The Religious Side of the Italian Question
I HAVE of late frequently been asked by my English friends why it is that I decline to return to my country, and to associate my own efforts for the moral and political advancement of Italy with those of her governing classes. “ The amnesty has opened up a path for the legal dissemination of your ideas,” they tell me. “ By taking the place already repeatedly offered you among the representatives of the people, you would secure to those who hold the helm of the state the support of the whole Republican party. Do you not, by throwing the weight of your name and influence on the side of the malcontents, increase the difficulties of the government, and prolong the fatal want of moral and political unity, without which the mere material fact of union is barren, and unproductive of benefit to the people ? ”
The question is asked by serious men, who wish my country well, and is therefore deserving of a serious answer.
Before treating the personal matter, however, let me say that, since 1859, the Republican party has done precisely what my English friends required it to do. The Italian Republicans have actually assisted and upheld the government with an abnegation worthy of all praise, — sacrificing even their right of Apostolate to the great idea of Italian unity. Perceiving that the nation was determined to give monarchy the benefit of a trial, they have —in that reverence for th,e national will which is the first duty of Republicans — patiently awaited its results, and endured every form of misgovernment rather than afford a pretext to those in power for the nonfulfilment of their declared intention of initiating a war to regain our own territory and true frontier,— a war without which, as they well knew, the permanent security and dignity of Italy were impossible, and which, had it been conducted from a truly national point of view, would have wrought the moral redemption of our people.
The monarchy, however, which, as I pointed out in my article on “The Republican Alliance,” had had five years to prepare, and was in a position to take the field with thirty-five thousand regular troops, one hundred thousand mobilized National Guards, thirty thousand volunteers under Garibaldi, and the whole of Italy ready to act as reserve, and make any sacrifices in blood or money, abruptly broke off the war after the unqualifiable disasters of Custozza and Lissa, at a signal from France,— basely abandoning our true frontier, the heroic Trentino, — and accepted Venice as an alms scornfully flung to us by the man of the 2d of December.
I may be told that a people of twenty-four millions who tamely submit to dishonor deserve it.
I admit it; but it must not be forgotten that our masses are uneducated, and that it is the natural tendency of the uneducated to accept their rulers as their guides, and to govern their own conduct by the example of their soidisant superiors ; and I assert that, if our people have no consciousness of their great destiny, nor sense of their true power and mission, — if, while twenty-four millions of Italians are at the present day grouped around, I will not say the conception of unity, but the mere unstable fact of union, the great soul of Italy still lies prostrate in the tomb dug for her three centuries ago by the Papacy and the Empire, — the cause is to be found in the immorality and corruption of our rulers.
The true life of a people must be sought in the ruling idea or conception by which it is governed and directed.
The true idea of.a nation implies the consciousness of a common aim, and the fraternal association and concentration of all the vital forces of the country towards the realization of that aim.
The national aim is indicated by the past tradition, and confirmed by the present conscience, of the country.
The national aim once ascertained, it becomes the basis of the sovereign power, and the criterion of judgment with regard to the acts of the citizens.
Every act tending to promote the national aim is good ; every act tending to a departure from that aim is evil.
The moral law is supreme. The religion of duty forms the link between the nation and humanity; the source of its right, and the sign of its place and value in humanity.
Such are the essential characteristics of what we term a nation at the present day. Where these are wanting, there exists but an aggregate of families, temporarily united for the purpose of diminishing the ills of life, and loosely bound together by past habits or interests, which are destined, sooner or later, to clash. All intellectual or economic development among them, — unregulated by a great conception supreme over every selfish interest, — instead of being equally diffused over the various members of the national family, leads to the gradual formation of educated or financial castes, but obtains for the nation itself neither recognized function, position, dignity, nor glory among foreign peoples.
These things, which are true of all peoples, are still more markedly so of a people emerging from a prolonged and deathlike stupor into new life. Other nations earnestly watch its every step. If its advance is illumined by the signs of a high mission, and its first manifestations sanctified by the baptism of a great principle, other nations will surround the new collective being with affection and hope, and be ready to follow it upon the path assigned to it by God. If they discover in it no signs of any noble inspiration, ruling moral conception, or potent future, they will learn to despise it, and to regard its territory as a new field for a predatory policy, and direct or indirect domination.
Tradition has marked out and defined the characteristics of a high mission more distinctly in Italy than elsewhere. We alone, among the nations that have expired in the past, have twice arisen in resurrection and given new life to Europe. The innate tendency of the Italian mind always to harmonize thought and action confirms the prophecy of history, and points out the rôle of Italy in the world to be a work of moral unification, — the utterance of the synthetic word of civilization.
