Wear and Tear of the Spanish Regime and Resumption of Italian Life Part 3

All this explains to us both the credit that old philosophies acquire with a materialistic and naturalistic background, as well as the opening of the currents of the new European thought that took place outside Italy on the trunk of the Italian philosophy of the Renaissance and also planted on observation. and experience and on the unscrupulous intellectual elaboration. So on the one hand Epicurus, Lucretius, Democritus, etc., who circulate among physicists, naturalists, mathematicians, doctors, that is, in that environment that was already very much imbued with Galileanism. On the other hand, Newton, Leibniz and, even more, Gassendi and Descartes. Italy was open to them. By now the Italians were emerging from that isolation, albeit relative isolation, in which the Spanish dominion and the organs of the Counter-Reformation, fearful of evil doctrines and adverse propaganda, had kept them. The republic of letters rather than Italy has France as its capital, the nation whose sails are now swollen by the wind, with its Sun Kings and its dominant culture: the courtly culture of the Corneille and Boileau and Bossuet and Fénélon; and free and opposed Catholic or Protestant culture, which in the second half of the century and especially after 1685 emigrated widely to Holland, Prussia, etc. Naples and Tuscany were the regions that perhaps first and more than any other opened up to these influences. In the second half of the 1600s, Gassendi had many followers in Naples. And after Gassendi, Descartes. Especially the youth attach themselves to them, that youth who in Neapolitan books of the beginning of the eighteenth century are represented to us as skeptical, ill disposed towards poets and orators, historians and grammarians, and only inclined to philosophy and sciences in the manner of Descartes. And from Naples A. Borelli, a great Cartesian of Italy, went to Pisa. And in Pisa he taught, helping to make that university at the end of the century a den of innovators. Through the work of these masters and examples from beyond the Alps, certain reactions were accentuated, certain negative aspects of the new culture: the little consideration and almost contempt of the ancients, the discrediting of every form of traditional and historical knowledge, the only appreciation of what one draws from one’s own thought, the ambition of finding for oneself by way of reasoning as well as of experience, the devaluation of every unconscious movement and of the imagination, that is, of poetry, etc. All things that reached their peak in France, but also spread in Italy; although, to be clear, in Italy the tones were considerably attenuated and the rejection of tradition and the contempt of the ancients were tempered; temperate, with the Galilean tradition, the Cartesian tendency; discreetly accepted the moralistic and utilitarian concept of art.

Of course, there was an immediate reaction. Reaction of various kinds. According to mysteryaround, there was that of the school and of the Jesuits and of the political order, in solidarity with the old way of thinking, inclined to see an enemy in scientific studies (Spain opposed these studies in Italian universities, only leaving the road to legal studies open): reaction vehement, although now the pyres were no longer burning as in Bruno’s time, and a stimulus for new and greater action. The Church felt affected not only indirectly because it was linked to a specific philosophy, but also directly, as incredulity and skepticism passed from the field of traditional knowledge to the field of religion. And much complained at the end of the seventeenth century the incredulity of the Italians, owing either to the trade with foreigners by too many people who traveled the world or to the experimental sciences which applied methods suited to external phenomena to supernatural things. And there was, more importantly, the one that armed itself a little with the same weapons as the innovators: the one that had its major representative in Vico. And with Vico we have the critique of Descartes, which is the anticipated critique of the Enlightenment. His voice then aroused no great echo. Only later would Italy listen to it and recognize it as its own. And really, Vico is to be considered the voice of Italian philosophy, of the Italian spirit, nourished by concreteness and historical sense, distrustful of pure logic, used to refer culture to civil life as its measure, to reconcile and balance opposing needs, to develop and enrich themselves without denying anything about themselves. Vico spoke essentially as a philosopher in front of philosophers.

More resounding was the national note, so to speak, in the reaction of men of letters and scholars: even if in some it hid a spirit of preservation and attachment to the old. But in others it was coupled with a desire to innovate and progress. Faced with the malevolent criticism of French writers of Italian literature, the Italian confreres resented; in the face of the penetration of French literary products or even only of the French intentions and initiatives to come and plow the Italian soil, as nobody’s land, they felt animated by a spirit of emulation, encouraged to do what others did or wanted to do.

Wear and Tear of the Spanish Regime and Resumption of Italian Life 2