filosofo del '900
in " Nuova Antologia", Ottobre- Dicembre 2003, pp. 235-256 - 2003
The Modern Liberalism of Nicola Abbagnano
I met Nicola Abbagnano in 1974 at the first assembly of the Societ dei Redattori of "Il Giornale" to which we both belonged: he, a great intellectual and certainly the most important Italian contemporary philosopher, and I, a journalist, with a good professional curriculum. We had been called to work on this newspaper by its editor, Indro Montanelli, who was assisted in the editorship by Enzo Bettiza, Gianni Granzotto, Cesare Zappulli and Gian Galeazzo Biazzi Vergani. "Il Giornale" was born after a separation from the "Corriere della Sera", edited at that time by Piero Ottone, the publisher, while the owners were Giulia Maria Crespi, Mariolino Crespi and Tonino Leonardi. Actually it was the "Czarina", Giulia Maria's nickname, who took the initiative in the management. In a certain sense the victims of the Czarina's leadership were Giovanni Spadolini, obliged to leave the management in 1972 (Piero Ottone took over from him) and then Indro Montanelli, who felt ill at ease at his old "Corriere" in those years of students' protests and popular riots, whith the serious episodes of violence that were the warning signs of the future terrorism. Other contributors of the "Corriere" were also ill at ease and many of them followed Indro when he founded "Il Giornale". It's enough to mention two names that belonged to the history of "Corriere": Egisto Corradi and Mario Cervi. A group of intellectuals sided with Montanelli and made of "Il Giornale" a kind of "fortress Bastiani" of culture and non-conformism. Among the best known names were those of Nicola Abbagnano, Guido Piovene, Rosario Romeo, Sergio Ricossa, Carlo Ludovico Ragghianti, Nicola Matteucci, Vittorio Mathieu, Geno Pampaloni, Carlo Laurenzi and Vittorio Dan Segre, who were a good part of the Italian intelligentsia which, with that choice, declared their rejection of the communism of those restless years, as Enzo Bettiza later pointed out in his Ombre Rosse . Many intellectuals were worrying about what was happening in Italy. An indication was the decision of Giovanni Sartori, the most famous Italian political writer, to leave the "Cesare Alfieri" in Florence and move to Stanford University in California. I happened to meet him there, while he was still settling in is new house in the hills around San Francisco. Abbagnano was certainly the best known contributor to Montanelli's "Giornale", who when he joined the group of those who had left the "Corriere", met the hostility of many intellectuals, colleagues and friends, who were "organic" left-wingers. Without any rethoric according to his style, Abbagnano justified his decision with the comment: "I wouldn't miss the adventure of freedom together with Montanelli. We were immediately on very good terms. Even when I hadn't yet met him, his thought had fascinated me for years. He lived and taught in Turin. I lived both in Rome and Milan and travelled all over the world as a correspondent for the "Corriere". His Storia della filosofia had been part of my cultural formation. When Montanelli encouraged me to engage myself politically in the LiberaI Party, along with Bettiza and Zappulli, I often looked at Abbagnano as my ideal reference point. (It's necessary to get involved in the political struggle - Indro said to us - to defend our ideas. This is not a time for a neutral and indifferent journalism. It may be cowardly to stand looking on). Abbagnano's articles in the "Giornale" encouraged me always to support political non-conformist theses, even inside the Liberal Party. With some liberal friends I founded the Associazione per il Rinnovamento Democratico e Liberale. In March 1985 I opened a seminar of studies for young people in Spoleto. The result of it was a "Manifesto Liberale signed first of all, by Abbagnano. A while before that, I had taken two young men to his house in Milan, to meet him. These young men contributed to the review "Il Nuovo" which edited. The interview was quite Good and was published under the title "Marx morto, le libert sono vive" (Marx is dead, freedoms are alive). Of that meeting I recall a witty remark, expressing all the simplicity of Abbagnano' s personality. The question was: "What message would you give to a youngster beginning to face life?". He answered: "To tell always the truth, both in his personal and his social life - without any illusions, but with a sincere attitude of inquiry". In this response there lies the philosopher as the seeker of truth which he had always been - the scholar who posed neither as a prophet nor as an ideologue. He said: "Man does not need a doctrinaire creed, but he needs rules of behavior". Abbagnano's life, thought and entire critical research are marked by absolute originality without any attribute or banality, and by a constant commitment to the search of truth, through the rigor of his studies. "I've always lived with coherence and this is enough to me "as he told me during a conversation. His "curriculum vitae" proves it. He eschewed fashions and hegemonies. Another characteristic statement of his is: "A philosopher is not a man who teaches truth, as Hegel claimed. A true philosopher is like that of ancient Greece, that of Plato's dialogues, a man who puts questions to himself then and then tries to answer the great whys of life". I must confess that, for a moment, I felt uneasy when in the 80's (1984) I suggested to him the possibility of his political engagement as the leader of the Liberal Party in Milan. It was something I strongly desired but, at the same time, thought I was invading his privacy and was embarrassed about it. I spoke about it to Montanelli, who helped me in this delicate mission of persuading Abbagnano whose positive decision filled me with joy. The relationship with Abbagnano meant the impossibility of renouncing the osmosis of the cultural moment with the political moment, the unavoidable need to fill political action with cultural contents and meanings. My liberal friends and I were proud of this link with a philosopher who upheld high ideals of freedom. Personally, I've always thought this the most correct way to understand and to put into practice the relationship between politics and culture. It surely isn't liberal to use culture merely for political purposes, and even less for partisan ones. Gramsci's concept of an "organic intellectual", that is, of an intellectual who acts with the purpose of a political perspective, is clearly in contrast with the concept of the freedom of culture, which characterises liberal thought. It's culture that contains the fundamental values of any society, hence every institutional, economic and particular choice must depend upon it. I wish