Italy is a religion.
And if we look only to the immediate national aim, and the inevitable consequences that must follow the complete constitution of Italy as a nation, we see that to no people in Europe has been assigned a higher office in the fulfilment of the educational design, to the evolution of which Providence guides humanity from epoch to epoch. Our unity will be of itself a potent initiative in the world. The mere fact of our existence as a nation will carry with it an important modification of the external and internal life of Europe.
Had we regained Venice through a war directed as justice and the exigencies of the case required, instead of basely submitting to the humiliation of receiving it from the hands of a foreign despot, we should have dissolved two empires, and called into existence a Slavo-Magyaro-Teutonic federation along the Danube, and a Slavo-Hellenic-Rouman federation in the east of Europe.
We shall not regain Rome without dissolving the Papacy, and proclaiming, for the benefit of all humanity, that inviolability of conscience which Protestantism achieved for a fraction of Europe only, and confined within Biblical limits.
Great ideas make great peoples, and the sense of the enormous power which is an inseparable condition of the existence of our Italy as a nation should have sufficed to make us great. That sense, however, — God alone knows the grief with which I write it,—that sense with us is wanting.
And now a word as to the amnesty.
Were it my nature to allow any personal considerations to interfere where the welfare of my country is concerned, I might answer that none who know me would expect me to give the lie to the whole of my past life, and sully the few years left to me by accepting an offer of oblivion and pardon for having loved Italy above all earthly things, and preached and striven for her unity when all others regarded it as a dream.
But my purpose in the present writing is far other than self-defence ; and the sequel will show that, even were the sacrifice of the dignity of my last years possible, it would be useless.
My past, present, and future labors towards the moral and political regeneration of my country have been, are, and will be governed by a religious idea.
The past, present, and future of our rulers have been, are, and will be led astray by materialism.
Now the religious question sums up and dominates every other. Political questions are necessarily secondary and derivative.
They who earnestly believe in the supremacy of the moral law as the sole legitimate source of all authority — in a religion of duty, of which politics should be the application — cannot, through any amount of personal abnegation, act in concert with a government based upon the worship of temporary and material interest.
Our rulers have no great ruling conception,— no belief in the supremacy of the moral law, — no just notion of life, nor of the human unity, — no belief in a divinely appointed goal which it is the duty of mankind to reach through labor and sacrifice. They are materialists, and the logical consequence of their want of all faith in God and his law are the substitution of the idea of interest for the idea of duty, — of a paltry notion of tactics, for the fearless affirmation of the truth, — of opportunity, for principle.
It is for this that they protest against, without resisting, wrong, — for this that they have abandoned the straight road to wander in tortuous by-paths, fascinated by the thought of displaying state-craft, and forgetting that it was through such paths we first descended into slavery. It is for this that our government has reduced Italy to the condition of a French prefecture, and that our parliamentary opposition copies the wretched tactics of the Left in the French Chamber, which prepared the way, during the Restoration, for the present corruption, degradation, and enslavement of their country.
These things, I repeat, are consequences, not causes. We may change as we will the individuals at the head of the government; the system itself being based upon a false principle, the fatal idea will govern them. They cannot righteously direct the new life of the Italian people, and redeem them from a profound unconscious immorality of ancient date.
The present duty of the democratic party in Italy, then, — since they cannot serve God and Mammon, — is to educate the people ; and, remembering that the basis of all education is truth, to endeavor to prove to them that the actual political impotence and corruption of Italy are derived from two causes which may be summed up in one, — we have no religion, and we have set up a negation in its place.
ON the one side we have —as our only form and semblance of religion — the Papacy.
I remember to have written, more than thirty years ago, when none other dared openly to venture on the problem, — when the boldest contented themselves with whispering of reforms in Church discipline, and those writers who, like Gioberti, set themselves up as philosophers, thought proper, as a matter of tactics, to caress the Utopia of an Italian primacy, intrusted to I know not what impossible revival of Catholicism, — I remember to have written then that both the Papacy and Catholicism were things extinct, and that their death was a consequence of quite another death.
I spoke of the dogma which was the foundation of both.
Years have confirmed what I then declared. The Papacy is now a corpse beyond all power of galvanization. It is the lying mockery of a religion, — a source of perennial corruption and immorality among the nations, and most fatally such to our own, upon whose very soul weighs the incubus and example of that lie. But at the present day we either know or ought to know the cause of this.
