January 30, 2017

Hannah Arendt, St. Augustine and the Problem of Evil

Friday, January 27th was International Holocaust Remembrance Day, a time for people to both honor those killed under the Nazi regime and prevent future genocide. As every year at this time, I wanted to post something on the matter, but had a particularly busy day and didn’t have much time to jot down some ideas. I took advantage of the weekend and what follows is the result.

It is indeed my opinion now that evil is never ‘radical’, that it is only extreme, and that it possesses neither depth nor any demonic dimension. It can overgrow and lay waste the whole world precisely because it spreads like a fungus on the surface. It is ‘thought-defying’ […] because thought tries to reach some depth, to go to roots, and the moment it concerns itself with evil, it is frustrated because there is nothing. That is its ‘banality’. Only the good has depth and can be radical.

~ Hannah Arendt, Letter to Gershom (Gerhard) Scholem, July 24, 1963.

When in 1961 Nazi SS Lieutenant Colonel Otto Adolf Eichmann, one of the major figures in the organization of the Holocaust, was taken captive in Argentina by agents of the Israeli government and brought to trial in Jerusalem, the German-born Jewish-American writer and philosopher Hannah Arendt saw an opportunity to confront the “realm of human affairs and human deeds . . . directly.” And so it was that she decided to undertake a reporter’s job and started to report on the trial for The New Yorker magazine. Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, published in 1963, was the result of Hannah Arendt’s coverage of the trial, and one of the most controversial books of the 20th century.

Covering the trial Arendt used the phrase “the banality of evil,” a definition that has since become a classic. By the way, it wasn’t Arendt who first coined the phrase. In fact, in her correspondence with her mentor Karl Jaspers about the Nuremberg trials, the great German psychiatrist and philosopher highlighted a risk involved in the use by Arendt of the Kantian term radical evil to refer to the horrors of the Holocaust (her precise words, however, were that totalitarian terror had “the appearance of radical evil”): in his view it might endow perpetrators with a “streak of satanic greatness” and mystify their deeds in “myth and legend.” To escape this danger Jaspers emphasized the “prosaic triviality” of the perpetrators and coined the phrase “the banality of evil” to make his point. In reply Arendt agreed with this observation.

The distinction between radical evil and banality of evil is developed in detail in the above quoted letter to her friend Gershom Scholem, who along with many of her critics, accused Arendt of portraying Eichmann and other Nazi criminals not as hate-filled, anti-Semitic monsters but as petty bureaucrats, and of speaking openly about the role played by Jewish councils in the deportation and destruction of their own people. “It would have been very comforting indeed,” she wrote, “to believe that Eichmann was a monster […]. The trouble with Eichmann was precisely that so many were like him, and that the many were neither perverted nor sadistic, that they were, and still are, terribly and terrifyingly normal.” (Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, London: Penguin, 1994, p. 276)

Scholem, also known as Gerhard Scholem, a German-born Israeli Jewish philosopher and historian, accused her of not having a love for the Jewish people, of using a “heartless, frequently almost sneering and malicious tone.” “Your account,” he wrote, “ceases to be objective and acquires overtones of malice.” Explaining why the Jewish critics at least were so upset by the book, Scholem wrote: “In the Jewish tradition there is a concept, hard to define and yet concrete enough, which we know as Ahabath Israel: ‘Love of the Jewish people....’ In you, dear Hannah ... I find little trace of this.” “I have little sympathy,” he added, “with that tone—well expressed by the English word ‘flippancy’—which you employed so often in the course of your book. To the matter of which you speak it is unimaginably inappropriate.” Arendt’s reply was unapologetic:

You are quite right – I am not moved by any ‘love’ of this sort, and for two reasons: I have never in my life ‘loved’ any people or collective – neither the German people, nor the French, nor the American, nor the working class or anything of that sort. I indeed ‘love’ only my friends and the only kind of love I know of and believe in is the love of persons. Secondly, this ‘love of the Jews’ would appear to me, since I am myself Jewish, as something rather suspect…. I do not ‘love’ the Jews, nor do I ‘believe’ in them; I merely belong to them as a matter of course, beyond dispute or argument.

Arendt’s reply also shows that, although she had suffered herself and witnessed the suffering of other Jews, she was not inclined to let these experiences overcome her ability to critically analyze the facts. Actually, she brought an independent and probing mind to her coverage of Eichmann trial. And that’s perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of her approach to the whole thing.

But let’s go back to the point—the banality of evil. What did she really mean by that? What she certainly did not mean was that evil had become ordinary, or that Eichmann had not committed an exceptional and, to some extent, unprecedented crime. What she actually meant was that, as it is explained in the above quoted excerpt from her letter to Gerhard Scholem, there is nothing in evil for thought to latch onto. The banality of evil is its own lack of depth. What is banal are not the murderous deeds per se, but the lack of depth in the evildoer Arendt faced in Jerusalem, and by consequence in the horrors he inflicted on his victims and on humanity at large.

It is especially interesting now to note that St. Augustine’s idea that evil is not something fully real but only something dependent on that which is more real—his account of the original nature of evil in the contexts of ontology, society and divine providence—in fact provides the basis for Arendt’s analysis of the banality of evil in the individual, the social, and the political spheres. As David Grumett put it in an article published in 2000, “[a] small amount of attention has been given to Arendt’s work on Augustine, though surprisingly none has focused on the concept of evil.” Arendt’s concept of the origin and nature of evil, he wrote, “is usually attributed to her personal experience of totalitarianism and later coverage of the trial of the Final Solution bureaucrat Adolf Eichmann. This however fails to give a full account. Its intellectual roots are rather to be found in her doctoral dissertation on Augustine, published in 1929.” ("Arendt, Augustine and Evil," in The Heythrop Journal, Volume 41, Issue 2, April 2000)

Especially in his early works, Augustine identifies evil negatively. Take the Confessions (7. 12. 18):