to express here a remark concerning the Italian history of the second half of last century. There was a certain lack of attention on the part of democratic parties about the relation between politics and culture. This lack of attention favored the Marxist plan to hegemonize the intellectual world to the point of presenting the extreme left as the only guarantor and guarantee of cultural values. Abbagnano's political choice also meant a revolt of liberal culture that my liberal friends and I were living in those years. These are the reasons why I was induced to write this essay on Abbagnano and his philosophy. I owe him a great moral tribute. In the following pages I will try to reconstruct his intellectual itinerary and to approach his thought with the discretion, the respect and the modesty of the non professional philosophical writer. I'm a journalist, not a student of gnoseology. But I am a man who wants to understand in order to be able, in his turn, to explain and to make himself understood, a task which I consider one of the noblest of journalism. My search is, first of all, the homage to a great liberal thinker of the 20th century who generously honoured me with his friendship and consideration in the last years of his life. That relationship with him is one of the most rewarding and beautiful moments of my intellectual and political adventure Nicola Abbagnano was born in Salerno on July 15, 1901. In an interview which appeared in "Gente" in 1982, signed by Giuseppe Grieco, he said: "All my relatives were doctors, merchants, lawyers and engineers. What they had in common was a humanistic literary culture that had determined their style of life. This culture fostered in them sentiments that were generally liberal. My paternal grandfather, after whom I was called Nicola, after the rising of 1821, was obliged to hide in the mountains of Cilento to escape the Bourbonic soldiers that were chasing him". His father Ulisse, a civil lawyer, was a follower of Giovanni Amendola, also from Salerno, as is well known. For some years, from 1914 to 1920, Ulisse was the Town Councillor of Salerno which has a street named after him. He authored two essays: Diritto civile - Il patto di riscatto rispetto ai terzi and Appunti giuridici . In that interview in "Gente" he speaks of his mother, Amelia Bernab�, with these words: "Her domain was her family. She had studied in a boarding-school of French nuns and considered culture a kind of ornament that allowed her to be a better a wife and mother". He attended the Liceo Classico, Torquato Tasso, in Salerno. When he was seventeen, he registered at the University of Naples in the Faculty of Letters and Philosophy, where he studied with Professor Antonio Aliotta, the only voice, at that time in opposition to Benedetto Croce's egemony. When the first world war had ended, Abbagnano's intellectual history began in an academic world dominated by two main philosophical trends: the neohegelianism of Croce and Spaventa and the emergent evolutionism of the American William James, and of the Frenchman Henri Bergson. Besides those of Aliotta, he attended the lectures of Amelio Covotti, Filippo Masci and Guido Della Valle, who were well-known professors of Naples University. They had strong influence on him, but didn't condition his intellectual development. Young Abbagnano was a very independent spirit. He studied the philosophers Husserl, Kierkegaard, Heidegger. Encouraged by Aliotta, he discovered Anglo-Saxon pessimistic idealism and American instrumentalism. As a result he published in 1927 Il nuovo idealismo inglese e americano . In the aforementioned interview in "Gente" he recalls that at the University he decided to take two courses in Greek, that were elective so as "not to lose the direct connection with the great ancient philosophers, above all, Plato". In his search he would go to the historical origins of philosophy, studying Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. Pursuing his inquiries, he used Kant as a reference point and studied modern philosophers such as Montaigne, Perry, Spaulding, Santayana. The Neapolitan period, from 1918 to 1936, meant study and research for Abbagnano, as he told Marcello Staglieno, who in 1990, edited the very fine memoir Ricordi di un filosofo . Abbagnano said therein: "I spent every free moment in writing or reading, often till daybreak". Silvio Paolini Merlo, a young scholar of the Neapolitan University, Federico II, wrote Abbagnano a Napoli ., an essay about the philosopher's Neapolitan period from 1918 to 1936. In this essay he analyses rigorously the early formation of the philosopher's thought. Abbagnano graduated in 1922 and his thesis, challenging even his mentor Aliotta, is his first work, published in 1923 with the title Le sorgenti irrazionali del pensiero , with an introduction by Aliotta himself, who, even before the degree, had so well understood the intellectual capacity of his student, as to invite him to contribute to the famous international journal, "Logos", to whick Husserl had also contributed. In Le sorgenti there is already the core of Abbagnano's thought. Giuseppe Semerari points out that, in this work, the young philosopher already poses for himself the problem of "freeing the philosophical work from any neutrality or purported objectivity so as to find interest in the drama of existence". In Abbagnano a Napoli, Silvio Paolini Merlo writes: "There is no doubt that Le sorgenti is an early important challenge to Italian neo-idealism, and yet it is more than that. Excepting a very brief and rather occasional citation to the "Logica", Abbagnano hardly gives even a page to Croce's thought when he dwells at length on art [....], then we don't find references to Croce, but instead long, analyses on Kant [....]