All contact with the Papacy is contact with death, carrying the taint of its corruption over rising Italy, and educating her masses in falsehood, — not because cardinals, bishops, and monks traded in indulgences three centuries ago, — not because this or that Pope trafficked in cowardly concessions to princes, or in the matrimony of his own bastards with the bastards of dukes, petty tyrants, or kings, in order to obtain some patch of territory or temporal dominion, —not because they have governed and persecuted men according to their arbitrary will ; but because they cannot do other, even if they would.
These evils and these sins are not causes, but consequences.
Even admitting the impossible hypothesis that the guilty individuals should be converted ; — that the Jansenists, or other Reformers, should recall the misguided Popes to the charity and humility of their ancient way of life,— they could only cause the Papacy to die with greater dignity ; — it can never again be what once it was, the ruler and director of the conscience of the peoples.
The mission of the Papacy — a great and holy mission, whatever the fanatics of rebellion at the present day, falsifying history and calumniating the soul and mind of humanity in the past, may say to the contrary — is fulfilled. It was fulfilled six centuries ago ; and no power of genius, no miracle of will, can avail to revive it. Innocent III. was the last true Pope. He was the last who endeavored to make the supremacy of the moral law of the epoch over the brute force of the temporal governments— of the spirit over matter, of God over Cæsar — an organic social fact.
And such was in truth the mission of the Papacy, — the secret of its power, and of the willing adherence and submission yielded to it by humanity for eight hundred years. That mission was incarnated in one of the greatest of Italians in genius, virtue, and iron strength of will, — Gregory VII., — and yet he failed to prolong it. One hundred and fifty years afterwards, the gigantic attempt had become but the dim record of a past never to return. With the successors of Innocent III. began the decline of the Papacy; it ceased to infuse life into humanity. A hundred years later, and the Church had become scandalously corrupt in the higher spheres of its hierarchy, persecuting and superstitious in the lower. A hundred years later it was the ally, and in one hundred more the servant of Cæsar, and had lost one half of Europe.
From that time forward it has unceasingly declined, until it has sunk to the thing we now behold it; — disinherited of all power of inspiration over civilization ; the impotent negation of all movement, of all liberty, of all development of science or life ; destitute of all sense of duty, power of sacrifice, or faith in its own destiny; held up by foreign bayonets ; trembling before the face of the peoples, and forsaken by humanity, which is seeking the path of progress elsewhere.
The Papacy has lost all moral basis, aim, sanction, and source of action at the present day. Its source of action in the past was derived from a conception of heaven since changed, —from a notion of life since proved imperfect,— from a conception of the moral law inferior to that of the new epoch in course of initiation, — from a solution of the eternal problem of the relation between man and God since rejected by the human heart, intellect, conscience, and tradition.
The dogma itself which the Church once represented is exhausted and consumed. It no longer inspires faith, no longer has power to unite or direct the human race.
The time of a new dogma is approaching, which will re-link earth with heaven in a vaster synthesis, fruitful of new and harmonious life.
It is for this that the Papacy expires. And it is our duty to declare this, without hypocritical reticence, or formulæ of speech, which, feigning to attack and venerate at one and the same time, do but parcel out, not solve the problem; because the future cannot be fully revealed until the past is entombed, and by weakly prolonging the delay we run the risk of introducing gangrene into the wound.
The formula of life and of the law of life from which the Papacy derived its existence and its mission was that of the fall of man and his redemption. The logical and inevitable consequences of this formula were : —
The doctrine of the necessity of mediation between man and God ;
The belief in a direct, immediate, and immutable revelation, and hence in a privileged class, — naturally destined to centralize in one individual, —the office of which was to preserve that revelation inviolate ;
The inefficacy of man’s own efforts to achieve his own redemption, and the consequent substitution of unlimited faith in the Mediator, for works, — hence grace and predestination more or less explicitly substituted for free-will
The separation of the human race into the elect and the non-elect ;
The salvation of the one, and the eternal damnation of the other ; and, above all,
The duality between earth and heaven, between the ideal and the real, between the aim set before man and a world condemned to anathema by the fall, and incapable, through the imperfection of its finite elements, of affording him the means of realizing that aim.
In fact, the religious synthesis which succeeded Polytheism did not contemplate, nor did the historical succession of the epochs allow it to contemplate, any conception of life embracing more than the individual ; it offered the individual a means of salvation in despitc of the egotism, tyranny, and corruption by which he is surrounded on earth, and which no individual effort could hope to overcome ; it came to declare to him, The world is adverse to thee ; renounce the world and put thy faith in Christ ; this will lead thee to heaven.
