Magazine article The American Conservative

Italy's Philosopher against Modernity

Magazine article The American Conservative

Italy's Philosopher against Modernity

Article excerpt

The Crisis of Modernity, Augusto Del Noce, McGill-Queen's University Press, 336 pages

Few of us have time to read serious books these days. Fewer still have the patience--or the discipline--to engage in the kind of rigorous philosophical analysis needed to understand the roots of the modern crisis. Rare indeed is the individual who can penetrate into deeper truths and reveal the underlying assumptions and conceptual distortions that obscure our view of social and political reality. The Italian philosopher Augusto Del Noce (1910-89) was just such an individual.

Considered one of the most important political thinkers of postwar Italy, his works have escaped the attention of most non-Italian-speaking scholars. But in The Crisis of Modernity, Carlo Lancellotti, a mathematics professor at City University of New York, has carefully selected and translated 12 essays and lectures by Del Noce. For those interested in rigorous conservative critiques of modernity, this collection offers something exotic and new.

Lancellotti says he struggled to select examples of Del Noce's thought that would give English-speaking audiences a sufficiently representative sampling of the "Delnocian" oeuvre while also maintaining some semblance of a theme. In the end, Lancellotti organized the selections into three thematic sections: modernity, revolution, and secularization (Part One); the emergence of the "technocratic society" (Part Two); and the predicament of the West today (Part Three).

Also included is an appendix comprised of a 1984 interview with Del Noce conducted by 30 Giorni magazine and two additional pieces that did not quite fit into the three main themes of the book. The overall effect is dizzying, with diverse intellectual currents, competing ideological trends, and different political movements meticulously examined by the late Italian thinker.

Born in Pistoia, in the region of Tuscany, into an aristocratic family and raised in the city of Turin, Del Noce was from his earliest years a brilliant student. Although two thinkers dominated the 1920s intellectual milieu in which he grew up--the idealist philosopher Benedetto Croce and the so-called "philosopher of fascism," Giovanni Gentile--Del Noce charted his own course.

As a private student at the Sorbonne he became acquainted with French scholars such as Etienne Gilson, Jacques Maritain, Jean Laporte, and Henri Gouhier. As Lancellotti explains in his excellent introduction, "For Del Noce, Maritain was, more than anything else, an example of a philosopher fully engaged with history who had developed a deep and original non-reactionary interpretation of the trajectory of the modern world in the light of the classical and Christian tradition."

Profoundly influenced by Maritain and Gilson, Del Noce adhered to a traditional Catholic perspective, even when he became involved with Italy's largely left-wing anti-fascist movement. "Almost all my anti-Fascist university classmates ... shared [a] liberal-socialist orientation," he notes in the 1984 interview in the appendix. But Del Noce forged his own approach to contemporary problems.

Despite constant philosophical research, for most his life Del Noce was first and foremost an educator. He taught at a high school, worked at various think tanks, and eventually made his way through the "byzantine mechanism" of Italy's university system. He landed a permanent academic post at the University of Trieste teaching the history of modern philosophy. Years later he transferred to the prestigious University of Rome "La Sapienza," where he taught political philosophy and the history of political ideas. He would spend the rest of his life there--with the exception of serving in the Italian senate, as a member of the Christian Democratic Party, for one term during the 1980s.

A natural teacher, he attracted many students. He became a mentor and a friend to future eminences like historian Roberto de Mattei, president of the conservative Lepanto Foundation and editor of Radici Cristiane, and philosopher-turned-politician Rocco Buttiglione. …

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