Creativity and Exile: Ascoli and Salvemini
The series aims at highlighting the stories of Italian artists, scientists, and intellectuals forced to leave Italy for political reasons and racial persecution, and come to the United States. Historians Renato
The series aims at highlighting the stories of Italian artists, scientists, and intellectuals forced to leave Italy for political reasons and racial persecution, and come to the United States.
Historians Renato Camurri and Federico Finchelstein discuss the American experience of two political intellectuals: Gaetano Salvemini and Max Ascoli.
Salvemini and Ascoli who both fled to the US as political dissenters, represent two very different souls of antifascism.
While Ascoli eventually embraced the Italian ambiguous and loaded shift toward democracy, Salvemini remained profoundly critical of Italy’s inability to come to terms with its past and base the newly born republic on a clear seizure from the politics and the representatives of the fascist era.
An acute critic of Italian politics and of the concept of nation state, until 1922, Salvemini believed that Fascism was too small to be a serious political challenge. In his eyes, it was different from nationalism only in its excess, and could be understood within the context of Italian postwar disillusionment. Moreover in his eyes, Mussolini was not fundamentally different from Giolitti. However, after the murder of the socialist leader Giacomo Matteotti in 1924 and Italy’s subsequent turn in a more totalitarian direction, Salvemini became the most vocal leader of the anti-fascist opposition in Florence.
He was arrested in June 1925 for his memberdship in the Florentine Cultural Circle—an anti-fascist organization that included Carlo and Nello Rosselli, Ernesto Rossi, and Piero Calamandrei—and for his involvement in the anti-fascist journal Non Mollare.
He escaped and made his way first to France, then to England, and finally to the United States.
Exile offered Salvemini a “sense of freedom, of spiritual independence.” Rather than “exile” or “refugee,” he preferred the term fuoruscito (political expatriate), “a man who has chosen to leave his country to continue a resistance which had become impossible at home”. He first arrived in the United States in 1927 for a lecture tour and brought with him a clear anti-fascist agenda.
Max Ascoli (1898-1978) was born into a Jewish family in the northern Italian city of Ferrara, which he later referred to as the “cradle of Fascism.” Trained in political philosophy and law, he began teaching in Italian law schools. In 1928, he was arrested after his name was found in the address book of another intellectual charged with clandestine political activities. With his university career in Italy over, Ascoli fled to the United States in 1931 having obtained a fellowship from the Rockefeller Foundation.
“In correspondence with a fellow exile of Italy, Ascoli observed that there were two currents among Italians in America: those exiles (esuli) who did not intend to become Americans and who live like pilgrims (pellegrini) in expectation of returning to Italy, and those American citizens of Italian origin, including himself, who did not think about returning to Italy.”
He created The Reporter in 1949, a magazine that became a leading voice for liberalism in America for the next 20 years.
Source: Transatlantic Perspectives.
Immage: A meeting o fthe Mazzini Society in New York, 1941