The new formula of life and its law — unknown at that day, but revealed to us in our own day by our knowledge of the tradition of humanity, confirmed by the voice of individual conscience, by the intuition of genius and the grand results of scientific research — may be summed up in the single word Progress,1 which we now know to be, by Divine decree, the inherent tendency of human nature,— whether manifested in the individual or the collective being, — and destined, more or less speedily, but inevitably, to be evolved in time and space.
The logical consequences of the new formula are : —
The substitution of the idea of a law for the idea of a Mediator ; — the idea of a continuous educational revelation for that of an immediate arbitrary revelation ;
The apostolate of genius and virtue, and of the great collective intuitions of the peoples, when roused to enthusiastic action in the service of a truth, substituted for the privilege of a priestly class;
The sanctity of tradition, as the depository of the progress already achieved ; and the sanctity of individual conscience, alike the pledge and the means of all future progress ;
Works, sanctified by faith, substituted for mere faith alone, as the criterion of merit and means of salvation.
The new formula of life cancels the dogma of grace, which is the negation of that capacity of perfectibility granted to all men ; as well as that of predestination, which is the negation of free-will, and that of eternity of punishment, which is the negation of the divine element existing in every human soul.
The new formula substitutes the conception of the slow, continuous progress of the human Ego throughout an indefinite series of existences, for the idea of an impossible perfection to be achieved in the course of one brief existence ; it presents an absolutely new view of the mission of man upon earth, and puts an end to the antagonism between earth and heaven, by teaching us that this world is an abode given to man wherein he is bound to merit salvation by his own works, and hence enforces the necessity of endeavoring, by thought, by action, and by sacrifice, to transform the world, — the duty of realizing our ideal here below, as far as in us lies, for the benefit of future generations, and of reducing to an earthly fact as much as may be of the kingdom — the conception — of God.
The religious synthesis which is slowly but infallibly taking the place of the synthesis of the past comprehends a new term,—the continuous collective life of humanity; and this alone is sufficient to change the aim, the method, and the moral law of our existence.
All links with heaven broken, and useless to the earth, which is ready to hail the proclamation of a new dogma, the Papacy has no longer any raison d'être. Once useful and holy, it is now a lie, a source only of corruption and immorality. Once useful and holy, I say, because, had it not been for the unity of moral life in which we were held for more than eight centuries by the Papacy, we should not now have been prepared to realize the new unity to come ; had it not been for the dogma of human equality in heaven, we should not now have been prepared to proclaim the dogma of human equality on earth. And I declare it a lie and a source of immorality at the present day, because every great institution becomes such if it seeks to perpetuate its authority after its mission is fulfilled. The substitution of the enslavement for the slaughter of the conquered foe was a step towards progress, as was the substitution of servitude for slavery. The formation of the Bourgeoise class was a progress from servitude. But he who at the present day should attempt to recede towards slavery and servitude, and presumptuously endeavor to perpetuate the exclusion of the proletarian from the rights and benefits of the social organization, would prove himself the enemy of all civilization, past and future, and a teacher of immorality.
It is therefore the duty of all those amongst us who have it at heart to win the city of the future and the triumph of truth, to make war, not only upon the temporal power, — who should dare deny that to the admitted representative of God on earth ? — but upon the Papacy itself. It is therefore our duty to go back to the dogma upon which the institution is founded, and to show that that dogma has become insufficient and unequal to the moral wants, aspirations, and dawning faith of humanity.
They who at the present day attack the Prince of Rome, and yet profess to venerate the Pope, and to be sincere Catholics, are either guilty of flagrant contradiction, or are hypocrites.
They who profess to reduce the problem to the realization of a free Church in a free State are either influenced by a fatal timidity, or destitute of every spark of moral conviction.
The separation of Church and State is good as a weapon of defence against the corruptions of a Church no longer worthy the name. It is — like all the programmes of mere liberty — an implicit declaration that the institution against which we are compelled to invoke either our individual or collective rights is corrupt, and destined to perish.
Individual or collective rights may be justly invoked against the authority of a religious institution as a remedial measure in a period of transition ; just as it may occasionally be necessary to isolate a special locality for a given time, in order to protect others from infection. But the cause must be explicitly declared. By declaring it, you educate the country to look beyond the temporary measure, — to look forward to a return to a normal state of things, and to study the positive organic principle destined to govern that normal state. By keeping silence, you accustom the mass to disjoin the moral from the political, theory from practice, the ideal from the real, heaven from earth.
When once all belief in the past synthesis shall be extinct, and faith in the new synthesis established, the State itself will be elected into a Church; it will incarnate in itself a religious principle, and become the representative of the moral law in the various manifestations of life.