And it was made clear unto me that those things are good which yet are corrupted, which, neither were they supremely good, nor unless they were good, could be corrupted; because if supremely good, they were incorruptible, and if not good at all, there was nothing in them to be corrupted. For corruption harms, but, less it could diminish goodness, it could not harm. Either, then, corruption harms not, which cannot be; or, what is most certain, all which is corrupted is deprived of good. But if they be deprived of all good, they will cease to be. For if they be, and cannot be at all corrupted, they will become better, because they shall remain incorruptibly. And what more monstrous than to assert that those things which have lost all their goodness are made better? Therefore, if they shall be deprived of all good, they shall no longer be. So long, therefore, as they are, they are good; therefore whatsoever is, is good. That evil, then, which I sought whence it was, is not any substance; for were it a substance, it would be good. For either it would be an incorruptible substance, and so a chief good, or a corruptible substance, which unless it were good it could not be corrupted. I perceived, therefore, and it was made clear to me, that Thou made all things good, nor is there any substance at all that was not made by You; and because all that You have made are not equal, therefore all things are; because individually they are good, and altogether very good, because our God made all things very good.

Or Eighty-three Different Questions (6 “On Evil”):

Everything which is, is either corporeal or incorporeal. The corporeal is embraced by sensible form, and the incorporeal , by intelligible form. Accordingly everything which exists is not without some form. But where there is form there necessarily is measure, and measure is something good. Absolute evil, therefore, has no measure, for it lacks all good whatever. It thus does not exist, for it is embraced by no form, and the whole meaning of evil is derived from the privation of form.

But Augustine’s best known and most quoted definitions of evil are the ones he gave in Enchiridion: On Faith, Hope, and Love, Chapters 3 and 4:

And in the universe, even that which is called evil, when it is regulated and put in its own place, only enhances our admiration of the good; for we enjoy and value the good more when we compare it with the evil. For the Almighty God, who, as even the heathen acknowledge, has supreme power over all things, being Himself supremely good, would never permit the existence of anything evil among His works, if He were not so omnipotent and good that He can bring good even out of evil. For what is that which we call evil but the absence of good? In the bodies of animals, disease and wounds mean nothing but the absence of health; for when a cure is effected, that does not mean that the evils which were present—namely, the diseases and wounds—go away from the body and dwell elsewhere: they altogether cease to exist; for the wound or disease is not a substance, but a defect in the fleshly substance,—the flesh itself being a substance, and therefore something good, of which those evils—that is, privations of the good which we call health—are accidents. Just in the same way, what are called vices in the soul are nothing but privations of natural good. And when they are cured, they are not transferred elsewhere: when they cease to exist in the healthy soul, they cannot exist anywhere else. [Emphasis added]
From this it follows that there is nothing to be called evil if there is nothing good. A good that wholly lacks an evil aspect is entirely good. Where there is some evil in a thing, its good is defective or defectible. Thus there can be no evil where there is no good. This leads us to a surprising conclusion: that, since every being, in so far as it is a being, is good, if we then say that a defective thing is bad, it would seem to mean that we are saying that what is evil is good, that only what is good is ever evil and that there is no evil apart from something good. This is because every actual entity is good. Nothing evil exists in itself, but only as an evil aspect of some actual entity. Therefore, there can be nothing evil except something good.

In the light of the similarities between Augustine’s and Arendt’s concepts of evil, according to Philip Reiff, we are allowed to speak of “Arendt’s theology of politics.” (The Theology of Politics: Reflections on Totalitarianism as The Burden of our Time," Journal of Religion 32, 2, 1952, p. 119) As David Grumett puts it, though Arendt is not a specifically Christian thinker, “she in places laments the decline in acceptance of aspects of a Christian world-view.” “She does not, for instance, hold divine grace or the mediation of Christ as components of her thought, as Augustine does,” Grumett explains, “[s]he rather brings Augustine’s world-view, explored in her early study of Augustine, to bear on the modern and contemporary human condition.”

Perhaps it was from Augustine that Arendt learnt the importance for political thought of properly recognizing human sinfulness and worldly facticity if it is to confront the problem of the origin of evil. This is what makes her concept of the origin of evil and her existentialism valuable and believable.

To conclude, in David Grumett’s words, Arendt’s and Augustine’s “recognition of the existence of great evil in the world and of the facticity of human existence in the world” is far from pessimistic. “On the contrary, it is precisely by being content to live in the world that a human may do his or her part to safeguard its reality and protect it from evil.”

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January 24, 2017

A Chance Encounter

This morning I had a chance encounter with an old priest—an 80-something-year-old man—whom I had known when I was in my twenties. At the time, he was a teacher at the Seminary of the Diocese of Treviso, but he also served as vice-parish priest in my then parish church in Treviso. I remember him as a very cultured, good-natured and amiable person. That’s also why I was really pleased to meet him after all this time. But the main reason why I was so happy about the chance encounter was that all these years I have always remembered something he told me once about how to read publicly the Word of God with effectiveness. Even then I was appalled by the sloppiness of so many lectors (and priests), so I asked him for some guidance on that matter. And he gave me what I asked for, and it was actually a great lesson. “The Word of God,” he told me, “is to be neither ‘recited,’ nor merely ‘read.’ It is to be ‘proclaimed.’” Proclaimed, with all that this implies (which is a lot of things, as you can easily figure out).

I told don Andrea (for such is his name) about this memory of mine, and he seemed to be pleased with that.

Sometimes it’s incredible how a simple sentence can become a sort of personal brand, to the extent that, in the mind of another person, a man perfectly coincides with a sentence he uttered decades ago. That’s also why we should be always very careful about what we say.. You never can tell what might become “your brand” in someone else’s imagination and memories!

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January 23, 2017

Facebook Friends Lists

Recently a friend wrote in her timeline, “Evidently I've been talking to myself since Christmas. All my FB posts were privacy set to ‘Only me.’” That did automatically ring a bell for me, because something similar happened to me as well in the past—I don’t want to be too specific on that… Actually, it was frustrating and comic at the same time.

