Asceticism, Truth, and Politics in Early-twentieth century Italian Pragmatism

Thu., Dec. 2, 2010, 5:30pm

Asceticism, Truth, and Politics in early-twentieth century Italian pragmatism

Francesca Bordogna

Department of History, Northwestern University


Thursday, 2 December 2010

5-6:30 pm

Green College Coach House

At the beginning of the twentieth century a group of young self-trained philosophers, psychologists, and publicists based in Florence, Italy, announced a new political project: “spiritual nationalism.” Its goal was to make humans into “masters of reality” and “lords of truth,” while securing the political pre-eminence of Italy. Variously inspired by William James’s psychology and philosophy, a few months later these young men trumpeted pragmatism as the means for fulfilling their political program. The cultural movement they gave rise to, as Walter Adamson has noted, “reshaped the political culture not only of Florence, but also of Italy,” and found momentous echoes in fascism. Scholars interested in psychological pragmatism have often focused on its metaphysical and epistemological claims and theories, and have sought to pin down its ramifications in political philosophy. Yet the psychological pragmatists explicitly advocated pragmatism as a “psicagogia,” a tool for the cultivation of the soul, and a practical instrument for psychological regeneration and political action. This paper seeks to unearth the philosophical, psychological, spiritual, and rhetorical practices, in which they engaged, and to thereby highlight a distinctive form of pragmatist asceticism, which so far has largely flown under the radar screens of scholars. I am interested in exploring how these figures thought by acting and acted by thinking, and how, through highly self-reflective action, they merged ascetic disciplines, epistemology, and political action into a pragmatist way of life.