. The objections he made to Aliotta's radical experimentalism and to Bergson's intuitions are particularly instructive in order to clarify the logical and aesthetic symbolism of his early works. About Abbagnano's ideas Aliotta said: "His argument is somewhat different from mine but this independence of thought does credit both to him and to me. I do not like to breed parrots". In Le Sorgenti there are already the bases of his philosophy of existence. He always puts the relationship between thought and life at the center of his philosophical reflections. Even before using the term "existentialism" in his writings, he examined existence, events, individuals. Later he would say: "I've always been in search of a philosophy that should consider our finitude, within which man is born, loves, is happy or unhappy, fights and dies, yet I've never accepted nihilism or relativism". From the beginning his philosophy was an independent spiritual activity, aiming at interpreting and defining the modes of human knowledge and actions within the context of historical becoming. I reply to a question, he once said: "For me philosophy is the methodology of existence, that is, a global reflection on life and on the ways or the techniques to give it a direction". Both modernity and innovation figure in Abbagnano's thought. He was one of the first to establish a relationship between philosophy and science, contrary to the preferences of the of idealists. This is why he was isolated in the 30's. Carlo Augusto Viano remarks that, when still young, Abbagnano wanted "to elaborate" an updated interpretation of science, in order to allow philosophy to establish good relations whit it". It's a very modern interpretation of science. And it was modern also in the 30'. If philosophy is the search for wisdom, and no one was more a seeker after wisdom than Abbagnano, then there is no doubt that human wisdom means knowing how to use man's knowledge. He considered this relationship with science so important as to dedicate, in 1929, an essay to Emile Meyerson, the French philosopher of Polish origin, who studied the foundations of science: La filosofia di Emile Meyerson e la logica dell'identit� , which was already his fourth book after Le sorgenti (1923), Il problema dell'arte (1926), Il nuovo idealismo inglese e americano (1927). With this kind of research he started a new dynamics for Italian philosophic thought, that was not then too critical of the Idealist hegemony. In those years there were few thinkers and the centres of research which escaped the idealist culture and which were open to other European and to American thought. We could mention Annibale Pastore and Carlo Mazzantini in Turin, Piero Martinetti, Antonio Banfi in Milan, and Antonio Aliotta in Naples. After his graduation he taught history and philosophy at Liceo Tasso in Salerno, at Spedalieri in Catania, at Umberto I in Naples, then at the woman's college Suor Orsola Benincasa, in Naples. He remembers that in this last private institute, of great prestige, "The school year was opened with a ceremony almost always in the presence of Princess Maria Jos, often accompanied by Prince Umberto. On that day the professors had to wear formal clothes and be impeccable". The principal of Suor Orsola Benincasa was Princess Adelaide Strongoli Pignatelli, former lady-in-waiting to Queen Margherita and who, due to a disability, used a wheel-chair and "always dressed in black, her hair in a chignon on top of her head. She had an elevated sense of propriety". The philosopher goes on with his story: "In that old convent that had belonged to nuns, the princess rightly demanded the professors to wear shirt-collars, ties, and dark grey suits from London. She did not allow the least familiarity between the professors and the students, who hid their beauty under austere and baggy uniforms [...]. When I was called and introduced myself to her, she looked at me approvingly through her tiny pair of round spectacles. She was as keen on Latin as I was on Greek [...]. We always got along". Young Abbagnano was aiming at obtaining a University chair. To strengthen his curriculum he published in 1926 Il problema dell'arte ; he declared to Staglieno: "It's a book I hold dear". It helped him in the competition for a University chair in 1927. "I come in second, but was not called, although there was a free chair in Genoa". When he was 23, he married Rosa del Re, a University mate, the daughter of the mathematics teacher, Alfonso. They had two children. "It was not a happy marriage", he says: " It was nobody's fault [...] Our relationship did not stand the test of time. It was already finished before her death". It was during the years he spent in Naples that he discovered Kierkegaard. "I can feel again the surprise and the joy of the discovery while, not knowing Danish. I could follow in German translation his youthful development as an unlucky lover hovering around the skirts of Regina Olsen in Either/Or. This led him to more ethical meditations to Fear and Trembling. Kierkegaard, the forerunner of existentialism, was opposed to Hegel's panlogism, asserting that an individual existence cannot be reduced to the harmony of rationalistic systems. Abbagnano then studied Martin Heidegger and Karl Jaspers. "In 1928 it took me months, with the help of dictionaries, to read Sein und Zeit (Being and Time) by Heidegger, an original but difficult master, who was among the greatest thinkers of the century". Heidegger who was an assistant to Husserl detached himself after publications of Sein und Zeit, the fundamental text of existentialism. He was also interested in the other German philosopher Jaspers, who had influenced Heidegger. Abbagnano found in Jaspers some of the principles he had expressed in Le Sorgenti. He says: "Jaspers was more attached to Kierkegaard, and there was in him a strong ethical sense, that kept him far from Nazism. Heidegger, however, had accepted it, though for a short time. This sense allowed Jaspers to defend with courage his country in the famous essay, Die Schuldfrag ( The Question of German Guilt, 1946). Abbagnano, in the Ricordi, acknowledges Croce, though he always kept a distance from him. "I happen to think that Croce himself - who had been a non-conformist in 1915, when he defended both Italian neutralism and the Kultur of Kaiser Wilhelm's Reich - wrote noble words for an exhausted country in the years just after the war. But, apart from this, how blind he was in the 20's when from his Neapolitan kinghdom, his neo-idealism did not admit the least heterodoxy. In the name of abstraction, he even denied science". Referring to science, Abbagnano admits that he had had a fascination with it since he was a boy. He had read Plato's Protagoras, where Socrates joins in the discussion affirming the importance of science. He says: "Yes, Socrates had helped me to understand how important science was". His philosophy aimed at "humanizing technology" despite the fact that some existentialists, Heidegger for instance, who aimed at disqualifying and almost demonizing it. He asserted: "Technology established a link of real solidarity among workers [...]". More recently he would say: "Today the dangers arising from science and technology (from the atomic bomb to human mechanization) can't be opposed with sermons, prophecies and myths, but only by finding out and testing other technologies, those of human beings living together, which the Ancients called wisdom and whose investigation has always been the task of philosophy". Such is the evidence of Abbagnano's modernity. Gianni Vattimo, a left wing philosopher, who certainly was not a follower of Abbagnano, acknowledges in an article which appeared in "La Stampa" of Turin on Sept 30 2001, that Abbagnano, with his