Nevertheless, such events have the power to bring attention to the wide range of opportunities Facebook offers us : you can decide—either once and for all or on a case-by-case basis—who (and where and when) can see your posts: Public, Friends, Friends of Friends, Only me, Custom (lists of friends, etc). Most users have their Facebook privacy set to Friends only or Friends of friends. As a rule I personally prefer the “Public” option, but from time to time and for specific purposes I may make exceptions—most of the times for reasons of respect and elegance.

However, and apart from specific preferences, what matters most is to make the best out of one’s Facebook account. For this purpose here are some suggestions and tips.

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November 14, 2016

An Open Letter to My Social Media Friends

Dear Social Media Friends,
A few notes on my birthday, which occurred just yesterday. First, let me say a huge thank you to all of you that have been kind enough to stop by at my Facebook page and other social media, and leave your birthday wishes! All included—Facebook (timeline and chat), Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.—I received as many as several hundreds of birthday wishes from almost all over the world, especially from the United States of America, the UK, and the European Union. Let me just let you know that I appreciated each and every one of them and that I’m both grateful to you for your friendship and happy for the wonderful opportunities the new information and communication technologies offer to us. Especially for people of my generation, the state of the art of the ICT—which I consider a true blessing and a gift from God—is a continuous source of wonder and excitement.

However, I must say that what amazes me most about yesterday, is that my presence in the social media, and on the Internet in general, is not of the common kind, my most frequent posts being about political, philosophical and cultural issues: a bit boring for a lot of people, I’m afraid. At the same time I cannot but congratulate myself for choosing the right people to be friends with!

Of course, as always happens, birthdays are a great, if not unique, opportunity to unfriend and be unfriended... this time they were half a dozen, in addition to those—at least another half a dozen people—who have unfriended me in the last few weeks. But I don’t complain about that: I knew that supporting Donald Trump would have some consequences. Well, in a sense, I am grateful to them: I have never unfriended anyone on Facebook for political reasons, and never will, that’s contrary to my beliefs, but perhaps they were right in doing so. In other words, as we say in Italy, they pulled my chestnuts out of the fire.

Also, ever since I started supporting Trump things have cooled down with some of my best friends. No surprise at all, but then again every choice has a cost. I’m sorry about that, but I did what I had to do, and I’m proud about that. Do what is right, not what is easy. That’s integrity, I presume, or at least as much integrity as possible.

By the way, I want to point out one thing about the recent presidential election: Hillary was absolutely right when, in the immediate aftermath of her defeat, she said, “I want you to remember this: our campaign was never about one person or even one election…” That’s perhaps exactly the reason why so many people in America and around the world (including me) have spent their time and energies in fighting against her, her supporters, and what they stand for—the “values” they share, and the vision they hold—with all means at their disposition. The lesson is: whenever and wherever it’s needed, we’ll be there. 😏

That being said, thanks again, dear Friends, the special ones—those whom I have a certain degree of intellectual and/or spiritual affinity with—and all the others, which I deeply respect and appreciate. And may God continue to bless you and keep you in His loving hands forever.

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November 5, 2016

The Craziest Sermon I Have Ever Heard

The Prodigal Son (Orthodox Icon)

Yesterday afternoon I attended the funeral of a neighbor—a 80-something-year-old man, and a very kind and good person. I didn’t know the priest who celebrated the Funeral Mass, the only thing I know about him is what he said about himself in his homily, namely, that he is 74 and that in the long-ago he had lived in that parish, that he was a lifelong friend of the man and his family, and that he was familiar with most of those attending the ceremony.

It was one of the craziest, most unpredictable and memorable homilies I had ever heard. He talked in spurts—as many basically shy but very intelligent people often do—with sudden and vivid flashes of lightning, so to speak, rather than complete sentences, as if he was trying to say something pretty profound and at the same time a bit too difficult to put in words. So he danced around the issue the whole time without saying anything explicitly “religious.” He talked about “backing home”—his own’s and his friend’s. He talked about friendship, work ethic, dedication to the family, but the true meaning of the whole speech was, “hey, your friend, husband, father, etc., isn’t really dead, because he simply can’t die..” He was uttering the most touching and profound Christian truths without ever appearing to do so. A homily full of faith and hope without ever pronouncing the words “faith” and “hope,” as if there were no need to explicitly mention what everyone already intimately knows. Because hey, you folks know how things really are.., don’t you?

A poet, a humble but great man, a street philosopher and a man of God. I regret not having the opportunity to listen to his homilies every Sunday, but thank God for having had the chance to listen to him yesterday.

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October 30, 2016

About Poking on Facebook

Times are tough, I know, but let’s talk about something a bit more cheerful than my normal rants, let’s talk about Facebook, the most popular of all the social media platforms. There’s a question I’ve been meaning to ask someone in the know—you’ve just received a Facebook poke, and the first thing that comes to your mind is, “What is this, and what does it mean?”

Of course you may have an idea about the likely meaning of this specific event, in the light of the literal meaning of the word “poke”—“to push your finger or something thin or pointed into or at someone or something” (Merriam-Webster). But to dispel any doubts, an investigation is needed. Thus I googled for answers.. and found hundreds and hundreds of questions and answers.

First of all, what I learned from my search is that a very beloved feature—a button called “Poke”—was enabled since the day Facebook launched in 2004. The button didn’t come with any explanation or rules. Mark Zuckerberg, then 23, said he just wanted to make something with no real purpose..

Secondly, I learned that the Facebook poke was once considered to be a creepy flirting tool, but now it has evolved into something very different. In fact, the most common answer is that a poke on Facebook is more or less the equivalent of tapping someone on the shoulder to say a quick “hello.”

