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Abstract disponibile solo in lingua inglese
The debate consists of three comments – by Vittorio Mathieu, Piero Melograni and Sergio Ricossa – on Domenico Settembrini's recent volume Storia dell'idea antiborghese in Italia (A history of the anti-bourgeois idea in Italy) followed by a counter-reply by the author himself.
Mathieu suggests that the chief merit of Settembrini's book is that it has rendered cheap anti-Fascism impossible, precisely inasmuch as it stresses the hidden continuity of pre-Fascist, Fascist and post-Fascist ideas and policies and the inadequacies of liberal ideas and policies. Piero Melograni is in substantial agreement with Settembrini's basic ideas. He maintains, however, that, albeit allotting due space to the ambivalence of Fascism – common to many other political movements in the 20th century, be they industrialist, ruralist, modernist or anti-modern – Settembrini underestimates a second aspect, that of Fascism's opposition to modernity. This phenomenon is reinforced in Italy by the persistence still today of anti-Western and anti-European religious and localist traditions which Fascism consciously upheld. Ricossa claims that if we are to speak of the anti-bourgeois idea in Italy, we must first distinguish between the various types of bourgeoisie subject to attack. It is a question of an authentic entrepreneurial bourgeoisie or rather of classes hanging on to monopolistic privileges and political protection. This has often been the case in Italy. Frequent too have been the case (due in part to the heritage of classical culture) of liberal theorists strongly influenced by anti-economic prejudices. The most illustrious example of all is that of Benedetto Croce.
In his reply, Settembrini once more develops the theses presented in the book. In particular he stresses the contradictions of liberal élites faced by the emergence of mass society. Such contradictions were stronger in Italy than elsewhere, and were still totally unresolved when the First World War came to interrupt the fledgling process of democratisation. They were, in turn, a mirror to the contradictions of Fascism. The latter was uncertain to the last whether to proceed – as the Bolsheviks had done in Russia – with the total annihilation of civilised society or to allow it to continue to exist and express itself, albeit only in part. By opting for the second course, Fascism decreed its own relatively long-term end much as Francoism was to do in Spain many years later.