Showing posts with label Carlo Levi. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Carlo Levi. Show all posts

9 January 2019

Norberto Bobbio - political philosopher

Intellectual regarded as foremost 20th century commentator

Norberto Bobbio was a university professor and a forthright political commentator
Norberto Bobbio was a university professor
and a forthright political commentator
Norberto Bobbio, a philosopher of law and political sciences who came to be seen as one of Italy’s most respected political commentators in the 20th century, died on this day in 2004 in Turin, the city of his birth.

He was 94 and had been in hospital suffering from respiratory problems. His funeral was attended by political and cultural leaders including the then-president of Italy, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi.  He had been writing essays well into his 90s, despite for much of his life suffering from bouts of what was described as “fatigue and melancholy”.

His extensive catalogue of work spanned almost seven decades of Italian political life and societal change from the rise of Fascism in the 1930s to the second premiership of Silvio Berlusconi, of whom he was an outspoken critic.

For much of his career, Bobbio was a professor at the University of Turin, where he was chair of philosophy of law from 1948 and, from 1972, of the faculties of legal and political philosophy and political science.

He was made a Life Senator in 1984, although he stayed away from playing an active role in Italian politics after failing to gain election to the parliament of the new Republic in 1946, standing on a liberal-socialist ticket.  Later he confessed that he was much relieved when a move to make him President in the 1990s did not succeed.

Bobbio was part of a famous group of Turin  intellectuals who opposed Fascism in the 1930s
Bobbio was part of a famous group of Turin
intellectuals who opposed Fascism in the 1930s
Many of his books and collections of essays are regarded as seminal works, but among them The Future of Democracy: A Defence Of The Rules Of The Game (1984), State, Government and Society (1985), The Age of Rights (1990) and Right and Left (1994) are considered to have particular importance.

Right and Left was an analysis of left-right political distinctions, in which he argued that the incompatibility of the two poles boiled down to the Left's belief in attempting to eradicate social inequality, set against the Right regarding most social inequality to be the result of inherent natural inequalities, and seeing attempts to enforce social equality as utopian or authoritarian.

Bobbio was born into a middle-class Turin family, the son of a doctor  whose attitude to Fascism was that, set against Bolshevism, which was gathering pace in Italy at the time, it was the lesser of two evils.

His own political thinking was influenced by the group of friends he made at the Liceo Classico Massimo d'Azeglio in Turin, where he became part of the intellectual movement that included the novelists Cesare Pavese and Carlo Levi, his future publisher Giulio Einaudi, the critic Leone Ginsburg and the radical politician Vittorio Foa. 

Bobbio argued in favour of the Historic Compromise between the Communists and the Christian Democrats in the 1970s
Bobbio argued in favour of the 'historic compromise' between
the Communists and the Christian Democrats in the 1970s
They were all involved with the anti-Fascist magazine Riforma Sociale - Social Reform - published by Einaudi’s father, Luigi, a future President of Italy - that Mussolini had closed down and spent several weeks in jail as a result.

He was imprisoned again in 1943, this time by the Germans, after the illegal political party of which he was a member, the Partito d’Azione - the Action Party - became involved in resistance activity. Arrested in Padua, he was released after three months.

The party - for a while the main non-Communist opposition group - lacked popular support, however, and Bobbio failed in his bid for election to the assembly of the new Republic in 1946, after which he devoted himself to his academic life, taking positions at various universities teaching the philosophy of law.

Throughout his intellectual life, he was a strong advocate of the rule of law, and although by nature a socialist, he was opposed to what he perceived as the anti-democratic, authoritarian elements in most of Marxism. He was a strong supporter of the so-called 'historic compromise' - the proposed coalition of the Italian Communist Party and the Christian Democrats in the strife-torn 1970s - and a fierce critic of Silvio Berlusconi, whom he accused of presiding over a moribund political system that lacked idealism and hope.

Turin is famous for its beautiful royal palaces
Travel tip:

Turin was once the capital of Italy. It has a wealth of elegant streets and beautiful architecture, yet over the years has tended to be promoted less as a tourist attraction than cities such as Rome, Florence, Milan and Venice, possibly because of its long association with the Savoy family and subsequently the Italian royal family, who were expelled from Italy in disgrace when Italy became a republic at the end of the Second World War, their long-term unpopularity with some sections of Italian society compounded by their collaboration with Mussolini’s Fascists. Yet there is much to like about a stay in Turin. Aside from the splendour of the royal palaces, it has an historic café culture, 12 miles of arcaded streets and some of the finest restaurants in northern Italy.