new enlightenment, "prepared us for modernity". Guglielmo d'Ockham, published in 1931 by Carabba, the publisher from Lanciano, is a work of great historical importance. Abbagnano worked on it for five years, four for research and one to write it during a stay at Naples. At one of our meetings in Milan, he said to me: "Friar Ockham, an English theologian of the XIV century, has been the first great figure of the modern age". He upheld the separation of the church from the political power and maintained that, while general notions have a solely logical value, only individual beings are real. This was another encouragement for the young philosopher who was maturing in Naples. He knew French, English and German. This allowed him to read and consult directly philosophical texts that had not yet been translated. He read Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Weber, Bergson, Blondel, Royce, Peirce, Sterling and Wallace. He published essays on the last two and on Taylor and Mac Taggart as well. Finally in 1935 he won the competition for a chair and chose the chair of History and Philosophy at the Magistero of Turin, where he taught for three years, from 1936 to 1939, and then went to the Faculty of Letters. We should note that in 1933-34 he had been the first in a list of three candidates, but the competition was nullified by the Minister of Education, De Vecchi di Val Cismon, "perhaps to please some follower. of Giovanni Gentile" according to Abbagnano. He said: "In Turin, an austere city for Giansenio's influence, I was quite happy [...]. I liked also the world of studies that was much more lively and cosmopolitan". In the town of Gobetti, he made friends with the painter Felice Casorati and with Cesare Pavese he used to meet the latter in the seat of the publishing house, Einaudi, where he received "the confidences on his torments". Abbagnano had Fernanda Pivano as a student and an assistant. Pavese was in love with Fernanda, but she was the object of pettiness for her familiarity with her teacher. In a recent interview ("Repubblica" Sept. 21, 2003) the famous Americanist recalled the period when she worked with him. She said: "I knew Nicola Abbagnano. You know, I was very pretty and he liked pretty girls". The interviewer, Antonio Gnoli, asked: "Did he court you?" "He courted all pretty girls, but being courted by a gentleman wasn't a problem for me. What fascinated me was the way he discussed existentialism [...]. I remember that he described Sartre as a dancer of philosophy and often said to me: 'Read Jaspers, you will find in him the truth you are looking for'. In my opinion, Abbagnano's charm was the fact that his existentialism gave you hope". Pivano in a meeting in Turin about the end of last century, declared that working with Abbagnano vas very important for her, adding that he made her work "like a madewoman" (come una pazza). Among many others, Umberto Eco and Franco Tat� attended his lessons, as we were reminded at a meeting in Turin in 2001, for the anniversary of his birth. Ludovico Geymonat, Norberto Bobbio, Aldo Visalberghi, Gianni Vattimo, to mention only the best known names, were his friends and admirers, but many other academicians and intellectuals also admired him. The cultural climate of Turin was quite different from that of Naples. At the University of Turin, philosophy wasn't conditioned by the Idealist hegemony. When Abbagnano arrived in Turin, he was 36 years old. He lived as a bachelor. He rented an apartment in Amedeo Peyron street. The painter Casorati, whose portrait of Gobetti is famous, often invited him to his house, where, among others, there were the writers Cesare Pavese and Francesco Pastonchi and "beautiful women" too, as he told Staglieno. He was kind, handsome, refined and elegant. A friend from Turin said to me: "He had and Anglo-saxon look. He enjoyed living through the events of his time". His way of being a philosopher was fascinating. Umberto Eco said that, when he matriculated in Turin, they told him that the existentialist, Abbagnano, "met his students on Saturdays and they danced the fox-trot to the "Branderburg Concertos". Really! His refinement nourished metropolitan legends! In those early years after World War II, existentialism made people think, not only of Sartre, also of Juliette Greco in the caves of Saint-Germain-des-Pres and of her fans in black vests. Abbagnano was the opposite; a gentleman "with an almost calvinistic look" as he said of himself. His philosophy, moreover, was austere, composed of moderation, self-control, and to the reason. His life as a bachelor in Turin lasted till 1946, when he married the American, Marian Taylor, "a pretty and intelligent woman" ha had met in the house of some friends at Bellagio on the Lake of Como. Mrs.Taylor, who had already been married and divorced, had founded a small publishing house, that published many books of Abbagnano's current philosophy. She died in 1970. In 1939 Abbagnano published with Paravia, La struttura dell'esistenza, a work considered to be the manifesto of positive existentialism, and that, according to his own words, was "the result of fifteen years of meditation and study". It was certainly the work that made Abbagnano one of the great interpreters of the crisis of Italian neo-idealism. As Norberto Bobbio said: "The 30s were the decisive years for the crisis of idealism and the birth of new tributaries that would later feed into the main currents after the war". Abbagnano's book was the evidence of this. In 1956 Bobbio said what the follows about La struttura dell'esistenza: "It was certainly the most upsetting among the works of the rupture. It was not like any of the philosophical works that had been written in those years. Its form was concise, straightforward and without the usual oratorical display and the usual dialectical virtuosities. It was not an easy book, but it was possible to understand it because it was written with rigor and was guided and sustained by a rare intellectual discipline". Bobbio adds: "It was a surprise, perhaps the greatest surprise of those years. I remember very well that, to me and to many others, it appeared as a meteorite from the sky. Though people had spoken for some years about existentialism, no one was prepared for an Italian existentialist philosopher, still less to find an Italian version of existentialism that was complete and finished". The word "existentialism" entered the European dictionary after the publication of Heidegger's Sein und Zeit (1927). Abbagnano's philosophy was already known to be opposed to Hegelianism. Hence he was an existentialist in a positive sense, as he himself will say, he was such "naturaliter". In the Ricordi he explains what he means by "existentialism"."From the beginning of my