So long as it is separate from the State, the Church will always conspire to reconquer power over it in the interest of the past dogma. If separated from all collective and avowed faith by a negative policy, such as that adopted by the atheistic and indifferent French Parliament, the State will fall a prey to the anarchical doctrine of the sovereignty of the individual, and the worship of interest ; it will sink into egotism and the adoration of the accomplished fact, and hence, inevitably, into despotism, as a remedy for the evils of anarchy.
For an example of this among modern nations, we have only to look at France.
ON the other hand, in opposition to the Papacy, but itself a source of no less corruption, stands materialism.
Materialism, the philosophy of all expiring epochs and peoples in decay, is, historically speaking, an old phenomenon, inseparable from the death of a religious dogma. It is the reaction of those superficial intellects which, incapable of taking a comprehensive view of the life of humanity, and tracing and deducing its essential characteristics from tradition, deny the religious ideal itself, instead of simply affirming the death of one of its incarnations.
Luther compared the human mind to a drunken peasant, who, falling from one side of his horse, and set straight on his seat by one desirous of helping him, instantly falls again on the other side. The simile — if limited to periods of transition — is most just. The youth of Italy, suddenly emancipated from the servile education of more than three centuries, and intoxicated with their moral liberty, find themselves in the presence of a Church destitute of all mission, virtue, love for the people, or adoration of truth or progress, — destitute even of faith in itself. They see that the existing dogma is in flagrant contradiction of the ruling idea that governs all the aspirations of the epoch, and that its conception of divinity is inferior to that revealed by science, human conscience, philosophy, and the improved conception of life acquired by the study of the tradition of humanity, unknown to man previously to the discovery of his Eastern origin. Therefore, in order — as they believe — to establish their moral freedom radically and forever, they reject alike all idea of a church, a dogma, and a God.
Philosophically speaking, the unreflecting exaggerations of men who have just risen up in rebellion do not portend any serious damage to human progress. These errors are a mere repetition of what has always taken place at the decay and death of every dogma, and will — as they always have done — sooner or later wear away. The day will come when our Italian youth will discover that, just as reasonably as they, not content with denying the Christian dogma, proceed to deny the existence of a God, and the religious life of humanity, their ancestors might have proceeded, from their denial and rejection of the feudal system, to the rejection ot every form of social organization, or have declared art extinct forever during the transition period when the Greek form of art had ceased to correspond to those aspirations of the human mind which prepared the way for the cathedrals of the Middle Ages and the Christian school of art.
Art, society, religion, — all these are faculties inseparable from human life itself, progressive as life itself, and eternal as life itself. Every epoch of humanity has had and will have its own social, artistic, and religious expression. In every epoch man will ask of tradition and of conscience whence he came, and to what goal he is bound; he will ask through what paths that goal is to be reached, and seek to solve the problem suggested by the existence within him of a conception of the Infinite, and of an ideal impossible of realization in the finite conditions of his earthly existence. He will, from time to time, adopt a different solution, in proportion as the horizon of tradition is promessively enlarged, and the human conscience enlightened ; but assuredly it will never be a mere negation.
Philosophically speaking, materialism is based upon a singular but constant confusion of two things radically distinct;—life, and its successive modes of manifestation ; the Ego, and the organs by which it is revealed in a visible form to the external world, the nonEgo. The men who, having succeeded in analyzing the instruments by means of which life is made manifest in a series of successive finite phenomena, imagine that they have acquired a proof of the materiality of life itself, resemble the poor fool, who, having chemically analyzed the ink with which a poem was written, imagines he has penetrated the secret of the genius that composed it.
Life, — thought, — the initiative power of motion, — the conception of the Infinite, of the Eternal, of God, which is inborn in the human mind,—the aspiration towards an ideal impossible of realization in the brief stage of our earthly existence, — the instinct of free
will &emdsh; all that constitutes the mysterious link within us to a world beyond the visible, — defy all analysis by a philosophy exclusively experimental, and impotent to overpass the sphere of the secondary laws of being.
If materialists choose to reject the teachings of tradition, the voice of human conscience and intuition, to limit themselves to the mechanism of analytical observation, and substitute their narrow, undirected physiology for biology and psychology,—-if then, finding themselves unable by that imperfect method to comprehend the primary laws and origin of things, they childishly deny the existence of such laws, and declare all humanity before their time to have been deluded and incapable,— so be it. Nor should I, had Italy been a nation for half a century, have regarded their doctrines as fraught with any real danger. Humanity will not abandon its appointed path for them ; and to hear them — in an age in which the discoveries of all great thinkers combine to demonstrate the existence of an intelligent preordained law of unity and progress — spouting materialism in the name of science, because they have skimmed a volume of Vogt, or attended a lecture by Moleschott, might rather move one to amusement than anger.