Rivalta di Torino, looking towards the castle
Rivalta di Torino, looking towards the castle
Travel tip:

Norberto Bobbio was laid to rest at the cemetery in Rivalta di Torino, a small town in Piedmont, located about 14km (9 miles) southwest of Turin in the Sangone valley.  It is home to a medieval castle, which formed the heart of what was then a village in the 11th century. The castle and the village were owned by the Orsini family - long-standing Italian nobility dating back to medieval times - until 1823. In 1836, the French writer Honoré de Balzac was guest at the castle of its new owner, Count Cesare Benevello, as is recorded in an inscription on the wall.

More reading:

How Cesare Pavese introduced Italian readers to the great American novelists

Why the murder of Aldo Moro ended hopes for a 'historic compromise'

Giulio Einaudi - the publisher who defied Mussolini

Also on this day:

1878: The death of King Victor Emmanuel II

1878: Umberto I succeeds Victor Emmanuel II

1944: The birth of architect Massimiliano Fuksas


29 June 2017

Oriana Fallaci - journalist

Writer known for exhaustively probing interviews

Oriana Fallaci interviewed politicians and leaders from around the world
Oriana Fallaci interviewed politicians and
leaders from around the world 
Oriana Fallaci, who was at different times in her career one of Italy’s most respected journalists and also one of the most controversial, was born in Florence on this day in 1929.

As a foreign correspondent, often reporting from the world’s most hazardous regions in times of war and revolution, Fallaci interviewed most of the key figures on both sides of conflicts.

Many of these were assembled in her book Interview with History, in which she published accounts of lengthy conversations, often lasting six or seven hours, with such personalities as Indira Gandhi, Golda Meir, Yasser Arafat, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Willy Brandt, Shah of Iran Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, Henry Kissinger and the presidents of both South and North Vietnam during the Vietnam War.

Others she interviewed included Deng Xiaoping, Lech Wałęsa, Muammar Gaddafi and the Ayatollah Khomeini.

She seldom held back from asking the most penetrating and awkward questions. Henry Kissinger, the diplomat and former US Secretary of State, later described his meeting with Fallaci for a piece published in Playboy magazine as "the single most disastrous conversation I have ever had with any member of the press".

During her interview with Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979 she called him a “tyrant" to his face and attacked the chador – the full-length cloak she was obliged to wear for the interview – as representing “the apartheid Iranian women have been forced into after the revolution” and described it as “a stupid, medieval rag”.

Henry Kissinger described his encounter with Fallaci as "disastrous"
Henry Kissinger described his encounter
with Fallaci as "disastrous"
Fallaci’s stance on many political issues related to her background. Her father, Edoardo Fallaci, a cabinet maker in Florence, was a political activist opposed to the dictatorship of Italian Fascist leader Benito Mussolini. Despite her youth – she was only 10 when the conflict began – she supported her father’s cause during the Second World War by joining the anti-Fascist resistance movement, Giustizia e Libertà.

One of the tasks assigned to her was to smuggle a gun concealed in a basket of food into the Pitti Palace, where the Jewish writer Carlo Levi, author of the 1945 book Christ Stopped at Eboli, was in hiding.

She later wrote: “Whether it comes from a despotic sovereign or an elected president, from a murderous general or a beloved leader, I see power as an inhuman and hateful phenomenon ... I have always looked on disobedience toward the oppressive as the only way to use the miracle of having been born.”

As well as a child fighter against the Fascists, Fallaci also displayed precocious talent as a journalist, becoming a special correspondent for the Italian paper Il mattino dell'Italia centrale in 1946, when she was just 16.

Her work as a war correspondent began in earnest 20 years later.  Beginning in 1967, she worked as a war correspondent for a number of newspapers and magazines, covering Vietnam, the Indo-Pakistani War, the Middle East, and South America.  During the 1968 massacre of students at Tiatelolco in Mexico, she herself was shot three times.

Fellaci in the chador she was told to wear to interview Ayatollah Khomeini
Fellaci in the chador she was told to
wear to interview Ayatollah Khomeini
Fallaci won many awards for her work and was also honoured by the Italian state, the city of Milan and the Council of Tuscany, where she kept a home even while living mostly in New York, for her contribution to Italian culture.

Later in her career, she attracted controversy for her writings on Islamic fundamentalism, which she regarded as a threat which was the equal of Fascism in her youth.  She accused European politicians of not taking the threat seriously.