studies, I had been looking for a "total" (but not totalizing philosophy, that could meet all the needs and the concerns of contemporary men, satisfying the demands both of the individual and of the community - of individual freedom in the context of a society organized in a modern way and even more characterized by scientific discovery, always respecting therefore, the cultural pluralism of the so-called Western civilization, in its varied but definite unity". He goes on to say: "I have always looked toward a philosophy that would take into account human finitude, without falling into nihilism or relativism". These two passages well describe Abbagnano's philosophical thought. There is no need to add more to interpret it, but it is fair to say that those who endeavour to reconstitute the intellectual events of a great philosopher, may try to understand more completely his ideas and convictions. The article "Existentialism" in his monumental Dizionario di filosofia says: "Existentialism is opposed to any positivistic or idealistic form of the Romanticism of the XIX century which affirms that man is conditioned by an infinite force (Humanity, Reason, the Absolute, or Spirit, etc.) of which he is only a manifestation. Existentialism affirms that man is "thrown into the world" - that he is abandoned to its conditions which can make his efforts useless and impossible". Abbagnano dwells upon the romanticism-existentialism antithesis in order to take up the positions of Kierkegaard, Heidegger, Jaspers and Sartre in a magisterial way. His opinion about Sartre's existentialism is decisively negative. Sartre's philosophy is expressed fundamentally in his book tre et nant (Being and Nothingness) which attempts to develop an "atheistic existentialism". Sartre defines man as "the being that prospects to be God". But, notes Abbagnano, "it is a failed God, hence Sartre's project is in any case a stalemate". He concludes harshly that in Sartre's doctrine there are "endless possibilities that destroy one another in a futile a, d vain game that results in nausea". Herein lies Sartre's existentialism as a "negative philosophy" or "philosophy of anguish". Abbagnano says that it is due to this that the term "existentialism" in employed to describe not only some literary and artistic trends, but even customs, attitude and fashion of dress. Indeed French existentialism was a fashion, and a short-lived phenomenon. Abbagnano was not touched by it, even if, as he noted, there were in Italy "some apes of Sartre". He did not approve of Sartre, either for the merit of his thought or for his language which he considered unacceptable. Abbagnano's existentialist philosophy is much more serious. "It is a the quest for being and the quest to remain in being. Does man in his finitude try to find a satisfaction, a completion, a stability he does not possess? In that finitude man searches for being and its meaning". Abbagnano comes to these affirmation after profound and vast inquiries. He mentions Karl Popper to stress his own commitment to speculation whose "search is endless". He finds support in the thinkers of the past (e.g. Socrates, Augustine and Pascal) and in writers (Dostoewsky and Kafka) whose sensibilities are close to his own. The references to Dostoiewsky and Kafka are interesting. He says": "In the magnificent pages of the Brothers Karamazov, man freely chooses among the possibilities of his own life, and accomplishes them with full responsibility". Kafka too is close to him: "I became aware of it while lowering myself into Kafkas's hallucinatory torments, of the recurrent themes of the insecurity of life (The Trial; The Castle) and of the insignificance of every day life (The Metamorphoses) that nullifies every human characteristic. We find in his penetrating, speculative reflections reference to "the confusion that followed the World War I (when he offered these reflections in 1939, there were already the warning signs of the World War II) and the disappointment about the ideals and the cultural currents of the 19th century". In examining the elements and the consequences of this historic-cultural climate, he does not fail to stress his liberal posture. He said to Staglieno: "From my point of view, I would have above all emphasized in Introduzione all'esistenzialismo (1942) and Esistenzialismo positivo (1948) that individual freedom was fundamental, together with the awareness that man - just because he is conscious of his finitude - can escape from nihilism and relativism with the aid of experience and reason". Abbagnano was already truly and deeply liberal. The person that drew his admiration was Giovanni Amendola. Abbagnano says: "He was the true antagonist, he and not Gramsci, he and not Croce, of the national-maximalism, or social-fascism of Mussolini. As we have already said, he did not think much of Croce as a philosopher. Croce, on his part ignored the young Abbagnano. It seems that Croce had read some of his essays, but as Abbagnano says, as it was Croce's habit, he had given them over to the bland criticism of some of his followers ( e.g. Fausto Niccolini in "Crititica"). But he held in higher consideration, Giovanni Gentile, whose actualism he appreciated , though with strong reservations. Gentile's actualism bases the absolute principle of reality in the mind, understood as a pure act, that is, an act of thinking thought. He was always convinced that Croce's historicism was similar to Gramsci's thought, while he differentiated Gentile's position. He considered Croce an essentially aesthetic spirit. For instance, he recognized that Croce's Estetica (1962) was the first, in the 20th century, to give a philosophical basis for literary criticism. He said this about Gentile: "Perhaps he is more difficult than Croce, but he is more lively". Speaking about Gentile, he cited Piero Gobetti, who, in 1921, wrote that Gentile's philosophy had raised "philosophy from professional abstruse ideas to the immense concreteness of life". In his turn, when Abbagnano's star was on the ascendant in the 40s, Gentile showed his esteem for the young existentialistic philosopher. During a meeting, organized at Pisa in 1942, he said confidentially: "The only one, who understands me, is Abbagnano". And it was Gentile who gave his consent when the editorship of "Primato", Giuseppe Bottai's review, decided to promote a debate on existentialism. It began on January 1943 with Abbagnano initiating the discussion. It was actually an unusual event and seemed almost like a sign of change. Abbagnano's liberal inclination was well known, but Bottai clearly defended the "frondeurs". Enzo Paci, Armando Carlini, Ugo Spirito, Francesco Olgiati, Augusto Guzzo, Pantaleo Carabellese, Camillo Pellizzi, Galvano della Volpe, Cesare Luporini, and