Another popular interpretation is that it is a way to let other people know that you are thinking of them without going through all the trouble of sending private messages or posting publicly to their online wall. A very simple and kind way of saying things like “Remember that I’m here if you’re in troubles, if you feel worn out, or if you need anything,” or just “I miss you,” or “I want you to know that I care about you and what you're going through.” Interesting, isn’t it? Well, of course you might say, “Wouldn’t it be better to just pick up the phone and call her/him?” To which one could reply, “Yes, but sometimes (not to say always) life is more complicated than we would like!” A very strong counter argument, in my view.

Thus, Facebook makes it easier to express our inner feelings and thoughts. Which is not a small thing, above all in these harsh and troubled times.

That being said, however, it is clear that you shouldn’t poke people you don’t really know, especially because you can’t always predict the consequences, if you understand what I mean.., and certainly you shouldn’t take a poke too seriously—remember that 99 times out of 100 a poke is meant to be just for fun.

In any case, and to conclude, I’d say that the main result of my investigations on this subject may be stated as follows: there are no rules for this kind of thing—instinct, common sense, and good taste should guide us here. My viewpoint, for what it’s worth, can perhaps best be summed up by the cartoon below.. ;)

Keep up the good poking!

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October 25, 2016

Feeling Compelled to Vote for Donald Trump

Have you noticed that the Mainstream Media—both in the U.S. and in Europe—is distrusted by growing numbers of people? Have you noticed that the cronyism between the Establishment and the MSM has become too blatant to ignore? It has been evident for years that the U.S. Establishment and their MSM cheerleaders have been manipulating a rigged political system to impose their self-serving politics. That’s why so many people—even among those who, until recently, were anti-Trump—feel compelled to vote for him. Here is an example. “Bias has always been a factor in journalism,” writes Derek Hunter, a DC based writer, radio host and political strategist, and “it’s nearly impossible to remove. Humans have their thoughts, and keeping them out of your work is difficult. But 2016 saw the remaining veneer of credibility, thin as it was, stripped away and set on fire.” “More than anything,” he continues,

I can’t sit idly by and allow these perpetrators of fraud to celebrate and leak tears of joy like they did when they helped elect Barack Obama in 2008. I have to know I weighed in not only in writing but in the voting booth.
The media needs to be destroyed. And although voting for Trump won’t do it, it’s something. Essentially, I am voting for Trump because of the people who don’t want me to, and I believe I must register my disgust with Hillary Clinton. […]
The Wikileaks emails have exposed an arrogant cabal of misery profiteers who hold everyone, even their fellow travelers deemed not pure enough, in contempt. These bigots who’ve made their fortune from government service should be kept as far away from the levers of power as the car keys should be kept from anyone named Kennedy on a Friday night. My one vote against it will not be enough, but it’s all I can do and I have to do all I can do.

The Project Veritas videos, he notes, “exposed a corrupt political machine journalists would have been proud to expose in the past.” The Wikileaks emails “pulled back the curtain on why that didn’t happen —journalists are in on it. I can’t pretend otherwise, and I have no choice but to oppose it.”
This, however, isn’t a call to arms for Never Trumpers to follow suit, says Hunter, “this is my choice, what I must do. Each person has to come to this decision on their own terms.” Yet, he observes,

A simple protest vote for a third party or a write-in of my favorite comic book character might feel good for a moment. It might even give me a sense of moral superiority that lasts until her first executive order damaging something I hold dear—or her first Supreme Court nominee. But the sting that will follow will far outlive that temporary satisfaction.
I oppose much of what Donald Trump has said, but I oppose everything Hillary Clinton has done and wants to do. And what someone says, no matter how objectionable, is less important than what someone does, especially when it’s so objectionable. A personal moral victory won’t suffice when the stakes are so high. As such, I am compelled to vote against Hillary by voting for the only candidate with any chance whatsoever of beating her—Donald Trump.

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October 12, 2016

The Sacking of the West

‘Saint Augustine writing’; illumination from Augustine’s City of God, 1459
 Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève, Paris

Sometimes we’re tempted to despair, also—but not only—because of the cowardice and hypocrisy of those who should be supposed to fight for what they say they believe in. But we simply cannot give in to this temptation, because, as St. Augustine reminds us, the City of Man will fall and be rebuilt, but the City of God is unshakable.

In The City of God—the writing of which had as its immediate historical context the sacking of Rome by Alaric in 410—he writes that “Rome, which was founded and increased by the labors of these ancient heroes, was more shamefully ruined by their descendants while its walls were still standing, than it is now by the razing of them.”

Yes, Rome fell internally before it fell externally. It was ravaged by an interior cancer—an internal rot of the moral kind—which left it hollow and brittle.

As the Author of this excellent Crisis Magazine article puts it, 

As we look around at these uncertain times, and ask how it came to choosing between these two candidates, it might appear, that the world is falling to pieces. It is not. The West might be, just as Rome did, but the world is God’s and God will not forsake it.

If, like me, you are tempted to accept all as futile, let us remember the words of Augustine in his preface.

“But God is my helper. For I am aware what ability is requisite to persuade the proud how great is the virtue of humility.”

The City of God will prevail, and God is our helper.

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September 21, 2016

America the Beautiful

Great Smoky Mountains National Park - Tennessee 

To some degree, this is what could be defined as a blog-post on demand, in fact it originates from a request by a good friend of mine, who asked me about a decent Italian translation of “America the Beautiful,” the classic patriotic song that many Americans regard as a second national anthem. After a quick search on Google I realized that there is essentially nothing at all—except a few really awful automatically generated translations (or supposedly such). So I decided to translate it myself (look at the bottom of this post). But at the same time I thought that it would be great to seize the opportunity to get deeper into the subject. Which I enthusiastically did—by exploring the genealogy of “America the Beautiful,” its context, meaning and inner beauty—because I’ve always loved that song. So this post is the result of such an effort. And my humble tribute to such a magnificent example of poetic and musical talent, as well as, of course, of American patriotism.