Two books, The Rage and the Pride and The Force of Reason, sold more than a million copies in Italy alone but Fallaci was criticised for using language that was extreme and for appearing to demonise Muslims in general, although a number of legal actions against her failed because the state ruled that she was protected by freedom of speech laws.

Fallaci died in Florence aged 77 in 2006, having suffered from lung cancer.  Although a smoker all her life, she claimed she developed the disease after being exposed to smoke from oil wells torched on the orders of Saddam Hussein while she was reporting from Kuwait in 1991.

She was buried at the Cimitero Evangelico agli Allori in Florence alongside family members and close to a memorial to Alexandros Panagoulis, a former Greek resistance fighter with whom she formed a relationship in the 1970s but who was killed in a mysterious road accident, which Fallaci claimed was an assassination by remnants of the 1960s Greek military junta.

Fallaci's tomb at the Cimitero Evangelico degli Allori
Fallaci's tomb at the Cimitero
Evangelico degli Allori
Travel tip:

The Cimitero Evangelico agli Allori is situated between Florence and Galluzzo Certosa, a town about five kilometres outside the city centre. It was in 1860 when the non-Catholic communities of Florence could no longer bury their dead in the English Cemetery in Piazzale Donatello. Apart from Fellaci, it houses the remains of the British writer and aesthete Sir Harold Acton, the American sculptor Thomas Ball and Alice Keppel, the mistress of the British monarch King Edward VII.

Travel tip:

Florence’s Palazzo Pitti – the Pitti Palace – was originally built in the second half of the 15th century by Filippo Brunelleschi for Luca Pitti, but was unfinished at his death in 1472. The building was purchased in 1550 by Eleonora da Toledo, the wife of the Grand Duke Cosimo I de' Medici, and became the official residence of the family. It was expanded in 1560 by Bartolomeo Ammannati. More work was carried out in the 17th century by Giulio and Alfonso Parigi, giving the building its present day look.

4 January 2016

Carlo Levi – writer and painter

Author and doctor who highlighted poverty in southern Italy

The anti-fascist writer, painter and doctor, Carlo Levi, died on this day in Rome in 1975.

Carlo Levi wrote Christ Stopped at Eboli based on his experiences in exile in Basilicata
Carlo Levi, anti-fascist writer and
author of Christ Stopped at Eboli
He is best remembered for his book ‘Christ Stopped at Eboli’ (Cristo si è fermato a Eboli), an account of the time he spent in political exile in a remote, impoverished part of Italy.

Levi was born in Turin in 1902. His father was a wealthy Jewish physician and Levi went to the University of Turin to study medicine after finishing school.

While at University he became active in politics and after graduating he turned his attention to painting.

But he never completely abandoned medicine and moved to Paris to continue his medical research while painting.

After returning to Italy, Levi founded an anti-fascist movement in 1929. As a result he was arrested and sent into exile to a remote area of Italy called Lucania (now renamed Basilicata).

He encountered extreme poverty, which had been unknown in the north where he grew up. As well as writing and painting while he was in exile, he served as a doctor to help the poor villagers he lived among.

When he was released from his political exile he moved back to France but on his return to Italy he was arrested again and imprisoned in Florence.

After the fall of Mussolini he was released from prison and he wrote ‘Christ Stopped at Eboli’ about his experiences living in Lucania.

At the end of the war he moved to Rome where he continued to paint, work as a political journalist and write books.

He died of pneumonia at the age of 72 on 4 January, 1975.

In 1979, ‘Christ Stopped at Eboli’ was made into a film directed by Francesco Rosi.

Aliano is the town near Matera in Basilicata upon which Carlo Levi based his fictional town of Gagliano
The hill town of Aliano in Basilicata was the
inspiration for Levi's fictional town of Gagliano
Photo: Michele Pinassi (CC BY 2.5 IT)
Travel tip:

Aliano, a town about 90 kilometres from Matera in the region of Basilicata, was the inspiration for the fictional town of Gagliano in Levi’s book ‘Christ Stopped at Eboli’. Located on top of rocky hills, it was badly damaged by an earthquake in 1980. Many residents still speak alianese dialect and keep up ancient traditions to bring themselves good luck and ward off ‘the evil eye.’ For more information visit

Travel tip:

Turin University in Via Giuseppe Verdi dates back to 1404 but officially became a university after reforms were made to it by Victor Amadeus II of Sardinia in the 18th century. The Faculty of Medicine attended by Carlo Levi is proud of its 600-year history, which it counts back to 1412 when it was founded by a local doctor, Antonio Cusano.