But Italy is not a nation ; she is only in the way to become one. And the present is therefore a moment of grave importance ; for, even as the first examples set before infancy, so the first lessons taught to a people emerging from a long past of error and corruption, and hesitating as to the choice of its future, may be of serious import. The doctrines of federalism, which, if preached in France at the present day, would be but an innocent Utopia, threatened the dissolution of the country during the first years of the Revolution. They laid bare the path for foreign conquest, and roused the Mountain to bloody and terrible means of repression.
Such for us are the wretched doctrines of which I speak. Fate has set before us a great and holy mission, which, if we fail to accomplish it now, may be postponed for half a century. Every delay, every error, may be fatal. And the people through whom we have to work are uneducated, liable to accept any error which wears a semblance of war against the past, and in danger, from their long habit of slavery, of relapsing into egotism.
Now the tendency of the doctrines of materialism is to lead the mass to egotism through the path of interest. Therefore it grieves me to hear them preached by many worthy but inconsiderate young men amongst us ; and I conjure them, by all they hold most sacred, to meditate deeply the moral consequences of the doctrines they preach, and especially to study their effect in the case of a neighboring nation, which carried negation to the extreme during the past century, and which we behold at the present day utterly corrupted by the worship of temporary and material interest, disinherited of all noble activity, and sunk in the degradation and infamy of slavery.
Every error is a crime in those whose duty it is to watch over the cradle of a nation.
Either we must admit the idea of a God, — of the moral law, which is an emanation from him, — and the idea of human duty, freely accepted by mankind, as the practical consequence of that law, — or we must admit the idea of a ruling force of things, and its practical consequence, the worship of individual force or success, the omnipotence of fact. From this dilemma there is no escape.
Either we must accept the sovereignty of an aim prescribed by conscience, in which all the individuals composing a nation are bound to unite, and the pursuit of which constitutes the nationality of a given people among the many of which humanity is composed, — an aim recognized by them all, and superior to them all, and therefore religious ; or we must accept the sovereignty of the right, arbitrarily defined, of each nation, and its practical consequences,— the pursuit by each individual of his own interest and his own well-being, the satisfaction of his own desires,—and the impossibility of any sovereign duty, to which all the citizens, from those who govern down to the humblest of the governed, owe obedience and sacrifice.
Which of these doctrines will be most potent to lead our nation to high things ? Let us not forget that, although the educated, intellectual, and virtuous may be willing to admit that the wellbeing of the individual should be founded — even at the cost of sacrifice — upon the well-being of the many, the majority will, as they always have done, understand their well-being to mean their positive satisfaction or enjoyment ; they will reject the notion of sacrifice as painful, and endeavor to realize their own happiness, even to the injury of others. They will seek it one day from liberty, the next from the deceitful promises of a despot ; but the practical result of encouraging them to strive for the realization of their own happiness as a right, will inevitably be to lead them to the mere gratification of their own individual egotism.
If you reject all supreme law, all Providential guidance, all aim, all obligation imposed by the belief in a mission towards humanity, you have no right to prescribe your conception of well-being to others, as worthier or better. You have no certain basis, no principle upon which to found a system of education ; you have nothing left but force, if you are strong enough to impose it. Such was the method adopted by the French Revolutionists, and they, in their turn, succumbed to the force of others, without knowing in the name of what to protest. And you would have to do the same. Without God, you must either accept anarchy as the normal condition of things, — and this is impossible,—or you must seek your authority in the force of this or that individual, and thus open the way to despotism and tyranny.
But what then becomes of the idea of progress ? — what of the conception we have lately gained from historic science of the gradual but infallible education of humanity, -— of the link of solidary ascending life which unites succeeding generations, — of the duty of sacrificing, if need be, the present generation to the elevation and morality of the generations of the future, — of the preeminence of the fatherland over individuals, and the certainty that their devotion and martyrdom will, in the fulness of time, advance the honor, greatness, or virtue of their nation ?
There are materialists, illogical and carried away by the impulses of a heart superior to their doctrines, who do both feel and act upon this worship of the ideal; but materialism denies it. Materialism, as a doctrine, only recognizes in the universe a finite and determinate quantity of matter, gifted with a definite number of properties, and susceptible of modification, but not of progress ; in which certain productive forces act by the fortuitous agglomeration of circumstances not to be predicated or foreseen, or through the necessary succession of causes and effects, —-of events inevitable and independent of all human action.