In the beginning there was a poem.
Katharine Lee Bates
In the summer of 1893 a Massachusetts professor of English at Wellesley College, Katharine Lee Bates was giving a series of lectures on English literature at Colorado College, in Colorado Springs. The writing of “America the Beautiful” was the result of that trip. “One day,” she recalled in her diary, “some of the other teachers and I decided to go on a trip to 14,000-foot Pikes Peak. We hired a prairie wagon. Near the top we had to leave the wagon and go the rest of the way on mules. I was very tired. But when I saw the view, I felt great joy. All the wonder of America seemed displayed there.” It was “the most glorious scenery I ever beheld, and I had seen the Alps and the Pyrenees,” she wrote. “My memory of that supreme day of our Colorado sojourn is fairly distinct even across the stretch of 35 crowded years,” she wrote a year before her death in 1929. “We stood at last on that Gate-of-Heaven summit, hallowed by the worship of perished races, and gazed in wordless rapture over the far expanse.” “It was then and there,” she recalled, “as I was looking out over the sea-like expanse of fertile country spreading away so far under those ample skies, that the opening lines of the hymn floated into my mind”:

Oh beautiful for spacious skies
For amber waves of grain
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!

Yet, “America the Beautiful” is not just a nostalgic evocation of a pastoral landscape. It’s also a tribute to the faithful courage and tenacity of the Pilgrims, who first tamed the wilderness,

Oh beautiful for pilgrim feet
Whose stern, impassioned stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness!

and to the heroes who fought for freedom

O beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife.
Who more than self their country loved
And mercy more than life!

In a letter to friends, Bates also rebuked her fellow countrymen/women by observing that “countries such as England failed because, while they may have been great,” they had not been good. That's why, “unless we are willing to crown our greatness with goodness, and our bounty with brotherhood, our beloved America may go the same way”...

America! America!
May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness
And every gain divine!

The poem is also a hymn to the “dream” which is America herself, to the nation’s potential—including the gleaming modernity of its “alabaster cities” :

O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears!

“America the Beautiful” was published in three revised versions: the first on July 4, 1895, in a weekly church publication in Boston called The Congregationalist, the second on November 19, 1904, in the Boston Evening Transcript, and third and final one in her book America the Beautiful and Other Poems (1911).

The poem became quickly popular. “No one was more amazed than I at the way the hymn was taken up,” the poetess once explained. “When I found that you really wanted to sing it, I rewrote it in some respects to make it a bit more musical.” The poem was sung to many different tunes for years—many simply started singing the words in the tune of a folk song, such as “Auld Lang Syne”—until, finally, it followed the melody of Samuel Augustus Ward’s “Materna,” which became the standard melody still used today. So “America the beautiful” became the great patriotic anthem that we all know and love :

America! America!
God shed His grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

Over the years, the song has been recorded by such artists as Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, Elvis Presley and Willie Nelson.

Since the very beginning of it all, many citizens have lobbied Congress to make the song the national anthem of the United States of America. On July 4, 1993, an “America the Beautiful” plaque was installed on the top of Pike’s Peak to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the poem.

The plaque commemorating the 100th anniversary of "America the Beautiful"


O bella, per i cieli spaziosi
Per le onde ambrate di grano
Per la maestà di montagne color porpora
Sopra la pianura fruttuosa!
America! America!
Dio ha sparso la sua grazia su di te
E corona il tuo bene con la fratellanza
Da mare a mare splendente!

O bella per i piedi dei pellegrini
Il cui severo e appassionato sforzo
Ha tracciato una strada di libertà
Attraverso deserti e terre selvagge!
America! America!
Dio ripara ogni tuo difetto,
Rafforza la tua anima nell’autocontrollo
E la tua libertà nella legge!

O bella per gli eroi che hanno mostrato
Il proprio coraggio
Nella lotta per la libertà.
Che hanno amato il proprio Paese
Più di sé stessi
E la misericordia più della vita!
America! America!
Possa Dio raffinare il tuo oro
Fino a rendere nobile il successo
E divino ogni guadagno!

O bella per il sogno dei patrioti
Che vede al di là degli anni
Brillare le tue città di alabastro
Non offuscate da lacrime umane!
America! America!
Dio ha sparso la sua grazia su di te
E corona il tuo bene con la fratellanza
Da mare a mare splendente!


O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

O beautiful for pilgrim feet
Whose stern impassioned stress
A thoroughfare of freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America! America!
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!

O beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife.
Who more than self their country loved
And mercy more than life!
America! America!
May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness
And every gain divine!

O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

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September 17, 2016

Love Letter

Happy Birthday Princess,
We get old and get use to each other. We think alike.
We read each others minds. We know what the other wants without asking. Sometimes we irritate each other a little bit. Maybe sometimes take each other for granted.
But once in awhile, like today, I meditate on it and realize how lucky I am to share my life with the greatest woman I ever met. You still fascinate and inspire me.
You influence me for the better. You’re the object of my desire, the #1 Earthly reason for my existence. I love you very much.
Happy Birthday Princess.

~ Johnny Cash, Birthday letter to his wife, June Carter Cash, 1994

Country music legend Johnny Cash wrote the above quoted love letter in 1994, on June’s 65th birthday, while he was in Odense, Denmark. Voted the greatest love letter of all time by the readers of the Daily Mail in the U.K.—topping romantic missives from, among others, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill to his wife, poet John Keats to his next door neighbor, musician Jimi Hendrix to a mystery woman, and actor Richard Burton to Elizabeth Taylor—the letter proved once and for all that The Man in Black was not only a talented performer and songwriter but also a man of deep feelings and extraordinary sensitivity. The pair married in 1968 and remained together for more than 30 years. June died in May 2003. Johnny passed away just four months later. As many know, the sometimes tempestuous, but always profound and genuine love story between Johnny and his wife has been chronicled extensively in the movie Walk the Line—a pretty good one, not a masterpiece, though.

