By Frederic D. Homer
In Primo Levi and the Politics of Survival, Frederic D. Homer looks at Primo Levi's life but, more important, shows him to be a significant political philosopher. In the course of his writings, Levi asked and answered his most haunting question: can someone be brutalized by a terrifying experience and, upon return to "ordinary life", recover from the physical and moral destruction he has suffered? Levi developed his question into a philosophy positing that man is no match for life, though he can become better prepared to contend with the tragedies in life.
According to Levi, the horrors of the world occur because of the strength of human tendencies, which make relationships between human beings exceedingly fragile. He believed that we are ill-constituted beings who have tendencies toward violence and domination, dividing ourselves into Us and Them, with very shallow loyalties. Our only refuge is in education and responsibility, which may counter these tendencies. He called this philosophy "optimistic pessimism".
As Homer demonstrates, Levi took his past experiences into account to determine that goodwill and democratic institutions do not come easily to people. To achievethem we must counter some of our most stubborn tendencies. Liberal society is to be earned through discipline and responsibility toward our weaknesses. Levi's answer is "civilized liberalism".
Homer also explores the impac
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