Antonio Banfi attended the debate; they were students of different trends but acknowledged the philosophy of existence, although some of them criticized it. In the end also Gentile intervened. The closure was left to Abbagnano, who pointed out to Gentile: "The essential differences between existentialism and actualism-idealism". The debate was published in the "Primato" of the 15th of march, 1943. The 25th of July was near. In 1945 Abbagnano was already an intellectual of the first rank, who was well-known and respected. Many of his university colleagues and friends were drifting toward marxism. He was not. He was always a liberal out of convinction and disposition. He states in the Ricordi: "Conformism continually appears among intellectuals. It is an ancient Italian disease which in the last forty years has provoked the strong (and interested) acceptance of Marxism from most Italian intellectuals (after they had accepted fascism, for their interest too)". Aldo Visalberghi, an antifascist, said about Abbagnano's behaviour: "His relations with fascism were like those of anyone who wished a University chair". It was his father, though an Amendola liberal, who convinced him to take the fascist membership card for fear he might miss the opportunity of obtaining a University chair. It is well known that, for his cursus honorum, he was not in debt to anyone. We must also recall that in the 30s he was the first in competition, that was nullified by the then Minister of Education, De Vecchi di Valcismon. Visalberghi also writes that: "After 1945 he was a supporter of liberal thought". Everybody knew it. His existentialism appeared clearly as the invitation "to bring the idea of freedom from out of the skies of the spirit into the problematic character of individual existence". In 1941 as a result of Turin having been bombed he moved to Mondov�, from which he used come back to Turin by train twice a week. He never left the University, where he had pupils who later became important professors: Franco Ferrarotti, for instance, for whom he had a chair of sociology established in Rome, and Pietro Rossi who, in 1976, took over from him the chair of History of Philosophy in Turin. His students loved him. He knew how to make friends with them. He fascinated four generations of young university students with his clear and simple language. Bobbio says that Abbagnano had the extraordinary capacity of "taking a text that seemed incomprehensible and making it easy". Abbagnano ascribed his clarity to the teaching of Aliotta, his Neapolitan teacher. The fifties and the sixties were intense, and filled with excitement for the philosopher. They were "years of full, and total work". His memory of those years provides an exemplary account of post-war Italy. It's work quoting some of his sentences: " Italy was quickly changing and this change was moving from Turin on the four wheels of the auto, the "Seicento" (600) in which Fiat was going south, almost as if to counterbalance the heavy immigration from the south to its factories. That auto ran along the highways that the government was swiftly building, making them longer every year, so as to promote tourism and employment through the sale of cars. Those were years of social tensions as strong as the efforts for reconstruction had been [...] But it was also a happy Italy [...]. There were a simplicity and an innocence that has been largely lost today". The modernity of his thought was to be found also in his interest for current reality, for social and scientific development. He had thoroughly studied ancient philosophers, but he decisively a contemporary thinker. He had the great merit of bringing philosophy to the life, the problems, the feelings of his time. "A philosopher", he wrote, "must not withdraw from the fervent and fruitful tumult of daily existence and then look down at it; but he must live, must love suffer, and fight, never lose touch with the deep roots of being [...]. Truth is conquered and created only by living". The years that he lived in Turin from, 1945 to 1972, and before moving to Milan, were years political choices. Here again are his words: "Very serious was the persistence of two ancient Italian vices, the reassuring need for belonging to a herd and the need for conformism, which soon ended up by hitching many intellectuals to the Marxist cart. I was asked very often to join then, but I refused, as I've always been a liberal out of conviction and disposition. Many of my colleagues and several young students who attended my ever more crowded lessons, supported (and still support) the Communist party". On this issue, he adds: "I had grown up politically under the influence of Giovanni Amendola, and I never detached myself from it". This choice was not easy, i.e., to remain outside the political conformism of so many intellectuals in a city, Turin, of those constructive, but restless years yet, he still enjoyed esteem then and thereafter. He says: "I was surprised more and more often at seeing at my lectures people of any age and condition, sometimes even attractive women (among whom was Marian Taylor, who in 1946 became his second wife). I smiled, trying to hide some satisfaction from those who reminded me that, at the beginning of the century, Bergson had been as successful as I". He says to Staglieno: "After the style of Saint-Germain-de-Pres, existentialism in Turin had become a fashion, the pretext for extravagant clothes and gestures. In the domain of studies, for a chill, you could find some apes of Sartre, of Heideggerian 'nothingness' in L'etre et le neant. It was a short-lived phenomenon that didn't touch me. No doubt Abbagnano's existentialism was quite different. Esistenzialismo positivo was in fact the title of the book. that he published for Taylor press in 1948. He had approached, it is true, the philosophy of existence with Kierkegaard, Heidegger and Jaspers, but he had meditated for many years about it and his thought didn't identify with Heidegger's. It also differed from Jaspers's, Marcel's, Pareyson's ("the divine absolute"). He says: " I was looking instead toward an 'experiential being'(I, others, the world) in a position of absolute laicism [...] a position far from nihilism and relativism". This concept is always found in the expressions of his thought. His inquiry into existence was no doubt long. His meditations began at the end of 30s, but it was only in the forties that he arrived at the "positive" aspects of existentialism. This was in part due to his encounter with Ludovico Geymonat (the philosopher who in the fifties started out from the position of a new-enlightenment and ended in the seventies in dialectical materialism) and but above all by surpassing the critical naturalism of John Dewey, an American