To conclude here is a video that illustrates—perhaps in the best possible way—what true love is all about. It is a bit sad, I know, or that's how it might seem at first glance, but this is part of the mystery which is Love itself.

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August 22, 2016


What are your favorite New Testament passages? One of mine is Luke 1:46-55 (The Magnificat). These verses are one of the Marian texts par excellence and one of the most notable prayers in all of Scripture. I’ve always loved them, but the more the time goes by the more I find myself in love with the meaning and even the sound—especially, I must say, in Italian, my mother tongue—of such wonderful and inspiring words. Here is the text in English and Italian.

The Visitation by Lorenzo Monaco (1409 ca)
The Courtauld Institute of Art - London

My soul doth magnify the Lord,
And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.
For he hath regarded
the low estate of his handmaiden:
for, behold, from henceforth
all generations shall call me blessed.
For he that is mighty hath done to me great things;
and holy is his name.
And his mercy is on them that fear him
from generation to generation.
He hath shewed strength with his arm;
he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He hath put down the mighty from their seats,
and exalted them of low degree.
He hath filled the hungry with good things;
and the rich he hath sent empty away.
He hath helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy;
As he spake to our fathers,
to Abraham, and to his seed for ever.

(King James Version)


L'anima mia magnifica il Signore
e il mio spirito esulta in Dio, mio salvatore,
perché ha guardato l'umiltà della sua serva.
D'ora in poi tutte le generazioni mi chiameranno beata.
Grandi cose ha fatto in me l'Onnipotente
e Santo è il suo nome:
di generazione in generazione la sua misericordia
si stende su quelli che lo temono.
Ha spiegato la potenza del suo braccio,
ha disperso i superbi nei pensieri del loro cuore;
ha rovesciato i potenti dai troni,
ha innalzato gli umili;
ha ricolmato di beni gli affamati,
ha rimandato a mani vuote i ricchi.
Ha soccorso Israele, suo servo,
ricordandosi della sua misericordia,
come aveva promesso ai nostri padri,
ad Abramo e alla sua discendenza, per sempre.

(Versione Ufficiale C.E.I.)

Johann Sebastian Bach's Magnificat, in turn, is one of the most magnificent works in the whole choral repertory—and one of my favorite music pieces ever!

Magnificat in D major, BWV 243
Netherlands Bach Society
Jos van Veldhoven, conductor:

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June 7, 2016

Western Identity

It is because of America, its success, its conflicts, and its symbolic importance in the world, that the question raised by Spengler is still with us: the question of Western identity. Take away America, its freedom, its optimism, its institutions, its Judeo-Christian beliefs, and its educational tradition, and little would remain of the West, besides the geriatric routines of a now toothless Europe.

~ Roger Scruton, Culture Counts: Faith and Feeling in a World Besieged.

Taking part in a radio debate and discussing how America has retreated as a world leader, English philosopher and writer Roger Scruton recently said, “It’s certain that President Obama will not be seen as a strong president.” Then, as a man with a foreigner’s perspective, he added, “What are we, the rest of the world, to do without American leadership?”

The above quoted excerpt from his preface to Culture Counts: Faith and Feeling in a World Besieged might be of some help in explaining his concerns about the future of the world.

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June 5, 2016

My Books & the Historic Athenaeum Fund of Ca' Foscari University of Venice

Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana, Venice. Sansovinian Hall
I am pleased to inform the readers—especially those living or visiting the Venice area—that starting from June 2016 my books have been catalogued and incorporated into the collections of the Fondo Storico di Ateneo (Historic Athenaeum Fund) of Ca’ Foscari University of Venice—which is part of the Italian National Library Service (SBN) promoted by the Italian Ministry for Cultural Heritage and locally managed by the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana. The books are available for consultation by scholars and students.

Here are the direct links to the books:

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May 17, 2016

Mr. Trump Goes to Washington

After Trump and the Rise of the Unprotected and Simple Patriotism Trumps Ideology, yet another must read by Peggy Noonan, the great speech writer for Ronald Reagan and now a columnist for The Wall Street Journal: Mr. Trump Goes to Washington. Here are a couple of excerpts:

But almost every conservative and Republican in Washington—in politics, think tanks and journalism—backed a candidate other than Mr. Trump. Every one of those candidates lost, and Mr. Trump won. After November, think tanks and journals will begin holding symposia in which smart people explain How We Lost The Base.
Mr. Trump’s victory was an endorsement of Mr. Trump but also a rebuke to professional Republicans in Washington. It was a rebuke to comprehensive immigration plans that somehow, mysteriously, are never quite intended to stop illegal immigration; a rebuke to the kind of thinking that goes, “I know, we’ll pass laws that leave Americans without work, which means they’ll be deprived of the financial and spiritual benefits of honest labor, then we’ll cut their entitlements, because if we don’t our country will go broke.” The voters backed Mr. Trump’s stands on these issues and more.
A political question for November: Does Mr. Trump pick up more Democrats than he loses Republicans? Is that how he plans to win? Does he draw in enough new or non-Republican voters to make up for the millions of Republican voters he will surely lose?
In an act of determined denial, Washington Republicans and conservatives continue to see and describe Mr. Trump’s nomination as the triumph of a celebrity in a culture that worships celebrity, the victory of a vulgarian in a vulgar age, the living excrescence of our shallow values and lowered standards. Also, he’s tapped into the public’s rage.
He is all of those things. But he is more, and Washington is determined to ignore the more. He understood, either intuitively or after study, that the Republican base was changing or open to change, and would expand if the party changed some policies. He declared those policies changed. And he won.
As to the matter of rage, it’s more like disrespect for those who’ve been calling the shots. If you know Trump people in real life as opposed to through social media, if they are your friends and family members, you understand that “rage” doesn’t do them justice. They dislike the Republican Party, which they believe has consistently betrayed them, but Trump people in person are just about the only cheerful people in politics this year. They actually have hope—the system needs a hard electric shock, he’s just the man to do it, and if it doesn’t work they’ll fire him.
Those who oppose Mr. Trump should do it seriously and with respect for his supporters. If he is not conservative, make your case and explain what conservatism is. No one at this point needs your snotty potshots or your supposedly withering one-liners. I confess I have lost patience with many of those declaring they cannot in good conscience support him, not because reasons of conscience are not crucial—they are, and if they apply they should be declared. But some making these declarations managed in good conscience, indeed with the highest degree of self-regard, to back the immigration proposals of George W. Bush that contributed so much to the crisis that produced Mr. Trump. They invented Sarah Palin. They managed to support the global attitudes and structures that left the working class jobless. They dreamed up the Iraq war.
Sometimes I think their consciences are really not so delicate.
As for the political consultants who insult Mr. Trump so vigorously, they are the ones who did most to invent him. What do they ever do in good conscience?

