- The Other Renaissance: Italian Humanism between Hegel and Heidegger by Rocco Rubini
In Paul Oskar Kristeller's introduction to the collection of essays that makes up Renaissance Thought and Its Sources (New York, 1979), he exhorted historians and philosophers to re-examine their disciplinary methodologies and the relationship of those methodologies to each other. Calling for "reflection on the methods of historical scholarship and its place within the broader system of our culture and experience … we need an epistemology [End Page 342] of historical scholarship that will unite the different disciplines into a common enterprise and assign to it its appropriate place in a comprehensive theory and philosophy of culture" (13).
Rocco Rubini implicitly responds to this challenge by situating postwar Italian Renaissance historiography within the framework of the history of philosophy, or more properly within the framework of the attempt of Italian philosophers to bring themselves and their Renaissance into the mainstream of European continental philosophy. To situate Renaissance historiography within the larger philosophical discourse is a noble aim, and even if it were not successful, would still have much to teach us about the ancestry, rise, and possible demise of the intellectual history of Renaissance thought and letters.
At the centre of Rubini's narrative are the differing yet overlapping accounts of Eugenio Garin and Kristeller of the relationship between Renaissance humanism and philosophy. Each of their approaches has its own history in debates about Renaissance philosophy that began with the Cartesian rejection of it, and the responses of Giambattista Vico (1668–1744) and his followers to that rejection. In his first chapter, Rubini traces the reception of the Italian Renaissance quickly and briefly through the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, with a longer pause for the Risorgimento. Characteristic of this period, Rubini argues, were attempts to delineate the distinctive traits of Italian philosophy. For such philosophers as Vincenzo Cuoco (1770–1823), Vincenzo Gioberti (1801–1852), Bertrando Spaventa (1881–82), and Cesare Balbo (1789–1853), it became increasingly clear, especially during the Risorgimento, that the Italian Renaissance would come to represent Italy's philosophical and intellectual contribution to European philosophical culture. But which Renaissance? Should the "debauched," absolutist and "decadent" sixteenth-century Renaissance share the limelight with the civic humanist, republican, and neo-Platonic Renaissance of the fifteenth century?
If the Risorgimento was a major inspiration for re-examining the role of the Renaissance as the linchpin of Italian philosophical respectability, the ventennio of Italian fascism also proved to be problematic for framing Italian philosophy in the image of the Renaissance. In the second and third chapters Rubini looks at the prewar shift in emphasis from Hegel to Heidegger as well as the French and German sources of this shift. Although Rubini covers many important figures, Giovanni Gentile (1875–1944), Enrico Castelli (1900–1977), and Ernesto Grassi (1902–1991) stand out most prominently during a period about which Eugenio Garin (1909–2004) wrote of a "philosophical decadence and the human even more than doctrinal breaches in Italian philosophical life"(142). Rubini points out that during the dark days of Italian fascism, philosophers of different camps carried firearms, called the police on one another, and most tragically, lost their [End Page 343] lives to their civic commitments. As German philosophy through Heidegger and Hans-Georg Gadamer (1900–2002) inspired both an existentialist and hermeneutical turn in Italian philosophy, Grassi, himself a proteégeé of Heidegger, established an Institute for the Studia Humanitatis in Berlin in 1942, from which emanated under his direction a plethora of critical editions and translations.
All of this, set forth convincingly and in great detail, lays the philosophical groundwork for both Garin and Kristeller, to whom Rubini devotes a chapter each. In the Garin chapter, Rubini examines Garin's direct confrontation with the problematic heritage of Italian philosophy, noting that too often Renaissance humanism had been used as a weapon for nationalistic and chauvinistic purposes. But more importantly, Garin has an important place in a philosophical tradition of positivist existentialists. Central to Garin's...