• James Martin
Part of the Italian and Italian American Studies book series (IIAS)


Piero Gobetti has been described as “one of the most remarkable figures in twentieth-century Italian culture,” someone who can rightfully be understood as “a political thinker of classic stature.”1 Yet outside of his native Italy, Gobetti is virtually unknown. In America and the rest of Europe, precious little is written of him or of his ideas. Just who, then, was this figure and what accounts for such exuberant praise? A short summary might begin to clarify matters.


Political Theory Political Ideology Public Intellectual Rhetorical Strategy Political Thinker 
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  1. 1.
    Paolo Bagnoli, “Piero Gobetti and the Liberal Revolution in Italy,” Journal of Modern Italian Studies 2, no. 1 (1997): 34, 37.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    David D. Roberts, “Frustrated Liberals: De Ruggiero, Gobetti, and the Challenge of Socialism,” Canadian Journal of History 17 (1982): 62.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Gobetti’s relative obscurity outside of Italy is explained by Norberto Bobbio as a consequence of his place in a distinctive context: “all of [Gobetti’s] work is bound strictly to the political struggle in Italy in a period in which the history of our country, which culminates in fascism, is so different from that of other European nations.” Norberto Bobbio, Italia fedele. Il mondo di Gobetti (Florence: Passigli, 1986), 64. Nevertheless, an English translation of selections of Gobetti’s work has recently been published, although with little historical contextualisation. SeeGoogle Scholar
  4. Piero Gobetti, On Liberal Revolution, ed. Nadia Urbinati, trans. William McCuaig (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2000). Full public access (in Italian) to Gobetti’s weekly review, La Rivoluzione Liberale, including the work of all those who contributed to it between 1922 and 1926, is publically available on-line in a digital format. This excellent resource was created in consultation with the Centro Studi Piero Gobetti (Piero Gobetti Study Centre) in Turin and can be accessed at Scholar
  5. 5.
    For a detailed intellectual biography of Gobetti, see Marco Gervasoni, Lintelletuale come eroe. Piero Gobetti e le culture del Novecento (Milan: La Nuova Italia, 2000). For shorter but still illuminating studies of Gobetti’s life and thought, see in particular: Paolo Bagnoli, Piero Gobetti: cultura e politica in un liberale del Novecento (Florence: Passigli, 1984);Google Scholar
  6. Bobbio, Italia fedele; Anna Maria Lumbelli, Piero GobettiStorico del presente” (Turin: Deputazione Subalpina di Storia Patria, 1967).Google Scholar
  7. 6.
    An extensive bibliography of the numerous studies on Gobetti can be found in Giancarlo Bergami, Guida bibliografica degli scritti su Piero Gobetti, 1918–1975 (Turin: Einaudi, 1981).Google Scholar
  8. 7.
    See, for example, Giuseppe Bedeschi, La fabbrica delle ideologie: Il pensiero politico nellItalia del Novecento (Rome-Bari: Laterza, 2002), 142, 143.Google Scholar
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  12. 11.
    For a classic statement, see Aristotle, The Art of Rhetoric, trans. H. C. Lawson-Tancred (London: Penguin, 1991). My views have been influenced to some extent byGoogle Scholar
  13. Chaïm Perelman, The Realm of Rhetoric (Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 1982).Google Scholar
  14. 12.
    Here, I draw upon Larry Seidentop, “Two Liberal Traditions,” in The Idea of Freedom, ed. Alan Ryan (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979), 153–74.Google Scholar
  15. 13.
    On this distinction between “negative” and “positive” freedom, see Isaiah Berlin, “Two Concepts of Liberty,” in Four Essays on Liberty (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1969), 118–72. The distinction will be discussed in Chapter 7.Google Scholar
  16. 14.
    See Charles Taylor, “Kant’s Theory of Freedom,” in Philosophy and the Human Sciences, Vol. 2 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), 318–37.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. 15.
    On the development of this European style of liberalism, including its Italian variant, see Richard Bellamy, Liberalism and Modern Society: An Historical Argument (Cambridge: Polity, 1992).Google Scholar
  18. 16.
    For a discussion of the New Liberals, see Michael Freeden, The New Liberalism: An Ideology of Social Reform (Oxford: Clarendon, 1978).Google Scholar
  19. 17.
    On Gobetti and the liberal-socialist tradition in Italy, see James Martin, “Italian Liberal Socialism: Anti-fascism and the Third Way,” Journal of Political Ideologies 7, no. 3 (2002), 333–50;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Nadia Urbinati, “La tradizione politica italiana,” in Liberal-socialisti: II futuro di una tradizione, ed. Nadia Urbinati and Monique Canto-Sperber (Venice: Marsilio, 2004): 71–96.Google Scholar
  21. 18.
    For an important, contemporary example of this effort to critically reimagine liberty, see the work of Quentin Skinner: “A Third Concept of Liberty,” Proceedings of the British Academy 117 (2002), 237–68. I return to Skinner’s work in Chapter 7.Google Scholar
  22. 19.
    See Lloyd F. Bitzer, “The Rhetorical Situation,” in Contemporary Rhetorical Theory: A Reader, ed. John Louis Lucaites, Celeste Michelle Condit, and Sally Caudill (New York and London: Guilford, 1999), 217–25. Bitzer’s work is, of course, controversial, and my reference to it here is merely to indicate the need to understand the wider context to which rhetorical interventions were responses.Google Scholar
  23. 25.
    On “metonymy,” see George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, Metaphors We Live By (Chicago and London: Chicago University Press, 1980), 35–40.Google Scholar
  24. 26.
    Norberto Bobbio, Saggi sulla scienza politica in Italia, 2nd ed. (Rome-Bari: Laterza, 1996), 222.Google Scholar

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© James Martin 2008

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  • James Martin

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