Materialism admits neither the intervention of any creative intelligence, Divine initiative, nor human free-will; by denying the law-giving Intellect, it denies all intelligent Providential law; and the philosophy of the squirrel in its cage, which men term Pantheism at the present day, by confounding the subject and the object in one, cancels alike the Ego and non-Ego, good and evil, God and man, and, consequently, all individual mission or free-will. The wretched doctrine, recognizing no higher historic formula than the necessary alternation of vicissitudes, condemns humanity to tread eternally the same circle, being incapable of comprehending the conception of the spiral path of indefinite progress upon which humanity traces its gradual ascent towards an ideal beyond.
Strange contradiction ! Men whose aim it is to combat the practice of egotism instilled into the Italian people by tyranny, to inspire them with a sacred devotion to the fatherland, and make of them a great nation, the artificer of the progress of humanity, present as the first intellectual food of this people now awakening to new life, whose whole strength lies in their good instincts and virginity of intellect, a theory the ultimate consequences of which are to establish egotism upon a basis of right!
They call upon their people worthily to carry on the grand traditions of their past, when all around them — popes, princes, military leaders, literati, and the servile herd — have either insolently trampled liberty under foot, or deserted its cause in cowardly indifference ; and they preach to them a doctrine which deprives them of every pledge of future progress, every stimulus to affection, every noble aspiration towards sacrifice, — they take from them the faith that inspires confidence in victory, and renders even the defeat of to-day fruitful of triumph on the morrow. The same men who urge upon them the duty of shedding their blood for an idea begin by declaring to them : There is no hope of any future for you. Faith in immortality — the lesson transmitted to you by all past humanity — is a falsehood ; a breath of air, or trifling want of equilibrium in the animal functions, destroys you wholly and forever. There is even no certainty that the results of your labors will endure ; there is no Providential law or design, consequently no possible theory of the future; you are but building up to-day what any unforeseen fact, blind force, or fortuitous circumstance may overthrow to-morrow.
They teach these brothers of theirs, whom they desire to elevate and ennoble, that they are but dust,—a necessary, unconscious secretion of I know not what material substance; that the thought of a Kepler or Dante is dust, or rather phosphorus ; that genius, from Prometheus to Jesus, brought down no divine spark from heaven ; that the moral law, free-will, merit, and the consequent progress of the Ego, are illusions ; that events are successively our masters,— inexorable, irresponsible, and insuperable to human will.
And they see not that they thus confirm that servile submission to the accomplished fact, that doctrine of opportunity, that bastard Machiavellism, that worship of temporary interests, and that indifference to every great idea, which find expression in our country at the present day in the betrayal of national duty by our higher classes, and in the stupid resignation of our masses.
I INVOKE the rising — and I should die consoled, even in exile, could I see the first signs of its advent, but this I dare not hope—I invoke the rising of a truly Italian school ; — a school which, comprehending the causes of the downfall of the Papacy, and the impotence of the merely negative doctrine which our Italian youth have borrowed from superficial French materialists and the German copyists, should elevate itself above both, and come forward to announce the approaching and inevitable religious transformation which will put an end to the existing divorce between thought and action, and to the crisis of egotism and immorality through which Europe is passing.
I invoke the rising of a school destined to prepare the way for the initiative of Italy ; —-which shall, on the one side, undertake the examination of the dogma upon which Catholicism was founded, and prove it to be worn out, exhausted, and in contradiction to our new conception of life and its laws ; and, on the other hand, the refutation of materialism under whatsoever form it may present itself, and prove that it also is in contradiction of that new conception,— that it is a stupid, fatal negation of all moral law, of human free-will, of our every sacred hope, and of the calm and constant virtue of sacrifice.
I invoke a school which shall philosophically develop all the consequences, the germ of which — neglected or ignored by superficial intellects — is contained in the word Progress considered as a new term in the great historical synthesis, the expression of the ascending advance of humanity from epoch to epoch, from religion to religion, towards a vaster conception of its own aim and its own law.
I invoke the rising of a school destined to demonstrate to the youth of Italy that rationalism is but an instrument, — the instrument adopted in all periods of transition by the human intellect to aid its progress from a worn-out form of religion to one new and superior,— and science only an accumulation of materials to be arranged and organized in fruitful synthesis by a new moral conepption ;—a school that will recall philosophy from this puerile confusion of the means with the aim, to bring it back to its sole true basis, the knowledge of life and comprehension of its law.
I invoke a school which will seek the truth of the epoch, not in mere analysis, — always barren and certain to mislead, if undirected by a ruling principle,— but in an earnest study of universal tradition, which is the manifestation of the collective life of humanity ; and of conscience, which is the manifestation of the life of the individual.