By the way, I'm currently reading—with great pleasure!—Peggy Noonan's new book, The Time of Our Lives (hence the picture at the top of this post). Needless to say, strongly recommended! Here is a great review by Dana Perino.

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May 12, 2016

Political Correctness As 'War By Other Means'

Angelo Codevilla in The Federalist (definitely a must read):

Led by Barack Obama’s Democrats, echoed by the media, backed by big corporations’ muscle, and trailed by Republicans with tail tucked between legs, our rulers demand no less than the paradigm of totalitarianism in George Orwell’s novel, “1984.”

Recall that Big Brother’s agent berated the hapless Winston for preferring his own views to society’s dictates, then finished breaking his spirit by holding up four fingers and demanding that Winston acknowledge seeing five. Our rulers, like Big Brother, hector us to accept their rewritten history and to superimpose their scales of value on ours. [...]

Our Progressive ruling class’s war on our scale of values climaxed in 2016 with a campaign in favor of “transgender rights”: a demand that Americans accept that someone with a penis can be a “woman” while another with a vagina can be a “man.” Object to that mandate to take leave of your senses, insist that sex-specific public bathrooms be used exclusively by persons with the requisite personal plumbing, and be expelled from polite society. Next to this, Big Brother’s demand to call four fingers five is small, mild stuff.

Read the rest.

Angelo M. Codevilla is a fellow of the Claremont Institute, Professor Emeritus of International Relations at Boston University and the author of To Make And Keep Peace: Among Ourselves and with All Nations, Hoover Institution Press, 2014 (click here for a review by David P. Goldman in The Federalist). He served in the US Navy, the US Foreign Service, and on the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
Also very interesting by Angelo M. Codevilla: "America’s Ruling Class — and the Perils of Revolution," published in The American Spectator in 2010. Codevilla enlarged this article into a small book, The Ruling Class: How They Corrupted America and What We Can Do About It.

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The Silent Life

Not all men are called to be hermits, but all men need enough silence and solitude in their lives to enable the deep inner voice of their own true self to be heard at least occasionally. When that inner voice is not heard, when man cannot attain to the spiritual peace that comes from being perfectly at one with his own true self, his life is always miserable and exhausting.

~ Thomas Merton, The Silent Life.

Thomas Merton, or Father Louis by his monastic name, knew that only the true contemplative experience teaches the discipline of silence, which needs to exclude any noises and unnecessary chats, because they would profane those spaces of silence. But all true wise men—as a Camaldolese monk, Father Franco, once told me—speak few words and their words are often “silence” at the same time. Their words spring from a deep meditation. True silence keeps us away from narrow mindness. The word is a great thing, but it is not what is greatest: if word is silver, as the old proverb goes, silence is gold. Hi who aims at the higher levels of spiritual life needs silence as much as he needs his daily bread and rest for his body.

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April 4, 2016

The Best Laws Cannot Make a Constitution Work in Spite of Morals

The best laws cannot make a constitution work in spite of morals; morals can turn the worst laws to advantage. That is a commonplace truth, but one to which my studies are always bringing me back. It is the central point in my conception. I see it at the end of all my reflections.

~ Alexis de Tocqueville, De la supériorité des mœurs sur les lois.

The above is not only a truth. It is a truth we should take to heart—especially in this day and age when we tend to put more emphasis and value on other factors, such as social and economic ones—and a truth we should never forget.

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March 1, 2016

Why We Continue Looking at the Sky

How does a person feel when looking at the sky? He thinks that he doesn’t have enough tongues to describe what he sees. Nevertheless, people have never stopped describing the sky, simply listing what they see... We have a limit, a very discouraging, humiliating limit: death. That’s why we like all the things that we assume have no limits and, therefore, no end. It’s a way of escaping thoughts about death. We like lists because we don’t want to die.

~ Umberto Eco, Interview with Der Spiegel, 2009.

Umberto Eco died a few days ago, but he lives on in his books, articles, essays and interviews. He has left a huge legacy that will surely benefit generations to come. Sit tibi terra levis, professor Eco.

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February 26, 2016

Yes, Donald Trump Is America's Silvio Berlusconi

It has happened. What was thought to be impossible has now come to reality. After Donald Trump’s third-in-a-row victory in the Nevada caucuses Tuesday, the confident predictions about his candidacy over the past eight months “have been disproven again and again—starting with the judgment that he wouldn’t run, that his outrageous statements would undermine his appeal, that voters would show up for the entertainment value of his rallies but not cast a ballot for him when it mattered,” says USA today. Now the question is no longer can Trump win— it’s can he be stopped?