philosopher and educator, whom Aliotta had recommended to him in his years in Naples. He emulated Dewey's method of search and Dewey's instrumentalism later had an important place in his thought. He attended also to other American thinkers, e.g., Santayana, Whitehead, Woodbridge, Patrick Romanell. The reference to the classical figures of philosophy, however, is always present in his thought. He writes: "From an historical point of view, existentialism is in line with western metaphysics from Plato to St. Augustine, to Descartes, to Vico, and to Kant. He adds: "Existentialism doesn't consider these historical figures embalmed and closed in their systems, but as living and powerful personalities who for centuries have given men a way to understand and to find themselves and who are still able to give clarifying answers to the urgent and vital human questions". He had a deeply laicist and liberal spirit. He was open to discovery and to experience. He devoted much of his time to reading, studying, verifying, and to the elaboration of ideas. He never neglected relationships with other scholars. He loved and experimented with encounters. In the years after the war he founded in Turin the "Centro di studi metodologici" with Ludovico Geymonat, Bruno Leoni, Eugenio Frola and Enrico Persico. In 1951 he founded "Quaderni di sociologia" with Franco Ferrarotti. It was the first review of sociology in Italy, and contributed to a higher esteem for this subject, rescuing it from the improvisations of dilletantes. In 1952, together with Bobbio, he edited the "Rivista di filosofia", which according to his decision and program, was based on three theses: "1) A philosophical investigation must not be enclosed dogmatically within the results it has reached; 2) it must recognize the position that science occupies in the contemporary world; 3) it must be committed to the social world and to defend, therefore, its own possibility on the political level". At the end of 1951, he was the first signatory to the "Manifesto dell'Associazione per la Libertà della Cultura". Other signatories were Guido Calogero, Tristano Codignola, Enzo Paci, Ferruccio Parri, Luigi Salvatorelli, Giovanni Spadolini, Mario Vinciguerra, ad Umberto Zanotti Bianco. He was an open-minded scholar, very liberal and generous in his conception of human relations, even if he was quite definite on his positions, without compromises or obliging concessions. In the Ricordi there are kind words for everyone: for Vattimo, the philosopher of the "weak thought", for the "migliorist" Veca" for a "follower of Nietzsche", such as Cacciari, for the two "high Catholic intellectuals" Del Noce and Mathieu; for Emanuele Severino, a "Heidegger critic" for the "high speculative subtlety" of Remo Cantoni. In 1990, a short time before dying, he remembers two of his students: Bruno Maiorca, who edited his collected works for UTET and Gianni Fornero, who enlarged his textbook for high schools: Filosofi e filosofie nella storia, published by Paravia. In 1939 he become a member of the editorial board of "Logos", the international review of philosophy, for which he had been secretary of the editorial-staff from 1926 to 1933. In 1946 he published, with UTET (Unione Tipografica Editrice Torinese), Storia della filosofia, in three volumes which have been the bases of the formation of many generations of students. In 1961 he published, again with UTET, his Dizionario di filosofia, that had at least two more editions, updated and enlarged by Fornero. About the end of the forties and all through the fifties, he was the protagonist of a new season of Italian philosophical culture: that of the new-enlightenment. In 1948, in "Rivista di Filosofia", he wrote an article intitled "Verso un nuovo illuminismo", that, according to Bobbio, "became a program of life and studies for many young people of those days". The movement was an attempt to negate the provincialism in italian culture, as the enlightenment of the 18th century had been with Locke and Hume in England, and Voltaire, Montesquieu, Rousseau, Diderot the encyclopaedists in France, who had intended to free minds from obscurantism and to solve the problems of human civilization with the light of reason. Abbagnano also referred to classical philosophers. He said: "Today's enlightenment is linked with that of ancient Greece". Despite these continuous references to ancient philosophy, Abbagnano's new-enlightenment had a very modern character. He was very proud of having "brought philosophy to people" as he said in an interview, and added "because it is a discussion among free men". Abbagnano's search for the ways of freedom was constant and conspicuous. His studies, his writings, indeed, all his thought are characterized by a sincere and true liberalism, the principle and the purpose of his philosophy. From the beginning to the end, he was an authentic liberal. In the Ricordi he says : "In a time when individual freedom must he defended more and more [...], I directed it to a practical end, that is to a practical philosophy. I am morally convinced that philosophy cannot be a solitary meditation. It must helps men's lives, aiming at their self-determination, at everyone's dignity and freedom, and always with a respect for others. It is not only a matter of political freedom, that throughout the world is unfortunately and everywhere compromised [...]. We live in a world which is more and more overly organized, more and more controlled, so that the objective margins of freedom appear narrower and narrower. This was Abbagnano. With his philosophy he brought the idea of freedom into everyone's existence, against that idealism that held the same idea floating in the skies of the spirit. It we were to look up the word "liberalism" in his titanic Dizionario di filosofia, we would find: "It is the doctrine that takes up the defence of and the achievement of freedoms in the political domain". He goes on pointing out the doctrinal trends of its origin: a) the natural law doctrine, that consists in recognizing the primordial and inalienable right of man; b) contractualism, that consists in considering human society and the state as the results of an agreement among individuals". He concludes the entry with a severe judgement: "The casual or surreptious resort to either concept of philosophical thought, have made the liberal idea in politics vague and fluctuating and it sometimes has led to the defence or acceptance of non-freedom". Notice the didactic clarity of the philosopher when he said: "Philosophy cannot be an obscure knowledge, easily understood only by experts". In his Dizionario seven pages are given to the concept of "freedom". Abbagnano gives its history. He mentions versions, works, times, and authors where in this concept