I invoke a school which shall redeem from the neglect cast upon it by theories deduced from one of our human faculties alone that intuition which is the concentration of all the faculties upon a given subject; —a school which, even while declaring it exhausted, will respect the past, without which the future would be impossible, — which will protest against those intellectual barbarians for whom every religion is falsehood, every form of Civilization now extinct a folly, every great pope, king, or warrior now in the course of things surpassed a criminal or a hypocrite, and revoke the condemnation, thus uttered by presumption in the present, of the past labors and intellect of entire humanity; — a school which may condemn, but will not defame, — will judge, but never, through frenzy of rebellion, falsify history; — a school which will declare the death that is, without denying the life that was, — which will call upon Italy to emancipate herself for the achievement of new glories, but strip not a single leaf from her wreath of glories past.
Such a school would regain for Italy her European initiative, her primacy.
Italy — as I have said — is a religion.
Some have affirmed this of France. They were mistaken. France — if we except the single moment when the Revolution and Napoleon summed up the achievements of the epoch of individuality— has never had any external mission, other than, occasionally, as an arm of the Church, the instrument of an idea emanating from Papal Rome.
But the mission of Italy in the world was at all times religious, and the essential character of Italian genius was at all times religious.
The essence of every religion lies in a power, unknown to mere science, of compelling man to reduce thought to action, and harmonize his practical life with his moral conception. The genius of our nation, whenever it has been spontaneously revealed, and exercised independently of all foreign inspiration, has always evinced the religious character, the unifying power to which I allude. Every conception of the Italian mind sought its incarnation in action,— strove to assume a form in the political sphere. The ideal and the real, elsewhere divided, have always tended to be united in our land. Sabines and Etruscans alike derived their civil organization and way of life from their conception of Heaven. The Pythagoreans founded their philosophy, religious associations, and political institutions at one and the same time. The source of the vitality and power of Rome lay in a religious sense of a collective mission, of an aim to be achieved, in the contemplation of which the individual was submerged. Our democratic republics were all religious. Our early philosophical thinkers were all tormented by the idea of translating their ideal conceptions into practical rules of government.
And as to our external mission.
We alone have twice given moral unity to Europe, to the known world. The voice that issued from Rome in the past was addressed to and reverenced by humanity,— "Urbs Orbi.”
Italy is a religion. And when, in my earliest years, I believed that the initiative of the third life of Europe would spring from the heart, the action, the enthusiasm and sacrifice of our people, I heard within me the grand voice of Rome sounding once again, hailed and accepted with loving reverence by the peoples, and telling of moral unity and fraternity in a faith common to all humanity. It was not the unity of the past. — which, though sacred and conducive to civilization for many centuries, did but emancipate individual man, and reveal to him an ideal of liberty and equality only to be realized in Heaven : it was a new unity, emancipating collective humanity, and revealing the formula of Association, through which liberty and equality are destined to be realized here on earth ; sanctifying the earth and rendering it what God wills it should be, — a stage upon the path of perfection, a means given to man wherewith to deserve a higher and nobler existence hereafter.
And I saw Rome, in the name of God and Republican Italy, substituting a declaration of PRINCIPLES for the barren declaration of rights, — principles the logical consequences of the parent idea, PROGRESS, — and revealing to the nations a common aim, and the basis of a new religion. And I saw Europe, weary of scepticism, egotism, and moral anarchy, receive the new faith with acclamations. I saw a new pact founded upon that faith, — a pact of united action in the work of human perfectibility, involving none of the evils or dangers of the former pact, because among the first consequences of a faith founded upon the dogma of progress would be the justification of heresy, as either a promise or endeavor after progress in the future.
The vision which brightened my first dream of country has vanished, so far as concerns my own life. Even if that vision be ever fulfilled,—as I believe it will be, — I shall be in the tomb. May the young, as yet uncorrupted by scepticism, prepare the way for its realization ; and may they, in the name of our national tradition and the future, unceasingly protest against all who seek to immobilize human life in the name of a dogma extinct, or to degrade it by diverting it from the eternal worship of the Ideal.
The religious question is pre-eminent over every other at the present day, and the moral question is indissolubly linked with it. We are bound either to solve these, or renounce all idea of an Italian mission in the world.
- This sacred word, which sums up the dogma of the future, has been uttered by every school, but misunderstood by the majority. Materialists have usurped the use of it, to express man’s ever-increasing power over the productive forces of the earth ; and men of science, to indicate that accumulation of facts discovered and submitted to analysis which has led us to a better knowledge of secondary causes. Few understand it as the expression of a providential conception or design, inseparable from our human life and foundation of our moral law.↩