For us who have lived in Italy in the last 20 years it would be hard not to compare the Donald to the man who ruled Italy for a total of nine years between 1994 and 2011, Silvio Berlusconi, whose political career was—like Trump’s—rooted in both popular entertainment culture and real estate. “The similarities between Donald Trump and Silvio Berlusconi are striking,” writes Italian columnist and essayist Beppe Severgnini in the New York Times: “Both are loud, vain, cheeky businessmen, amateur politicians and professional womanizers. Both have a troubled relation with their egos and their hair. Both think God is their publicist, and twist religion to suit their own ends.” But the above description is (intentionally) more evocative than accurate. Therefore, let’s try to summarize the similarities between the two in more systematic way :

  1. Like Berlusconi, who presented himself as Italy’s strongman, a political outsider who entered politics out of patriotism to save Italy from the Left, promising to restore the country to its lost international stature, and big things such as “less taxes for everyone,” “a million new jobs,” etc., Trump presents himself as the living antidote to decline, the GOP’s savior who promises “to make America greater than ever before” and to become the “best jobs president God ever created.”
  2. Berlusconi speaks more like an entertainer than a politician, and his clowning sense of humor is legendary. Trump, in turn, has built a political campaign employing unvarnished language and jaundiced humor. About half of Italians think Berlusconi “just speaks his mind” (and they don’t care if foreigners are puzzled, or worse). Similarly, many Americans think Trump is straightforward and brutally honest in all of his dealings, and that “that’s what we need in the leader of our country.”
  3. Like Berlusconi, Trump is running on his claim of being a rich, successful businessman: “I don’t need anyone else’s money, I’m really rich,” he said. “I have total net worth of $8.73bn. I’m not doing that to brag. I’m doing that to show that’s the kind of thinking our country needs.”
  4. Like Berlusconi, Italy’s biggest TV tycoon, Trump “has leveraged his wealth, celebrity, and manipulation of the media […] into political prominence,” as Robert Tracinskiy—one of their many detractors—writes in The Federalist.
  5. Like Berlusconi, Trump “makes his own life, personality, and outrageous statements the center of a national political circus act” (ibidem)
  6. Berlusconi’s political success largely benefited from the backwardness of the Italian Left—let’s not forget that the Democratic Party is made up mostly of former Communists, whose totalitarian tendencies are well known and, so to speak, encoded in its DNA—just as Trump might benefit from the Democrats’ march toward socialism.
  7. Both Berlusconi and Trump exploited voters’ rage at a discredited political establishment. In Italy, it was their own poor reputations in voters’ eyes that prevented established politicians, viewed as inept, corrupt, boring and uninterested in the concerns of ordinary Italians, from fending off Berlusconi’s challenge, as Rula Jebreal—a Palestinian foreign policy analyst and journalist with dual Israeli and Italian citizenship—puts it. Similarly, Trump has managed to tap into real anger and disillusionment with the American political class and a gridlocked political system, viewed as incapable of taking action to relieve the plight of middle class Americans, much less help the poor.
  8. Another similarity between Trump and Berlusconi, as Severgnini fairly notes, is that “they both bring to politics a flair for seduction that served them well in their previous careers in construction, television and entertainment (and elsewhere, or so it’s said). They know their message ought to be reassuring and easily digestible. Both are convinced that, in an era obsessed with appearances, image is key.”
  9. Furthermore, Trump’s recent sexist attacks on female candidates and journalists—such as opponent Carly Fiorina and Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly—remind us of when Berlusconi dismissed opponents as “too ugly to be taken seriously,” or when he referred to the German Chancellor Angela Merkel using two derogatory terms in a telephone conversation with a newspaper editor.
  10. Last but not least, both of them are hardcore narcissists...

So far, however, those who have written about how much Trump and Berlusconi are similar have focused mostly on the negative aspects of their respective personalities and behaviors. Therefore their main contribution to the discussion was to warn public opinion about the absolute necessity of stopping the “populist insurrection” of Donald Trump. A bit too simplistic and one-sided, in my view. They don’t take into account (at least) two important considerations.

First, not everything Berlusconi did was bad. He did good things as well, and sometimes very good things such as his “epoch-making” operation—though somehow incomplete—of legitimizing the Right within the Italian political system. As Italian historian and columnist Ernesto Galli della Loggia put it, Berlusconi “has re-established the Right electorally and in government, but has failed to restore its social or cultural legitimacy. He has failed in the only way this is ever accomplished, by creating and establishing at grass roots a real party, organized and structured as such, a vehicle for demands, a hub for relations with various circles and people, a formulator of proposals and a collector of ideas.”

Second, unlike what many seem to think, not everything Trump does and says is wrong, vulgar, clownesque, etc. “Trumpism,” as Charles Murray puts it in this WSJ Saturday essay, “is an expression of the legitimate anger that many Americans feel about the course that the country has taken, and its appearance was predictable. It is the endgame of a process that has been going on for a half-century: America’s divestment of its historic national identity.” Believe me, this is not a partisan point of view but an intellectually honest overview of America and its society: definitely a must read for everyone to understand what is at stake in the next few months.

What I do agree with some critics of the “magical duo” is their warning that to dismiss Donald Trump as a joke, as many Italians did with Silvio Berlusconi early on, and many Americans continue to do with the New York tycoon, would be a terrible mistake in any case. On the other hand, apart from being unjust per se, obsessing over him would be yet another big mistake. By the way, from his own point of view Severgnini is perfectly right: “to obsess over him is exactly what the man wants. ‘You see?’ he can say. ‘They all gang up on me, those establishment types!’” Besides, this would be yet another similarity with the Berlusconi case.

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February 23, 2016


Books are not made to be believed, but to be subjected to inquiry. When we consider a book, we mustn’t ask ourselves what it says but what it means.

~ Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose, 1980 (English translation by William Weaver, 1982).

When Umberto Eco wrote The Name of the Rose (it was released in Italy in 1980, followed by French and English editions two years later) he could never have imagined what a cultural phenomenon he'd created. No one who loves and cares about books and their fate in the present world should miss reading, re-reading and reflecting upon this great novel. The Name of the Rose is a book that speaks of other books, a book whose main focus are the books themselves...

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