has recurred since ancient times. There is nothing equal to the Dizionario for clarity and simplicity in philosophical literature. This following passage about the term freedom is exemplary: "A kind of government is free not only if it is merely chosen by citizens, but if it grants the citizens a continuous possibility of choice, that is if they are allowed, within certain limits, to keep, modify or remove it. The so called strategic institutions of freedom, such as freedom of thought, of conscience, of the press, of assembly, are intended to guarantee the citizens the possibility of choice in the scientific, religions, political, and social, fields". In another book by Abbagnano - Possibilità e libertà - published by Taylor in Turin in 1956, he demonstrates how freedom is above all the possibility of choice. Abbagnano lived in Turin during the season of students' protests at the end of the sixties. He faced then with courage and dignity, and without compromises. His name is mentioned in a document publicized in January 1968, by the Agitators Committee of Palazzo Campana, at Turin university. The students, who were playing making a revolution stated: " Professors generally couldn't care less about the university and consider their chairs and their appointments as a job and a safe salary that allow them to pursue their private affairs. There is one who is the Mayor (Grosso), one who is a member of Parliament (Musso Ivaldi), one are industrial manager (Ricossa), one who is a famous lawyer (Gallo), one who is a planner (Lombardini) and one who does absolutely nothing (Abbagnano)". Abbagnano's "doing nothing" consisted in study, research, teaching, elaborating ideas, and analysis, as he had always done as a student and then as a Professor. He had devoted himself to studying with earnestness and passion. But the dissenters could not blame him for anything. Besides they were after silly exploiters who wanted to pass some exam. Today, after more than thirty years, it is possible to judge that protest a groundless revolt, and, above all, an unproductive one. The philosopher and sociologist, Jurgen Habermas, who was a Marxist and ideologist of the new German left-wing, defined the young protagonists as "the victims of an illusion". Where were the elements that showed a really revolutionary situation? Has anything positive remained now of all that of the students? "Formidable years", as someone said! But to whose ad vantage? Enzo Bettiza, who dedicated fine article to that phenomenon in "Corriere", declared: "The truth is that in Europe 1968, there is no pre-revolutionary situation". In those years Abbagnano was living a season of great commitment and intellectual productivity, and also of acknowledgements. In 1964 Giulio De Benedetti, the tough editor of "La Stampa" (with difficult tastes), invited him to contribute to the third page (the cultural page) of his newspaper. But in 1974 Abbagnano left the newspaper of Turin to go, courageously, to the "Giornale" at the invitation of Montanelli and Piovene. It was a difficult moment, one of great conformism and the daily paper to which he now contributed, was the object of attacks and polemics. He wrote in Ricordi : " I felt I had been called to duty. I was also happy because I had near me since 1972, Gigliola my third wife". Gigliola Toninelli, a delightful woman, was a teacher he had met at Santa Margherita Ligure. The archbishop of Turin, Cardinal Michele Pellegrino, married them in his private chapel, exempting the philosopher from any formality. Abbagnano tells us so in an interview in "Gente". Between the archbishop and the secular philosopher there existed mutual esteem and deep friend ship. His relation to religion, in the last twenty years of life, was problematic, but not one of antipathy. He said that "philosophy has the task of clarifying the destiny of man examined in his relations with the world around him, with the other men with whom he must live, and perhaps, with God". God, the supreme being is present, in is thought albeit problematically. Abbagnano's idea of religion was a follows: "Its biological and social utility is acknowledged. About the Christian religion, he said: "It's the best of all". He then added: "Atheism cannot claim to immobilize man in a definitive denial. In 1972 he moved to Milan. He was a fellow of the Academies (Lincei, Scienze in Turin, Pontoniana of Naples) and a member of the Istituto Internazionale di filosofia. In 1975 he was given an honorary degree for philosophy by Accademia Palatina in Paris, besides other prizes and awards such as Gold Medal for Benemeriti della cultura, the Gold Pen which was proposed by Eugenio Montale, and bestowed by the President of the Republic; the Ambrogino d'oro of Milan, and the Pannunzio in Turin, and in 1949, during a voyage to Argentina, at Mendoza he was granted the Laurea honoris causa. That same year, in a three month period, he visited the most important American universities, where he gave lectures and attended seminars. In his last years he devoted his studies to the search for wisdom. With the publisher Rusconi, he published La saggezza della vita (1985) and La saggezza della filosofia (1987) that were later published in Bompiani paperback. We can say, without exaggerating, that his philosophy was the philosophy of wisdom in every moment of his intellectual adventure. After his death Aldo Visalberghi wrote: "He bequeathed us a very difficult task: to teach wisdom within a schizophrenic world filled with injustice and fanaticisms". At the beginning of this essay, I had already mentioned his commitment to the Liberal Party, but I want to recall it again with his own words (Ricordi ): "I was called to serve in the Liberal Party, and lent myself to politics for a while. Can a philosopher withdraw himself and disregard the community?" He was the first in the list for the town elections in Milan at my suggestion and was the Councillor for Culture from May 1985 to June 1986. He said in an interview: "I had the duty to give testimony on behalf of some exigencies that everybody thought urgent... then I was obliged to obey the exigency of age, and leave a work too hard for me". Abbagnano died in Milan on the 9th September, 1990. He was buried at Santa Margherita, according to his own wishes. On the main door of his house in that town, the Town government has put a memorial plaque. I was present at the opening ceremony and at the meeting in his honor and memory. In Milan I made the effort to have Milan dedicate a square to him. There too I attended the ceremony presided over by Mayor Albertini and by Councillor for Culture, Salvatore Carruba. I have often requested that the town council of Salerno would remember Abbagnano in the local toponomy. I am waiting for it to happen.