent of the further clericalist demands that Catholics emboldened by the Pact were sure to make. Men like Meda, who had been elected to Parliament in 1909, protested that Catholic patriotism was in no way in question; the problem was simply that honest Italian citizens had decided that they need not view themselves merely as bulwarks against Socialism, and wanted a reconciliation and political participation that would fully protect their religious rights. Still, the anticlerical outcry was so great that Giolitti tried to repair the damage to his government by reviving the call for enforcement of civil before religious marriage. In doing so, he alienated the Catholics alongside his other enemies. With the radicals of the Estrema especially angry, the fourth Giolittan Ministry thus came to an end.44

Nevertheless, the Church’s option for the clerico-moderate position held firm, and, with it, a desire to influence an Italy governed by conservative minded Liberals of basically capitalist mentality. It was this encouragement of candidates of the industrialist interests that aroused Estrema complaints regarding the Gentiloni Pact as much as any anticlerical sentiment. In fact, the same sous-text alarmed men of Christian democratic sympathies like Murri and Dom Luigi Sturzo (1871-1959) as well.45 As time went on, the answer of the call for cooperation with Italians of moderate liberal background would lead to the “emergence” of a clerico-moderate, Liberal Catholicism. This, like Lamennais, would come to insist upon a pragmatic, separation of Church and State that rendered the Catholic doctrine on that issue theoretical and harmless. It would also subscribe to a palingenesist “higher” religion of all men of good will reducing the anti-modernist Catholicism of Pius X to the world of the catechism; a world that could conveniently be forgotten when dealing with the “real world” of practical politics. This “rebirth” of Catholicism could overcome quarrels of Church and State by effectively bending the former to the demands of the “higher religion” of the latter, whose value was demonstrated by its “energetic” practical “action” for peace and prosperity. But it would also encourage those whose understanding of palingenesis required a new Catholicism which was much more democratic or socialist in character, one allying itself with liberation theologies of varied types. All this, however, is the stuff of another chapter in another book.

What concerns us here is the Italian environment out of which the migrants to the United States from the Mezzogiorno arrived. These were mostly peasants lacking formal education, religious as well as secular, that would have introduced them to the complications of the problems discussed above. Such problems did, indeed, affect them, secularization and liberal economic theories playing a serious role in the rural disruptions in the former Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. Interestingly enough, the American experience to which the uprooted southern peasantry would be exposed, the experience praised by men like Crispi, was one that was guided by a vision of pragmatic pluralism whose attitude towards religion and Church-State relations had much in common with ideas and experiments that were important in Italy. Their New World Order, when transported as a model to the Republic of Italy (and the globe) after the Second World War, was to find a soil in which it could easily take root and grow, whether for good or for ill, time alone will tell.


1 For an introduction, see Waley; Bouwsma; also, Anderson, in Scott, pp. 37-55.

2 Mayeur, Vol. 11, pp. 349-366, also, passim; Rao, pp. 6-38.

3 Mayeur, Vol. 11, pp. 272-278, 611-636.

4 Invernizii, Il movimento cattolico, p. 22.

5 Kalyvas, pp. 179-183.

6Ibid., p. 217

7 Jemolo, pp. 47-79.

8 Ibid., pp. 80-160; Romanato, pp. 223-291.

9 Mack Smith, pp. 95-108, 157-173.

10 Thayer, pp. 86-143, pp. 192-233.

11 For Risorgimento anticlericalism, see Pellicciari; Jemolo, pp. 101-109; Mack Smith,


12 See Jemolo’s whole discussion of the problem, pp. 47-160.

13 Thayer, 59, 69-70, 79, 89, 124-126, 174-175, 210; Jemolo, pp. 76, 96, 106, 132,

148, 149.

14 Jemolo, pp. 87-94.

15 See Blum’s whole discussion of Rousseau’s thought, pp. 27-132.

16 Rousseau, in Blum, p. 67.

17Ibid., p. 99.


19 Billington, pp. 155-157, 206-226, 234-242.

20 Ibid., pp. 88, 98, 149-150, 206-226; 248.

21 See, for example, Mazzini, p. 3.

22 See Il Cimento, vi, ii (1855), 110-111; Taparelli, in Pirri, pp. 182-185.

23Thayer, pp. 89-91.

24 Billington, p. 161.

25 Thayer, pp. 49, 53, 128-138, 188, 199; Mack Smith, 236, 240.

26 Spaventa, in Gentile, pp. 278-300; Taparelli d’Azeglio, in La Civiltà Cattolica, ii, viii (1854), passim.

27 Gallenga, Il Cimento, v, xii (1855), 1080, for extended quotation; otherwise, 1079-


28 Thayer, pp. 13, 106, 133-141, 195-198, 201, 258. 388-389 ; Billington, pp. 425-427.

29 Thayer, p. 202.

30 Jemolo, pp. 47-160; Thayer, pp. 124-133; Mack Smith, pp. 78-232.

31 Jemolo, pp. 131-132.

32 Ibid., pp. 153-154; Thayer, pp. 201-230.

33 Mack Smith, pp. 103-107, 123-128; Thayer, pp. 44-45, 48, 66-67, 82-83, 112, 130, 139, 141, 149, 372.

34 Mayeur, X, p. 864.

35 Ibid., pp. 837-904; Billington, pp. 217-224.

36 Mayeur, p. 848; also, pp. 837-904. See the complete discussion in Bowman as well.

37Mayeur p. 866.

38Ibid., p. 892.

39Ibid., p. 893, Billington, pp. 161, 217-224.

40 Petit, pp. 15, 135, 192-197, 200, 211; See, also, Dubarle, Meinvieille, and Sarasella.

41 Jemolo, pp. 91-95; Gentile, pp. ix-xiii; Minghetti, Vol. iii, 17-18; passim.

42 Jemolo, pp. 47-160; Invernizzi, Il movimento cattolico, pp. 15-58.

43 Kalyvas, p. 89 ; Invernizzi, L’Unione Elettorale, pp. 11-20; Jemolo, pp. 108, 122; Mack Smith, 251-252; Invernizzi, Il movimento cattolico, pp. 15-58; Agócs, pp. 165-199; Launay, pp. 106-111, 183-191.

44 Jemolo, pp. 132-139; Invernizzi, L’Unione, pp. 24-38; Agócs, pp. 165-199.

45 Invernizzi, L’Unione, pp. 33-36; Agócs, pp. 197-198.


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